tv Eleanor Roosevelt and Womens Rights CSPAN November 16, 2013 11:20pm-11:46pm EST
women, traditional women, left out. >> she critiques feminism, and has been labelled anti-feminist. looking ahead to the new year on in-depth, join radio talk show host mark levin, book tv in depth, the first sunday of every month, on c-span 2. next, the political career of eleanor roosevelt, with insight from her granddaughter, tracy roosevelt. first lady from 1933 to 1945, eleanor roosevelt became a key player, an advocate for women and civil rights and president kennedy appointed her to chair a special commission on the status
of women. this event was hosted by the radcliffe institute for advanced study at harvard and the john f. kennedy presidential library. it's about half an hour. >> hi. >> hi. >> it's a pleasure to be here today to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the report issued by the presidential commission on the status of women and it's an honor to be here not at the kennedy library but with the kennedy library and with its wonderful volunteers today. beyond that, for me, it's an honor to have a conversation with professor black who really knows so much about my great grandmother eleanor roosevelt and can tell us more of the official side of her work for women. for me, i know a little bit more of the personal side. one story i'd like to share with you just as an anecdote before we get into the conversation is
something my aunt told me that as a young girl growing up, grand'mere which is what we affectionately call eleanor in our family, took her aside and said to her, it's really important that you are involved in public life. it's really important that you run for political office and that you always work to make people's lives better. and she thought that this was something that she must be saying to all of the cousins. and only as she got older and spoke with her brothers and cousins did she realize that this was not the case. she only said it to the women in their family. >> sure. >> so i'd like to learn a little bit more today about how she took that work public and first of all how eleanor's work really spurred the presidential commission and how she worked to make ate reality. reality reala
>> well, the film indicated shall we say the confrontational relationship that eleanor roosevelt had with jack kennedy. and she really did not campaign for the president at all until october 1960 because she insisted that he change his civil rights stance and that he publicly discuss mccarthy and so she and adam clayton powell and herbert lehman had a big conference in new york at the baptist church and come up with about a dozen recommendations that they want the president to endorse before, you know, to really say to the world, this is once and for all where i stand on civil rights. and president kennedy against the advice of his advisers goes and meets with her and she gives him the recommendations.
and that's where he issues the famous declaration that i will ban discrimination in federally financed housing with one stroke of the pen. and so, she campaigns for him then for the last 16 days of the election and she goes to new york, atlanta, detroit, los angeles, san francisco. places where there are significant african-american populations and major labor unions because labor unions and then john kennedy had a very tempestuous relationship because of bobby's relationship with the persecution of jimmy hoffa and so eleanor is designated to be the kennedy emissary to african-americans and labor. and so her campaign is instrumental there for the president's victory, although he won for many reasons but i think the one statistic that's very interesting is that as you all know he becomes president because he carries illinois by 247,000 votes.
he wins 267,000 african-american votes in chicago. and eleanor spends three days of the last 16 days of the campaign working with the naacp, going to african-american churches and holding rallies. so there was a let's say an iou that was, you know, desperately earned there. and when president kennedy appoints fewer women to presidential appointments than any president after fdr, eleanor begins there's no other word for it, to browbeat him into appointing women.
and so, she writes him letter after letter after letter of this is the woman that you should consider to be in this position. this is her phone number. this is her home phone number. you know? this is her work address. and finally, she writes him a four-page single spaced typed letter with all of these names for women, you know, to be put in different positions. and she is very close to ester peterson and so they -- eleanor expresses her great frustration to ester about this. and then ester responds to that by saying, let's have a presidential commission. but the thing that you have to realize about this commission was that it was 15 men and 11 women, 6 cabinet officials, all of whom are men and do not want to be on it. and so -- no, it's very true. the paper trail on this is very extensive. and so, the role that eleanor plays in shaping the commission is there are 20 presidential appointees.
sorry, 15 presidential appointees and 20 outside the government. and so, she really pushes to get young people, especially young african-american women that she's very close, mentored relationships with, people like the incomparable pauline murray. one of the unsung women i think of 20th century politics and the incomparable dorothy haight and what she does with polly and polly is an attorney and makes sure deftly behind the scenes that polly is the attorney that's supposed to write the whole section on how do we deal with the equal rights amendment and women's employment. so, she shapes it behind the scenes and really pushes ester out there to get the credit that ester so rightly deserves. >> and you spoke a little bit about this, but what would you say the role and the importance that eleanor put on underrepresented women, so minorities and women involved in the labor movement, how were they important to her?
