The Revoluntionary College Project
Eleanor Roosevelt

ABOVE - Mrs. Roosevelt was one of three women awarded honorary degrees at Washington College commencement exercises on May 25, 1942.  The first awarded to women, the degrees celebrated fifty years of co-education at Washington College. In accordance with this theme, her speech reveals much about the status of women in wartime. The others honored were Sophie Kerr, a popular fiction writer, and Mary Adele France, an educator and member of the class of 1900.  The degrees were presented by Dr. Gilbert Mead, who was inaugurated as president of Washington College during the visit of President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933.

Red SwirlEleanor Roosevelt, 1942

Mrs. Roosevelt’s Remarks at Washington College on Receiving an Honorary Degree
May 25, 1942

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen and students, graduating class:  As this is ladies’ day, you will forgive me if I begin addressing a few words especially to the ladies.  Since we celebrate today the 50th anniversary of the granting of the privilege of higher education to women in this institution I would like first to say that I am sure those first girls who came here had a great sense of the privilege which was theirs, but also of the responsibilities which went with that privilege.  As time has gone on, I think perhaps some of us who have had that privilege as women have forgotten that with it went a very great responsibility, the responsibility that goes with higher education when it is given to any group of men or women.

But today we are facing a crisis—a crisis in the world’s history—and the position of women is enormously changed.  They have a greater responsibility.  They are probably going to be asked to do a greater variety of things than has ever been asked of women since perhaps the days of the Pilgrim mothers.  They were asked to do a great variety of things.  Well, I hope we are going to get a new sense—not just of a privilege which we have taken for granted very greatly in the past few years, but of the responsibility which goes with that privilege.

I work with an organization called the International Students’ Service, which at one time concerned itself primarily with aid to refugee students’ but in the last year or so we have thought it very important that all students, primarily those of our own country, should recognize the responsibility  that goes with higher education to the citizenship of a democracy.  That seems to some of us one of the things which we may have forgotten and that again in this period we are going to be obliged to take up much more seriously than ever before.

Some of you boys are going directly into the Service. You are following the traditions; namely, that we should be ready to die for our country when we are asked to do so.  I do not think we have ever emphasized quite sufficiently that we should be willing to live for our country in exactly the same way and with the same amount of sacrifice that we put into the occasions when we are asked to die for it; and on this day, which is a solemn day to many of you, I would like to point out that the responsibility today is as heavy on the girls who graduate as on the boys.  For two reasons.  I faced young people before the last War (Because I as a very old lady) and I can remember that they went out with just the same high purpose and dertermination that you are going out with. They came back and the living for that purpose was less high than the dying for it had been. There were two things, I think, that contributed to bringing about a new war. One was that the people who were left behind; that is, the girls and the older people really never quite knew what it was they were fighting for—fighting for at home as well as in other parts of the world.  Today we are fighting all over the world and it is more important than ever that those of us who are at home should know what we are fighting for. The preservation of the American way. Yes, but the American way has got to become a world way, and that is something we have really got to understand and to think about. There are two very simple things, I think, that we who stay at home and those who fight and come home must remember. You do not have any democracy by anything that you do today. You have democracy only as you live your citizenship today and every day. You do not have peace because you bring yourselves to an Armistice Day. That may remain an armistice only, as it has proved this time. You have peace only if you know what kind of a world you want; if you know what sacrifices you have to make to obtain it; and if you never stop, day in and day out, living the kind of a life which will bring you to a peaceful world.  And we now face the fact that we cannot have [peace unless we acknowledge a responsibility as part of a world-a world which has grown small enough so that we are all of us interdependent.

I know a little group of fighting men who are being, have been, in fact, very intensively trained for a very special kind of work out in the Pacific area and they have been taught a Chinese word which a group of Chinese fighters have used, and it means “we cooperate”.  You have been taught that together you can achieve great things and I am glad you have been taught that, because I think it is true; but we have to learn that we cooperate all over the world, with all the peoples of the worlds, and I think we have to learn that we here in this country during the War have a greater responsibility than any other people in any other nation, because we here have gathered together a nation made up a races from every part of the world and as we prove here that we can recognize the worth of the human being, the equality of the human soul.

