“Eleanor Roosevelt and the National and World Woman’s Parties.” The Historian (1996): 39-57.


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Eleanor Roosevelt and the National and World Woman's Parties

by Paula F. Pfeffer

 

Although militant feminists have long criticized Eleanor Roosevelt for her opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment, her views regarding equality of men and women were far more complex than partisans in those old arguments would have us believe. In the same letter in which she outlined strategies to "fight the amendment," for example, Roosevelt also argued that women "should, in all but certain very specific cases which are justified by their physical and functional differences, have the same rights as men [ 1]." While she opposed treating women as a special group with its rights specifically guaranteed, as First Lady, Roosevelt held press conferences exclusively for women reporters to help ensure their jobs during the Depression. Certainly, Roosevelt herself was a model of capable woman exercising decision-making power in the public sphere. How, then, can the long-standing, bitter animosity between Roosevelt and militant feminist members of the National and World Woman's Parties (NWP and WWP), who supported legally mandated equal rights, be explained? The answer lies both in the differences in their fundamental approaches and the personal antipathy that precluded both sides from working together for the benefit of all women. The NWP and WWP advocated an abstract legal equality for women, while Roosevelt operated on the principle of pragmatic but paternalistic protection.

 

As political scientist Jean Bethke Elshtain has pointed out, Roosevelt was a Victorian "lady," and while she was restricted by upper-class notions of propriety, her Victorian concepts of duty and service paradoxically became her means of liberation. Although she advocated a domestic role for the average woman, stating that "...the greatest number of women, must subordinate themselves to the life of the family [ 2]." Roosevelt also believed it was appropriate for women of her social standing to have careers outside the home, and she used her social status as an entrance to public service and politics. while she argued publicly that calling special attention to gender hurt women politically, privately Roosevelt continued to favor women's patronage networks. Perhaps because of this dichotomous view of a woman's role, Roosevelt never aspired to lead the movement to gain equal rights for American women. Instead, she helped make contacts with influential people and gain positions for women she either knew personally or who were recommended by intimates; women who, like herself, made social welfare reform their first priority. Roosevelt and other reformers worked hard for protective legislation for women in industry. Ironically, the patronage politics they promoted proved more beneficial to upper-middle-class women reformers, who had the credentials to take advantage of the newly opened opportunities, than to the working masses. Rather than true equality across the class chasm, Roosevelt and her cohorts maintained a condescending attitude toward their working-class sisters. While reluctant to pass laws protecting male workers, between the 1890s and the early 1920s the state legislatures and courts alike gave the green light to safety regulations for working women, reasoning that as the future mothers of the nation, they needed special protection. Upper-middle-class reformers and their organizations, including the Women's Trade Union League (WTUL) and the National Consumer's League (NCL), fought long and hard to pass a variety of laws designed to protect working-class women by prohibiting them from working at night, in certain unsafe occupations or conditions, or beyond a specific number of hours. They achieved such "materialist" legislation as Mothers' Pension laws, the creation of the children's and Women's Bureaus in the Department of Labor, and the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Act that provided federal grants-in-aid to states for pre- and post-natal care for mothers and infants [3].

 

Roosevelt's ideals were shaped by these Progressive-era reforms. Although she was not an active suffragist, Roosevelt became involved in politics in the 1920s as a result of her husband's illness. Her initial participation came through legislative work with the League of Women Voters (LVW) in New York. Later she worked with the New York State Democratic committee. At the same time, she continued her humanitarian reform work with Rose Schneiderman and Mary Anderson in the WTUL, and Frances Perkins in the NCL, women who later benefited from her patronage as First Lady. These organizations sought to improve the quality of life for all citizens in a variety of ways. By improving society as a while, their reforms ultimately would benefit women as well. Until suffrage was attained in 1920, women reformers were not wed to any particular political party but instead supported the political candidate they considered most likely to back their causes. Once enfranchised, however, women found they needed to work through political parties to achieve their goals [4]. For Roosevelt, the Democratic party became the means not only of desired social reforms but of political patronage for women as well.

 

The leaders of the NWP, on the other hand, sought more direct decision-making power for women. After passage of the 19th Amendment, Alice Paul, head of the NWP, used the Party to press for full and equal rights, reasoning that without legal equality with men, women could not realize social equality. while other women's organizations worked in other areas, Paul argued, "no organization concentrated on raising the position of women as women [5]." NWP members believed that adoption of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution would end, with one stroke, legal distinctions between men and women in matters pertaining to marriage and divorce, employment, and the possession of property. The NWP rejected any coalition with other groups, and pursued the adoption of the ERA with single-minded, almost religious zeal.

 

Because of its narrow focus, the NWP remained a small minority group composed largely of highly educated middle-class professional women in the post-suffrage era. As egalitarian feminists, NWP members objected to the protective legislation for women in industry advocated by humanitarian reformers because, they believed, it was based on the supposed biological inferiority of women. Laws that provided for minimum wage, maximum hours, and elimination of night work for women were see as restricting women's opportunities by NWP members, who were willing to give up protection in order to compete with men on as equal basis. In contrast, humanitarian reform groups saw protective laws for women as the first steps extended to all workers, male and female. In the conservative political climate following World War I, often characterized as the nadir of the labor movement, reformers found themselves fighting to maintain gains already made for women in industry with little likelihood of extending them to include men [6].

