Eleanor Roosevelt wrote "My Day," a national syndicated newspaper column, from 31 December 1935 until 26 September 1962 (six days a week until January 1961, then three days a week thereafter). She did not keep a regular diary and her extant appointment books are woefully incomplete. Thus "My Day" is the only consistent existing account of her public actions.
The columns, while no means a complete record of Roosevelt's daily activities, do reveal much about whom she met, where she traveled, which books she read, which plays she attended and how she handled the pressures of public life. They chronicle her development from awkward "diarist" to skilled advocate for the New Deal, civil rights, the United Nations and myriad other domestic and international concerns. In sum, "My Day" offers a remarkable window into Roosevelt's public and political life.
About the My Day Project
Roosevelt had a varied but already well-established publishing career before beginning "My Day." She had been offered a daily column in 1933, but did not accept until 1935. By that time, Eleanor Roosevelt's popularity was at its peak and Franklin, who was beginning to plan his re-election campaign, saw a column as an asset to the campaign and the New Deal generally. At the same time, Roosevelt had grown increasingly impatient with some of the president's gatekeepers and FDR's policy decisions, and decided that a daily column would allow her to rally support for the causes she espoused. Finally, Women's Home Companion, perhaps concerned that Roosevelt's column in its pages might imply support of FDR's re-election, discontinued "Mrs. Roosevelt's Page" in the fall of 1935, leaving the First Lady without the monthly outlet she had enjoyed since 1933.
Upon its debut, "My Day" was an immediate success. By 1938 it was appearing in 62 papers across the nation, providing Roosevelt with a readership of more than four million people and making her one of the nation's most popular columnists. By 1940, interest in "My Day" was so strong that United Features Syndicate offered her a five-year contract even though it had no expectation that the Roosevelts would remain in the White House for another term. Even FDR's sudden death in April 1945 did not diminish readers' interest in learning what she thought. As Roosevelt told her daughter Anna in August, "my column circulation has been going up steadily." Ultimately, 90 papers would carry the column and Roosevelt would remain with United Features for twenty-six years.
Initially, the United Features Syndicate defined the column. The syndicate selected the title and suggested that Roosevelt discuss those "day-to-day experiences, interests and observations" she would be "willing to make public." They also urged her to use "My Day" to discuss the "real life stories" of her correspondents and the "trend of thought" their letters revealed. They hoped the column would be "glittering with names" and highlight "pleasant and personal news of events and people," which no one but Roosevelt could "reveal." They wanted her to imagine writing the columns "as if they were letters written to a dear friend."
As Roosevelt grew more comfortable with the "My Day" format, she took greater risks with it. By 1938, she had moved away from the trivial and mundane and begun to concentrate more on her responsibilities as citizen and political symbol. She encouraged her readers to write her and often incorporated their stories, questions and criticisms into her columns. These letters reveal the palpable connection their authors had with Roosevelt as they shared their experiences as well as their most private dreams and fears.
While journalists may have discounted her simplistic style, they nevertheless appreciated "My Day's" importance; indeed, one New York Times editor considered it "required reading for those seeking insight into administration policies." FDR also appreciated the influence "My Day" exerted and was not above asking his wife to float an idea in her column to gauge reader response. She attempted to use "My Day" to shore up support for the New Deal with mixed results. Her support for such programs as the Resettlement Act, the Rural Electrification Act, the National Youth Administration, the Federal Theatre Project and FDR's "court packing plan" inspired her critics. Her discussion of African-American civil rights likewise provoked those who opposed her efforts.
As the threat of fascism and war increased, "My Day" delved more deeply into foreign policy. Despite her own efforts for peace, Roosevelt was a realist. By 1939 she, like FDR, believed that American entry into World War II was inevitable and that the US's industrial capacity was the nation's greatest weapon. Strategically inserting short paragraphs throughout her 1940 and 1941 columns, she used "My Day" to challenge those who opposed war at any cost to consider what "reasonable measures" could be taken to ensure the nation's defense.
