Saturday, March 21, 2015

W20: Put Eleanor on $20 Bill?

By Bill Doughty – 
Eleanor's school portrait, 1898.

Eleanor Roosevelt championed civil rights, equality for women and the role of the Navy in the 20th century. She transformed the role of First Lady and was a key communicator between government and the people through her daily newspaper column, essays and broadcasts.

No wonder she's one of the candidates in a grassroots public effort to see a woman pictured on a new twenty dollar bill. Among those being considered are Alice Paul, Soujourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady-Stanton, Rosa Parks, Rachel Carson and Patsy Mink, among others.

Some of Eleanor Roosevelt's writing is included in "Aunt Lute's Anthology of U.S. Women Writers, Volume Two," published in 2008.

In 1943, as Americans of Japanese ancestry served in Europe and the Pacific while others were imprisoned in camps, the First Lady expressed her thoughts. At first wrestling with the contradictions, she ultimately faced the hypocrisy of the War Relocation Act in this conclusion to her essay:
"Japanese-Americans may be no more Japanese than a German-American is German, or an Italian-American is Italian. All of these people, including the Japanese-Americans, have men who are fighting today for the preservation of the democratic way of life and the ideas around which our nation was built." 
"We have no common race in this country, but we have an ideal to which all of us are loyal. It is our ideal which we want to have live. It is an ideal which can grow with our people, but we cannot progress if we look down upon any group of people among us because of race or religion. Every citizen in this country has a right to our basic freedoms, to justice and to equality of opportunity, and we retain the right to lead our individual lives as we please, but we can only do so if we grant to others the freedoms that we wish for ourselves."
In an essay, "Freedom: Promise or Fact," also written in 1943, Eleanor Roosevelt begins, "If I were a Negro today, I think I would have moments of great bitterness. It would be hard for me to sustain my faith in democracy and to build up a sense of goodwill toward men of other races."

She imagines herself a black man facing the injustices of an unequal and segregated society.
"In a comparatively short period of time the slaves have become free men – free men, that is, as far as a proclamation can make them so. There now remains much work to be done to see that freedom becomes a fact and not just a promise for my people.
Eleanor Roosevelt visits a Works Progress Administration Negro nursery school
 in Des Moines, Iowa, June 11, 1936. (Photos courtesy of FDR Library).

"I know, however that I am not the only group that has to make a similar fight. Even women of the white race still suffer inequalities and injustices, and many groups of white people in my country are slaves of economic conditions. All the world is suffering under a great war brought about because of the lag in our social development against the progress in our economic development."
The Aunt Lute anthology is a mind-opening compilation with works from hundreds of compelling women authors and poets.

For more writings from Eleanor Roosevelt, The George Washington University offers a comprehensive site dedicated to her work.

Within weeks of the end of World War II, on October 4, 1945, Roosevelt wrote: 
"Army and Navy nurses are still on duty in every branch of the service. As of June 30, 1945, 65,216 were still on duty with the services."

"These women know better than most of us what war exacts in blood and pain from all young men, and they will continue to be reminded of it. In veterans' hospitals and in civilian hospitals and homes, they are going to meet the aftermath of war as long as this generation lives. In that respect, therefore, they have a great contribution to make to peace. I hope their organizations will be strong and that they will act not only in the interests of nurses, but take their position as citizens of influence in the affairs of the whole nation."
On October 15, 1949 – four years after the war, two days after the Navy's 174th Birthday – and in the midst of the Revolt of the Admirals, she showed her support for sea and air power and encouraged joint cooperation:
"I was brought up by my husband to have a great affection for the Navy. As he had been much influenced in his early days by Alfred Thayer Mahan's books, he naturally thought that a strong Navy was essential to defense.

"There was a time when navies were not considered so important. Armies were more important. Later, the navy came into its own and now perhaps air forces have superseded both armies and navies. But no one will deny, I think, that the proper combination of all three is what really safeguards a nation.

"The decision as to the relative power and kind of power to be given to each one of the services must rest with our military chiefs. There must be a joint decision arrived at by the chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force. This is one place where personal jealousies, either for yourself or for your particular branch of the service, cannot be allowed to supersede the overall good of the nation."
Adm. Nimitz briefs FDR, Gen. MacArthur, and Adm. Leahy in Hawaii, July 28, 1944.
On February 23, 1960, on the eve of Fleet Admiral Nimitz's 75th birthday, Roosevelt wrote a glowing tribute to the military statesman.

Reading her essay on the former Pacific Fleet Commander, one can imagine Eleanor proposing Nimitz's visage on our money (an idea that would have been repellent to the proud but extremely humble admiral).

The folks at argue that the $20 bill is the perfect choice to honor women on our paper money. The number 20 has significance as the centennial of women's right to vote approaches in 2020. Also, with respect to Andrew Johnson, currently depicted on the $20 bill, the W2 site notes:
"Andrew Jackson was celebrated for his military prowess, for founding the Democratic party and for his simpatico with the common man. But as the seventh president of the United States, he also helped gain Congressional passage of the 'Indian Removal Act of 1830' that drove Native American tribes of the Southeastern United States off their resource-rich land and into Oklahoma to make room for white European settlers. Commonly known as the Trail of Tears, the mass relocation of Indians resulted in the deaths of thousands from exposure, disease and starvation during the westward migration."
The proposal to replace the face of President Andrew Johnson with that of a woman would be a sea change, since U.S. paper money has featured the same individuals – all white men – since 1929.

Pictured at right: Eleanor Roosevelt and Navy/WWII veteran (and future president) Senator John F. Kennedy in New York, New York, October 11, 1960. (Photos courtesy of FDR Library)

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

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