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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 Mr. 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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U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
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5 Things You Didn't Know About Sally Ride
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U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

You know Sally Ride as the first American woman to travel into space. But here are five things you might not know about the astronaut, who passed away five years ago today—on July 23, 2012—at the age of 61.

1. SHE PROVED THERE IS SUCH THING AS A STUPID QUESTION.

When Sally Ride made her first space flight in 1983, she was both the first American woman and the youngest American to make the journey to the final frontier. Both of those distinctions show just how qualified and devoted Ride was to her career, but they also opened her up to a slew of absurd questions from the media.

Journalist Michael Ryan recounted some of the sillier questions that had been posed to Ride in a June 1983 profile for People. Among the highlights:

Q: “Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?”
A: “There’s no evidence of that.”

Q: “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?”
A: “How come nobody ever asks (a male fellow astronaut) those questions?"

Forget going into space; Ride’s most impressive achievement might have been maintaining her composure in the face of such offensive questions.

2. SHE MIGHT HAVE BEEN A TENNIS PRO.

When Ride was growing up near Los Angeles, she played more than a little tennis, and she was seriously good at it. She was a nationally ranked juniors player, and by the time she turned 18 in 1969, she was ranked 18th in the whole country. Tennis legend Billie Jean King personally encouraged Ride to turn pro, but she went to Swarthmore instead before eventually transferring to Stanford to finish her undergrad work, a master’s, and a PhD in physics.

King didn’t forget about the young tennis prodigy she had encouraged, though. In 1984 an interviewer playfully asked the tennis star who she’d take to the moon with her, to which King replied, “Tom Selleck, my family, and Sally Ride to get us all back.”

3. HOME ECONOMICS WAS NOT HER BEST SUBJECT.

After retiring from space flight, Ride became a vocal advocate for math and science education, particularly for girls. In 2001 she founded Sally Ride Science, a San Diego-based company that creates fun and interesting opportunities for elementary and middle school students to learn about math and science.

Though Ride was an iconic female scientist who earned her doctorate in physics, just like so many other youngsters, she did hit some academic road bumps when she was growing up. In a 2006 interview with USA Today, Ride revealed her weakest subject in school: a seventh-grade home economics class that all girls had to take. As Ride put it, "Can you imagine having to cook and eat tuna casserole at 8 a.m.?"

4. SHE HAD A STRONG TIE TO THE CHALLENGER.

Ride’s two space flights were aboard the doomed shuttle Challenger, and she was eight months deep into her training program for a third flight aboard the shuttle when it tragically exploded in 1986. Ride learned of that disaster at the worst possible time: she was on a plane when the pilot announced the news.

Ride later told AARP the Magazine that when she heard the midflight announcement, she got out her NASA badge and went to the cockpit so she could listen to radio reports about the fallen shuttle. The disaster meant that Ride wouldn’t make it back into space, but the personal toll was tough to swallow, too. Four of the lost members of Challenger’s crew had been in Ride’s astronaut training class.

5. SHE DIDN'T SELL OUT.

A 2003 profile in The New York Times called Ride one of the most famous women on Earth after her two space flights, and it was hard to argue with that statement. Ride could easily have cashed in on the slew of endorsements, movie deals, and ghostwritten book offers that came her way, but she passed on most opportunities to turn a quick buck.

Ride later made a few forays into publishing and endorsements, though. She wrote or co-wrote more than a half-dozen children’s books on scientific themes, including To Space and Back, and in 2009 she appeared in a print ad for Louis Vuitton. Even appearing in an ad wasn’t an effort to pad her bank account, though; the ad featured an Annie Leibovitz photo of Ride with fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell gazing at the moon and stars. According to a spokesperson, all three astronauts donated a “significant portion” of their modeling fees to Al Gore’s Climate Project.

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Remembering Comet Hale-Bopp's Unlikely Discovery
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Comet Hale-Bopp was a sensation in the mid-1990s. It was visible to the naked eye for 18 months, shattering a nine-month record previously set in 1811. It inspired a doomsday cult, wild late-night radio theories about extraterrestrials, and plenty of actual science. But a year before it became visible to normal observers, two men independently and simultaneously discovered it in a coincidence of astronomical proportions.

