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

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NEW YORK—Everywhere in the Soviet Union, one pattern remains the same: If you want to see everything, you go to the top. Those in the lower echelons are afraid to make a move on their own.

And so it was when Dr. David Gurewitsch, who was traveling with me, asked to see the Institute for Prosthesis. In Tashkent he had seen an artificial hand that impressed him greatly and had talked to the young engineer who had invented it. He was told there was one like it in Moscow and was most anxious to see it.

When Dr. Gurewitsch called the head of the institute in Moscow, he was told he would have to get permission to visit the institute from the head of the Ministry of Welfare. The minute he told the Minister of Welfare, a woman, what he wanted she picked up a telephone and arranged it immediately.

The Ministry of Welfare vitally affects the lives of the Russian people. On my first visit to the ministry the Minister of Welfare was away, but on my last visit I met the Minister, Madame Muravjeva. I was impressed by the beauty of her face. I was impressed, too, by her administrative capacity and would like to see her visit this country.

On my first visit to the ministry, the deputy explained that every district in the Soviet Union has its own Social Welfare Department, although the localities are allowed to adjust to any particular need that arises.

The Moscow ministry employs 380 persons and throughout the country there are 70,000 on the social welfare staff. There is a chief for medical and labor matters and one to look after the invalids and aged. And one department concerns itself with women with large families and another with personal attention for individuals needing help.

The ministry's budget in 1957 was 34 billion rubles, with a principal expenditure of 32 billions for pensions and help for large families. Five hundred million rubles are used for the aged and invalids in institutions, 100 million rubles for prosthesis, limbs, etc. The balance goes for health resorts and materials needed by families.

The Soviet Union's social welfare program deals to a great extent with the health of the people. It carries on psychiatric work, but to me this seemed to be the least developed side of medicine. The Soviets make light of mental health problems and insist there is no juvenile delinquency worth mentioning and not much need for studying the mental health of young people.

In the Social Welfare Department are 51 technical schools for reeducation of the handicapped, the blind and the deaf, and these schools find jobs for persons they train. Home services include visiting care for old and sick persons living alone.

The visiting nurse service is under Social Welfare, and in Tashkent Dr. Gurewitsch and I were anxious to make the rounds with a visiting nurse, but this somehow proved impossible to arrange. I have a feeling this was because they are aware of their backwardness in housing and do not want visitors to see the crowded conditions under which people live.

Everyday living conditions for a worker, or even for a professional person with a very good salary, do not come up to U.S. standards. Many fairly recently-built apartments look as though they are several years old and their entrances and hallways resemble those in some of our slum-clearance projects.

Plush entrances are not essential, but somehow the entrances to many of the Russian apartments seemed unnecessarily unattractive. I hope, for the sake of the people, that the overcrowding soon will be overcome.

I saw an amusing little letter on the subject of tipping in the Soviet Union in the New York Times last week. In an article from Russia, that newspaper's correspondent, James Reston, had given a boost to the theory that there is no tipping in the U.S.S.R. But the letter writer, Clifton Daniel, in reply said there are many who do not mind accepting a tip from a capitalist, if they think they are not being watched.

I think Mr. Daniel is right. In the Soviet Union I was told to take presents for people, since they would not accept money. And I found that when people were under the eye of the Intourist authority, that was entirely true.

Small gifts are quite acceptable, of course, but I felt money would mean more. When the Intourist official knew that I had given money, it was promptly returned. But at other times the money was accepted and nothing was said. This was true anywhere I traveled in the Soviet Union.


(Copyright, 1957, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

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About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, October 14, 1957

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.