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Eleanor Roosevelt Speeches

Constance Lindsay Skinner Award Dinner, Part 1

February 24, 1961


Speeches at Women's National Book Association's Constance Lindsay Skinner Award Dinner

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[Lilian Gurney:]

As national president of the WNBA to welcome you, in the name of the association in the 1961 Constance Lindsay Skinner Award Dinner. For the benefit of those who are our guests for the first time tonight, the Constance Lindsay Skinner Award, which has been given annually since 1940, is awarded by the association to a woman who has made an outstanding contribution to the world of books and to our culture through books. Constance Lindsay Skinner, in whose memory the award is given, was an author and an editor-- [clears throat] pardon me-- well known as an author of children books and as an historian of the American northwest. She was fascinated by the drama of our American heritage. It inspired her to develop a plan for a series of books known as the Rivers of America, one of the earliest and still one of the outstanding series of American regional studies. The purpose of this series that Mrs. Skinner did was to kindle the imagination and reveal American people to one another. Each of the past winners reflects by her achievements Mrs. Skinner's high standard of services to books and people and to bringing them and the award has grown in dimension and meaning with each winner [clears throat] and one of our winners has sent us a telegram that I would like to read." I deeply regret that I must be in Chicago tonight instead of being with you celebrating this happy event. I remember- I remember always with pleasure and real pride my own award evening. Heartiest congratulations to Mrs. Roosevelt and to all of you for your selection this year. Fanny Butcher."

Before introducing our speakers, I would like to have you meet the officers of the national organization: Elva Jean Hall, National Secretary, [applause] Elizabeth Weber, National Treasurer, [applause] and the presidents of our five chapters: Boston, Irene Tuttle, [applause] Chicago, Betty Russell [applause], Cleveland, Josephine [00:02:33] [Applause] and Nashville, Rowena Ferguson, who couldn't get here, she is delayed by transportation. Just could not make it but she is going to-- [audience laughs] but she is going to be here after the dinner [Unknown individual laughs]. She is on her way and Anne [00:02:56], chairman of this year's Constance Lindsay Skinner Award dinner [applause]. Now, our first speaker this evening will be Mr. Herbert R. Mayes. Mr. Mayes has been an editor for-of one magazine or another since 1920, including 20 years as editor of Good Housekeeping. Currently, and for the last 2 years editor of the highly successful [00:03:29] magazine to which Mrs. Roosevelt has a monthly contribution. Uh Mr. Mayes was voted editor of the year in 1960 by the American and Canadian magazine editors and the Council for Periodical Distributors association. Great pleasure to introduce you to Mr. Herbert R. Mayes.

[Herbert R. Mayes:]

Ladies and gentlemen, exactly 20 years ago, Mrs. Roosevelt began to answer questions from readers on a monthly magazine paged and titled "If You Asked Me". "Do you ever lose your temper Mrs. Roosevelt?", was the very first question asked in 1941 [audience laughs]. "Occasionally" Mrs. Roosevelt replied, "but not in the usual way. I become cold and silent. My children recognize this and say 'look out! Ma's mad!'" [audience laughs]. Mrs. Roosevelt, when another question: "What is the book you would of most liked to have written?" Her answer, "the Book of Ruth". "Mrs. Roosevelt, what is your pet economy?" Answer: "Saving string". [audience laughs]. "Mrs. Roosevelt, I would like to know your views on necking and petting for teenagers", [audience laughs]"also about late hours and good night kisses" [audience laughs]. Answer: "You must remember that I am 69 years old and therefore necking and petting have very little charm for me." [audience laughs] and [applause] "That holds also for good night kisses." [audience laughs]. "In any case, I think a teenager and any other ager is wise never to make herself cheap." "Mrs. Roosevelt, do you feel your opinions ever changed your husband's political decisions?" To this, Mrs. Roosevelt gave one of her rare one-word answers. "Never."

[Audience laughs]

In the two decades of this past red page, Mrs. Roosevelt has been asked her views on little white lies, family political differences, mothers in law, fashions, crime, Santa Claus, the cost of living, the state of the union, dope doctors and divorce, sins, science and segregation and also whether she was afraid of mice [audience laughs]. Mrs. Roosevelt said she didn't like mice but didn't shriek when she saw them [laughter]. Some while back, a cartoon appeared showing a tough looking army sergeant addressing a line of sad looking GI's. The sergeant was saying according to the caption, "and here after, if there is anything you wanna know, come to me, don't write to Mrs. Roosevelt." [audience laughs] Nobody, I am glad to say ever has paid a bit of attention to the sergeant's advice [audience laughs]. The questions continue to pour in day after day because this wisest, and most [00:07:04] of first ladies speaks from her great and sympathetic heart and extraordinary mind. To say that her place--[applause] to say that her place in the world of reading is sure and secure is to be scant in praise. Her place in the world will never be forgotten because she is the world's first lady. "Mrs. Roosevelt", one question went, "what is your favorite flower?" Her answer: "lily of the valley." I think I do not exaggerate, Mrs. Roosevelt, in saying that there are millions of millions of millions of people in every country on earth who personally would like to hand to you as a token of their high admiration and deep affection, an offering like this.