 

Social reformers in the LWV, the NCL, and the WTUL thus became violently opposed to the NWP because they feared the ERA would invalidate the gender-based protective legislation for which they had fought so hard. Their hostility extended to the publicity-seeking tactics employed by NWP feminists as well; "ladies" did not picket international conventions the way NWP members did to promote their cause. Personal antipathies became so pronounced that social reformers came to perceive the equal rights feminists as their arch enemies. The quarrel soon degenerated into name-calling, with the NWP insisting it alone embodies the tenets of feminism and derisively labeling women working on behalf of other causes "humanitarians," to them a derogatory term implying weakness on women's issues [7]. The reformers, on the other hand, accused the militants of exhibiting outrageous, "unladylike" behavior. Once the stigma became firmly attached, the NWP leadership had little reason to curb the radical methods they had honed in the suffrage struggle. From the period following the First World War until after the Second World War, the American women's movement was rent asunder by these ideological and personal clashes. The antagonism between Eleanor Roosevelt and the NWP can be understood only in the context of the background. By the early 1930s, the entire world was suffering from the effects of depression. In the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to power in 1933 on the strength of his pledge to end the Depression and aid the common people. Roosevelt's victory brought together two women closely associated with the drive for protective legislation for women workers, Eleanor Roosevelt and the first female cabinet member, Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, with whom the First Lady had worked in the NCL. When she accompanied her husband to the White House in 1933, Eleanor Roosevelt was already a personality in her own right. In addition to her work with reform organizations and the Women' Division of the Democratic party, Roosevelt had managed the Democratic National Committee headquarters for the Al Smith campaign in 1928. She had also taught at the Todhunter school, lectured extensively and published articles in national magazines. Although she gave up teaching after assuming her duties as First Lady, Roosevelt expanded her other activities to include holding weekly press conferences for women reporters, constant traveling to act as her crippled husband's eyes and ears, writing a daily newspaper column entitled "My Day," lecturing, and publishing several books. In her autobiography, Roosevelt confessed, "My own work had to go on regardless of anything else [8]."

 

Through her access to the media and persons in high government and business circles, Roosevelt wielded more power than any other woman of her time; indeed, she had power that few men possessed, which she used to obtain appointments to government and Democratic party posts for women who came highly recommended or whom she had come to know personally through her earlier reform activities. Roosevelt maintained that she merely passed along names that were sent to her, together with information she might have about the person. In her autobiography, however, Roosevelt admitted she soon discovered "that a great many government people to whom I referred letters regarded them as a mandate requiring prompt attention [9]." It is difficult to believe that she did not realize the weight a note from the First Lady would carry. Historian June Sochen has called Roosevelt a "Right-Wing" feminist, although Roosevelt herself and her cohorts applied the term "feminist" derogatorily to members of the NWP and recommended only those activists who behaved in proper "lady-like" fashion.

 

Unlike women of "moderate" reform organizations, members of the NWP were wary about the ascension of Roosevelt and Perkins to positions of power, fearing they would fight for adoption of restrictive labor legislation to the detriment of women as a class. Their fears appeared to be realized in the Roosevelt Administration's New Deal measures, which they believed constituted an assault on women's "right to earn a living." Even before Roosevelt took office, Section 213 of the Economy Act of 1932, the "marital status clause," stipulated that in any reduction of personnel in government service, married persons whose spouses also worked for the government were to be dismissed first [10]. Unwritten custom ensured that the male half of the couple was the one retained.

 

The effort to repeal Section 213 provided an opportunity for women's groups across the philosophical spectrum to unite, since virtually all of them opposed discrimination against married women workers. Roosevelt, however, was unable to bury her antipathy to the NWP in order to work together toward to desired end. When invited to appear at an NWP-sponsored conference on Section 213, Roosevelt replied that although she might agree with the Party on individual matters, she was opposed to "their politics" and doubted they would care to entertain her any more than she would care to entertain them. In addition, Roosevelt declined to work for repeal of Section 213 on the grounds that she could not influence pending legislation. while Roosevelt and the feminists might have breathed a collective sigh of relief when the Act was finally repealed in 1937, the action did not result from any cooperative effort. Supported by findings of the Women's Bureau, legislators surrendered to the argument that women should work because their income was necessary to support the family; they did not back women who wanted a career for personal fulfillment [11].

 

At the behest of the Administration, Congress passed the National Industrial Recovery Act in 1933 as a further attempt at economic reform. No sooner was the NIRA passed and its mandated industrial codes drawn up than observers pointed out that many of the codes sanctioned lower pay for women performing the same jobs as men. Roosevelt and Perkins excused the inequities with the explanation that to rush the legislation through, arrangements "based on present practices" were permitted [12]. Explaining that such discrepancies were only a temporary expedient in order to get people back to work as quickly as possible, Roosevelt and Perkins insisted that "no such differences will appear in the permanent codes," since the "government stands for and will insist upon" the principle of equality [13]. NWP members, however, opposed even temporary discriminatory codes, arguing that wage differentials should "be based on the nature of the work and not the sex of the worker [14]. Despite the assurances, many inequities were written into the finalized codes, adding to NWP distrust of Roosevelt and Perkins. Antipathy between Roosevelt and the NWP transcended domestic politics and reached into the international arena. The NWP had begun working for worldwide equality for women as early as 1923. When the Party's application for membership in the International Women's Suffrage Alliance was rejected in 1926 because of opposition by the LWB, the NWP turned its attention to the Sixth Pan-American Conference held in Havana, Cuba in 1928. Alice Paul formulated an Equal Rights Treaty, in essence the Equal Rights Amendment in international dress: "The contracting states agree that upon the ratification of this treaty, men and women shall have equal rights throughout the territory subject to their respective jurisdictions [15]." NWP members saw the treaty as the quickest means of abolishing all existing legal inequities throughout the world that related to the status of women. They also hoped it would prevent additional inequities from being written into law [16].

