In her newspaper column and on the air, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt invited the American people to write to her. In 1933 she received some 300,000 letters and cards. She often worked late into the night reading her correspondence. She had a variety of prepared replies she instructed her secretary to send. But she also responded to many letters individually.
Note: The original spelling and grammar of the letters has been preserved.
Jan. 3, 1933
I am a great admirer of your distinguished husband and have the utmost respect for his talented wife. But who the hell picks those terrible hats for you? Permit me to suggest you appoint your pretty young daughter to select your hats hereafter. You owe it to your “public” to appear properly dressed.
A. Married Man
Jan. 11, 1933
My Dear Mrs. Roosevelt,
I am of the opinion that Mr. Hoover was the married man that wrote you that criticism concerning your wonderful hat.
A Single Man
Jan 23, 1936
Dear Mrs. Roosevelt,
My name is A.S. I am 12 years old. I go to the Allen School and I am in the sixth grade. My sister D. is 11 years old. She and I both love to listen to radio but we have none. The only time we have a chance is when we go to our aunts. And if you would send me some kind of one I would be very happy. I know where I can get one for $14.00 but I have no money. The best program I like is the gang busters. And Eddie Cantor.
Kansas City, Mo.
Please do not put me in jail.
Aug. 5, 1940
Dear Mrs. Roosevelt,
I have been an interested listener to your radio broadcasts for some time and have been much impressed by your sincerity and genuine interest in the welfare of the people individually and collectively.
I know you must get hundreds of letters a week and I hesitated a long time in writing to you—but I thought nothing ventured nothing gained so I am asking your advise in a very pressing problem.
Sometime ago my health broke down and I had to give up my work. I had been doing assistant library work for twelve years. I am still not able to take regular employment nor to keep the regulation working hours, but it is so necessary that I do something to earn enough to take care of myself and pay doctors bills past, present and future. The question I wanted to ask you is this—do you know of anyway I could earn money at home?
I have answered advertisements appearing in newspapers such as addressing envelopes but they have always been a misstatement of facts and were of no help whatever. I thought perhaps a person of your wide experience might be able to advice me or put me in touch with something. I have always loved books, read a great deal and have been told I am intelligent.
Probably this request is slightly “Off the Record” from any letters you receive and if I did not think you were a friendly and approachable sort of person I would not have the courage to write to the “First Lady” I am sure.
If this letter reaches you and you care to reply I shall be very grateful indeed.
July 18, 1940
My Dear Mrs. Roosevelt:
I hear in your last broadcast you mentioned having received many letters, some asking questions, some finding fault etc. I decided that I should write you a line myself to tell you how very much I enjoy your programs. Your thought and consideration for people of all types and in all circumstances is something quite new under the sun. No other “First Lady of the Land” has even thought give so much attention to the people at large, and I want to assure you that it has brought you very near to the hearts of most of us.
Most gratefully yours,
Rosa C. Allen
Long Beach, Cali.
July 26, 1940
Listening to your broadcast wherein you discussed “Universal Service,” I wondered just how much sacrifice is going to be made by the Roosevelt family. Now just tell me specifically what part of this “service” is going to be donated by John, James, Elliot, Franklin Jr. and Anna’s Husband.
Being mindful of the fact that none of the Roosevelt family has met with reverses during all this depression—though others were taking it on the chin—I wondered if these young men are going to sit in swivel chairs while others are toting guns and doing the dirty work. I am very much afraid they will sit in the swivel chairs as their father did before them while others come into contact with blood, filth, cooties etc.
I have a son and his mother and I have sacrificed a great deal to get him started on a professional career. We haven’t sought NYA aid since we believe on standing on our own feet. Soon he will be dragged away from his studies, no doubt, and our sacrifice will have been in vein for I firmly believe that Roosevelt will get us into war if that is the only way he can perpetuate himself in office.
Jan. 21th, 1933
Madam: Do you think your advocacy of drunkenness for young girls will reduce debauchery? I have four young daughters and though I voted for your husband, I am ashamed of you. I have to apologize for you to them. If your husband doesn’t muzzle you he will be impeached before the close of his first year in the white house. You are not required under the constitution to make speeches with the idea of gaining notoriety. As a thinker you are a flop. Please be quiet like a good woman.
