The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers

Eleanor Roosevelt Press Conference
JFK Campaign
Washington, D.C.

Would you assume [Text omitted. -Ed.] that was because Symington was perhaps indicated that because he was reserve . . .
I haven't the remotest idea.
Mrs. Roosevelt, last summer at the Democratic Convention, you opposed the nomination of Senator Kennedy on the grounds that he would not attract the Negro voter. Would you care to evaluate for us now what strengths you might think he has with the Negro voter?
What I actually said was that some of the Negro leaders had been greatly offended by something Senator Kennedy had done. In fact, he had gone to a meeting with a Southern governor,[1] and a good many of the Negro leaders couldn't understand it. They didn't realize that he thought, out of ignorance, probably, that he could have some influence on this Southern governor. I think he's learned better now.
And I think his record in civil rights, and particularly the effect of the conference he called in New York,, back in the middle of the campaign, a few weeks ago, has had a tremendous influence on Negro leaders. Four hundred people came to that conference, from forty-two states. And they paid their own way. They were there for two days; they worked in panels, and took testimony from all over the country. And he came himself. And he only had a preliminary report. But he said that on the final report, which is now in his hands, he wished that these would be the recommendations on which he would base the first steps of his policy. And I think they will be good recommendations. I've glanced through the report; I haven't really read it in great detail, but I think it's a good report.
Mrs. Roosevelt, how do you feel about the type of campaign that Vice President Nixon has carried on?
It's exactly the type I expected. [Laughter]
Can you elaborate on that?
Can you elaborate on that?
No, you can, you can elaborate. You know as much as I know about it. [Laughter]
Mrs. Roosevelt, you're a long-time New Yorker, with Hyde Park experience. How do you think the New York forty-five votes is going to go at this stage of the game?
Democratic. I come from a very Republican county,[2] as you know. And our first time we have had a really very active Congressional campaign, Gore Vidal[3] is running from our Congressional district. And as you know he was a writer, a TV personality, and he became very well known through all of the district, as a speaker for all the different organizations. And I think it was a great surprise when he suddenly came out as a candidate for Congress, because nobody knew he was a Democrat! But I think it was a very wise thing to have done, because at least he was known. And I've never seen anyone with [Text omitted. -Ed.], and he's had a better organization, as far as Democrats go, than I have ever seen in our county. Now I can't speak for the others, which are equally Republican if not more so, than ours. But at least in ours, we've had a better Democratic organization than I have ever seen before. And I think that with luck, he might win.
Pardon my ignorance, have you been to California; how long ago?
Oh, several weeks ago now.
How did you view the California prediction?
Well, I was only in one part of California, southern California, Los Angeles, and around there, [Text omitted. -Ed.] but I spoke to several large groups. I would say that, of course, you know you've had Aldai Stevenson there for a long while, and I think he did a great deal of good. And I think the vote will be a Democratic victory.
Do you have any personal sense of loss that Mr. Stevenson, as hard as you promoted him before and during the campaign, that he is not the standard-bearer?
No. I was disappointed at the time of the convention, because I had advocated very strongly the fact that I thought the best ticket, since I have known our most difficult questions are going to come up in foreign affairs very quickly, that the best ticket would be, Adlai Stevenson as president, and John Kennedy as vice president. But, I have watched very carefully, this campaign. And my respect for the candidate has grown. And I think of late, that there is something very interesting that has happened. I think that the reason that everybody speaks of the fact that he seems to enjoy the campaign, that he seems to get a great deal from the crowds that come out to meet him, is because he has created an identification with the people. Now this is really very valuable if it's so, for the simple reason that we are going to need not just a leader, we are going to need a leader who can call on the greatness of the American people. And if he's able to do it, then we can look forward to great accomplishments, both in this country and in the world.
Did you by chance happen to have an opportunity in your travels to hear the President on television last night, or to see him?
I did not, unfortunately, because I had to go to [Text omitted. -Ed.] last night [Text omitted. -Ed.] for his birthday. But I heard reports of his speech, and of [Text omitted. -Ed.] of course.
What did the Democrats think of the equivalent turnout between Mr. Kennedy and Mr . . .