>> well, one of the things that we're just now really beginning to understand about eleanor roosevelt in the equal rights amendment is not only how her attitude changes over time, but the role that race plays in really shaping that attitude. and eleanor just did not like alice paul. she just did not like her. and one of the reasons that -- they only met twice. and they had a vicious conversation about race. and it's a word that eleanor uses vicious which is, you know, as ann will know is a word that she very rarely used and so she thought that the equal rights amendment initially would not only undercut immigrant women, not only undercut working women, but was also a tool by some really educated white women who
wanted to keep african-american and immigrant women out of the labor force. and we're only beginning to learn this now by looking at how eleanor really argues when she is constructing the universal declaration of human rights about article i. and article i is all human beings are born free, and equal in dignity and rights. endowed with reason and conscious and should treat one in a spirit of brotherhood. even though it's article i of the declaration, it was the article that was the most difficult to adopt and get passed. and so, one of the things that i have been really trying to reconcile in my mind and try to find paper trails from people like honsa mata -- >> yeah.
i was going to ask you more about her and how she influenced eleanor's thinking and she was i believe the indian delegate to the u.n. >> i think it's hard to underestimate the impact, tracy, you're so right, that she has on eleanor and her understanding of women and race. she is the indian delegate who is on committee three of the united nations, the social, humanitarian and cultural committee and ends up being one of the three women on the human rights commission. and she and -- she has a huge influence on eleanor's understanding of the word man. and used in the constitution because eleanor before she meets mata assumes like most americans did that it was the generic adjective. and so, now that we're beginning to sort of reconstruct some of the long-time relationship with eleanor, it's just unimaginable to me that when she's talking about women in the united states and just look at the women that she's trying to push, you know,
she's pushing latina women, african-american women, that people that taught her about women were russian, jewish immigrants. rose snyderman and maude swartz. she had a different attitude about that by the time the commission is really taking off. >> i thought it was so interesting to learn from you about hansa mata and the human rights commission at the u.n. and in particular i was wondering if we could look at eleanor's two books that had a lot to do with women and how her views may have changed between writing them. so in 1933, i know that she wrote "it's up to the women." and then in 1962 just before she died she was finishing "tomorrow is now." and i'd love to know how her views of women's involvement in
the political sphere and in rights in general changed over time. >> well, they're fairly radical. i mean, eleanor when she's -- she grows up in a very traditional home and she's radicalized by this woman whose name is savest who was her great teacher and eleanor later describes as a closet bolshevi k. vick. and told her that the only way to really understand what somebody thinks and i wish the members of congress were listening to this right now is to be able to argue with equal intensity the position of your fiercest critic and she takes her into the settlement community. she says to her, of course, you can stay with me in the summers and you can travel, but you have to remember that you're a guest so you can't just go to the opera and the theater. you have to volunteer at hospitals and soup kitchens and homeless shelters and you must try to learn the language of the community that you visit. and so, it's those early
relationships with her that give her -- the first thing that she really works on is the living wage. and the first group that she gets involved with are immigrant women, you know, who speak german, who speak polish, who worked -- eleanor's trying to figure out how to have conversations with them. and so at first she thinks, how can you be a mother and work at the same time? and so, it's up to the women, it's a very traditional book the title of which has been totally misinterpreted by people. she says you have got to be politically active so that, in fact, you can maintain your home and make it safe. but by the time that she's dying, and she is dying during the commission, when the commission has its second meeting in hyde park, she's bleeding from the back of the throat. she has 102 and 103 fever. she's battling to stay alive and she's battling to finish her last book which is "tomorrow is now" which is her manifesto.
she's dictating it. she can't hold a pen to write. and she's totally talking about women and young people. and that the parties have lost their way. that america is unready to face the social revolution which is not only race but gender. that young people have to be taught early to lead. you know? she says, you know, we cannot hide our problems like the skeleton in a closet. that staying aloof is not a solution. is cowardly evasion. and so she goes from being this, you know, sort of traditional but radicalized progressive woman to seeing how many people are organizing in silos and not organizing together. and so, when she testifies for equal pay for equal work, she's also testifying for migrant farm workers and the kennedy
administration had a stroke when she brings in farm workers into equal pay for equal work. so, in many ways, you know, women have to run for office. women have to lead. her biggest regret is not going to college. you know? but what she's saying is you have to figure out how to balance now not just to take care of your home but to take care of your country. >> and during this time, do you think that her view of the equal rights amendment was also changing? >> yeah. it changes. eleanor was initially opposed to it because of the reasons that were -- that nancy cod and others articulated in the film, but as she begins to see women advance through the labor movement, as she begins to see women advance in the civil rights movement, she no longer actively opposes it and when people ask her about it in questions, she says, it's a matter of law. we're going to have to figure it out.
