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Eleanor Roosevelt Speeches

Informal speech and Q&A at Franklin D. Roosevelt High School in Hyde Park, New York, Part 2

October 1957


ER discusses her trip to Russia with the teachers at FDR High School.

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And this is valuable because young people are encouraged. They go to the language institute as an extra, but they can make money that way because the government is always needing interpreters, and in tourist uses, interpreters. And uh the government is bringing in all the time, people, delegations, from uncommitted countries that it wishes to convert to the communist idea. They do many things with this is mind: not only the sending out of their young people, who will take their skill and at the same time, the friendly gesture of knowing the language of the country you're going to be in, which flatters people very much, and the ability to transmit the ideas which they've learned all along the line. Those Marxist examinations, they culminate in a knowledge of Marxism and a very good indoctrination. So you see, politically, this is an important thing that the government does with education. Now you have in addition, the value of bringing in, as government guests, large delegations from uncommitted countries in Asia and Africa and South America. And young people have learned the language. They keep, in every place of entertainment, the first three rows of seats for sale to foreigners. Now, we have grown to think of those countries as Iron Curtain countries because they at first would not allow people to come in from foreign countries. But that has been very much changed. Khrushchev told me that this past year, not a single visa had been denied to a single American. And at every hotel I went to, Americans would dash up to me and say, "Oh, Mrs. Roosevelt, we're so glad to see you. We come from, um Grand Rapids," or, "We come from San Diego."

I had begun to feel that everybody in the United States was traveling in the Soviet Union last summer. And it was very interesting, and so I believe Mr. Khrushchev when he said that in the past year they have not denied a visa. But traveling as a tourist is not the same as when you want to try to really find out something about the life of the country. And that's harder to do and harder to get your opportunities. But if you dig hard enough, you can do it. And this particular thing, I watched with a great deal of interest because I would see-I would buy my tickets, and then I would find, sitting on my right, a delegation one night of twenty from the Sudan. And I couldn't help wondering, I don't know, perhaps you do, but I don't know what language you talk in the Sudan, or the natives talk. And I would find it very difficult to know where I would go in New York, let us say, to find people to act as interpreters for a delegation. But there were three or four young Russians who were talking just as glibly as if uh whatever the language was was their own. And I thought, "Oh heavens, this is something that we can't duplicate." [laughs] And I watched; behind me sat a group of Syrians, one of which I served with in the UN so I talked to him, and the other side was a Bulgarian group. And every night, you go to something if you're in a foreign country.

I went to see many ballets and theatres and circuses and the puppets, everything that was open though I was there at the time when some things were closed, the biggest theatre was closed. But they have extraordinary performances. The ballet was the most beautiful thing I ever saw, and the prices are kept fairly reasonable so that all the people can go. And for foreigners, these first three rows are always available. Now, this is a systematic diplomatic way of selling their way of life. Because they say to these people, "We know your people are hungry. We know you lack industrialization. That was what was the matter with us forty years ago. Look what we've done in forty years. Our people have free medical care. They have free education. They have a job. They're assured of a pension when they're old. They're assured when they're ill of care and of a pension if they can't go back to work. They-we are developing our industry ((5:26)) and eventually we will be able to give our people many more things because now we have to develop the heavy industries, they have to sacrifice." And, of course, they constantly remind their people that they have to sacrifice and these industries have to be built up because we want to destroy them. We are opposed to a communist world, well that's quite true. They are quite sure that peacefully, without a war, they can achieve a communist world. And unless we are willing to face the fact that they have lived in a war economy, we got rid of our war economy just as quickly as we could but they've lived in a war economy, their government has given them just enough and the contrast of what they had before is so great, for many of them were peasants who lived in huts with mud floors with their animals right in the same room with them.

Bad as housing is, it's probably better than it was then and the government has given them, always the feeling that next year they'll have a little more. Next year they'll be able to buy things that they can look at now but probably can't buy because prices for anything except the basic necessities of life are sky high and an automobile, oh you put your name down and you wait eight years to get an automobile. You put your name down for an apartment of your own, not a multiple apartment which you just have one room and you share the cooking facilities and the toilet with five other families but an apartment of your own. Oh, you wait eight-nine years for that. Now they keep telling you, "It's coming, it's coming next year or the year after" and just enough does happen so you keep the hopes of the people. And they are-they have it so ingrained in them that this is going to happen, that whenever you criticize anything, their reaction immediately is, "Ah yes, that may be so know, but in a few years we will have just as much as anybody else." And they're very proud of the fact that their country has become one the greatest countries in the world. And there's no use in our fooling ourselves that uh a revolution is going to happen next year in the Soviet Union. It just isn't going to happen. These people never knew freedom, so that this amount of economic security might very easily mean to them the beginnings of freedom.