 

The Pan-American Union obliged the NWP feminists by creating the Inter-American Commission of Women (IACW) and instructing it to gather information on the civil and political status of women. Doris Stevens was appointed chair, while Paul and other NWP members served on the Nationality Committee. Because many nations required a woman to change her nationality to that of her husband upon marriage to an alien, the nationality issue seemed the embodiment of second-class citizenship, and as such held particular significance for NWP members. As modern women began to travel more and marry foreigners, it became possible for a married woman to possess several legal nationalities, or none at all, depending upon the law of the country in which she resided. After extensive research into the nationality laws of other countries, the feminists sought to prevent gender inequality in the 1930 Hague Conference for the Codification of International Law. Both humanitarians and egalitarians agreed a woman should have the right to citizenship status independent of her husband. The NWP, however, preferred to gain independent nationality status for women by treaty. Reformers objected to the treaty method, just as they objected to blanket measures for equal civil rights, for fear it might overturn protective legislation for women. While ultimately unsuccessful in preventing an inequitable convention from being adopted, feminist opposition did prevent the United States from signing the concluded document [17].

 

The NWP leaders then directed their efforts toward the Seventh Pan-American Conference scheduled for Montevideo, Uruguay in December 1933, with the objective of convincing the delegates to adopt both an equal nationality treaty, which would prevent women from becoming stateless upon marriage to an alien, and the Equal Rights Treaty. In view of the support the United States had shown for equal nationality at The Hague, Stevens and her associates on the IACW did not anticipate obstacles. Trouble developed, however, when the U.S. delegation refused to sign the Nationality Treaty because President Roosevelt had not initially instructed them to do so, although as governor of New York, he had praised the American stand at The Hague. Secretary of State Cordell Hull, whom the NWP had considered a friend and supporter, had—whether purposely or accidentally—incorrectly telegraphed the President that the Latin American delegates, whom Roosevelt did not wish to offend, opposed the Nationality and Equal Rights Treaties being promoted by Stevens and warned him to expect protests from the NWP [18]. NWP leaders assumed that Eleanor Roosevelt had influenced the American position because of her relationship with the leaders of those women's reform organizations who feared that the Nationality Treaty would abrogate protective labor laws. Grace Abbott, head of the Children's Bureau, had advised Roosevelt that the treaty "would go directly counter to beneficent provisions of recent codes in favor of women in industry and would be opposed to our own national policy [19]. The LWV considered the treaty to be "a fundamental change in out legal philosophy."[20] Rather than following custom, the Nationality Treaty attempted "to impose something that should be won [21]." Roosevelt categorically denied any responsibility for the State Department's stand against the treaty. The controversy became public when both the New York Times and the New Republic highlighted the problem as another manifestation of the quarrel between women's organizations in the United States [22].

 

After a two-pronged assault in which Stevens lobbied at Montevideo and Paul besieged the State Department, president Roosevelt finally capitulated and instructed the delegates to sign the Nationality Treaty. Both the equality of nationality principle and the IACW were safe, at least until the next Pan-American Congress. In addition, the IACW appeared to be making progress when four other countries, Cuba, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Uruguay, signed the Equal Rights Treaty, and the Nationality Treaty was ratified by Congress and signed by the President in May 1934. Moderate reformers, however, remained bitter over what they described as their "humiliating" defeat at Montevideo [23].

 

Following the Montevideo meeting, the First Lady, Perkins and her allies in the Women's Bureau, and the anti-ERA women's organizations began working for the removal of Steven's a chair of the IACW. A "plan for action" by American delegates to the Eighth Pan-American Congress in 1938 at Lima, Peru was drawn up by Mary Winslow, a protege of Mary Anderson, Roosevelt's old colleague in the WTUL. The reformers had specific objectives. First, they hoped to "[b]ring out into the open" the fact that the Equal Rights Treaty "would mean giving up special industrial legislation for women," which they thought had not been understood in Latin America because treaty proponents had successfully confused the issue of equal rights with suffrage [24]. Second, they wanted to "[g]et rid" of the IACW, "politely, but definitely [25]. Social reformers argued that the IACW was an unofficial body and that Stevens was "not an officially appointed representative." They intended to replace her with a woman "who really represents women's interests." Anderson presented Winslow's plan to the State Department and it was approved by the President. According to Winslow, even the few groups that knew of it "did not have copies of the plan and gave their endorsements quite informally." Despite the reformists' efforts at the secrecy, the New York Herald-Tribune carried a complete description of the plan the day the Conference opened, and the NWP began public protests [26].

 

In accordance with the plan, the State Department presented a three-part proposal to the Lima Conference: firs, to include protection for women in industry in legislation giving women civil and political rights; second, to extend a vote of appreciation to the IACW for past services; and last, to grant the Commission "an official and permanent status [27]. NWP leaders saw these resolutions as a "deliberate attempt" on the party of American opponents of the ERA to redirect the IACW from its equal rights activity to a position advocating social welfare reforms, especially protective legislation for women in industry [28].