Thank you. That is really nice!

[Unknown speaker:]

Our next speaker's Mr. James L. Freeman. After graduation from New York University, Mr. Freeman worked as a special assistant to the editor at the bail syndicate and later ran the night news desk at North American Newspaper Alliance. He joined national broadcasting company press department and after two years left to go to Popular Science magazine. About 14 years ago, he transferred to the United Feature Syndicate where now as managing editor he handles and oversees the many columnists and cartoonists whose work is distributed by that organization, including Mrs. Roosevelt's column. Mr. Freeman.

[James Freeman:]

Madam Chairman, honored guest Mrs. Roosevelt, ladies and gentlemen. It is a great privilege for me to be here tonight. It's a great privilege in speaking for United Feature Syndicate to be here in honor of Mrs. Roosevelt for two reasons: one personal and one business. On the personal side, I have long been an admirer and staunch supporter of Mrs. Roosevelt, of her aims, her philosophy, what she stands for. I know I am only one in millions in this category, and that opinion is confirmed by the fact that Mrs. Roosevelt began to write our column for us back on December 30th 1935 and the fact that she has turned in a column six days a week since that day until last September when she went on a three a week schedule. Such popularity, as a saying goes, must be deserved. As 25 years of collumning [00:10:34], a long time, it is our opinion that what wins people over to Mrs. Roosevelt is her warm feeling for others and a determination and frankness to impart to her fellow man that he must be concerned with his fellow man if we are ever to live in a peaceful world, a trusting world. On the business side, I have been an admirer because of her reliability, her thoughtfulness, promptness and cooperation in meeting deadlines over the past 15 years [audience laughs] when it has been my responsibility to edit the columns in that time. My appreciation also goes to Mrs. Roosevelt competent and conscientious secretary, Mrs. Maureen Core, who is also here tonight. Now, as you all know over the 25 years that Mrs. Roosevelt has been writing her newspaper column, she has been no ivory tower pundit, secluded from the rest of humanity. She's done a bit of travelling, [audience laughs] millions of miles of travelling, by every means of transportation and has been on any number of these various trips that her resourcefulness for meeting deadlines has been tested. Early in her collumning [00:11:56] days, and remember at this time she was the first lady of our land, and at an age when one of her stature would merely have to give an order and the order would be promptly carried out.

Well anyway, prior to one of her trips to the south pacific at this time, she actually learned how to type so that her then secretary, Mrs. Malvina Thompson, would not have to accompany her and be exposed to the rigors of the war and war time traveling. Merely learning how to type her own columns was not the whole answer to getting the job done. The various insects and bugs to be encountered in the south pacific had no respect for personalities and any number of times, Mrs. Roosevelt, with an alarming horror of these crawling things and with feet propped up on the rungs of her chair or packing case, would type out her column while flailing away at the flying variety of insects. And there was a time in uh more recent years when Mrs. Roosevelt went to India to learn about conditions first hand, which is something a lot of the more experienced reporters neglect to do these days. And in her determination to keep her copy timely and up to date, she would file her column from out in some neglected area, it would then have to be translated into the native dialect of that particular region in order to be sent to New Delhi. And then at New Delhi, it had to be retranslated back into English for transmission to our office in New York.

Another instance that comes to mind is the time when uh Mrs. Roosevelt went from Morocco some years ago. She carried with her a [00:13:43] phone which was designed to make her column writing easier, so that she could uh record the cylinders at her leisure and mail them on to New York. Unfortunately, she was prevailed upon to handwrite the columns in duplicate for mailing as a backup for the recorded cylinders and lucky for us this proved to be a wise suggestion, for the cylinders were tied up in customs and her handwritten columns come up through the conventional mails [audience laughs]. This could go on and on and on, but one last incident occurred about two years ago during the snow storm in western Pennsylvania. Planes were grounded and Mrs. Roosevelt was traveling by bus this time to [00:14:32] speaking engagement. Needless to say, over a mile from her destination, Rose becan-became impassable and Mrs. Roosevelt and the whole bus load of people were stranded, where upon with the heartiness of one many years her junior, she took the bus driver by the arm and together they trudged through snow over the distance to fill her speaking commitment and to write her column. Mrs. Roosevelt, all of us at United Feature Syndicate have enjoyed our long association with you and hopefully it will go on for many more years. Thank you very much. [Applause].

