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Tue Nov 6, 2018, 02:07 PM

Eleanor Roosevelt's Election Day Advice for Women

Eleanor Roosevelt’s Election Day Advice for Women

A record number of American women are on the ballot in this week’s midterm elections. There’s no doubt that Eleanor Roosevelt, a pioneer in women’s political engagement, would have been proud. In this essay, adapted from IF YOU ASK ME: Essential Advice from Eleanor Roosevelt, historian Mary Jo Binker looks at Eleanor’s view of American democracy on the eve of a contentious election.“Advice columnist” is not the first term that comes to mind when you think of Eleanor Roosevelt. Feminist icon, first lady, diplomat, humanitarian, politician, teacher—these are the more common ways she is described and remembered. Yet, for more than 20 years, from the time she was first lady until her death in 1962, she wrote an advice column that dealt with everything from how to achieve world peace to how to attain personal happiness. If her readers saw her column, “If You Ask Me,” as a source of information, advice and reassurance, Eleanor viewed it as another vehicle to connect with people and promote her vision of a just, open, diverse, inclusive and democratic society.

For Eleanor, democracy was “a way of life” based on “belief in the value of each individual and politics was essentially “the participation of the citizen in his government.” She thought that a citizen’s “chief duty” lay in making “government the best possible medium for the peaceful and prosperous conduct of life,” while voting was the “the very basic minimum of a citizen’s duty.”

. . . .

Now, without further ado, some election day advice from Eleanor Roosevelt herself.

Eleanor Roosevelt casts her vote in 1936. (U.S. National Archives / Creative Commons)

On the threat of dictatorship:

Men who have the instincts for dictatorship are always a danger in any society. Free citizens must be constantly alert to preserve their liberties. In the United States, it is easy to discover a demagogue, but it sometimes requires courage to stand up immediately and say you don’t agree with certain methods and certain ideas. However, if we want to preserve our liberties, we had better show that courage—it is the only way I know of to remain a free people. [NOVEMBER 1960]
. . . . . .

On the double-standards for female candidates:

I have watched a great many women in political life, and I think there may be more reticence in bringing up certain types of accusation against a woman. I have an idea, however, that if accusations have some foundation in fact, they won’t be left out of a political campaign. When anyone, man or woman, goes into politics, I believe one has to develop a pretty tough skin and take for granted one will be treated no more gently than any other candidate. [MARCH 1962]


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