 

Feminists were particularly upset when they learned of the proposed appointment of Mary Winslow as the American delegate to the IACW. Stevens would automatically be removed as chair because IACW rules stated that a participating nation could not have more than one delegate. NWP stalwart Florence Bayard Hilles referred to Winslow as "that awful appointment" of "our arch enemy [29]." Recalling that Winslow had led the fight against the ERA before the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier in 1938, Hilles said, "Imagine her as a representative in the Inter-American Com [sic] for women—Its [sic] simply unthinkable—one sees the hand of Perkins Roosevelt & Co & [sic] all that Consumer's League Crowd [30]." Winslow's anti-ERA stance and the "lady-like" demeanor that so upset Hilles were precisely the attributes that made her an ideal protege in the eyes of her patrons in the Administration.

 

Rumor at the time identified Eleanor Roosevelt as the influence behind Stevens' removal and her replacement by Winslow, and one syndicated columnist even printed the accusation in the national press. Roosevelt denied the charge, although she admitted belonging "to a group which was not in sympathy with the ideas advocated by the National Woman's Party, particularly as regards protective legislation for women," and to being "very glad to have Miss Winslow appointed [31]." Roosevelt went even further, presenting Winslow and Anderson at one of her weekly press conferences for women reporters, thereby giving credence to the detractors' charges. NWP members would have been even more angry had they known that Winslow authored the resolutions that resulted in Stevens' removal. They were unaware of the true extent to which Roosevelt facilitated the complicity between the reformist women's organizations and the Administration. With the acceptance by the Pan-American Congress at Lima of the altered role for the IACE, after ten years of dominance the NWP lost its preeminent position as women's representative in the hemispheric forum [32].

 

The ERA gradually gained more adherents through the years, but the process was greatly accelerated by the extension of ungendered protective legislation with passage of the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in 1938. Since the Act regulated hours and wages of men and women alike in some industries, the primary objection to the ERA appeared to have been removed. Even Roosevelt stated, "I think we are getting nearer to the time when the stand of the National Woman's Party—which I agree is the ideal—may become a practical position. I do not think that time has come as yet." Winslow admitted to "great anxieties" because of the new law. In 1940, NWP feminists persuaded the Republicans to support the ERA in their platform. Despite her earlier tentative support for the ERA, Roosevelt made a statement delineating the "damaging effect" of the amendment to head off a similar drive before the Platform Committee of the Democratic National Convention [33].

 

If Roosevelt's only concern had been to safeguard working women, she most likely would have withdrawn her opposition to the ERA, as did other organizations less personally involved in the conflict such as the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and the Business and Professional Women's Clubs. Roosevelt, however, maintained her anti-ERA position and sent what was to become her standard public statement on the issue to the Convention: “...until women are unionized to a far greater extent than they are at present, an equal rights amendment will work great hardship on the industrial group, which is after all, the largest group of wage-earning women [34]. Roosevelt's efforts were rewarded; the Democratic platform favored “equality of opportunity for men and women, without impairing the social legislation which promotes true equality by safeguarding the health, safety, and economic welfare of women workers [35]."

 

With the United States' entry into the Second World War, women's groups temporarily set aside their bickering. Women were employed in unprecedented numbers during the war; because of the need for their labor, industrial conditions were nearly equalized, and even the unions began to look favorably upon women as members. Since unionization was the condition she had set for her support of the ERA, Roosevelt might have been expected to change her position on the Amendment, but she continued to oppose it [36]."

 

By the 1944 presidential election, so many former opponents had switched to support of the ERA that Roosevelt was feeling great pressure to alter her own stance. To Mary E. Woolley, former president of the AAUW and a prominent opponent-turned-supporter, Roosevelt argued that protective legislation was still needed “because of the inherent difference between men and women. The functions for which women are equipped by nature, which are different from the functions of men, make those protective laws necessary [37]." It was, Roosevelt continued, “foolish to think that an Equal Rights amendment to the Constitution would be any better in giving women equality than an amendment has been in giving the Negroes equality of citizenship [38]."

 

After a meeting with representatives of women in industry both in favor of an opposed to the ERA at her New York apartment in February 1944, Roosevelt admitted to her WTUL colleague, Rose Schneiderman, that she did not think it would matter even if both political parties endorsed the Amendment because it would take a long time to get it through. “However,” she added, “I feel we must do a lot more than just be opposed to an amendment,” and suggested a state-by-state survey of laws that both discriminated against and protected women [ 39]. If some of the protective laws had become obsolete they should be rescinded. “If we do not do this, we are not in a good position to fight the amendment,” Roosevelt maintained [40].

 

With the founding of the United Nations in April 1945, the conflict between Eleanor Roosevelt and the NWP moved back to the international arena. Franklin Roosevelt's' successor, Harry Truman, appointed Eleanor Roosevelt as a delegate to the new world body. The stage was set for further discord when both the NWP and the World Woman's Party (WWP) actively lobbied on behalf of equal rights for women at the founding of the U.N. at San Francisco. Alice Paul had founded the WWP in 1938 as an international organization “to secure for women of the world an equal status with men” and to serve as counterweight to the European totalitarianism that she feared would eliminate many feminist gains. The goal of the WWP was to “work for equality for women in all international agreements” and to “strive to defeat any proposed world treaties that would impose special restrictions on women [41]. Their U.N. delegation had two objectives: equality provisions for women in the Charter and “consultant” statues for the WWP, based on their previous leadership of the equal rights movement. They were unsuccessful in their quest for consultant statues, although the WWP was allowed to participate in many consultant meetings. The principle of equal rights was included in the U.N. Charter, but only after the WWP had successfully overcome opposition from its adversaries, the LWV and Virginia Gildersleeve, a member of the United States' delegation. Gildersleeve was deeply hostile to the ERA and supported equality in the Charter only under pressure from the NWP and its allies in foreign delegations [42].