Roosevelt's wartime columns recount the home front struggles to implement rationing, her appointment and dismissal from the Office of Civilian Defense and the creations of the Fair Employment Practices Committee and the War Labor Board. She also wrote regularly about the increasing levels of anti-Semitism and racial prejudice in the US, as well as offering her thoughts on the bitter debates over conscientious objectors and the Smith Act. As the war neared its end, Roosevelt used "My Day" to discuss the needs of returning servicemen, the needs of war refugees and the importance of building a new world order based on peace and collective security.
After her husband’s death in April 1945, Roosevelt debated how to continue a public role. Henry Morgenthau, Jr., like most of her other close friends, pushed her to "speak out to the world as Eleanor Roosevelt," arguing "it is most important that [your] voice be heard." Rejecting all requests to run for office, she embraced "My Day" with a new passion, telling readers that she would be more effective as a journalist than she would as an elected official, prompting the Washington Evening Star to title its story, "Mrs. Roosevelt Will Continue Column; Seeks No Office Now." Roosevelt also told her readers that she would not adhere to any party line or administrative spin. Now "free of the certain restrictions FDR demanded" she would speak freely. "Of one thing I am sure," she wrote, "in order to be useful we must stand for the things we feel are right, and we must work for those things wherever we find ourselves. It does very little good to believe in something unless you tell your friends and associates of your beliefs." By 1946, when asked to list her profession, she consistently placed "journalist" ahead of all her other responsibilities.
Roosevelt's column varied somewhat as her interests changed and presidential administrations came and went, but her basic style and content remained essentially the same for the rest of her life. She would include some information about her movements, meetings and even entertainment, but largely used the column to discuss political and social issues. After Roosevelt joined the first American delegation to the United Nations in 1946, "My Day" became the vehicle for her to discuss the "machinery" of the United Nations, the drafting and application of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the needs and hopes of those left stateless after World War II. As a member of the U.S. delegation, Roosevelt tried to temper her partisanship, and often declined to endorse candidates. However, she was inconsistent, and still both attacked her political opponents and challenged Truman when she disagreed with administration policies. After the election of Dwight Eisenhower and Eleanor Roosevelt’s resignation from the US delegation to the UN, she no longer had any reason to moderate her language. Her column became the way she challenged Republicans, complacent Democrats, timid liberals and apathetic Americans to accept the responsibilities of living in a democracy. Her outspokenness and her activism affected her pocketbook. After she strongly supported the presidential candidacy of Adlai Stevenson in 1956, the Scripps Howard chain dropped her column, reducing her income by almost two-thirds. United Features Syndicate asked her to limit her support for political candidates. Roosevelt complied by declining an appointment to an advisory committee of the Democratic National Committee, but she continued to both offer support and opposition to political candidates in her column.
By 1960 age and infirmity had begun to take a toll on Roosevelt's health. Her friends and family urged her to slow down, and Roosevelt began writing only three columns a week instead of six. Although she grew weaker over the next two years, she never gave any indication that her illness threatened her productivity. She wrote her last column, published 26 September 1961, less than two months before her death.
The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project has collected and transcribed the "My Day" columns in a project that spanned nearly a decade. We are profoundly grateful for the work of our graduate fellows, undergraduate employees and interns on this project. We are also thankful to have had the able assistance of the archivists at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and the librarians at the Library of Congress. Funding for the project came primarily from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.
Sources: Krock Arthur. New York Times, 10 August 1939, 18. Maurine Beasley, Eleanor Roosevelt and the Media: A Public Quest for Self-Fulfillment (Urbana: University of Illinois Press), 1987; Allida Black. Casting Her Own Shadow: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Shaping of Postwar Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995); John Morton Blum. From the Diaries of Henry Morgenthau, Jr., Vol. 3 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967); "Mrs. Roosevelt Will Continue Column; Seeks No Office Now," (Washington) Evening Star, 19 April 1945, A1; "'My Day' Dominant Influence," Saturday Evening Post, 9 September 1939; Eleanor Roosevelt to Anna Roosevelt