Yours, Mrs. E. L. Couture
January 14th, 1933
Dear Mrs. Roosevelt,
Permit me to add a word of appreciation for your sincere and helpful elevetation of that great American Institution, The Medicine Show. In time past it often consisted of a flaring light with a colored dancer and banjo player while the head man sold Rattlesnake Cure to the admireing public. Now we have a blue-blood society lady, born bred and reared in the purple, in a patronizing voice, giving us all kinds of advice. What a wonderful uplift this has been.
The effect has been magical.
Balmand are trying hard to see how much synitheic they can carry. They have chased the Chapperones off the Pacific coast and if they come back, as you predict, they will be ready for them. Me, I have tried to drink Ponds Extract, but it did not have much kick, so I gave it up.
That you may long be spared for this vital work is the sincere wish of your fellow countryman.
W. E. Graves
January 25, 1933
My dear Mr. Graves: –
I have your letter of January fourteenth and I am sorry that you feel so much upset by the things which I am doing.
In the first place, I did not advocate girls drinking all the “synthetic gin they can carry” and I am enclosing a copy of my speech so that may have the opportunity of reading just exactly what I did say.
I knew when I agreed to broadcast for Pond’s Extract Company that I would be subjected to criticism of all kinds but after thinking it over seriously and considering the innumerable appeals for help which I could not answer because my own income is so limited, I decided that the good which I could accomplish by giving all of the proceeds to help the unemployed would far out-balance the criticism.
I am fully aware of the fact that after March fourth, I cannot do anything more of this kind of thing, but I would like to state here that until March fourth I am a private citizen and have the right to decide for myself what is wise and what is unwise.
I am sorry indeed to offend you or any of the other citizens of the United States but there are two sides to every story and I feel justified in my own conscience in what I have done.
Very sincerely yours,
(Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt)
January 31st, 1933
Mrs. Franklink D. Roosevelt,
New York City
My Dear Mrs. Roosevelt,
I wish to thank you for your forbearance your kind and courteous letter. I scarcely thought, knowing that you must receive many letters, that my letter would ever come to your notice.
In many localities there is much discussion over certain persons and what certain persons do. In your case you have made it very plain to me, the object of your work, and I feel that it is very commendable. I think it fine, almost noble to do this knowing as you stated that you would be the object of much criticism.
Trusting that your reward will be commensurate to your effort, I am,
Very Sincerely Yours,
Feb. 23rd, 1942
My dear Mrs. Roosevelt—–
Your program last night on the radio was a great disappointment to me. I have thought of you as a woman of courage, even when I have sometimes agreed with you.
Last week when you resigned from OCD, I thought it was further proof of the courage to give up a cherished plan when you found that you had been wrong.
I was amazed therefor at your tone of bitterness and spite in discussing the matter over the radio. It can not be possible that one of your mental ability can still, in the face of such terrible danger, think it wise, or even honest to spend public funds for amusements.
Our sons, brothers and husbands are going out to fight with no suitable equipment, when billions of our money has been appropriated by congress long ago for that purpose.
Known foreign agents are kept on the gov’t payroll to be paid out of tax money.
No one is being fooled by your attempt to arouse class prejudice to your support, for all know that this is not a safety measure. Dancing does not come under the head of “For the many” instead of for the few. It is in the class of Amusement instead of safety, and the people have had just about all of that they can stand.
Mrs. J.H. Fannington.
Sept. 13th, 1934
Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt
Dear Mrs. Roosevelt,
I was so thrilled on listening to your two talks Tuesday night that I have girded up my courage in order to write you to express my great appreciation. What a blessing it is for me, a shut in—at the age of 84 to listen to the voice of the most remarkable woman, who to my knowledge ever occupied the White House.
Your talk on modernizing educational technique was most timely. My one wish was that my Deceased Husband, a civil war veteran, who served 58 years in the U.S. Supreme Court under four judges could have been here to hear you.
I wish that Gods Blessing may go with you, to strengthen you in the great work you are doing.