[Unknown female speaker:]

Our next speaker really doesn't need an introduction. I'm sure we all know Helen Ferris, but I have to give you a little testimonial brief biography, just in case. After graduating-graduation with honors from Vassar, she was recreational director for the summer at-for a summer at the YWCA camp for working girls. When World War I was declared she took a position with the government commission for training camp activities. Started her editing career after the war and for 30 years was editor in chief of the Junior Literary Guild. In 1959, she retired from this position to concentrate on her own books but is still on the Junior Literary Guild editorial board in which Mrs. Roosevelt served for some time. It is with great pleasure that I introduce our friend Helen Ferris

[Helen Ferris:]

It was in august 1969 that I was appointed editor of the Junior Literary Guild, but the guild itself was started in June two months before, and the editorial board had also been appointed by the time I arrived. When I looked the list, I saw the name of Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt who is the wife of the governor of New York state then, and it went through my mind that sometime when I got squared away, it would be very pleasant to go up to Albany and sit down with Mrs. Roosevelt in the executive mansion and talk about children and books and teenagers and their books. But of course, I was very busy so I didn't carry out the thought at the time. And then one morning the telephone rang. It was Mrs. Roosevelt. She said she was in town for two or three days and she'd like very much to come in to see me if it was convenient. So I said yes, it was convenient [laughter] and Mrs. Roosevelt came. And I'll never forget the first thing she said to me when she sat down by my desk. "What is it you want me to do?" And I knew then that Mrs. Roosevelt certainly was not a perfunctory person. When her name is on a committer or a board she's really working at it and then like Mr. Freeman, I very quickly discovered that she is that editor's gem of purist rays serene; she always does what she promises and she does it on time. [Audience laughs] Well each of our editors on the editorial board has special kind of assignment and Mrs. Roosevelt's was the books that we would select in the Junior Literary Guild which ADV is a book club, uh uh books that we would send to girls-to our girls in their early teens and that's Mrs. Roosevelt and I would get together to talk about these girls and their reading.

I very quickly realized that they weren't girls on mass to Mrs. Roosevelt, they were individuals: one girl, another girl, another girl. And then when we talked about people, it wasn't people to Mrs. Roosevelt, it was persons, real individuals, and I very quickly saw that her interest in each individual girl was very sincere and that with that sincere interest there was very great friendliness. And some way or other, maybe it was mental radio some way, or I am sure through your columns and her articles, girls responded to that friendliness and more and more letters came to Mrs. Roosevelt from them, very intimate little letters telling about their problems and asking for her suggestions in solving them. And Mrs. Roosevelt would show them to me when I saw her and we talked about what she should say because she answered every letter and then they were her book reports. And in those books report, I saw the same thing that I felt in all these letters that she wrote, which was her responsibility for being honest with these girls in what she said, frankly facing life as it is, the difficulties and the problems-including the difficulties and problems but always giving them the feeling that some way or other, a way out could be found.

During the last year, I've had occasion to go back over a good many of the book reports that Mrs. Roosevelt wrote over those 30 years, and again and again I have found that same wish of hers, that same feeling of responsibility for honestly facing life. She would write-there would be sentences such as this: "I am afraid I cannot be enthusiastic about this, it is much too rosy a picture. Life is not really like this or about a certain type of career story. Dear Helen, I've honestly have never known of any job uh like this one in this book and certainly never of any young woman as successful as the heroine", and it was always--[Audience and Helen laugh]. It was always lots of fun to work- it's always been lots of fun to work with Mrs. Roosevelt because she likes a good joke so I'd put aside the amusing comments that would come in the mails and that our librarians had read-sent to us and I remember one um about stories of this kind that were much too rosy a picture. Mrs. Roosevelt loved it. I wonder if you remember it Mrs. Roosevelt; this younger said about a certain high school story, "life isn't the bowl of cherries that this author seems to think it is", [Audience and Helen laugh] and Mrs. Roosevelt didn't like bowls of cherries, never has and still doesn't. For she is still a member of the Junior Literary Guild editorial board and now that I have retired and Anne Derail is editor and Anne's keeping her on, aren't you Anne [Audience and Helen laugh]. Uh but with this frank facing of the difficulties what I have said the way out is very important to Mrs. Roosevelt. May I sum up your philosophy of life as I get-- [Helen laughs]


[ER laughs]

[Helen Ferris:]