 

After their victory in the Charter, feminists pressed for the creation of a special committee on the status of women to ensure that the equality principles would actually be implemented. This proposal aroused the humanitarian reformers, including Roosevelt, who was expected to become the chair of the Human Rights Commission. She maintained that women's rights could not be considered apart from human rights. Objecting to the treatment of women as a distinct group, Roosevelt argued that a special article would imply “a silent recognition of the idea that women are to be regarded on a different level and that rights are to be given to them out of charity.” [43] Despite her disapproval, the U.N. Economic and Social Council created a Sub-commission on the Status of Women, under the jurisdiction of the Human Rights commission, at the First Assembly in London in early 1946. When the Sub-commission issued its report calling for equality regardless of sex, Emma Guffey Miller, on of the few activists who belonged to both the NWP and the Women's Division of the Democratic party, congratulated Roosevelt on the step forward for women. Clearly displeased about the growing feminist influence in the U.N., Roosevelt responded that if Miller studied the report carefully she would see that it recognized the need for protection of women [44].

 

Next, Alice Paul drafted a report advocating the elevation of the Sub-Commission to a full Commission. Roosevelt, by this time chair of the Human Rights Commission, resisted this move as too ambitious, suggesting instead that the report be returned to the Sub-Commission for further study. WWP feminists believed this to be a stalling tactic to delay their work indefinitely. Nora Stanton Barney, granddaughter of suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, chastised Roosevelt for supporting equality before the law for the “Negro race” while opposing it for women. At the very least, Barney urged, Roosevelt should not allow her “personal feelings on these matters to influence the stand of the American Delegation [45]." The Sub-commission chair subsequently appealed directly to the Economic and Social Council to urge their acceptance of full commission status. Under pressure from the WWP, the Council assented, and the new Commission promptly lobbied for equality at the second session of the General Assembly in New York. There, they secured a resolution calling on all member nations to establish equal political rights for women. Thus, the same equal rights provisions that Alice Paul had fought to have adopted by the international community since the Equal Rights Treaty was first proposed at Havana in 1928 were finally adopted by a unanimous Resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations in late 1946 [46]. While even the feminists realized that the resolution would not automatically bring equality, it provided a basis on which to fight for improved status for women throughout the world.

 

The feminists joined in still another battle with Roosevelt over the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Roosevelt wanted all special references to women omitted from the Declaration, while the egalitarians wanted the Declaration to specifically include equal rights for women [47]. Once again the WWP feminists carried the day and the Declaration, passed in December 1948, incorporated equality for women. The Declaration was not binding, however, so the feminists continued to press for equality in the Draft Convention on Human Rights that, as a treaty would have the power to bind member nations.

 

Unable to transcend old antipathies, feminists and social reformers thus continued their rivalry. Roosevelt's' biographer, Joseph Lash, states that Roosevelt abandoned her opposition to the ERA in the spring of 1961 [48]. Yet when President John F. Kennedy appointed a Commission on the Status of Women later that year, largely at Roosevelt's behest and headed by her until her death in 1962, the commission report recommended against the ERA on the grounds it was not needed. This conclusion, if not dictated by Roosevelt, certainly concurred with opinions she had held for 40 years [49].

 

Roosevelt and the social reformers shared ambivalence about the position of women. It was all right for exceptional women like themselves to lead independent lives of public service, but at the same time they recommended domesticity for blue-collar women. Thus, while leading public lives themselves, they denied the same privilege to women of lower status. this discrepancy between their public pronouncements and the lives Roosevelt and Perkins led was not lost on other women, some of whom found it galling. One woman wrote Roosevelt that she thought it “particularly appalling... that women like yourself and Frances Perkins should urge laws which place women in a class with children,” “You seem to enjoy doing as you please,” the writer continued, adding that she could see “no difference” between women working long hours or doing night work “and you and Miss Perkins dashing around the country making speeches.” Indeed, such behavior amounted to urging “laws which you have no intention of obeying [50]." Other women thought it unfair for Roosevelt “to deny other women the right you seem to enjoy so much yourself—that is, absolute freedom to go or come, to work or not—as you and you alone see fit [51]."

 

Both humanitarian reformers and feminists were bound by shared backgrounds and their attitudes toward the working classes; it was behavior that separated them. Although Roosevelt accused the NWP of being composed of “a very limited, high type group of women,” both groups came from the upper and upper-middle classes and had difficulty accepting true equality across the class divide. Both groups consequently acted in a paternalistic fashion toward working women even as they claimed to speak for their interests. Perkins, for example, accused the NWP of taking “this doctrinaire position which makes more difficult the passage and maintenance of legislation aimed to improve the condition of their working sisters... [52]" Although both humanitarians and feminists claimed to represent equality for women, neither faction believed in equality that transcended social class.

 

In a reflection of their common Victorian upbringing, neither feminists nor social reformers discussed women's oppression by existing sexual mores, nor did they acknowledge the social and cultural changes necessary for women to achieve true emancipation. the feminists were not able to see that legal equality won through constitutional change alone would not realistically alter the position of women. By the same token, the humanitarians failed to understand that social reform that did not specify gender equality would not bring permanent change in the status of women. Neither camp wished to revolutionize the gender status quo; the feminists simply wanted to compete on an equal basis within it while the reformers took advantage of existing social mores to push through their humanitarian reforms while using their own privileged positions to benefit confreres.

