The Finer Things: Beauty in Difficult Times
"We have some of the most beautiful collections of pictures that can be found anywhere in the world in our various cities, for the enjoyment of those who have an appreciation and a love for pictures. I am often struct with the fact that very few people who live in New York City, for instance, know of the opportunities which the city provides and which are really varied enough for every taste. Many evenings can be spent with interest and profit and pleasure if we have sufficient appreication to get pleasure through our eyes and ears."
- Eleanor Roosevelt, "It's Up to the Women", 120-121
Through her “My Day Column”, public speeches, radio programs, and numerous books Eleanor recounted the lessons and experiences of her life to the American public unlike any civic leader before her. In particular, her rich descriptions of experiences with the arts stand out as an important thread throughout her writings. Eleanor repeatedly described the arts as a necessary component of life in the face of adversity, oppression, and hardship.
Broadcasting the Arts
Ruth Brall was a WPA sculptor known for her busts of famous figures. Here, Eleanor uses her radio program to discuss Brall’s experience among the WPA arts programs, especially the social elements of her sculpture.
"My Day" at the Museum
"Yesterday afternoon Mrs. Morgenthau and I went to see an exhibition of water colors and oil paintings by Olin Dows. I have known Olin Dows since he was a young boy and have watched every stage of his painting. Much of this work is the result of four years spent abroad last year, the greater part of the time in North Africa. He has certainly made great strides in his work.
Some landscapes were painted in West Virginia and looked so peaceful and picturesque that I wished I did not know so well what lay beneath those hills. The scenery is glorious in West Virginia, but to me there will always be a certain grimness in any of its landscapes, for I know too well the human suffering brought on by the coal beneath the surface.
Many people are thankful for this coal and it has meant much in the development of the country. Many of us, however, have been oblivious to the human conditions which existed in many of the coal fields. We have remained oblivious to the suffering which became more acute in certain sections when the coal deposits ran out or were not profitable to mine. We accept so much of the work that comes to us as a matter of course, without any question as to what may lie in the background."
My Day Column, February 5, 1938
via the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project
Copyright, 1938, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.
Eleanor’s “My Day” column reported her daily experiences, thoughts, and reflections. In this column, Eleanor describes viewing some watercolors by Olin Dows. Franklin and Eleanor were close friends with Dows, who created a mural at the Hyde Park Post Office as part of the Treasury’s Section of Painting and Sculpture. Eleanor’s analysis of the watercolors merges her own enjoyment of aesthetic concepts with the social realities of the West Virginian coalmines represented.
In this excerpt from Eleanor’s radio program, her son Elliott Roosevelt reads a letter from a listener that asks Mrs. Roosevelt about her favorite works of art and her attitudes about getting youth involved the fine arts. She recounts a number of her favorite painters, such as Van Gogh and Michelangelo. She emphasizes the necessity for exploration and freedom of choice among children in the arts, and encourages her listeners to capitalize on their sense of fantasy and intrigue rather than try to force and viewpoints or opinions down their throats.
My Day Column, February 5, 1938, via the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, The George Washington University.
Recorded Speeches and Utterances by Eleanor Roosevelt, 1933-1962, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York.
Roosevelt, Eleanor. 1933. It's up to the women. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Co.