The fact that opportunity also may have been denied certain races does not mean that they may not learn to grow, given the opportunity, and therefore, here during the War we have the opportunity to show that we really have studied our Constitution and our Bill of Rights, that we know what cooperating with the whole world means, and that we are prepared to do it; and that we are also prepared to show the example to the rest of the world that a democratic way of life and a democratic citizenship can be understood by every citizen in a great nation, regardless of what race he may have come from, regardless of what creed he may belong to.  Now that means a great deal of preparation and it means an understanding of individual responsibility.

Each one of you young people will have to fight your own battles. You will have to fight them with yourselves. You will have to know what to you democracy really means, what you are willing to do to have the democratic way win out as from of government and as a way of life throughout the world.

It is very much easier to be a citizen under a totalitarian form of government, very much easier to let a small group of people control a democracy. It is always easier to let other people tell you what to do than it is to be personally responsible for every act and personally responsible for your actions as a community and as a nation in the family of nations. That means an awareness of citizenship, courage, a steadfastness, and an unselfishness in the consideration of the other people’s point of view, the other people’s opportunities.  Something, perhaps, we have never had. We certainly did not have it at the end of the last war. We were tired, we are going to be tired again, and those who come home from the fight are going to e tired again. So it is going to be questions of being able to go on fighting for something you b believe in, no matter how tired you are. It is not going to be easy. And I think a great deal of the responsibility of achievement lies with those who stay at home who are back of you at present and for whom you are fighting.

Therefore, I think the role of every girl today is an extraordinarily important role—just as important as the role of older people, men and women, in communities which have to be kept active in citizenship during this period.

Girls are going to work. Girls are gang to do any number of things. I do not believe that we are going into a world where anybody is going to be idle. I think everybody is going to pull his weight in the boat in the years to come. You may pull it in your home; but, wherever you are, you are going to work; and work to the maximum of your ability, I think, because the world is not going to be an easy world.

But I think it is going to be an adventurous world. I think perhaps we have another chance to really build a peaceful world. But it is going to require the leadership of the people who have had the privilege of higher education. I do not mean by that that many other people who do not have that privilege won’t rise to leadership. I have know too many, men and women, who never had a chance to get much education, who still rose to heights of leadership and were most valuable citizens because thy learned so much the hard way. But still in the main, you people who have had the chance to train you minds, to make your minds instruments with which you can do whatever you want to do, you people have the greatest responsibility for leadership. It rests on the shoulders of both men and women. I do not think we could have a world which is the right kind of a world if both the points of view of men and women did not count.

Often I am asked what difference giving the suffrage to women has really meant—it has not reformed the world.  But if you go back over the years you find that in the years since women have had the vote there is a great deal more consideration given to social questions, to questions which have made life easier and better for human beings. That is because a woman naturally thinks of what happens in the home, in the daily life of people in a community, in the manner in which they work, what is happening to the children of a nation, what they need.

The two points of view are absolutely essential to the establishing of peace and to the building of a new world. Make no mistake, you are going into a new world. You are living through a period of a complete change, I think, in the history of the world. It is a very exciting period: it has possibilities for great good and great bad. And what it really becomes lies largely in your hands. We older people can’t shirk all the responsibility, but you can make yourselves felt if you know how to use your citizenship. Young people say to me every now and the, “But how are we going to register? We don’t count. Nobody listens to us.” Oh, but they will if you use your citizenship, if you really think things through, if you know what you mean by the American way, if you know what you mean by being a citizen of the world, if you know what you want, and if you know how to use citizenship in a democracy. And I hope that boys and girls alike are going to take that responsibility and to know that when you have a privilege you always have a responsibility.

 


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