The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Digital Edition > My Day
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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GENEVA, Tuesday—The other night we went to dine with Mr. and Mrs. James M. MacFarland. He is our public relations attache here. He invited also three presidents of the councils in the districts that center around Geneva proper, including the one from the canton of Vaud and the one from Valais. I was glad of the chance to talk to them.

Valais is a mountainous area with a great many rather poor farms. The president told me that even so the children, who live largely on their own products grown on the farms, and had simple lives, grew to be strong and fine boys and girls.

Every child in Switzerland must go to school until he is 15 years old. The president tells me that in his canton, which is largely Catholic, the public schools are Catholic schools, but that they give the same financial support to Protestant private schools in the district.

He also says that a great many of the small mountain farms, which really have the lowest standard of living, are now getting more money because the father of the family works in the village while the women and children do the necessary farm work with the occasional help of the man of the family. A man who does this is paid about twenty francs a day, and that is considered more than sufficient for the average Swiss family to get along on in moderate comfort.

I had heard that with prices so high here the average family had little to eat. In fact, I was told that the consumption of meat was very low. My dinner companions assured me, however, that most Swiss workmen's families and even small mountain families usually had enough to eat. The noon meal traditionally is a good vegetable soup with plenty of vegetables in it, plus a vegetable in season, which would be reasonably priced. The evening meal in most workmen's homes consists merely of cafe au lait and bread and cheese. Sometimes, too, potatoes are eaten at this meal.

These little mountain farms raise cattle, grow potatoes and do some truck farming. The people are now fighting tuberculosis, and a careful eye is being kept on the cattle. Every child is examined at least once a year and if any signs of TB are found the child is taken to a sanitarium. Undulant fever has not yet broken out among the cattle in this particular area, and so they have very strict rules in the effort to keep it out.

It is apparently quite easy to get domestic help here, but I doubt if there are a great many Swiss who enter domestic services. On the whole I have seen more Italians and French than Swiss serving in the homes. Wages are rather moderate as compared to the United States. Rents here are rather low also, and apartments or houses are, on the whole, well kept and very clean. But in many cases they are extremely primitive, and I would think that the Swiss of the poorer classes buy very few gadgets.

The daily working clothes of most of the people are ordinary but their Sunday costumes still have quality and much color. One of the councillors told me that the skilled workers of the big factories always put on a good appearance—far better, in fact, than a group of similar workers in Lyons, France.

I was also told that the rate of savings in Switzerland is extremely high, perhaps the highest in the world. Frugal living and not having much to buy that comes within the income of most of the population helps them to save for old age and seems to have made these people contented and happy.

E. R.


Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • Geneva (Switzerland) [ index ]

About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, May 2, 1951

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.