On the night of July 22-23, 1995, Alan Hale was engaged in his favorite hobby: looking at comets. It was the first clear night in his area for about 10 days, so he decided to haul out his telescope and see what he could see. In the driveway of his New Mexico home, he set up his Meade DS-16 telescope and located Periodic Comet Clark, a known comet. He planned to wait a few hours and observe another known comet (Periodic Comet d'Arrest) when it came into view. To kill time, he pointed his telescope at M70, a globular cluster in the Sagittarius system.

Comet Hale-Bopp streaks through a starry night sky.
Comet Hale-Bopp streaks through the sky over Merrit Island, Florida, south of Kennedy Space Center.
George Shelton // AFP // Getty Images

Hale was both an amateur astronomer and a professional. His interest in spotting comets was actually the amateur part, thought it would make his name famous. Hale's day jobs included stints at JPL in Pasadena and the Southwest Institute for Space Research in Cloudcroft, New Mexico. But that night, peering at M70, he wrote, "I immediately noticed a fuzzy object in the field that hadn't been there when I had looked at M70 two weeks earlier." He double-checked that he was looking in the right place, and then started to get excited.

In order to verify that the fuzzy object wasn't something astronomers already knew about, Hale consulted his deep-sky catalogues and also ran a computer search using the International Astronomical Union's computer at Harvard University. Convinced that he had found something new, Hale fired off an email very early on the morning of July 23 to the IAU's Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams, telling them what he had found, along with detailed instructions on how to verify it themselves. Hale also tracked the object as it moved, until it moved out of view. It was definitely a comet, and it was definitely new.

Meanwhile, Tom Bopp was in Arizona, also hunting for comets. At the time, Bopp was working at a construction materials company in Phoenix, but he was also an accomplished amateur astronomer, with decades of experience observing deep-sky objects. That night, Bopp vas visiting the remote Vekol Ranch, 90 miles south of Phoenix, known as a great location for dark-sky viewing. He was with a group of friends, which was important because Bopp didn't actually own a telescope.

The Bopp group looked through their various telescopes, observing all sorts of deep-sky objects late into the night. Bopp's friend Jim Stevens had set up his homemade 17.5-inch Dobsonian reflector telescope and made some observations. Stevens finished an observation, then left his telescope to consult a star atlas and figure out what to aim at next. While Stevens was occupied, Bopp peered into Stevens's telescope and saw a fuzzy object enter the field of view, near M70. He called his friends over to have a look.

The Bopp group proceeded to track the fuzzy object for several hours, just as Hale was doing over in New Mexico. By tracking its movement relative to background stars, they (like Hale) concluded that it was a comet. When the comet left his view, Bopp drove to a Western Union and sent a telegram to the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams. (For historical perspective, telegrams were extremely outdated in 1995, but technically they were still a thing.)

Brian Marsden at the Central Bureau received Bopp's telegram hours later, after getting a few followup emails from Hale with additional details. Comparing the times of discovery, Marsden realized that the two men had discovered the comet simultaneously. According to NASA, it was the farthest comet ever to be discovered by amateur astronomers—it was 7.15 Astronomical Units (AU) from our sun. That's 665 million miles. Not bad for a pair of amateurs, one using a homemade telescope!

The Central Bureau verified the findings and about 12 hours after the initial discovery, issued IAU Circular 6187, designating it C/1995 O1 Hale-Bopp. The circular read, in part: "All observers note the comet to be diffuse with some condensation and no tail, motion toward the west-northwest."

Four men smile, posing outdoors next to a large telescope at night.
Comet hunters (L to R): David Levy, Dr. Don Yeomans, Dr. Alan Hale and Thomas Bopp pose next to a telescope during a public viewing of the Hale-Bopp and Wild-2 comets.
Mike Nelson // AFP // Getty Images

Less than a year later, Comet Hale-Bopp came into plain view, and the rest is history. It was a thousand times brighter than Halley's Comet, which had caused a major stir in its most recent appearance in the 1980s. Comet Hale-Bopp will return, much like Halley's Comet, but it won't be until the year 4385. (And incidentally, it was previously visible circa 2200 BCE.)

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