 

Roosevelt and her reformer colleagues, and feminists in the NWP wasted much energy on their internecine quarrels. The cause of equal rights would have been better served had the two factions endeavored to minimize their differences and work together for the common good. The intransigence of the NWP has often been blamed for the failure to cooperate, yet close examination of her activities shows that Roosevelt was no more ready to abandon acrimony for conciliation than were the more militant feminists. NWP members realized that Roosevelt's' support was crucial for the ERA, and though the years many of them tried to obtain her help, but to no avail [53]. By the same token, programs desired by Roosevelt and other humanitarian reformers, such as continuation of the Sheppard-Towner Act, would have stood a better chance of success with the support of a united woman's movement.

 

Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the outstanding women in American history, was an emancipated woman whose work on behalf of civil rights and peace alone was sufficient to earn her reverence. Yet there is a sense of lost opportunity when one contemplates the central role that Roosevelt might have played in the development of a post-suffrage women's movement in this country. As First Lady, Roosevelt was able to advocate many measures to ease women's responsibilities at home and facilitate their functioning in the public sphere. Fore example, Roosevelt suggested more accessible shopping and laundry facilities, supervised day care, and a hot lunch program for school children [54]. But while she had ready access to publicity, she lacked the strong political movement necessary to implement these programs. The NWP was well organized and its members were skilled lobbyists, but as Roosevelt approved of neither their philosophy nor their tactics, the two factions continued to work at cross purposes.

 

The primary difference between the groups lay in their conception of power. Because their political position was based on their Democratic ties, Roosevelt and Perkins thought as Democrats and social reformers first and women second, and refused to exercise their authority on behalf of women as a class. Instead, they used their personal influence to secure leadership positions for women of their choice [55]. While their patronage benefited capable, elite women, such tactics made it difficult for the humanitarians to institutionalize their innovations. Consequently, at the end of decades of struggle, despite temporary victories the reformers had accomplished little permanence. The FLSA obviated much of the need for protective legislation, and even the women's Division of the Democratic party lost its autonomy in 1953. Eleanor Roosevelt believed the primary contribution of women in politics had been to make the government take cognizance of humanitarian issues, and certainly the New Deal accomplished many of the reformers' goals. But reliance on humanitarian platform without formal political organization meant that when interest in social reform waned, as it did during the Second world War and subsequent Cold War, the fortunes of women in government and public life also ebbed [56]. A reactivated women's movement in the 1960s, like its NWP predecessor, again sought lasting change through legislated equality of opportunity for women.

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End Notes

1. Eleanor Roosevelt (hereafter cited as ER to Rose Schneiderman, copy to Frances Perkins, 11 February 1944, Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library (hereafter cited as ER/FDRL); Frances Perkins Papers, Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Libraries (hereafter cited as Perkins Papers, Columbia).

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2. Jean Bethke Elshtain, "Eleanor Roosevelt As Activist and Thinker: The Lady, The Life of Duty," Halcyon 8 (1986): 96-97; Eleanor Roosevelt, If You Ask Me (New York, 1946), 142; see also Joseph P. Lash, Love Eleanor: Eleanor Roosevelt and Her Friends (Garden City, N.Y., 1982), 307.

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3. Theda Skocpol, Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policy in the United States (Cambridge, Mass., 1992), 373-74, 34.

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4. Joseph P. Lash, Eleanor and Franklin (New York, 1971), 352-410; Robyn Muncy, Creating a Female Dominion in American Reform 1890-1935 (New York, 1991) 155-56.

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5. "Miss Paul's Speech Seconding Mrs. Belmont's Resolution," n.d. [17 November 1923], National Woman's party Papers (hereafter cited as NWP Papers), ser. 1 (microfilm, Northwestern University).

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6. See Burnita Shelton Matthews, "Women Should Have Equal Rights With Men: A Reply,: Equal Rights, 29 May 1926, 125-27, NWP Papers, ser. 5; Ronald L. Filippelli, Labor in the USA: A History (New York, 1984), 152-54.

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7. See Paula F. Pfeffer, "A Whisper in the Assembly of Nations:' United States' Participation in the International Movement for Women's Rights from the League of Nations to the United Nations," Women's Studies International Forum 8(November 1985): 469-71; Mary Anderson to Mary Van Kleeck, 26 January 1926, Mary Anderson Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College; Josephine Goldmark, "Mrs. Kelley Opposes the Woman's Party," chap. 15 in Impatient Crusader; Florence Kelley's Life Story (Urbana, Ill., 1953); Crystal Eastman, "Equality or Protection?" Equal Rights, March 1924, 37, NWP Papers, ser. 5.

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8. See letters written by ER to NWP members on behalf of Smith, August 1928, NWP Papers, ser. 1; Lash, Eleanor and Franklin; Blanche Wiesen Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt, vol. 1, 1884-1933 (New York, 1992); Eleanor Roosevlet, The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt (New York, 1961), 197.

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9. June Sochen, Movers and Shakers: American Women Thinkers and Activitst 1900-1970 (New York, 1973), 161; Susan Ware, Beyond Suffrage, Women in the New Deal (Cambridge, Mass., 1981), 16; ER to My Dear Mrs. Winter, 28 February 1939, ER/FDRL; ER, Autobiography, 133.

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10. Jane Norman Smith to Dear Miss Paul, 26 March 1933, NWP Papers, ser. 1; Helena Hill Weed, "The New Deal That Women Want," Current History 41 (November 1934): 179.