It was very amusing when we had to read the Republican paper and the Democratic paper to get the different ideas. The Democrats thought that it was a tribute to Mr. Eisenhower. The Republicans thought that Mr. Eisenhower did very well for his candidate. And some token as far as I was concerned was, that I felt it was really too bad for the poor little man, he had to play second fiddle in one of the biggest of the meetings that had been held.
There has been a great deal of talk, Mrs. Roosevelt, in the press, about the transference of the image from the president to the vice president. In your long political experience, do you think that this image can be transferred, if such exists at all?
I should question if it could.
Mrs. Roosevelt, do you think there is a women's vote as such?
Do I think what?
There is a women's vote, as a bloc?
Oh, because there are more women in this country than men! Now, it's important, but I don't know that you can say that all women vote alike. I've seen as much difference in women as I have in men, so that I don't think that you can say, if you are going to say that all women vote one way, they surely won't. It's just like in the old days, that labor leaders used to try to say all the labor will vote this way!" It never does! And so this is just nonsense, you see. They're people, and if you win the people, you win the people! Now, of course, you can appeal to certain things which will appeal greatly. Now, for instance, President Eisenhower, in his promise to go to Korea, which made the inference that he would stop the war, did appeal to the mothers who had sons in Korea.[4] But short of a thing like that, you don't appeal to any particular group of people.
Mrs. Roosevelt, recently, some columnists have been talking about a similarity between your husband, President Roosevelt, and Senator Kennedy. Do you see any of this similarity between them?
Just lately I've begun to see a certain similarity apparently in the response of crowds. And I haven't myself witnessed it; I've only heard about it. So I don't really know. But it sounds very similar. Now I don't know what brings this about [Text omitted. -Ed.].
Mrs. Roosevelt, in your long travels overseas, do you agree with a contention made that the United States has suffered a loss of prestige overseas? And if so, in what countries?
Well, if you were to ask me that question a little differently, if you were to ask me if we had lost friends, I would say yes. We have lost friends. Prestige is hard to define. We are still a great country, we are still a country that commands a certain amount of respect. And therefore, prestige is a difficult word to use. But if you said friends, I think that I would quite agree.
Mrs. Roosevelt, where are you speaking tonight?
I am speaking tonight, first of all, out in Maryland somewhere. I don't know just the name of the place, but. . . . at a shopping center . . .
Wheaton, and then I speak to the Daughters of Israel tonight.
Here in Washington?
At some country club. And then I go back to New York.
For the weekend?
[Text omitted. -Ed.] Mrs. Roosevelt, you are going to be on a telephone campaign, beginning at 7 o'clock on election eve, and continuing all through election day, as part of the Democratic national committee here, you, and Mrs. . . . Woodrow Wilson . . .[5]
I think that I'm going to be on the committee. I don't know how much telephoning I'll be asked to do!
Well, I wanted to ask you, in case you are going to do any of the telephoning, what will you say?
Well, I think that will depend on what I was asked to do. I haven't been asked as yet.
Mrs. Roosevelt, do you have any idea of how many political speeches, purely political speeches you've made for the Kennedy-Johnson ticket?
No, I haven't counted.
Has it been more than a score, or . . .
Oh, yes. I've done quite a few, but I haven't counted up on that.
Mrs. Roosevelt, with your long experience as the First Lady of the land,[6] what would you advise either Mrs. Kennedy or Mrs. Nixon, as the case may turn out to be, to prepare for, when they enter that mansion on Pennsylvania Avenue?
I wrote an article in Redbook, which is out.
And on that very subject. And I went on Jack Paar's show[7] the other night, to be asked some questions about that.
What do you think of Jack Paar? [Laughter]
What do you think of Jack Paar?
I think he's very nice.
Mrs. Roosevelt, will you be in New York City on election day, is that it?
I have to vote in Hyde Park; from then on I'll be in New York.
Where will you be to watch the returns?
At home.
I know this is a very awkward question to ask a lady, but would you tell me how many candles were on your birthday cake the last time you . . .
Seventy-six? Thank you.
Do you have any plans for travel after the election?
Well, I have regular election trips, yes. And later on, I have one or two trips for regional meetings of the American Association for the United Nations. These are regular things that I do regularly.
Nothing special?
Oh, no. No special trips. [Pause] Anyone else have any questions to ask? It seems to me as though you all asked.