Marie C. Hurley
July 25th, 1940
Mrs. Eleaner Roosevelt,
Hyde Park, New York
Dear Mrs. Roosevelt:
After your “good bye” this morning on the radio, I feel like I had just said “good bye” to a very dear one after having a long happy visit with her. I feel a sense of aloneness that makes me realize how much I am going to miss your Tuesday visits to my home. They have been so interesting and inspiring.
We are just one of the average happy American families consisting of my husband, who is a union warehouse employee, my daughter, a housewife and mother of a five year old girl, her husband, a local fire department employee, my Father, a retired railroad man and myself, a housewife, but we have all the love and deepest appreciation that five Americans can have for out Beloved President and our incomparable Frist Lady.
I genuinely hope you will give us some more radio visits soon and we all look forward to more of the President’s dynamic fire side chats. How we love you both.
We are fully aware of the personal sacrifices you both are making for our country and us and the trying times that coming years will bring but we shudder to think of what might happen to us without our President and You at the wheel.
We pray for his health and yours and hope that you both have a nice summer and much needed rest.
Mrs. Juanita Jeffares
San Francisco, Cali.
May 4, 1934
Dear Mrs. Roosevelt:
Your voice is still ringing out to me from that little movie box beside my bed, and I am so thrilled by the crusade you are preaching to millions of listeners all over the world, not only for peace, but for economic justice, which has been too long neglected by the great industrial leaders in our Capitalistic society.
You ask for cooperation in the new social order which you and your husband have a part in the making—this is of course the Cooperative Commonwealth which is really Socialism put into practice.
Why this country is so stupidly afraid of the word when all other countries accept it as an integral part of their governments, no man can tell. Why can’t we all come out and analyze the word and banish all fear of a system that means only cooperation for the common good, instead of the fighting dog-eat-dog system which brings on wars and accepts unemployment as a part of the game? [Blocked out] No more billionaires or paupers. That is all that the radical is asking. Who is afraid of that? Only the selfish greed of the big business man, with no thought of how he amasses his fortune, if he thinks, shame should make him bow his head. No cake until all have bread, should be our slogan.
So, I just want to thank you for lending your voice to preaching the gospel of the brotherhood of man here and now. For yours is the most powerful voice before the world today and you are using it in the only cause that will bring peace and justice to a needlessly troubled world.
My dear Mrs. Roosevelt,
I have listened to your broadcasts about typewriters for children. Santa Claus brought me one. I am nine years old and in the fourth grade.
Wishing you avery happy New Year.
John Forber King
July 11, 1940
Sweetheart Soap Mail Digest
From: Mrs. Mary C. Davis, Chicago, Illinois.
Summary: She is a widow…ill and unemployed. Her son has been in Joliet State Prison for that past 13 years. He was her sole support until taken to prison. She says she is sure he is innocent of the crime committed. His name is William Joseph Crown, Reg. No. 907-E-Box 1112. She asks Mrs. Roosevelt if there is anything she can do towards getting her son paroled. She wishes Mrs. Roosevelt to write to her son. She enjoys Mrs. Roosevelt’s broadcasts.
From: Mrs. Bettie Jolly, Flemingsburg, Kentucky.
Summary: she is a widow with six children. Her two sons have married and she never hears from them. Two of her four girls are ill. One with a double club foot, and the other unable to talk. The child who is unable to talk, at 11 years of age, is constantly ill. Mrs. Jolly says she is also unwell and works very hard on the farm. Her husband left her a home with a mortgage on it and she is having difficulty in making ends meet. She says a neighbor told her there was compensation for the 11 year old child and she asks Mrs. Roosevelt about it. She has written to the Child’ Welfare Department but has been unsuccessful in securing their help. She asks Mrs. Roosevelt to help her.
From: Mrs. Earl Baker, R.F.D. #1, Newcomerstown, Ohio.
Summary: she says her husband is a World War Veteran. He served 18 months in France with the Marines. He was wounded by a bullet in the right leg and shrapnel in the hip. She says it was discovered last summer at the Veterans’ Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. She says he is in the Hospital now being examined again. He is very crippled and it is hard to walk because of the pain in his back. She says they cannot get a Pension or help, and they need it badly. She lost her only child some years ago. They live in a 4 room house, 3 miles from Newcomerstown, Ohio. There is no gas, electricity or water and she works very hard. They pay $6.00 a month rent and are afraid they will be evicted. Her husband is unable to work and the situation is becoming desperate. She is afraid her husband will become despondent and do something drastic.
To Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt:
We, the undersigned, “average girls of today”, between the ages of fourteen (14) and twenty-five (25) years, both those still “very young” and those older, by observing the laws of health and the laws of our country with respect to the beverage use of alcoholic liquors, have obviated the necessity of “facing the problem of learning very young, how much we can drink of such things as whiskey and gin and sticking to the proper quantity”.
Indeed, we are wholly unable to understand how there can be a “proper quantity” of “whiskey or gin” or any other alcoholic beverage which citizens of the United States may drink without conspiring to violate the organic and statutory laws of our nation, which prohibit the anti-social liquor traffic—anti-social whether it be legal or illegal, because it is against public safety and the general welfare.
The lawless self-indulgence of parents in certain groups creates the environment which exposes their daughters and the daughters of others to the physical and character dangers which you describe.
When mothers and fathers who claim to be respectable, respect their duties as parents their obligations as citizens, the evils among certain groups of young people of which you complain will cease to exist.
Mildred Cook, 18
L.A. Glaus, 24
Edith Lovelace, 19
Mary Louise McKennon, 20
Augusta English, 19
E.F. Davies, 23
Sara Cornell, 18
Minnie Gibson, 18
Sam Ella Heaton, 19
Ida Mae Buchanan, 19
Byron Dodson, 23
Catherine Jenkins, 19
Margaret Claridge, 23
Bertha Mai Betty, 18
Estelle Gilbert, 17
Helen Lelts, 21
Christine Holzapfel, 18
Mildred Palmer, 24
Ruth Taylor, 20
Elizabeth Hulme, 21
Adelaide Berry, 22
Pauline Hite, 18
July 23, 1940
Sweetheart Soap Company
Care Radio Station W.T.A.M.
Mrs. Roosevelt’s radio talk today was entirely too “New Deal” in its nature to be a suitable feature on a supposedly commercial program.
While some of Mrs. Roosevelt’s talks have been interesting in a mild way, the writer feels, with many others of your potential customers, that when Mrs. Roosevelt takes to discussing sociological conditions on your program, with suggestions for their solution according to her own personal views, your company is then entering the field of thankless political controversy, and that your program is then being used by Mrs. Roosevelt as a means for expressing her own political views to YOUR public at YOUR expense.
Mrs. Roosevelt is no doubt an intelligent and charming lady, but her radio value is, after all, entirely due to her being the wife of the President of the United States, and many of the people of the country feel that in thus capitalizing the value and dignity of the position, she is going outside her proper province. When she brings controversial subjects into YOUR program, the irritation thus caused defeats the purpose for which your company sponsors the broadcast.
(Miss) Ada Rice,
Sept. 13, 1934
Dear First Lady:
Will you take time to read a letter from a lonely little girl. I am fourteen years and will be in the junior class in high school this term. I have to ride five miles to school—on horse back when it is too muddy for the bus. Mrs. Roosevelt, I want you to tell me if you can some way by which I can get the thing I most want right now.
When I read how you get $3000 for each radio broadcast you make, I can’t help but think how unjust this world is. Here I sit straining my ears trying to hear the sound of your voice we a little crystal set my uncle helped us to make last winter. It is about half the size of a ladies’ shoe box and with cheap head phones, I just hear enough to make me eager to hear more.
I have only heard your voice once or twice as we can only get the Dallas and Fort Worth stations.
I have so little pleasure and past time. We are just poor renters on a farm and there is no money for radio or the books I like so much to read.
I have done a boy’s work every since I was five years old. This week I have been breaking land with a sulky plow and three mules.
Dear First Lady, I have read of your kind heartedness and the cheer you have brought to so many. Can’t you suggest some way that I can get a radio so I can hear the music and talks and news from outside my very small little world?
I could never thank you enough.
My daddy doesn’t know I am writing this. He would think me foolish to expect a favor from a great lady. Any way I’ve had some pleasure from writing it.
Excuse this paper—there is no money for nice stationary either.
Your little friend
Wolf City, Texas