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11. See E.H. Swenson to Dear Madame, and penciled not thereon, 2 April 1935, ER/FDRL; Lillian Dame Morey to My dear Mrs. Roosevlet and penciled note thereon, 20 January 1934, ER/FDRL; Lois Scharf, To Work and To Wed: Female Employment, Feminism, and the Great Depression (Westport, Conn., 1980), x, 38, 134; Lois Scharf, "The Forgotten Woman': Working Women, The New Deal, and Women's Organizations," in Decades of Discontent: The Women's Movement, 1920-1940, ed. Lois Scharf and Joan M. Jensen (Westport, Conn., 1983), 243-59; ER, "Should Wives Work?" Good Housekeeping, December 1937, 211-12; Maurine Beasley, ed., The White House Press Conferences of Eleanor Roosevlet (New York, 1983), 52-54; ER, My Days (New York, 1938), 163-64.

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12. New York Times (hereafter cited as NYT), 11 August 1933; Frances Perkins to Mrs. Florence Bayard Hilles, 17 August 1933, NWP Papers, ser. 1.

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13. NYT, 12 August 1933; NYT, 17 August 1933.

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14. Florence Bayard Hilles to Honorable Frances Perkins, 15 August 1933, NWP Papers, ser. 1.

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15. Statement of the National League of Women Voters of the United States by Miss Belle Sherwin, 27 May 1926, NWP Papers, ser. 1; Jane Norman Smith to Alice Paul, 27 May 1926, NWP Papers, ser. 1; see also Crystal Eastman, "The Great Rejection: Pary I," Equal Rights, 19 June 1926, 149-50, NWP Papers, ser. 5; Alice Paul, "Women Demand Equality in World Code of Law," Congressional Digest 9 (November 1930): 279.

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16. Doris Stevens, "Feminist History Was Made at Havana," Equal Rights, 3 March 1928, 29, NWP Papers, ser. 5.

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17. "Doris Stevens Heads Pan-American Women's Committee," Equal Rights, 14 April 1928, 77, NWP Papers, ser.5; Report of Work Done by Committee on International Action of the National Woman's party, USA, as Pan-American Conference on Behalf of Rights of Women, 21 February 1928, NWP Papers, ser. 1; see also Pfeffer, "A Whisper in the Assembly of Nations,'" 459-71; Muna Lee, "The Inter-American Commission of Women—A New International Venture," Pan-American Magazine 42 (October 1929): 105-14; "How Laws of Foreign Countries Effected Nationality of Married women," Congressional Digest 9 November 1930): 283087; Dr. James Brown Scott, "Work of The Hague Conference Analyzed," Congressional Digest 9 (November 1930): 275-78; David Hunter Miller, "America's Participation in the First Conference," American Journal of International Law 24 (October 1930): 681; "Progressive Codification of International Law. Observations of Governments on the Recommendations of The Hague Conference March—April, 1930," League of Nations Documents, Official Journal, reel 24, September 1931, 1766-73 (microfilm, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago); Richard W. Flournoy, Jr., "Codification and the Nationality of Married Women and children," Congressional Digest 9 (November 1930): 273.

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18. James Brown Scott, "Conflict and Victory," Equal Rights, 13 January 1934, 387-90; Equal Rights, 20 January 1934, 398-400; see AKW [Anna Kelton Wiley] to Alice Paul, 22 September 1930, NWP Papers, ser. 1; Paraphrase of telegram from Hull, 9 December 1933, FDRL, Official File (hereafter cited as OF) 567; Under Secretary of State to My Dear Mr. President, 12 December 1933, OF 567.

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19. Memorandum [sic] to: The Secretary From" Miss Abbott, 19 December 1933, FDRL, OF 66; Memorandum For" Mrs. Roosevelt From: Grace Abbott, 27 December 1933, ER/FDRL.

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20. NYT, 27 December 1933; Press Release, National League of Women Voters, 14 December 1933, ER/FDRL.

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21. Press Release, National League of Women Voters, 14 December 1933, ER/FDRL.

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22. "Equal Nationality Rights For Women," New Republic, 21 December 1933 and 27 December 1933.

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23. Unsigned and undated [12/20/33 handwritten], FDRL, OF 567; Scott, "Conflict and Victory," Equal Rights, 13 January 1934, 389-90, and 20 January 1934, 398-400, NWP Papers, ser. 5; SPB [Sophinisba P. Breckinridge] to Judge Florence Allen, 9 April 1934, Breckinridge Family Papers, box #751, Library of Congress Manuscript Collection.

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24. Memorandum for Mrs. Roosevelt From Mary N. Winslow, 13 December 1938, ER/FDRL.

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25. Ibid.

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26. Ibid.

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27. "Civil and Political Rights of Women," n.d. [December 1938], ER/FDRL.

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28. Unsigned to Sheila Murrell, 17 March 1939.

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29. G.B.H. [Florence Bayard Hilles] to Dear Helen [Hunt West], 6 February 1939, NWP Papers, ser. 1; Mary N. Winslow to My dear Mrs. Roosevelt, 14 February 1938, ER/FDRL.

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30. Ibid.

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31. Frank R. Kent, "the Great Game of Politics," Los Angeles Times, 22 February 1939, ER/FDRL; ER to My dear Mrs. Winter, 28 February 1939, ER/FDRL.

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32. Beasley, ed., Press Conferences, 88.

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33. Memorandum for Mrs. Roosevelt From Mary N. Winslow, 13 December 1938; Dorothy S. McAllister to Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, telegram, 9 July 1940, ER/FDRL' "The Dangers of The Equal Rights Amendment," WTUL flyer, February 1944, ER/FDRL; "Mrs. Roosevelt's statement regarding the position of the National Woman's Party on Equality," emphasis in original, n.d. [1940], in NWP Papers, ser. 1.

