This is what Eleanor Roosevelt was pondering on the day I was born. Oddly, not a single mention of my birth. Oh well. I admire her too much to begrudge her the oversight.
NEW YORK—I was much interested to read that the National Park Service will shortly be authorized to take over and administer two shrines in New York State—one, the birthplace of President Theodore Roosevelt on East 20th Street in New York City; and the other, Sagamore Hill on Long Island, which was built in 1884 and served as the summer White House during Theodore Roosevelt's Presidency.
Sagamore Hill, which President Roosevelt built and lived in for years, is well known and a good many people are attracted to visit this house which is so full of reminders of one of our most colorful Presidents.
I have always regretted, however, that more people did not know of the two houses on East 20th Street, which belonged to Theodore Roosevelt Sr., father of President Theodore Roosevelt, and his brother, James Roosevelt. It was in the senior Theodore Roosevelt's home on East 20th Street that this most interesting family lived and where most of the children were brought up. The home itself is very typical of the way of life of a comfortable merchant in the New York City of that day.
Later the two brothers built houses on 57th Street when that location was looked upon as really out in the country. And I remember a distant cousin and friend of the family who lived on Washington Square, Mrs. Weeks, who said, when her son Frederick told her he was going to a housewarming party in those 57th Street houses, that she hoped he was spending the night!
In my young days I always felt that Mrs. Weeks was our tie to the past, because she loved to tell the younger members of the family how in her youth she had danced with General Lafayette at a ball given for him in New York when he came back for a visit long after the Revolutionary War.
The Theodore Roosevelt house on East 20th Street is so easy to visit, and the James Roosevelt house next door has many things arranged in museum fashion of interest to young people.
If it is possible to make history live for our younger generation, I think visiting the houses where people they read about really lived is one of the best ways to create a vivid concept of the past.
Someone spoke to me the other day about the lack of comprehension so many young people have of even fairly recent history, and I think one of the reasons for this is because we do not often try to do the things that would make what they read seem closer and more dramatic than the events can possibly seem in the mere cold type of a book.
For instance, many of our young people have the opportunity to travel to Europe. Yet, I think very few of us ever think to suggest that on these travels—whether in Italy or France—they should visit the cemeteries where thousands of Americans who fell in World War I and World War II are buried. A number of the cemeteries are now supervised by American war veterans. I feel it is important that we do this when we can, or the upkeep of the cemeteries will seem of less importance to those who are in charge. And for the young it is important for them to realize how many of their own people gave their lives to preserve the freedoms of the present generation.
This leads me to one of the themes that I wish educators would give some thought to: How well are we succeeding in giving understanding to our young people of the real meaning of democracy?
It is true that we pledge allegiance to our flag, which is the symbol to remind us we believe in our form of government and our way of life. Democracy has little meaning unless it is a way of life to live day by day.
However, not long ago a teacher sent me a pledge that she wrote, and I think perhaps it might not be a bad idea if this pledge—or a better one if it can be found—were made a part of everyone's education. It was written by Mrs. Dorothy E. Sugar of Boulder, Colo., but I have a feeling that she would be glad if perhaps some great writer could embody the ideas in a way that would be even more dramatically and unforgettably expressed. The pledge follows:
A Pledge to Democracy
I know that just as a chain is as strong as its weakest link, democracy is as strong as its weakest individual. I believe in democracy and because democracy is not just a political system but a way of life, I know that I shall be strengthening democracy as I practice these beliefs in my daily life.
I believe in the dignity of man and the worth of each person; I will, therefore, build upon man's strengths rather than playing upon his weaknesses. I will encourage all things which will help individuals reach their greatest fulfillment, and I will protect the freedoms in order that each person may be free to reach his greatest potential. I accept the fallability of every person, including myself, and of any groups and so I shall respect government under law, and our system of separation of powers. I will abide by majority rule while protecting minority rights and I will safeguard the freedoms of speech, press and assembly so that where error exists it may be corrected.
I believe in searching for and in speaking the truth at all times for only through truth do we see reality and only as we see reality can we understand and solve our problems. I will safeguard the freedoms in order that we may continuously grow in the understanding of truth.
I believe in the use of reason rather than an emotional appeal in the passing of our ideas on to others and in the solving of our problems; I especially deplore the appeal to the emotions of hate, of fear and insecurity.
I believe in the responsibility not of an elite group but of all men and I will, therefore, learn as much as I can throughout my life so that I can meet my responsibilities. I will have faith that through the use of reason, truth and respect for the individual that others will act responsibility; and because our government is built at the base upon each citizen, I know that I can have an influence upon my government and will take responsible part in it.
I believe in the growth of man and the perfectability of the society in which we live. Although man will make mistakes, I believe that if each of us will assume personal responsibility for using methods in harmony with these beliefs of democracy, a better life can be achieved for all.
(Copyright, 1962, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)