It's very presumptuous of me and yet uh one of the things that I have gotten from Mrs. Roosevelt that I cherished so much is her acceptance without resentment. A person is thus and so, a situation is thus and so, she accepts it but not static acceptance. Something can be done about it and that has meant a very great deal to me. During the last year, Mrs. Roosevelt and I have been working on a book together, but it is a kind of interpretation of her own teenage experiences as they apply to teenage experiences today, and of course most of the problems are just the same because life does repeat itself and for that we had some teenage consultants who have been very valuable to us and in talking not long ago about the chapter I am getting along with other people. One of our girls said, "but of course Mrs. Roosevelt likes everybody." [Audience laughs] When I told that to Mrs. Roose-- [Helen laughs] when I told that to Mrs. Roosevelt, she said, "nonsense, of course I don't like everybody." She said, "I can't like everybody any more than I can expect everybody to like me. Put that in the book Helen!" [Helen and audience laugh]. Mrs. Roosevelt may not like everybody, but she certainly knows how to get along with them. I mentioned the fun it is-that it uh is to work with Mrs. Roosevelt. I wanna tell you about I-and how I would always take these little remarks and jokes to her. She's been-she has shared in a great many historic events, but the greatest historic event in the Junior Literary Guild in which she shared was a letter that came in to us from an eight-year-old boy which has now passed into I guess you would say American folklore, but I want to give it to you tonight. And I can remember her glee when I brought the letter to her. I wished the letter hadn't been destroyed, Mrs. Roosevelt. My perfect filling system uh failed in that because I'm sure you'll recognize the story and it certainly has been quoted from coast to coast as having happened in uh any number of places, but I give you my word of honor and Mrs. Roosevelt is my witness that it really did happen to the Junior Literary Guild. For this is what the 8-year-old boy wrote. "This book tells me more about penguins than I am interested in no way

[laughter] [applause]
[Helen Ferris:]

[to ER] I thank you.

[Unknown female speaker:]

Mr. Cass Canfield, Mrs. Roosevelt's publisher, has been associated with Harper Brothers. First, as manager of the London England office before taking position in the New York office in 1927. He has been president and chairman of the board and is currently chairman of the executive committee and editorial board of Harper Brothers. Mr. Cass Canfield.

[Cass Canfield:]

I remember uh some years ago uh going to see Mrs. Roosevelt in Hyde park with one of my editorial associates, Marguerite Hoyle, who is sitting right there, and the purpose of our visit was to talk to Mrs. Roosevelt and uh ask her some questions to uh get some filling out and amplification to the manuscript of one of the volumes in her autobiography. We asked quite a few questions, and Mrs. Roosevelt was extraordinarily quick and clear in her answers and also very interesting, very frank. And sometimes she'd say, we'd ask her, "Well, will you write that?", and she would say, "Yes, I will", and then we'd say, "Will you write that", "No, I won't", [audience and Cass laugh] and this went on, but the answer was always clear even though sometimes we were a little disappointed, but not often. And then I thought-and I thought I'd ask her question which was a little different from the others. And I said, "Mrs. Roosevelt, um how do you use your leisure?" And a puzzled look came over her face [audience laughs] and like a child in a classroom [Cass laughs] she wanted to gain time and said, "What did you say?" [Audience and Cass laugh] I said, "Leisure, how do you use it?" Well, this was a tough one, but she did finally remember after some thought, a few minutes of leisure that she had many years ago [audience laughs] and she'd lay in her hammock and thought about nothing and looked at the sun, it was a beautiful day [audience laughs] and we finally got an answer, but it was the hardest answer we could get out of her.

Another episode I remember which I think uh illustrates her character, and you-some of you will recall this. At the time of the uh the Chicago convention in 1956 when Stevenson-Adlai Stevenson became the candidate. Uh, everybody got to Chicago; incidentally um in the--this is sort of part of the hierarchy of-of government officialdom or political life. Um, all the big shots had-had suites, uh several rooms and so on, and I happened to ask, Mrs. Roosevelt hadn't arrived yet, I asked the hotel clerk, "Where is Mrs. Roosevelt's suite?" "There wasn't any suite, uh Mrs. Roosevelt [Cass laughs] has a room on the-on the- on the 17th floor and that was the way she did it." Uh, she arrived uh 2 or 3 days after most of people had reached Chicago, and uh Harry Truman had come out with a statement which made a sensation at the time and particularly in Chicago at that moment uh backing Averell Harriman as his candidate. And uh the preparations for the convention were very much thrown into confusion. And Mrs. Roosevelt, having been traveling with her granddaughter in Europe, I think it was the Near East, arrived at the airport. Uh, on the way from the airport to uh Chicago she was briefed on the situation.


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Constance Lindsay Skinner Award Dinner, Part 1

February 24, 1961


Eleanor Roosevelt

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  • 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