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34. See Mary E. Woolley to Dear Mrs. Roosevelt, 7 February 1944, ER/FDRL;' Statement found in ER/FDRL; ER to dear Mrs. Newman, 11 October 1943, copy in NWP Papers, ser. 1; ER to Mill Helen Alfred, 15 June 1944; ER to Mr. Frank McKnight, 30 December 1944, ER/FDRL; "Mrs. Roosevelt's statement regarding the position of the National Woman's Party on Equality," all from NWP Papers, ser. 1.

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35. Ruby Black, Eleanor Roosevelt, A Biography (New York, 1940), 149.

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36. ER to Dear Mrs. Miller, 29 January 1944, NWP Papers, ser. 1; ER, "Women Have Come A Long Way," Harper's Magazine, October 1950, reprinted in Marie B. Hecht, Joan D. Berbrich, Sally A. Healey, and Clare M. Cooper, The Women, Yes! (New York, 1973), 179.

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37. ER to Miss Mary E. Woolley, 10 February 1944, ER/FDRL.

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38. Ibid.

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39. Anita Pollitzer to Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, telegram 18 January 1944; ER to Mrs. Anity Pollitzer, 20 January 1944; Malvina Thompson to Rose Schneiderman, 29 January 1944; Rose Schneiderman to Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, telegram 1 February 1944; Anita Pollitzer to Miss Malvina C. Thompson, 3 February 1944; Rose Schneiderman to Dearest Eleanor, 10 February 1944; ER to Miss Rose Schneiderman, copy to the Secretary of Labor, 11 February 1944; "Friends, Foes of Equal Rights for Women Get Hearing in First Lady's Apartment," clipping; rose Schneiderman to Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, 17 February 1944, all in ER/FDRL.

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40. ER to Miss Rose Schneiderman, copy to the Secretary of Labor, 11 February 1944, ER/FDRL.

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41. Tamara K. Hareven, Eleanor Roosevelt; An American conscience Chicago, 1968), 190; Resolution found in Minutes from Biennial convention National woman's Party, 9 October 1938, NWP Paper, ser. 1; form letter to "Dear Friend," signed by Alice Paul, et al., 20 December 1938, NWP Papers, ser. 1.

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42. Unsigned to Mildred Seydell, 28 October 1938; Form letter to Dear Friend, signed by Alice Paul et al., 20 December 1938, NWP Papers, ser. 1; see also Pfeffer, "'A Whisper in the Assembly of Nations,'" 459-71; Alice Morgan Wright and Edith J. Goode to Hon. Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., 28 April 1945; Edith Goode to Alice Paul, 28 May 1945; Edith Goode to Alice Paul, 2 May 1945; Edith Goode to Alice Paul, 4 May 1945, all in NWP Papers, ser. 7.

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43. Quoted in Hareven, An American Conscience, 234.

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44. Amelia Himes Walker, Mission to First Assembly of the United Nations London- January, February 1946, NWP Papers, ser. 7 Emma Guffey Miller to Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, 16 May 1946; ER to My Dear Mrs. Miller, copy 20 May 1946, both in NWP Papers.

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45. Equal Rights, July-August 1946, 3, NWP Papers, ser. 5; Nora Stanton Barney to Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, 11 November 1946, NWP Papers, ser. 1.

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46. Equal Rights, July-August, 1946, 3, NWP Papers, ser. 5; "Equal Political Rights For Women; Resolution Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly," United Nations Weekly Bulletin 1(24 December 1946): 63 NYT, 12 December 1946.

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47. Virginia Freedom, "Equality Sought In The International Bill of Rights," Equal Rights, May-June 1947, 5-6; Virginia Starr, "Equality of Sexes Demanded of UN," Equal Rights, May-June 1947; Mamie Sidney Mizen, "An International Bill of Rights," Equal Rights, September-December 1947, both in NWP Papers, ser. 5.

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48. Joseph P. Lash, Eleanor: The Years Alone (New York, 1972), 317; Sochen, Movers and Shakers, 231-36; "Woman's Bureau Withdraws Opposition,"Equal Rights, October 1954, 4-5, NWP Papers, ser. 5.

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49. Ibid.

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50. ER, "Women Have Come a Long Way," 180; Unsigned to Mrs. Eleanor Roosevlet, copy, 3 January 1937, NWP Papers, ser. 1; Ruth G. Williams to Mrs. Eleanor Roosevlet, 8 February 1944, ER/FDRL; see "An Open Letter to Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt from Lillian Scot, President, Albuquerque Equal Rights," NWP, 6 August 1940, NWP Papers, ser. 1.

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51. NYT, 7 July 1933.

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52. Frances Perkins to Florence A. Armstrong, 10 July 1944, Frances Perkins Papers, Record Grp. No. 174, National Archives.

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53. William L. O'Neill, Everyone Was Brave: The Rise and Fall of Feminism in America (Chicago, 1969), 281-90; Nancy F. Cott, "Feminist Politics in the 1920s: The National Women's Party," Journal of American History 71 (June 1984): 43-68; Unsigned to Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, copy 3 January 1937, NWP Papers, ser. 1; Mrs. Cecil Norton Broy to Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, 7 August 1943, NWP Papers, ser.1.

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54. ER, If You Ask Me, 110-11, 144.

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55. Muncy, Crating a Female Dominion, 88-92; see Ware, Beyond Suffrage, 130, 134-35.

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56. Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, "Women in Politics," Good Housekeeping, March 1940, 45-476, and April 1940, 45; War, Beyond Suffrage, 130, 134-35.

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