It's been a long campaign, Mrs. Roosevelt. [Laughter]
It's been a very interesting half hour. It's been a very interesting half hour. [Text omitted. -Ed.]
You said that you wouldn't care to predict the outcome of the election. I wondered if you would care to say how ever much you thought that it was going to be a very close, probably a very close election or not.
Well, I have a feeling that it's going to be a Democratic election, you see. Now, how close, or how not, I cannot tell you. [Text omitted. -Ed.]
That is not a prediction, huh?
No, I never predict, because I think that's sort of silly for me. I know, I haven't been taking any polls; I've just been travelling about and listening to what leaders told me. I don't [Text omitted. -Ed.]. I'm no [Text omitted. -Ed.].
The poll that's being published in Newsweek[8] this week says that they got their information in the same way. They went around and talked with the leaders of various places. So it would seem that your method was as good as theirs. And they are publishing the results.
But of course, they may have talked to both Republican and Democratic leaders, and I only talked to Democratic leaders. [Laughter] [Text omitted. -Ed.] from what I read and what I am told. [Text omitted. -Ed.] running the Democratic way towards the Democrats. Does anybody else got any questions to ask?
Thank you very much.
     [1.] JFK met with Alabama governor John Patterson, who "against the Senator's wishes," publicly endorsed him. [Theodore C. Sorensen, Kennedy (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), p. 158.]
     [2.] Dutchess County, New York, is solidly Republican. Even FDR, when running for president in 1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944, could not carry his home county.
     [3.] Gore (Eugene Luther) Vidal, the controversial but well-connected American novelist, screen writer, and political activist (his grandfather was Thomas P. Gore, Democratic senator from Oklahoma; he shared a stepfather, Hugh D. Auchincloss, with Jackie Kennedy; his cousin is Al Gore) lost his bid in 1960 for a seat in the House of Representative from New York on the Democratic-Republican ticket. [Herbert S. Parmet, Jack: The Struggles of John F. Kennedy (New York: The Dial Press, 1980), p. 224; "Gore (Eugene Luther) Vidal (1925- )." Internet on-line. Available From; "The Knitting Circle: Literature." Internet on-line. Available From
     [4.] By mid-September 1952, the Korean War dominated the campaign. By mid-October, Eisenhower escalated his attack on Stevenson, labeling the Korean War the fault of the Truman administration's foreign policy. On October 24th, in the speech that sealed his victory, he declared "a simple, firm resolution" to "forgo the diversions of politics and to concentrate on the job of ending the Korean War — until that job is honorably done." He concluded, declaring "the job requires a personal trip to Korea. I shall make that trip. Only in that way could I learn how best to serve the American people in the cause of peace. I shall go to Korea." [Porter McKeever, Adlai Stevenson: His Life and Legacy (New York: William Morrow, 1989), pp. 241-244.]
     [5.] Edith Bolling (Galt) Wilson was Woodrow Wilson's second wife and the second first lady of his administration. His first wife Ellen Axson Wilson died August 6, 1914, less than two years into her husband's presidency. President Wilson then married Edith Bolling Galt on December 18,1915. [Lewis Gould, American First Ladies: Their Lives and Legacies (New York: Garland Publishing, 1996), pp. 352, 360.]
     [6.] Eleanor Roosevelt, the nation's longest serving first lady, served from March 4, 1933, until April 12, 1945.
     [7.] From 1957 to 1962, Jack Paar hosted "The Tonight Show" (which NBC later renamed "The Jack Paar Show"). Paar, who changed the show from a standard variety-show format into a talk show, balancing comedy, entertainment, and serious political discussions, invented a genre of late night television that inspired his successors Johnny Carson and Jay Leno. ["Jack Paar: A Life Lived on Television." Jack Parr on the Web. Internet on-line. Available From]
     [8.] Samuel Shaffer and Benjamin Bradlee interviewed senior staff members of the Nixon and Kennedy campaigns for electoral projections, which the reporters then charted in "Nixon-Kennedy Camps: As They Figure It Now." After examining staff predictions, Shaffer and Bradlee concluded that some of the states both camps labeled "tossups" were "most of the big states that swing elections." ["Nixon-Kennedy Camps: As They Figure It Now," Newsweek 24 October 1950, p. 56.]