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9 Timeless Bits of Wisdom from Eleanor Roosevelt

Most people remember Eleanor Roosevelt as a first lady, United Nations diplomat, and humanitarian, but she was also a prolific writer. Roosevelt wrote 27 books—and her first one, an advice book for American ladies called It’s Up to the Women, was published shortly after President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1933 inauguration. Out of print for years, the work is slated for a re-release on April 11, 2017, with a new introduction by Harvard University historian Jill Lepore.

It’s Up to the Women contains an eclectic assortment of wisdom. (The Hartford Courant described it as "a book of general counsel and advice on pretty well everything, from dish-washing to high diplomacy.") Naturally, the book offers reflections on women's changing roles in society, and tips for living through the Great Depression. But even by modern standards, it still yields plenty of good, common sense advice for women and men alike, on everything from health to parenting to doing one's civic duty.

In honor of Women's History Month, here are some select nuggets of wisdom culled from Eleanor Roosevelt’s debut work.

1. ON JUGGLING A FAMILY AND A CAREER

Long before we debated the concept of “having it all,” Roosevelt contemplated how women could have both a family and a fulfilling career. To make this juggling act possible, she argued, society needs to relax its rigid standards of motherhood and wifehood. Men occasionally need to shift their priorities, and women may have to as well:

I never like to think of this subject of a woman’s career and a woman’s home as being a controversy. It seems to me perfectly obvious that if a woman falls in love and marries, of course her first interest and her first duty is to her home, but her duty to her home does not of necessity preclude her having another occupation. A woman, just like a man, may have a great gift for some particular thing. That does not mean that she must give up the joy of marrying and having a home and children. It simply means, when we set them in opposition to each other, that we haven’t as yet grown accustomed to the fact that women’s lives must be adjusted and arranged for in just the same way that men’s lives are. Women may have to sacrifice certain things at times—so do men.

2. ON MONEY

Roosevelt wrote It’s Up to the Women during the Great Depression, so the nation's economic downturn weighed heavily on her mind. She advocated a frugal lifestyle, and even devoted an entire chapter to the importance of budgeting (“A budget is a necessary evil no matter how dull you may find it,” she conceded). However, Roosevelt also acknowledged that we sometimes need to throw austerity to the wind and splurge on little things: "No one can really decide [what to spend our money on] for us because to some people certain things mean more than to others,” she wrote. “I should be most unhappy if I could not buy new books but having beefsteak for dinner would mean nothing to me whatsoever!”

Roosevelt also had plenty of advice for fashion on a budget: Buy only what you need, spend more money on quality clothing items that will stand the test of time, and jazz up a tired ensemble with fresh accessories. “One can usually count on a coat lasting two seasons, but a new hat will frequently make people think that everything one has on is new,” she wrote. Good style, Roosevelt concluded, is the product of taste and a carefully curated wardrobe—not money.

3. ON BUDGETING TIME

Roosevelt was a tireless worker, but even she needed a respite from the daily grind. “It is a rare person who can get on without some break in the regular routine,” she wrote. “Budgeting time to arrange for these breaks is just as important as it is to plan the income.”

To fit leisure time into a busy schedule, Roosevelt recommended sticking to a regular routine, completing the hardest chores in the morning, and teaching children to perform basic self-care tasks and chores for themselves. As for break time, it doesn’t matter what you do, so long as it's relaxing. “If you need extra sleep perhaps you can get a nap, but if not, sewing or reading or doing some kind of work you enjoy may be your rest,” Roosevelt wrote. “It simply means that your regular routine should be off your mind.”

4. ON HEALTH

Taking the time to maintain a healthy lifestyle is important for your health as well as the wellbeing of those close to you. “Your physical condition rests on your mental condition and on your spiritual attitude toward life,” Roosevelt wrote. “A nervous and irritable person can do little to make life pleasant for those around her; therefore it is up to us to study our physical needs well and to budget our lives to meet these requirements.”

Roosevelt rattled off a list of tips that would make any physician proud: Eat nutritious meals, get fresh air, keep your brain sharp with hobbies, and exercise. She also recommended staying mindful of your food choices, indulging in moderation, and eating slowly. Try dining with “some congenial companion" to pace yourself, she suggested, but “a book will do if no human is at hand!”

Sleep is also important—but don't get too freaked out if you experience bouts of insomnia. “People who do not sleep should not worry about it,” Roosevelt wrote. “They should lie there and rest and think about pleasant things. They will either fall asleep or, at the worst, get up next morning perhaps a little less refreshed but still quite able to do their daily tasks and retire early the next.”

5. ON PARENTING

Roosevelt, a mother of six (her third child died when he was less than a year old), believed in teaching children to do their own chores; to love books, nature, and their country; and to explore their unique talents. But aside from that, the first lady had a hands-off approach to motherhood. She believed that children should be allowed to make mistakes—and learn from them—at every stage of life.

“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," Roosevelt wrote. "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."

