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

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NEW YORK—A short time ago I received a letter from a doctor in Massachusetts who, in picturesque language, described the conditions of uncleanliness that exist in most of our cities. I could not use as descriptive and colorful words but I certainly agree that we must face up to these conditions.

We seem to be totally lacking in a sense of personal responsibility for the cleanliness of our cities, towns and villages. We have well-organized departments of sanitation and street-cleaning authorities and we pay our taxes. Yet, we proceed to make it as difficult as possible for these people to do their jobs.

Since receiving this letter I began to look with sharpened eyes at the conditions that exist. The other day I took a taxicab from in front of my apartment on 74th Street to go to the Carnegie Building on 46th Street and First Avenue. The floor of the cab was literally covered with matches, cigarette stubs, ashes and bits of paper. Apparently no one had taken the trouble to use the ash tray and the floor was the easiest place to drop anything.

My way that morning was not through slum areas. It was through business and residential streets, some wide, some narrow, but all were littered with papers, cigarette stubs and gum wrappings. I even saw two large, torn plastic bags being blown about. There are curb-side receptacles for such refuse, but people just seem to ignore them. I even saw many charred bits of garbage blowing about—a left-over from several weeks ago when some residents dug holes in the snow and set their garbage afire at the curb.

Such conditions bring about critical articles in our newspaper, blaming the street-cleaning department. Just the other day I read that the City Club of New York criticized the administration of our Sanitation Department as being wasteful and antiquated. The thought was expressed that we should have better machinery for cleaning up, and perhaps heated sidewalks so that the snow would melt as it fell. There were all kinds of suggestions but the problem boils down, I think, to personal responsibility.

There are many cities in the world that are cleaner than New York. Moscow, for example, is one of the cleanest I have seen. Of course, I'll concede that traffic is not as heavy there; also, paper is so scarce that people are careful not to tear it up and throw it around the streets. However, the real reason for more cleanliness is that people are more disciplined. They are told not to throw refuse in the streets, and they don't do it.

It is impossible if there is no self-discipline exerted by the people themselves to keep a city really clean. So, no amount of blame or criticism of sanitation departments will take the place of training children to begin to accept the responsibility of keeping their cities clean. Then when they are adults they will do so automatically.

The same holds true along country roads and in picnic areas. We have an obligation to preserve the beauties of nature and to guard against the destructiveness of fire. We should never leave a fire burning when we have finished our cooking in a picnic area; we should never leave things that can blow about and litter the woods and the roads.

We must teach our youngsters through our school systems that it is their responsibility, after having enjoyed the use of public property, to leave it as it should be left for the enjoyment of the next person who may pass that way. Cleanliness is one of the basic things we in the United States are supposed to believe in. Yet, one is shocked when traveling through our cities or driving along our roads at the dirt that reflects the carelessness of the average citizen.


(Copyright, 1961, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • New York (N.Y., United States) [ index ]

About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, March 15, 1961

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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Digital edition published 2008, 2017 by
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Available under licence from the Estate of Anna Eleanor Roosevelt.

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MEP edition publlished on June 30, 2008.

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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.