Eleanor Roosevelt’s first book, a tract of practical advice aimed at women, is back in print.
Roosevelt was known for many things: her writing, her activism on behalf of women’s rights and racial equality, and, of course, her long term as first lady of the United States, a role she redefined. “I shall have to work out my own salvation,” she said, realizing that she was too full of intelligence, energy, and vitality to sit by and host parties. Her first book was published soon after her husband took office. Written in the midst of the Depression, this new edition features an introduction by New Yorker writer Jill Lepore. With chapters on “Budgets,” “Family Health,” “Women and the Vote,” “Women and Working Conditions,” and “Women and Peace,” the volume spans both the private and the public spheres. Roosevelt discusses the importance of budgeting one’s time, finding inexpensive sources of recreation, and the viability of holding down a job while married. “The very best thing that comes to a woman with a job,” she writes, “is the fact that she has to use her brains in order to find time for both her job and her home duties. This keeps her brain from stagnating.” Whatever the topic, Roosevelt’s advice is insistently practical—e.g., the average family spends 38 percent of their income on food and 25 percent on rent, which is a fine guideline, but a budget should be adjusted to fit each family’s needs, since “every one’s needs are different.” Throughout, the narrative is wholesome and heartening if occasionally naïve: “I think before many years…we shall see very little difference in the earning capacity of women as compared with men.”
Roosevelt’s advice may no longer be strictly relevant, but the book is still valuable as a historical document.