However, Roosevelt did point out that a parent’s counsel occasionally comes in handy—particularly during the teen years: “Try to understand young people, particularly your adolescent young people, and not to be shocked or irritated by them," she wrote. "They are at an age where they do not understand themselves or the emotions which sweep over them and it is a time above all times when wise parents may be useful.”

6. ON KEEPING AN OPEN MIND

As times change, so do societal values, Roosevelt wrote. Stay open-minded and routinely reevaluate your core ideals:

We must all realize, I think, that between generations there is a tremendous gulf and that each new generation sets up its own standards as the result of contact with its own con-temporaries ... What would have seemed to one generation absolutely immoral will to another generation simply seem a matter of custom and manners and therefore in a changing world we must bear in mind that we cannot be too sure that ideals which have served us in the past are to continue to serve us in the future.

7. ON KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES

Can't afford to live like your affluent neighbors? Instead of feeling insecure, try enjoying life on your own terms and budget, Roosevelt wrote. After all, in an uncertain economy, everyone—even the rich—needs to watch their wallets:

One must set one’s own standards of what one wants in society. 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.

8. ON MAKING FRIENDS

Cultivating a diverse social group broadens your horizons and helps you become a better person, Roosevelt wrote. Make an effort to befriend all sorts of people, and teach your kids the same principle:

The more kinds of people we know, the more interesting will our lives be. And the younger we discover this and bring up our children in an atmosphere of friendliness and to a habit of understanding and congeniality with varied interests and conditions in life, the more vital will be our homes and the better a training place for the children whom we must eventually shove out of the nest.

9. ON DOING YOUR CIVIC DUTY

Not everyone has time to be politically active, but as a U.S. citizen, it's your duty to stay informed and "use [your] vote as intelligently as possible," Roosevelt wrote. Don't vote for a candidate just because your family is, or because of regional prejudices: “A vote is never an intelligent vote when it is cast without knowledge. Just doing what some one else tells you to do without any effort to find out what the facts are for yourself is being a poor citizen.”

And since the book's title is It's Up to the Women, Roosevelt would have been remiss if she hadn't urged women to use their unique perspectives to change the political landscape:

One can have a bloodless revolution if one can count on leaders of sufficient vision to grasp the goal for which the mass of people is often unconsciously striving, and courage enough in the nation as a whole to accept the necessary changes to achieve the desired ends ... Are there women ready to lead in these new paths? Will other women follow them? We do not know, but one thing is sure, the attitude of women toward changes in society is going to determine to a great extent our future in this country. Women in the past have never realized their political strength. Will they wake up to it now?

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Scientists Reveal Long-Hidden Text in Alexander Hamilton Letter
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iStock

Age, deterioration, and water damage are just a few of the reasons historians can be short on information that was once readily available on paper. Sometimes, it’s simply a case of missing pages. Other times, researchers can see “lost” text right under their noses.

One example: a letter written by Alexander Hamilton to his future wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, on September 6, 1780. On the surface, it looked very much like a rant about a Revolutionary War skirmish in Camden, South Carolina. But Hamilton scholars were excited by the 14 lines of writing in the first paragraph that had been crossed out. If they could be read, they might reveal some new dimension to one of the better-known Founding Fathers.

Using the practice of multispectral imaging—sometimes called hyperspectral imaging—conservationists at the Library of Congress were recently able to shine a new light on what someone had attempted to scrub out. In multispectral imaging, different wavelengths of light are “bounced” off the paper to reveal (or hide) different ink pigments. By examining a document through these different wavelengths, investigators can tune in to faded or obscured handwriting and make it visible to the naked eye.

A hyperspectral image of Alexander Hamilton's handwriting
Hyperspectral imaging of Hamilton's handwriting, from being obscured (top) to isolated and revealed (bottom).
Library of Congress

The text revealed a more emotional and romantic side to Hamilton, who had used the lines to woo Elizabeth. Technicians uncovered most of what he had written, with words in brackets still obscured and inferred:

Do you know my sensations when I see the
sweet characters from your hand? Yes you do,
by comparing [them] with your [own]
for my Betsey [loves] me and is [acquainted]
with all the joys of fondness. [Would] you
[exchange] them my dear for any other worthy
blessings? Is there any thing you would put
in competition[,] with one glowing [kiss] of
[unreadable], anticipate the delights we [unreadable]
in the unrestrained intercourses of wedded love,
and bet your heart joins mine in [fervent]
[wishes] to heaven that [all obstacles] and [interruptions]
May [be] speedily [removed].

Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler married on December 14, 1780. So why did Hamilton try and hide such romantic words during or after their courtship? He probably didn’t. Historians believe that his son, John Church Hamilton, crossed them out before publishing the letter as a part of a book of his father’s correspondence. He may have considered the passage a little too sexy for mass consumption.