You've never had freedom before now it's a different story for the satellites, they knew freedom and they've been milked for the benefit of the Soviet people themselves so there I think the troubles of the Soviets are very real troubles but within the Soviet Union people grumble, of course, nobody likes to go without what they hear people have somewhere else, but [coughs] if you're told every day and all day long, the only knowledge you have of the outside world comes to you through communist papers all of whom carry the same news and very little about the world; I've never felt so cut off from the world in my life. You could buy two French communist papers, an East German communist paper and the Daily Worker from London, outside of that, nothing but Soviet Communist papers all of which- all of which carry the same lines. And everywhere there is never a mention of the United States which doesn't carry an adjective: the warmongers, the people who want to destroy you, the people who are going to make war on us, so that actually every sacrifice is made so that we will not wipe them out. (10:05) Now, the extraordinary thing to me was that whether they overplayed their hand I don't know, but I found no personal antagonism. I-I was surprised that I never encountered a Russian who said anything really disagreeable about the United States. Often, I was asked by Russians, particularly by Russian women if I wouldn't work to prevent war. And I said, "Surely I do work to prevent war, I do everything I can." I said, "Perhaps my way of working will not be your way of working because you will work for a communist world and I will not because I-I prize freedom, and the chance to learn and to want things myself and to work for them myself. And I think it's a much firmer foundation than your foundation which is all compulsion. But I will grant you that you have achieved certain objectives." And they have.

And the sooner we know about it, the reason we haven't known is because we went through a period in this country of fear. We were afraid to use the word communism or to talk or learn anything about the communists because we were afraid that somebody would say if you were interested, "Ah he must be a communist", or "She must be." That was the result of the McCarthy period where we're reaping the sad results right now because if you are afraid of something and know nothing about it, it's always bad. Actually, I asked many people what communism meant during that period, and they couldn't tell me what communism really was. And so whatever we did not like we began to call communism and that also is a very bad thing in a free country because it means that people lose their freedom of thought. In a free country you must have the right to differ and to think along different lines, if you don't you lose one of the great assets which has built our country and I'm glad the period of McCarthy has come to an end and it amuses me very much to find that one of the things I was uh worried about when I was in the Soviet Union and at the same time we had there a gentleman from our Department of Agri-of Forestry, who was a scientist, really knew his business. He'd come in on a delegation of three Americans serving on a UN mission. First one the Soviets had ever allowed to come in. And they'd come in to study logging and make any suggestions possible.

Now logging is just one special part of forestry but this one man that we had sent, the other two were just lumber merchants, one man we'd sent uh really knew his business. When he gave me his report and we came home on the air-on the airplane together and he said to me, "You know the thing that worries me is that nobody is going to believe me. They're never going to believe that the Russians are this good." And he said, "Here is my photograph of the-the uh research center that we visited, we haven't got anything like it in the United States." He said, "Here are my photographs of a variety of different machines. We don't have anything that touches these." But he said, "They won't believe me at home." And I said, "Well, that's one thing I've wondered whether if I began to tell of the things that had happened whether they would believe me." And then Sputnik came and since Sputnik came, everybody had been asking me questions and nobody says, "You must be wrong, this can't be that good." [Laughs] But I want to emphasize the fact that this is done under compulsion and perhaps compulsion is never so well grounded because people may not understand it so well and not having worked to achieve it themselves if they ever do get a certain amount of freedom, they may not do the things that they have learned about.

So I want you to think about this but never belittle the achievements of your adversary. This is our greatest adversary. We have to prove that we can do better in a free world, in a free economy and give people better lives, and that we can do more for other areas of the world, than they can do under compulsion. And that is the challenge that Sputnik really brought us. And that's what comes into each one of our lives every day. Are we actually doing what we should do for the un-uncommitted areas of the world? You know you can lose your freedom just as quickly without a war if gradually you lose to communism, country after country, and your free area becomes smaller and smaller, you lose your freedom just as quickly that way. It may take a little longer but you lose it in the end just as well. So, this is the challenge that all of us face, and I think it's something that we cannot afford not to understand because it has to be answered by each one of us individually. What are we willing to do to hold freedom in the United States?

[Unknown Speaker 1:]

How many foreign languages are taught in the Russian schools and at what age or at what grade are these languages started to be taught?


