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Testimony Before
the Office of Civilian Defense

January 14, 1942 — Office of Civilian Defense, Washington DC


The Chairman: Mrs. Roosevelt, we appreciate very much your coming here this morning. I think you know considerable about the work of our committee, so we won’t go into that.

But after traveling around the county we have been gravely concerned about housing, health, education, and other essential facilities. We have been concerned not only because of the personal hardships these shortages cause, but because they are major obstacles to effective war production. They create labor turn-over. They result in ill health and lowered efficiency. Lowered production results at a time when not one gun, tank, airplane can be spared.

We have been concerned by discrimination against the foreign-born, against women, against Negroes, in employment and training practices, not only because this is contrary to the American way, but because it fails to utilize a large section of our labor force.

Now, Mrs. Roosevelt, you know this country as few others do. One of the members of our committee has designated you as “Migrant No. 1.” I am sure you won’t be insulted by that.

You have been close to the needs of our people. In what ways, if any, do you feel these unmet needs may interfere with our all-out war effort? Perhaps you would illustrate with examples of situations you have seen in various parts of the country.

Roosevelt: Well, I think there are a great many ways in which unmet human needs interfere. There is one basic thing — let’s take it in the field of defense — people must feel secure — that is to say each individual family must be secure, to make the whole defense of the Nation strong.

Therefore, when you have either a family or a group that is insecure, you weaken your whole defense. That is why it is important, I think, to meet the needs of people. In the first place, that strengthens your defense, because people have the feeling that they have something worth fighting for, the feeling that they can fight, because they are strong, they are well fed, they are well housed, they know they have a job and it is secure. That makes a strong nation.

Then, in the field of production, it seems to me it is perfectly obvious. We know that if you don’t have enough to eat you can’t work well, and therefore your production is cut down.

If you are living under conditions which are poor, sleeping conditions that are bad, if you have overcrowding, medical health conditions that are very poor, you are not going to do your job as well nor are you going to produce as much. I think that that can perhaps be illustrated by a number of situations that exist in various parts of this country, but one which is coming to the attention of everybody just at present is the Michigan situation.

I might cite a number of letters from people in which they say, “We have been laid off, we don’t know what is going to happen to us.” There are rumors of every kind. “How long will it take to convert plants? The cost of living is rising. Our unemployment compensation isn’t adequate. Our whole situation is insecure. We are not even told that we will get our job back. We don’t know how we are going to get training for the new job.”

That creates a depression in civilian morale. Now that isn’t happening just in Michigan. That happens in many places; and will happen more and more. I think that we have to prepare for that and not let it happen if possible. If you want an illustration of a group situation, take your Negro situation, right here in the District or in New York City, a group of people who feel that they are pushed aside and not allowed to participate.

It may not be the Negro group only. It might be some of the aliens who have come to this country to escape certain things in other countries, and who are most anxious to contribute what they have to contribute. Now I am not minimizing the fact that we have to be extremely careful and that we have to investigate such persons with great care, and that we have to know all we possibly can about these people, but I do think that we have to utilize everything that we possibly can utilize, if we really are going to be all out in this war. I think you can find a sense of frustration in those groups, which leads to poor morale.

They are part of our life, and such feeling leads to poor civilian morale and to poor production, because it means they have a sense of not being able to contribute, of not being included in what is happening.

The Chairman: Well, Mrs. Roosevelt, you speak my language. We found those things true of the migrants in 1940, four million of them on the road and, as you say, insecure. We must give those people a country worth fighting for and dying for. I do not feel that you can separate civilian morale from Army and Navy morale, it just can’t be done.

Mrs. Roosevelt: No, it all hangs together.

The Chairman: As I understand, since August you have headed up the volunteer participation division in the Office of Civilian Defense. Will you please indicate what the purpose of the division is and what its work has been up to this time?

Mrs. Roosevelt: Well, when I came in, there had been two people preceding me. The first person was Mrs. Kerr, who was borrowed from the W.P.A. Her work, primarily, had to do with professional and service projects, and she was simply borrowed to look over the field and see what could be done.

Then Miss Eloise Davidson, who came from the Herald Tribune in New York, was borrowed also to continue trying to develop a way in which volunteers could be used and by the use of volunteers, civilian morale could be helped.

Miss Davidson had worked in the T.V.A. She is a very excellent organizer and knows a great deal about people and about nutrition. She did not know a great deal about Government agencies and work in Washington. She had not had that experience before.

Therefore the only actual thing that had been done at that time was the asking of two people to come in and work on the establishment of volunteer bureaus, as they were then called — they are volunteer offices now — under the State and local defense councils.