you know? but that's going to be up to the country and not to me. so she's moving in that way and that's why she really put polly on the committee to really investigate the legal strategies because if you read the language of the report, you know, they talk about the fifth and the 14th amendment but polly inserts now. we do not think an equal rights amendment is necessary now i -- ihal -- italicized. because they want to begin the suit that are up and polly will say that once they got the first victory in the court against a state in 1971, that then you
will have the legislative precedent that you need and polly was right because you get the court and then four months later congress passes the equal rights amendment. >> and that's exactly where i was going with the last question. i wish we had more time but in a minute we'll take questions from the audience. i wanted to ask as a final question if you could set the stage of the meetings that actually happened before the report occurred and how eleanor was working with the other members of the commission and where they were meeting. >> sure. well, when the commission is started, with the executive order in december of 1961, i mean, eleanor and ester jockey to see which women they want. some of whom the administration doesn't want, some of whom they take anyway, some of whom get axed. but it was eleanor's idea to have the first major hearing in the white house. and she had to have a personal meeting with president kennedy to get that going. she also wrote about it in "my day." and at that point eleanor roosevelt was the third most syndicated columnist in the united states and so her, you
know, her articulation in very nonthreatening language of the goals of the commission sort of reinforced president kennedy, you know, to do it. and then, if you watch the first of that video, i mean, you can really see her skewer him on the role that women have in government. so, she basically was laying her credibility out on the line for this commission at the exact same time that she was laying her credibility out for the freedom riders and when she's -- to me the thing that's so interesting is that a month before they have the second meeting at the commission at valkil, eleanor traveled to washington to hold the kennedy u.s. kennedy appointed u.s. attorneys accountable for not prosecuting the assailants of the freedom riders. so she's pushing him on both fronts with very different tactics.
>> wow. it's fascinating to see how much there was going on. at this point, we'd like to take any questions there are from the audience. there's a microphone right in the middle here. >> oh, don't be shy. suck the oxygen out of the room. >> i can go ahead and ask more questions if everyone's too shy. just to ask -- >> sure. >> two more questions. well, one, just of a question of my own. many people have been saying that hillary clinton may run for president again in 2016. and i was wondering if eleanor ever considered running for political office herself. >> okay. that's a fabulous question.
when -- within a week of president roosevelt's death, she is asked to be secretary of labor, to run for governor of new york, to be senator of new york, to be president of your institution, and to run what's called national citizens political action committee. and eleanor turns down all of the political offices basically because she says been there and done that. i don't want to be holden to a party. i want to say what i think. and so, the thing that she flirts with is nicpac like moveon when moveon was really a force and not sort of a shell of itself like it is now. and she turns that down. and she decides that she really wants her voice to be heard so that she will campaign for candidates, work with local party officials, work with unions and work with civil rights organizations. the first assignment she accepts
is to join the board of directors of the naacp where she will become a leading force in setting up the naacp legal defense fund. but, of course, as you all know, truman then asks her to join the first american delegation to the united nations which he does to get her out of the country because she's criticizing him so much. we forget that when truman assumes the presidency within three months, his poll numbers were lower than the poll numbers of george w. bush when he left. and labor is furious with him because he's doing -- lifting, you know, rent controls and food controls but keeping wage controls on. and so, she's to the barricades against it and then she goes to the u.n. and where she is with the boys as she calls them and she ends up through a fluke debating the great soviet debater over refugee issues
because the guys wanted to talk about the security council and the bomb and nobody wanted to talk about the 40 to 60 million displaced people in europe. and so, from her performance there, 50 of the 51 member nations of the united nations ask her to chair what will become the first united nations commission on human rights and the united states is opposed. and so, that we have to -- she has to negotiate that and then she's appointed unanimously and plays the major role in drafting the universal deck ra lags of -- universal declaration of human rights, with four years of school, i might add. not college. >> and really interesting about her wanting to express her own views because you can see that in her writing and something my dad enjoyed reading every day in her column, "my day." as a final question, i wanted
as a final question, i wanted to ask you if eleanor thought there was a difference between women's rights and human rights. >> initially, yes. at the end of her life, no. because she began to see -- she thought that the most fundamental human rights were food, shelter, the living wage and the right to education. and those were profoundly empowering of women and it took her a while to get there. but by the end of her life, especially when she's continuing to work with commission on -- the u.n. commission on the status of women, there begins to be some more cooperation on that. >> great. thank you so much. i really learned a lot. >> thank you. >> we'll talk later. >> and -- professor black will be around later if anyone does have more questions after this. >> i have -- attitudes on equal pay, et cetera didn't just come bursting out full blown.
beginning of the '60s. >> no. she was first. >> so if you go back in time to when her husband was the president, what was going on then and did her attitudes which must have still existed at that time, how was she using those attitudes on behalf of women in the '40s? >> i'll answer that in greater detail during the break, but i'll give you one story. the second piece of legislation that fdr passes is after -- the first piece after he closes the banks is the economy act which cut the federal labor force by 25%. that automatically fired all of federal -- federally employed women married to federally employed men. that afternoon eleanor roosevelt holds a press conference and challenges the president's bills
and they end up writing dual columns in democratic publications about this. and she has always been a champion of the living wage and to eleanor the living wage is an equal wage. that's her quote. so thank you all very much. >> thank you. this november 22nd marks the 50th anniversary of the president kennedy's assassination in dallas. join american history tv on november 23rd and 24th for eyewitness accounts of the events surrounding that fall day in 1963. we'll air footage of the kennedy funeral and president johnson's address to congress. watch ceremonies from dallas and the jfk library in boston. and we'll take your phone calls. remembering jfk, 50 years after dallas, here on american history tv, on c-span3.