You actually go to the institute. Uh there is in every city a language institute, and you go to that institute for foreign languages. About forty percent of the children take English and almost every um graduate has learned at least two languages beside his own and um at least two. Very often you find they've learned more. But they do that outside of their regular school work.

[Unknown Speaker 1:]


[Unknown Speaker 2:]

I was wondering um Mrs. Roosevelt, for um the fact that um if children don't measure up and can't pass these examinations, they're put into the labor force. At what age would they be taken from the school if they were not able to do the academic work? I mean what would be the earliest age?

[Unknown Speaker 1:]

You spoke Mrs. Roosevelt of students not being able to make the grade, being pushed into the labor force. At what age would they be put into the labor force?


I think they would go into the labor force by the time they were in three or had had three or four years of school. Um I think that if they cannot keep up after that uh they go right directly. And you must remember that women are as necessary as men, for instance. And women, in the Soviet Union, do the same kind of work. You find-I look out of my window at the train, coming into Leningrad, and they were relaying the heavy tires under the tracks and I saw a um a section gang, three quarters of the workers were women.

[Unknown Speaker 3:]

What kind of work--

[Unknown Speaker 1:]

Would these young children do?


There's all kinds of work. For instance, going at seven, suppose they came out, they probably will not be taken out of school until they are uh twelve or thirteen, do you see, somewhere around there. Well [coughs] if they are twelve or thirteen, they will begin and work in the hotels, in the-in all kinds of-of different-they work on the farms. They use workers twelve or thirteen years old, a boy or girl, I don't-um, there are any number of-of small jobs do you see that uh that a twelve or thirteen year old will start in.

[Unknown Speaker 1:]

I think you had a question.

[Unknown Speaker 4:]

Yes [00:19:51]19:51)--

[Unknown Speaker 1:]

It's a rather lengthy question Mrs. Roosevelt, I'll try to paraphrase it this way. You've mentioned nothing about small towns as we know small towns in the United States. What influence have the small town had on teenagers? Where do they, where are they sent to school? Are they sent right in the small town in which they are born or raised and when do they go to the institute? Does that take care of it?

[Unknown Speaker 4:]

Oh yeah.


Well, you see the-the Soviet Union is divided into republics; um I went from Moscow, which is the capital of the Soviet Union, down to one of the small republics in central Asia, same pattern is followed everywhere. Now the capital of the Republic of Uzbekistan, which is one of the small republics, is Tashkent. Now Tashkent is um the biggest town for that area. Samarkand, which I flew to, um is a smallish town with a great deal of uh tradition of the past, not too many industries, perhaps only one or two, with one big and very fine tuberculosis hospital, bone-bone tuberculosis hospital. Um [coughs] but the patterns, right though, are the same. There were two women who came to meet me at the airport, one of whom was on the local council and who asked me innumerable questions about labor laws for women in the United States, social service in the United States. Um I was very much interested because the Soviets are very proud of having allowed the culture of the different republics to be retained. Um that goes for every group except the Jews. The Jews because they were not a republic but were scattered in many cities are gradually--I don't know how they reserved any of their culture. But they are trying very hard to integrate them. Now it's been hard, and I don't know whether the Jews will succeed in retaining any culture.

But in the-in Uzbekistan, they had a people who loved music. And so you find, in that little republic, nineteen colleges of music. And they had some old string instruments, which they've taken infinite trouble with to adapt them to the orchestras of today, do you see, so they can play with the orchestras. They've preserved all the old songs that came down by word of mouth for generations. And they really care in Uzbekistan about they're beautiful musician--I heard two young orchestras that were quite the finest I've heard anywhere. And um they- it's from there that a great many of the musicians go to the different cities. And they have great many um groups of musicians that go from Uzbekistan. And so you find, while you find a pattern, is the same; it adapts itself to or is made to adapt itself to the culture of the people where it is. Now you have the same ministries, the same um--but within the education, there is flexibility. Now, even in a little republic like Uzbekistan, they are starting their own college of medicine, their own colleges of different kinds. Uh in any town that is big enough, you will find um a college. Um they may have to because uh the child, as I told you, has to choose his profession. He may have to go to the biggest town nearby to get into the higher education that he wants, but up to that time, you will find pretty well through ten-year school, that the pattern is the same.

Now the latest Soviet educational wrinkle, I think has very serious uh questions, as far as I'm concerned. They're trying more and more to establish, for this ten-year school period um boarding schools. And every child will be in boarding school during the week, so their parents will only have them at the weekend. And I went to those boarding schools and the regimentation, from my point of view, was frightening do you see because everybody did on the stroke of a bell uh what they were supposed to do. And um I thought that would be pretty tough as time went on, but I don't know. You-we-we have to watch this. This is all new. And it's all with virgin material you see because these um Soviets-your, you small town is a pattern of the big one; um and even your rural areas feed into the nearest place that can have this. You have your school in your collective farm, for instance, which has great many people on it, as a rule. Um but you progress from there to the nearest place that has the higher education.