Well, at that time State and local defense councils were nonexistent in many places, because there was still a feeling that this whole idea of protection was a foolish thing. Many persons felt that we weren’t ever going to be attacked, nothing was ever going to happen to us, and why did we want to agitate about this? So the Office of Civilian Defense made a pattern for the organization of a volunteer bureau. Then they started to try to get some bureaus established.

When, with Miss Davidson’s consent, the mayor asked if I would come in and help her, I found that to be the situation. There was the beginnings of volunteer bureaus. Very nearly the first thing you think about is the stimulation of protective things, if you are planning for defense. It gradually became evident that if we were going to have a complete defense we had to have a conception of what lay back of what might be called semimilitary functions in defense, for the whole community.

Well, we decided first of all to try to see what groups of people had to be interested, if we were going to get the whole community interested in defense. The volunteer bureaus were pretty well on the way to organization, at least on paper. That meant they knew what they wanted but that they hadn’t gone very far. Then I decided that we would need a youth-activities division, because there would be young people in every community that would want to be doing something. We would have to know what they wanted to be doing and how to interest them.

We would also have to deal with organizations: Women’s organizations and men’s organizations, that would want to be doing something. Many of their activities they called defense programs. So Miss Davidson took over those organizations, very largely, as we got them set up. It gradually began to dawn upon me that we would really need to set up some way of getting information from all the Government and the State and local, and even from labor groups, to know what was happening, what was the impact of defense, in communities all over the country. You couldn’t just sit in Washington, even if you have two or three people traveling, and know that. You would have to gather it all into a great pool and analyze this information, and then begin to find out what could be done about it.

That led me to the feeling that we really should establish a way of collecting this information and of analyzing it. Then we should establish a community planning and organization group that would be over all the other activities. Then a community as a whole would see what the problems were, and would then use existing agencies by bringing to their attention the things that had to be done—Federal agencies and local agencies and State agencies — and say, “This problem is not a problem, in this community, of just a change in employment for a lot of people.”

It is a problem perhaps of that, but it also is a problem of lack of housing for part of the community. It is perhaps a problem of a group of people, who are in such a low income level at all times, that their situation is creating a problem in the whole area.

In the rural field, which has become very little noticed, there is a great deal to be done, because rural people want to feel that they are included in the defense of their country. They also have many problems in rural areas that are intensified at present. For instance, it is very difficult to get farm labor at the price they used to get it. There are a great many things that come into the rural picture, which we have not covered very well, but which, in community planning as a whole, you must consider.

So that now we are trying to set up an information pool and an all-over community planning group, not to actually do things but to know things, and to use to the maximum every agency that is in the field and able to do things. I think that is not my job, strictly speaking.

I am in charge of volunteer participation. We, all of us, however, came to seeing that this had to be done.

I think probably it will go over to Dean Landis, eventually, but that doesn’t matter.

The point is, the job needs to be done, and it doesn’t matter, really, in what particular place it is, as long as the job is done.

Now, as to the volunteer participation, which is really getting volunteers into every field, I thought you might like to know that we now have these volunteer officers, and the type of volunteers that have come into the work.

Where we have actual, complete, volunteer offices set up, they have three functions:

They have the function of enrolling volunteers, of finding ways for training volunteers, and of then finding ways to use volunteers. We do not call a volunteer office completely set up until it fulfills those three functions.

There are a lot of places where they register people and do nothing else. That is not a complete volunteer office, because there is no use registering people unless you are going to give them training if they need it, and find them places where they can actually function.

Now, we have, on the protective side, furnished auxiliary firemen, auxiliary police. I should add that, on occasion, in many places, you adapt your plans to what the place desires to do. In many cases they have registered people who wished to be auxiliary firemen, auxiliary policemen at the fire stations or the police headquarters—but their names are turned in to the volunteer offices so that we can have, in one place, a complete picture of all the volunteers that can be called upon in that community.

We furnished fire watchers, auxiliary medical personnel, demolition and clearance squads, messengers — a lot of messengers; the young people come into that — staff corps, rescue squads, bomb squads, feeding and housing groups, nurses’ aides.

Now, the Red Cross registers the nurses’ aides, but they asked us to help stimulate interest, because they were having some difficulty in getting as many as they would like to have. There is, of course, a full registration of their workers in the Red Cross. The present arrangement with them is that they register with us the head of their volunteer service, and the numbers of volunteers that they have registered with them. That keeps our office informed of the numbers that can be called on, in each group, in case of need. That includes road repair crews, decontamination squads, and drivers corps.

Then, in the community service, we can obtain, for our volunteers, training and the opportunity for service with family security services, the health services, the recreation services, and informal education services.

