The Women Behind the Memorials: Eleanor Roosevelt: A woman of Chautauqua

Photo courtesy of Mary Lee Talbot
Eleanor Roosevelt visits Chautauqua in 1937 and receives flowers from Phyliss Hodill and Mary Helen Jacobs (Talbot).

The Women Behind the Memorials

Eleanor Roosevelt

Reporter’s Note: The Chautauqua Women’s Club’s 125th celebration this season offers the opportunity to illuminate and celebrate the remarkable women who have made Chautauqua what it is. These women brought intelligence, energy and leadership to every project they touched. Testimony to their achievements remains in the buildings that bear their names, the organizations they created and the words they wrote. This series will attempt to recall their individuality, their interests and finally a suggestion of who they were as people — a sense of the women behind the memorials, of women who cast a long shadow. We finish this series with Eleanor Roosevelt.

There are three observations, among many, gleaned from reading The Chautauquan Daily reporting of Eleanor Roosevelt’s eight visits to Chautauqua from 1927-1937. First: how farsighted her concerns and comments were, particularly in the July 7, 1930, and the July 25, 1933, speeches. Second: the reporting, which inadvertently describes the contrast in the freedom of movement Roosevelt enjoyed to the impenetrable gauze of security which wraps national political figures today. Third: how vivid and observant the reporting was, especially Elizabeth Hall’s July 26, 1933, Daily “Ground Wires” column.

On July 7, 1930, at 2:30 pm, Roosevelt spoke at the Hall of Philosophy. Her topic was “Advantages and Disadvantages of the Modern Home.” Her concern was the separation of parents from their children caused by men working away from the family and the automobile.

“It is a direct means by which children satisfy the desire to escape from the home and relations with their parent,” Roosevelt said. “Everything is moving faster because everything is mechanical.”

What would she say about iPhones?

She returned to Chautauqua on July 21, 1930, to give a radio broadcast, “What is the matter with American Family Life?” which amplified her earlier speech.

“We older people must not try to make the younger generation do things the way we did them, or see things the way we see them, but we must try to give them an ideal and a conception of the type of spirit one must have to live a useful life,” she said.

The radio address was also a Valentine to Chautauqua. In her beginning remarks, Roosevelt proclaimed to a national radio audience: “The thing which is particularly interesting about Chautauqua is that it is not just a place for students, or just a place for men or for women, but it is a place for families where the whole family may fulfill each his own desires and interests and yet all can be together.”

Six thousand people filled the Amphitheater at 8:15 p.m., July 25, 1933, to hear her speech, “The New Responsibility of Women.” It would also be broadcast “over the facilities of the National Broadcasting System,” according to the Daily. Stenographers recorded the speech, which can be read in its entirety in The Bestor Years at the Oliver Archives.

“I believe that the time has come when we as women must realize that one of the great objects which we have to achieve is to make men understand that we must work with them; that they must work with us; that this is a cooperative world; that we have interests that are dearer to us, perhaps, but they will not be achieved unless we work together,” Roosevelt said toward the end of her speech. “And one of the objectives of the new organizations of women should, I think, be to draw closer to the men’s organizations and work closer with them until our interests merge.”

In some respects, the 1933 presentation echoes her first Chautauqua Women’s Club speech, “The Civic Responsibilities of Women,” from Aug. 1, 1927.

“Our duty — in a broad sense, and cannot be different for men or women since we are all citizens — is first to familiarize ourselves with our past, then to understand the present, know what we have achieved and decide on our goal and the first step necessary is the forward march,” Roosevelt said.

The reporting of Roosevelt’s visits raises a sobering question: has the nation lost something in the intervening years, illustrated by the difference in security around national figures? Hall’s 1933 column is not just evidence of the difference in security coverage — it is a marvel of “you are there” writing.

“It was only 20 minutes past the appointed hour [5:00 p.m.] when Mrs. Roosevelt gave the final tug to the emergency brake of her blue roadster in the Hotel driveway,” Hall wrote. “Word of Mrs. Roosevelt’s arrival came to the hotel by phone. She had stopped across from the Road Gate for gasoline but would be down presently…Immediately, the two ranking bellboys of the hotel rushed forward to open doors and superintended by Mrs. Roosevelt to unload the rumble seat… Mrs. Roosevelt wore a light blue crepe dress, dark blue raincoat, white stockings, and white around her hair. Walking through the lobby she carried two small bags, from one which projected four white knitting needles and under her arm was a large book — The Home Book of Verse by Burton E. Stevenson.”

Hall continues with a brief description of a press Q-and-A session, preparation and table decorations for the dinner before the Amp speech. Then, the Hall column introduces Miss Leona Hickok who traveled with Roosevelt.

“She turned out to be a personal friend of Mrs. Roosevelt, formerly with the Associated Press [‘the best woman reporter they ever had at the A.P.’ according to another source] and now with the Federal Relief Administration,” Hall wrote. “She had been taking her vacation with Mrs. Roosevelt touring the northeast of this continent for about three weeks. The First Lady had done all the driving with the top down all the way.”

In the July 26, 1933, Daily article, Roosevelt’s trip was reported as a three-week trip, in which she and Hickok visited the Adirondacks, Quebec, Gaspé Peninsula and Campobello.

This article could also be titled “Anna J.H. Pennybacker, Chapter 2.” The Daily reporting emphasizes Pennybacker’s and the Chautauqua Women’s Club essential role in bringing Eleanor Roosevelt to Chautauqua.

Thank you, Mrs. Pennybacker.