[Unknown Speaker 1:]

There are no liberal arts colleges, how does a teacher prepare to teach? Do they go to a specialized school or is it a more--


There are special-there are special uh colleges for teachers in--they go to learn the things they mean to teach, do you see. They-you-you may, for instance, you may be an engineer. You may decide to become a professor and that means longer training, but you will be a teacher in that profession. And you may decide, at any point, to train as a teacher. And there are special schools for that training. And you-you get when-there's no reason why you may choose to study architecture or literature or history-or history, of course, as they teach it, is history that you-you and I would hardly recognize, but nevertheless um you may specialize, for instance, the husband of my interpreter, Anna Lavrova, is a professor who teaches at Moscow University in French History and Literature.

[Unknown Speaker 1:]

So government gives a great many services to the people. Now, how does the government get the money to pay for these services?


Out of the people. The people work very hard and um produce a great deal. And it's out of the people every bit of it is taken. And they're very angry with me in the Soviet Union at present because they picked on two things that I said as being really um very inimical. One of them was that I saw no well-dressed woman in Moscow, I never did. No woman in Moscow, and no man, is well-dressed. Uh the other is that I said that I'd never seen--uh children, this does not apply to because the children are as healthy and as lighthearted and as-as loved as any children you could imagine and is full of life and fun. But I saw no adult person who laughed, laughed spontaneously. The faces looked to me strained. They're all conscious of the fact that they're all watched every minute and uh that they're furious with me for having said. They say that this is a libel, that they do laugh and laugh easily. Now, it's true that the Soviets have a sense-I mean that the Soviet people have um a sense of fun and a sense of humor. But it seemed to me that as I watched people in the streets of the cities particularly, the expressions on their faces were very strained expressions. And I felt that what I had seen explained that.

For instance, a young boy uh he was uh he was an engineer, but he had served as a uh an in-tourist interpreter for a while. And he had been with my granddaughter, Kate, for a while, while she was there. And, so one day, he wanted to come see me and leave something for Kate, but he didn't make the appointment by telephoning himself, or going-calling up the hotel and asking if he could see me. No! He called a foreign correspondent that he knew and asked him if he would ascertain whether I would be at home and got from him the number of my room so he would not have to ask at the hotel desk. And he came. And he presented me with some Russian records because he said Kate had promised to learn Russian and a box of candy in a painted box that he said Kate had liked. And when he got up to go, he said, "Mrs. Roosevelt," he's now married and um his wife teaches somewhere. No, his wife works in, um in a library. And um he said, "Mrs. Roosevelt, it's alright, I know that you will be taking trips out of Moscow, and you will leave some of your luggage here. And it's alright to leave the records and the box of candy. But here is a letter that I want you to give Kate. And I want you to put it in your handbag and never to let your handbag out of your sight." Because he knew that whatever luggage I left would be gone through. And he didn't mind because there was nothing incriminating in having candy and records. But the letter, he never wanted anyone else you see, to read because the mere fact that he wrote a letter to somebody outside of the Soviet Union might give him a great deal of trouble. So I was to see that that letter never got into the hands of anybody else. I was to always see my handbag was where I had it, in hand and sight. The atmosphere of anxiety, you see.

[Unknown Speaker 1:]

Some in-back in 1936, a book was written indicating that the Russian educational system was far in advance of-in the theatrical arts. Am I correct?

[Unknown Speaker 5:]

Creative expression, in general.

[Unknown Speaker 1:]

Creative expression, in general. Is that still the case?


I can only speak for the things that I saw. There is no question in my mind that the opera I saw, the ballet I saw, the people were better trained and the scenery and the whole performance was a far better production than we would put on in the same fields here. Um-


Program Participants

  • : Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962

About this document

Informal speech and Q&A at Franklin D. Roosevelt High School in Hyde Park, New York, Part 2

October 1957


Eleanor Roosevelt

Project Editors
  • National Endowment for the Humanities

Eleanor Roosevelt Speeches is a project and publication of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, The George Washington University, Academic Building, Post Hall, Room 312, 2100 Foxhall Road, NW, Washington, DC 20007

Transcript Editors

Transcribed and published by the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, 2019-11-27

Transcription created from holdings at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library