In the recreation services, a great many young people can be used, and very often, in some of the education services, they can be used as assistants, if they have some supervision.

Our plans include housing services, democracy programs, library services, special war services, child-care services, hospital services, consumer services, nutrition services, food-conservation services, and American Red Cross services.

Now, that, of course, means that people who want an outlet find it through the volunteer bureau, and we believe that the more people feel that they are actually taking a part in the defense of their country, the stronger your defense is. We have also suggested that those people who cannot enter any service, for instance housewives, particularly in rural areas, where they can’t get to a central place to work, or young housewives who have little children at home, should still be given a feeling of participation. Realizing that doing your job better than you have ever done it before — by taking the trouble to learn to follow, for instance, a very simple nutrition course, and really feeding your family better than you have ever fed it before — is a defense job.

If your whole family is to be enlisted in the effort, you should get your children to feel that they are making a contribution. When they say, “No; I don’t like milk to drink; I won’t drink any milk this morning,” their contribution may be that they drink their milk, if that is good for them. Then they have a sense of participation.

If the whole family joins in they can be given a sign which says: “We are part of the civilian defense program for the defense of the Nation,” and we think that is a very important thing, because we feel that everybody should be given a share in this defense program.

I don’t think you can defend the country with its Army and its Navy alone, because there must be first a feeling, by those who are in the Army and Navy, that their families are being taken care of. That makes an enormous difference to Army and Navy morale.

Second, a feeling that the people at home know what this whole war is about, and that they know what their young people are fighting for, and that they are willing to help; I think that is what my side of civilian defense is trying to do. I don’t feel that we have done it, but that is what we are trying to do.

The Chairman: Mrs. Roosevelt, what effect has the declaration of war had on the extension of your service?

Mrs. Roosevelt: It has had a tremendous effect in the increase in the number of volunteers who desire to participate. Of course, at first, many of the volunteers were people who had leisure time. Now people who think they do a good, full day’s work are anxious to do something more, if they can. Those who had volunteered before, those who had leisure time, looked upon it more or less as, well, just not a very important thing, something that you could do or not do, as you chose. But that attitude has changed very greatly and there is a seriousness now among volunteers which there was not before.

The Chairman: Mrs. Roosevelt, will you please indicate what the relation of your Division will be to existing agencies, such as the Federal Security Agency, the Department of Labor, and others? What relation, if any, will you have to them?

Mrs. Roosevelt:  Our relation to all these agencies is that, in registering volunteers, we can furnish them with any help that they need on the local level, to make their programs better than they have ever been before. They must, of course, furnish both training, where it is needed, and supervision, but we will furnish volunteers at their call.

Secondly, our agency, with the knowledge gathered from all these agencies and from field observation, and from the reports available, should be able to recommend to the other agencies in the field the things that need to be done. We never do them, but we recommend things that need to be done.

Now, I might illustrate, perhaps, by citing some work we have been doing with the Department of Agriculture. We felt very much that there was a need to make rural groups feel they had a distinct defense job. We knew, and the Department of Agriculture knew, that for a long time they had been trying to stimulate more home gardens, with the idea of raising the nutritional level in the home.

This now has become, in addition to its help in family nutrition, a real contribution to defense, because there are many of these foods that are commercially grown which we need to ship to our allies.

There are four things that the nutritionists tell us contain the minimum requirements to keep people in good condition: Tomato juice, potato flour, pork products, and milk powder.

Well, we can’t produce extra cows overnight, but with better knowledge of how to feed cows you may be able to increase the amount of milk produced.

There are ways in which we can assist this program, which the Agriculture Department had already started, and not adding to the urgency of the problem, by taking ourselves, as far as we can, out of the market on these things, so they may be free for other people.

That is the main reason for having a garden, for growing certain things.

So, we have worked in very close cooperation with the nutrition people, both in the Office of Defense Health and Welfare under Governor [Paul V.] McNutt, and in the Department of Agriculture under Dr. Wilson.

We have worked with the Secretary of Agriculture, and we are helping to stimulate the interest in rural communities in increasing gardens, in increasing the production of certain things which will not add to the difficulties of the commercial grower. The commercial grower has a hard time anyway, getting his crop picked, at the present wage level, and with an increasing scarcity of farm labor. By making it possible to produce in smaller units, we hope to make these food supplies available to all at reasonable cost.

We don’t know how successful we will be, but we are going to try and push food production as a defense activity. In that way we would help the defense program, by working with existing agencies, on things that we consider to have a defense value, though we don’t do the thing ourselves.

