Eleanor Roosevelt: The Girl of Today

This audio is part of the larger project The First Family of Radio: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s Historic Broadcasts. You can download the entire radio hour from our podcast feed (iTunes).

December 9, 1932

Eleanor Roosevelt began her commercial radio career on a national, Friday night music and talk program sponsored by Pond’s Cold Cream. She was to provide commentaries on issues of interest to women.

She sparked controversy with her first broadcast. She noted ruefully that Prohibition seemed to have backfired. Because alcohol was forbidden, it had become all the more appealing to young people. As a result, she said, young women had to learn early how much liquor they could hold.

Temperance groups misunderstood her remarks as an endorsement of drinking and responded angrily in print and by mail. ER replied to many of the letters, saying her comments had been misconstrued. [No recording of the broadcast survives.] -Stephen Smith


ANNOUNCER: The Pond’s Program, presented by the makers of Pond’s Cold Cream and Pond’s Vanishing Cream, under the direction of Leo Reisman!


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ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen! We are proud and happy to present tonight the first of a series of informal talks by a distinguished and charming woman, Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the wife of the president-elect of the United States. Mrs. Roosevelt will speak to the Pond’s audience on live, human topics of interest to every man and woman. Tonight she is going to consider some of the problems that confront the modern girl. It is an honor to present Mrs. Roosevelt!

ER: It is almost impossible to compare the girl of today with the girl of thirty or forty years ago, not because the girls have changed, in spite of what some of my contemporaries think, but because the world we live in has changed so greatly. When I was eighteen, automobiles existed but they were still rare enough to cause the horse I was driving, in the quiet country spot on the Hudson where we spent our summers, to leap over a stone wall, taking the two-wheeled cart and its occupants with him! It was all so sudden that I came to see the horse grazing in the field, while we picked ourselves up off the ground and saw a disappearing car in the dim distance! Now my children’s horses take an automobile as a matter of course and even pay little attention to an airplane flying low overhead!

It isn’t, however, so much the fact that we now have all these new inventions, such as cars and airplanes, telephones, radios, electric light, and movies, but the change which they have wrought in the speed of life. We can know and see so many more people, we can do so much more in a day, even if we have work to do in our homes. It is so much easier and quicker to do if you can afford to use modern inventions that the girl of parents who are moderately well off, even a girl on a farm, may do things that would have been out of the question when I was young.

My generation’s problems fundamentally were much the same as are the problems of the girl of today. We had home responsibilities and we accepted them or shirked them much as does the girl of today. But our chief preoccupation was getting to know people, girls and boys, and making friends. We were having as good a time as we could have, doing some work and incidentally finding out what in this world—which at that time we felt largely was created for us alone—really was of interest to us and vital enough to become a permanent part of the life which we were planning for ourselves.

Isn’t this about the same thing which the girl of today is doing? Only instead of horses and buggies, she has a roadster or sedan. Instead of going to one place in a day and seeing a few people, she can go to four or five and see an almost unlimited number. Instead of being tied down many hours by work at home or in a shop, she has more hours to play. Instead of seeing her friends at home, or in a neighbor’s house, she goes to a movie in a nearby town, to people’s houses whom her parents do not know, or to a dance hall away from home. There is greater opportunity to develop, perhaps, and with wise parents the girl of today is perhaps earlier able to judge between worthwhile people and undesirable ones. She is better able to take care of herself because her experience is greater.

But on the other hand, there are more temptations and they come courting her more frequently. She is away from parental supervision much younger than was the case in my youth. Unless the parents have been wise and trained her young to judge for herself, and decide between right and wrong, she is apt to have some rather bitter experiences. Also she will have some sad disillusionments about people. For youth is apt to clothe the object of its enthusiasms with the virtues which a fertile imagination can produce, and it is a sad awakening to find that human nature is far from perfect, and that people cannot always be trusted.

In my youth, all of us saw wine upon the table in our homes. And many of us saw a good bit of excessive drinking. But very few girls, whether in high school or private school or college, drank anything beyond a glass of wine at home. And it never would have occurred to the young man to carry a flask to an evening party. He carried it traveling or on a hunting trip, but not to social gatherings, for his host provided him with whatever might be necessary. And it did not brand a girl as a prig or unsocial if she did not join in whatever conviviality was going on in the way of drinking. But Prohibition seems to have changed that to a certain extent. So that the average girl of today faces the problem of learning, very young, how much she can drink of such things as whiskey and gin and sticking to the proper quantity.

One of the things that we hoped for in Prohibition was protection for the weak, and I regret to say that I feel that conditions brought about by Prohibition require more strength of character than any conditions that I remember in my youth. The greater freedom of manners makes for franker and freer associations between young men and women today. Some people think this a pity. Undoubtedly, some of the old mystery and glamour is gone. But perhaps, on the whole, it is not a bad thing that boys and girls know each other a little bit better nowadays.

In one essential, things are undoubtedly far easier for the girl of today than they were for girls of my generation. There are more avenues open to her for education and more ways in which she can earn a living and have an interesting life. For this reason I feel that, on the whole, the girl of today, if she has sympathetic and wise parents, has a better chance of facing her problems successfully and making her life a valuable and interesting one than had the girl of thirty years ago.


ANNOUNCER: This is the National Broadcasting Company.