[h/t Library of Congress]

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7 of History’s Most Unusual Riots
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Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Some sociologists theorize that most rioters only join a crowd because the crowd is big enough to justify joining. But there’s always that one person who sparks the violence, and sometimes the reason for doing so can seem pretty baffling. Maybe a work of art scandalizes its audience, like the famous premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. Or maybe it’s simply a notable act of disrespect, like history’s first recorded mooning (in Jerusalem in the first century CE). From balloonists to brown dogs to daylight saving time, here are seven weird reasons things just got out of hand.

1. THE MELBOURNE DART RIOT

The Darts Invitational Challenge, an international tournament held in Melbourne, attracted international gawking in January 2015 during the finals match between Michael "Mighty Mike" van Gerwen and Simon "The Wizard" Whitlock. The dart players weren’t making a scene, though: Rather, hundreds of spectators, many of them drunk and in costume, began throwing plastic chairs as they watched (pictured above). The reasons for the fight remain unclear; footage and photos show police trying to control adults dressed as Oompa-Loompas, numerous superheroes, and, in one instance, in a ghillie suit (heavy camouflage meant to resemble foliage).

2. THE LEICESTER BALLOON RIOT

In 1864, balloonists were the great daredevils of their time, and a major draw for eager audiences. That summer, Henry Coxwell, a famous professional aeronaut, was set to make an appearance for 50,000 paying ticketholders in Leicester, England. Unfortunately, a rumor spread that he hadn’t brought his biggest and best balloon to the event. After heckling from the crowd, Coxwell deflated his balloon, and attendees rushed it, ripping it to shreds, setting it on fire, and threatening to visit the same fate on Coxwell. Rioters even paraded the remains of the balloon through the streets of town, which briefly brought residents a new nickname: Balloonatics.

3. THE TORONTO CLOWN AND FIREFIGHTER RIOT

Toronto was still a pretty rough place in the 1850s, but not so rough that the circus wouldn’t come to town. As it turns out, circus entertainers were also a tough lot back then, so when a group of off-duty clowns spent an evening at a brothel popular with the city’s firefighters on July 12, 1855, tensions came to a head. Accounts differ as to who started the fight, but after one firefighter knocked the hat off a clown things escalated into a full-on rabble intent on chasing the circus out of town. Only the mayor calling in the militia put an end to the uproar, an incident Torontonians credit with kicking off much-needed local police reforms.

4. THE BELGIAN NIGHT AT THE OPERA RIOT

A painting by Charles Soubre of the Belgian Revolution
Charles Soubre, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Not many nations can claim their independence started with an aria, but for 19th-century Belgians sick of living under Dutch rule, an opera was just the right fuse for a revolution. To honor the birthday of King William I of the Netherlands, a theater in Brussels put on La Muette de Portici, about an uprising in Naples against Spanish rule. One song, "Amour Sacre de la Patrie" ("Sacred Love of the Fatherland"), aroused nationalistic passions so much that after the opera ended, the crowd began destroying factories and occupying government buildings. That was August 25, 1830; Belgium declared independence on October 4.

5. THE NEW YORK DOCTORS' RIOT

Hamilton fans, take note: Everyone’s favorite Founding Father once tried to quiet a mob bent on burning corpses. For centuries, anatomists and medical students relied on gruesome means to learn about the human body. Cadavers for dissection class often came from grave robbers, since the corpses of executed criminals were the only legal source—and they were in limited supply. In New York in 1788, rumors abounded that medical students were digging up paupers’ graves and black cemeteries. When one mob came after the doctors responsible, Alexander Hamilton tried, and failed, to restore the peace. The crowd swelled to about 5000 before militiamen intervened, leading to up to about 20 deaths.

6. THE BROWN DOG RIOTS

Photo of an anti-vivisection demonstration in Trafalgar Square, London, to protest the removal from Battersea Park of the Brown Dog statue
The Anti-Vivisection Review, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Riots against the dissection of dead human bodies were not rare in the United States at one time. But on December 10, 1907, a thousand Britons marched in support of vivisection, or surgery on live animals. At the center of the controversy was a small terrier allegedly vivisected without anesthetic in 1903 during a class at London’s University College. Animal rights activists erected a statue to the dog in 1906, which enraged area medical students, and protesters tried to destroy the statue using crowbars and hammers. For the 1907 march, 400 mounted police were deployed to contain marchers. The statue became such a flashpoint (and an expense to local authorities) that in 1910, it was removed and melted down.

7. THE EEL-PULLING RIOT

Palingtrekken (eel-pulling) was once a popular contest in Amsterdam, in which a writhing eel was suspended over a canal and hopefuls on boats would leap to snatch it as they passed beneath (usually landing in the water instead). However, “eel-pulling” was also illegal—the government deemed it a “cruel popular entertainment”—and in July 1886, police intervened at a particularly large gathering in the city’s Jordaan district. Civilians threw stones and bricks at police, and when some nearby socialist protestors joined them, a riot broke out that lasted for several days. The army finally intervened and opened fire on the protestors. All in all, 26 people died and 136 were wounded, but somehow, the eel itself at the center of the riots was allegedly saved and auctioned off in 1913.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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