The Chairman: Mrs. Roosevelt, section E of the Executive order setting up the Office of Civilian Defense reads, in part:

The Office of Civilian Defense will consider proposals, suggest plans and promote activities designed to sustain the national morale and to provide opportunities for constructive civilian participation in the defense program.

What kinds of jobs are civilians doing to carry out the intent of this section in other than the emergency types of work?

Mrs. Roosevelt: Well, I think I have pretty well covered that in citing the things the bureaus had been enlisting people in.

There is one thing that I think we can help in very much, and that is in the stimulation and development, in some cases by groups, of more forums or meetings of people for discussion and for obtaining answers to their questions.

We have done very little of that, as a whole, in this country. I think that it would stimulate morale a great deal if there were, in various localities, groups coming together, where they could ask questions. We have, in connection with the Speakers Bureau, set up a place where questions may be sent in and the answers will be obtained from the Government and private agencies here, from the people who know. We will send them back to those people who are holding group meetings like that. We will try to train, through our regional offices, people who may be able to go to such groups and help them with their problems.

The Chairman: Yesterday we had a hearing on the problems of the District as a typical American city.

It seemed to us that the migration of large numbers of Government workers and others to war jobs here has already created situations for which the city does not have the necessary facilities. The number of added migrants now expected will swamp the local facilities, unless some plan can be worked out for anticipating needs.

Do you agree with that opinion? What seems to you to be the most important unmet needs here in the District?

Mrs. Roosevelt: There are a great many unmet needs in the District.

The Chairman: We found that out.

Mrs. Roosevelt: They were here before, and they are much worse now.

There are a great many needs, of course, in the District that are enormously increased by the influx of Government workers; the housing facilities in the lower price level are simply unspeakable.

You have right here an illustration of the Negro question as you have it in very few places, because, while conditions seem to be unspeakable for white people, it is even worse for colored people.

Everyone, white or colored, who is a Government worker, has a certain amount of difficulty in obtaining food in the time that is allotted to him at the lunch hour, but the colored workers have a far worse time than the white workers, because they frequently have to walk a great many blocks before they can find any place.

Someone said the other day: “But they can go buy it in any drug store.” But, if you would like to try it, I think it would amuse you, because they can get no one to wait on them until all the white people have been waited on first.

Even white girls, for instance, have complained over and over again.

Our lunch hour is nearly over before we can buy something to bring back and eat on our desks.

Well, the colored people just can’t get anything, that is all there is to that.

I think you have an extraordinarily good illustration here, in a good part of our population, of the problem of that group. It is the lowest-paid group. It is given the jobs that are the lowest paid, and I think that this inability to obtain proper food at the proper time has a weakening effect, because you will find tuberculosis among colored people more than anybody else in the District.

You will also find more syphilis, and you will find more malnutrition among the Negroes. I think that, right here in the District, you have the best illustration of many of the evils that are coming to various communities in the country, either where a group is having a hard time, or where conditions which were bad before are augmented by the increase in the population.

The Chairman: Mrs. Roosevelt, it has been suggested in some quarters — probably you know about it or you have heard about it—that civilian defense be placed within the jurisdiction of the military. What is your view of this proposal?

We have heard the mayor on that. We might as well clinch it. What do you think about it?

Mrs. Roosevelt: Well I may be a little prejudiced, because my particular interests don’t lie as much along military lines, but I think it would be rather difficult to expect the Army, which naturally must be concerned, primarily, with its military problems and in the obtaining of materials which are absolutely necessary to defensive and offensive warfare, to also take over the civilian-defense problems of the country. They have never before really had any opportunity to study these problems, nor any experience in their administration, and yet they are problems which must be met, if you are going to have a really effective defense.

I am not talking about the buying or the procurement; I am talking entirely about the actual work of civilian defense, which I can’t see under Army jurisdiction, because they have had no experience. Most of the people in the Army have had very little reason for being concerned about the problems which enter into the civilian defense of any community.

The Chairman: It was stated from the House floor that the Army is not desirous of that job anyway.

Mrs. Roosevelt: Well, of course, I don’t know about that, but I can’t imagine that they are desirous of it, because I should think they have quite a job on their hands anyway.

The Chairman: Mrs. Roosevelt, we are certainly very grateful to you for appearing here. It has been a valuable contribution, and we thank you very kindly.

Mrs. Roosevelt: Thank you very much.



Source: Hearings Before the Select Committee Investigating National Defense Migration, US House of Representatives, 77th Long., 1st Sess, Pursuant to H. Res. 113, a Resolution to Inquire Further Into the Interstate Migration of Citizens, Emphasizing the Present and Potential Consequences of the Migration Caused by the National Defense Program (Washington DC: US Government Printing Office) 1941, pp. 9766-9744.