Eleanor was right! It’s (still) up to the women

Eleanor Roosevelt was the wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the United States’ longest serving president, who held office from 1933 until 1945, four terms in total.

Introducing Eleanor like this does not do her justice. She was certainly much more than “the wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt.” She was an activist, a feminist, a mother of six, and a political figure well ahead of her time. Eleanor was also controversial in her role as first lady, not only because their marriage was more of a political partnership, but even more so because of her outspokenness when it came to civil rights and the role of women in the workplace and in society.

Statue of Eleanor Roosevelt
Pomme Theunissen

Why is what Eleanor wrote during the Great Depression still so relevant?

Remember that in the 1930s, the world was facing the height of the Great Depression. To date still the largest, most severe and most widespread economic downturn the world has seen. Triggered by the stock market crash in October 1929, the world’s GDP dropped by nearly 15%, unemployment rose to an all-time high, and many families lost everything they had.

It is in those times, in 1933, that Eleanor published her book It’s up to the women. (This book had been on my reading list for long a time, and I finally found the time to read it last summer). Almost 90 years later, in 2022, the description of the impact of the crisis on families and on society at large struck me because of the resemblance with our current situation. Let me be clear, I am not saying we are back at 1930 levels. But I am saying that for the first time in more than a decade we face inflation, energy prices are soaring, and many families will have to make trade-offs in their consumption choices, just like in the 1930s.

Being resilient is timeless

In her book, Eleanor offers suggestions on how women specifically can take up responsibility for change, both inside and outside their homes. The examples she gives a range from how to deal with reductions in income, how to prepare cheap and healthy meals, how women can take on jobs to provide for their families, and even how to consciously invest in the stock market. Luckily, the role of women in society evolved since the 1930s. Nevertheless, every suggestion she made back then sounds contemporary and relevant.

Now I know some of you will wonder “why women?” The simple reason is that women should have the same rights and responsibilities as men! Being resilient is an important responsibility in today’s situation. For some it will be easier than for others, but if we help each other, take our share of responsibilities, as families, friends, colleagues and citizens, we can make our society more sustainable, even during hard times. Eleanor was right! It’s up to the women!

Roosevelt E. & Lepore J. (2019). It's up to the women (First trade paperback). Bold Type Books.

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