Balancing Act: Eleanor Roosevelt: Work-Life Balance Pioneer, Facebook Hater?

By Heidi Stevens
Chicago Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Eleanor Roosevelt’s 1933 book “It’s Up to the Women” which called on women of all ages to invest themselves fully in the work of rebuilding a nation beset by the Great Depression; was re-released this month with an introduction by New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore, an American history professor at Harvard University.

Chicago Tribune

There’s a scene in “Hamilton” in which Eliza Hamilton pleads with her husband to come with her on vacation, leaving behind the pressures of founding a country to reacquaint himself with the loving embrace of his family, a family which (spoiler alert) he’s about to tear to pieces.

My husband leaned into me during the scene and whispered, “This show is all about work-life balance.”

We laughed, but it’s sort of true. I thought about that this week when I was reading “It’s Up to the Women,” Eleanor Roosevelt’s 1933 book calling on women of all ages to invest themselves fully in the work of rebuilding a nation beset by the Great Depression. The book was re-released this month with an introduction by New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore, an American history professor at Harvard University.

Roosevelt writes passionately about work-life balance, among dozens of other push/pull matters of the heart and mind.
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And like “Hamilton,” her book is a reminder of how long we’ve been grappling with equality, justice and social responsibility inside and outside our homes.

When the book was released in 1933, the Chicago Tribune had this to say: “Mrs. Roosevelt has always been an independent thinker. Her typewriter has developed no inhibitions since its journey to the White House.”

Read through the lens of 2017 perspective, her words offer a set of guiding principles that seem almost prescient.

Five ways she was ahead of her time, even as she was crucial to it.

She supported working moms: “I never like to think of this subject of a woman’s career and a woman’s home as being in controversy. … To be sure, sometimes children resent the fact that their mother has a job and is not at their beck and call at any hour of the day or night. This is only so, of course, when her work is not needed for the necessities of life.

But granted that the father provides the necessities, sometimes the children are jealous of the fact that a mother should want any interests outside of theirs. They are justified if something really vital goes out of their lives, but if their physical needs are cared for and if their mother, in return, has enough vitality to keep in touch with their daily lives and know what has happened to them and to give them her sympathetic interest and advice, then it is probably better for the future lives of these children that they should have to exercise a little unselfishness, a little thought for themselves and for others because their mother is not always on hand.”

She was no fan of the wage gap: “The principle of equal pay for equal work should be accepted, otherwise employers who wish to keep down the cost of production will largely employ women and pay them less than they would have to pay men. … Women should receive equal pay for equal work and they should also work the same hours and insist on the same good working conditions and the same rights of representation that the men have. If they accept longer hours and unsanitary working conditions, they injure the cause of labor.”

She wouldn’t approve of helicopter parenting: “I believe very strongly that it is better to allow children too much freedom than too little; it is better for them to get their feet wet than to be told at the age of 15 to put on their rubbers. They should be old enough by that time to take care of themselves and if they prefer to get their feet wet, they should be allowed to do so.”

Or Facebook: “One must not be too much influenced by others and above all one must not attempt to strive to match what somebody else is doing. ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ is no longer so important because Mr. and Mrs. Jones are apt not to be very sure how long they can continue doing what they have always done. It is becoming increasingly evident that what one has matters little; what one is means that one can gather around oneself those who wish to see real people without regard to anything except enjoyable relationships and real personality.”

She believed in purposeful living: “I think we shall have fulfilled our mission well if when our time comes to give up active work in the world we can say we never saw a wrong without trying to right it; we never intentionally left unhappiness where a little effort would have turned it into happiness, and we were more critical of ourselves than we were of others.”

(I like to think she’d approve heartily of the women’s marches.)

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