It’s Up to the Women – Great Depression Financial Advice from Eleanor Roosevelt

Happy Saturday everyone! It’s fun to relax on Saturday with a good book, and this weekend is no exception. Today I have something different – a book called “It’s Up to the Women”. The title alone intrigued me when I saw it in the library (where I get almost all of my books – love the library!), but then I noticed the author. It was Eleanor Roosevelt, the longest serving first lady of the United States.

The version on the left is the one my library had – the original is on the right

This was apparently the first book she ever wrote, and was a part of her crusade on behalf of women. It was published in 1933, only a few years after women had received the right to vote. It’s chock full of advice on what to cook for your family, how to budget, and even thoughts on women in the workplace. I found it to be a fascinating trip through time, and a good example of how the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The book was written in the throes of the Great Depression, and opens with the cheery thought that “…we are going hrough a great crisis in this country and that the women have a big part to play if we are coming through it successfully.” The book is part buck up and pull yourself up by your bootstraps, and part practical advice. I loved it, and would highly recommend any women interested in personal finance pick it up and see what our ancestors thought over 80 years ago.

To-Days’s Challenge To Women – Suck It Up, Buttercup!

The forward and the first chapter are full of Mrs. Roosevelt telling women to suck it up and do what they need to do to get through the current crisis (aka the Great Depression). She opens the book reminding women of their ancestors that survived the first winter after they landed at Plymouth, and the many that died that first terrible winter. Then there was the Civil War, of course, where women needed to hold down the homestead while their husbands were away at war.

Mrs. Roosevelt uses these examples of more trying times to basically tell women they should stop whining about not having the luxuries they once had. Their ancestors had it worse, much worse, and so the women of “to-day” should knock it off.

“Practically every woman, whether she is rich or poor, is facing to-day a reduction in income” the first chapter opens. Mrs. Roosevelt goes on to talk about how there are women who have grown up in idle luxury, never denying themselves anything, who now need to rethink their standards and lifestyle to match with the reality of what their family makes now. She suggests that a happy home is one where a husband’s success is not measured by salary. As long as families aren’t deprived, happiness can be found within – not from material possessions, luxuries, movies, and summer trips.


She suggests that women, rather than feeling sorry for themselves and feeling deprived, use the depression to focus on what it is they truly want out of life. Rather than just drifting along aimlessly wherever life takes them, they should decide what it is they want and go for it. After all, such things don’t usually take money. They take time, effort, and thought instead-things you have no matter how much (or little) is in your bank account). Apparently “Keeping up with the Joneses” was a thing even in the 1930’s, because it’s mentioned on page 33. “What one has matters little; what one is…” is most important.

I thought this advice was very much applicable to women today. The Great Recession may be technically over, but many women are still living through it today. For some families, the 2008 financial crisis permanently brought down their standard of living. Other women might be fresh out of college struggling with debt payoff, or not able to afford the same standard of living as their parents. You know what? That’s OK.

Women have been through much more difficult times before, and today we have access to things the women of the 1930’s couldn’t even dream of. Indoor plumbing, electricity, cars, internet, smartphones, televisions, and other such things are items we take for granted. But a women of this time probably didn’t have them, or in some cases, couldn’t even imagine they would one day exist. I personally enjoy reading about these topics because they help shape my perspective, and realize that the many things around me that I don’t even notice anymore would be considered world-changing luxuries by my grandmother, born in 1934 (just a year after this book was written).

Interesting Financial Facts & Tips

The book is full of facts about life in the 1930’s, as well as some budgeting tips. Here are the facts and tips I found most fascinating:

  • The great majority of people lived on incomes from $1,200 – $2,000 per year
  • “A budget is of no use unless you live up to it” – so true!
  • A budget should be crafted to fit the needs of the individual and family – that’s why “standard budgets” you might find in books, magazines, or online don’t work
  • Budgets will help you gain satisfaction of knowing how your money is spent, and why it is spent
  • Necessities were very much the same back then as they are now – housing, heat, food, clothes, recreation, savings, insurance, doctors, and miscellaneous
  • Families spent an average of 38% (!!!!!) of their income on food!
  • Average rent/home costs? 25% of income. If the average income was $1,200-$2,000 per year, then the average rent would be $300-$500 a year. Wow!
  • Mrs. Roosevelt urged women to not buy clothing made under sweat shop conditions – very much ahead of her time
  • Despite what people think about it being easier “back in the day”, she talks about how many families can save nothing and will need to rely on being cared for by their children in old age; and how the unexpected expenses of illness/birth/death can easily wipe out years of savings
  • Spending money on recreation? No need, says Mrs. Roosevelt. Take a holiday on foot or bicycle (Mr. Money Mustache must have read this advice!), go on camping trips, turn from “dance places” (going out to “have fun”) to home things. Just enjoy an evening of games/home music/reading aloud instead
  • Just as important as budgeting your money, you should be budgeting your time, so the days don’t get away from you.
  • You do not spend money until you have it (a concept people still struggle with)
  • Money represents someone’s work or production of a material thing
  • Real work must come with making money
  • Certain things are worth saving for, and one way to make money is to save it
  • People who tell you that by doing nothing you can make a lot of money, are lying
  • It is unwise to take all your savings to buy one stock you know nothing about, particularly on margin

Women and Work

I loved that this book devotes not a brief chapter, but several very comprehensive chapters to the idea of women at work. Remember, this is in the 1930’s, when women had just received the right to vote a few decades ago, and women working outside the home was seen as a failure of her husband. But Mrs. Roosevelt didn’t see it that way.

No, instead she talked about occupations for women, women in public life (politics), and women receiving business training just as if it was an ordinary thing for women to do. Of course, the main focus in the occupation section is on “respectable” occupations, like teaching, nursing, and relief work. There’s an entire chapter about how women need business knowlege, and she also talks about how women should go into politics.

Every few days somebody writes and asks me whether I think we will some day have a woman President of the United States and I am afraid that I look upon this question with a certain amount of amusement, for it is really unimportant of what sex a President may be. We certainly will not have a woman President until some woman worthy of being President appears on the horizon. In the meantime, men both worthy and unworthy will probably fill that office ~ Eleanor Roosevelt, Page 183

Closing Thoughts

One of my older hobbies that I used to have (not so much anymore) was collecting old books. I honestly really enjoy reading not just about people that lived long ago, but also what they wrote. It’s a great way to gain perspective, and to get a glimpse into what life was like for my ancestors.

Our Famous Women
I actually own this book. The 1800’s version. It’s awesome.

This book is no different. After reading it, I’m impressed with both how forward-thinking Eleanor Roosevelt really was, and how much of the advice in the book still applies today. Sure, we don’t make $2,000 per year anymore and we pretty much all have electricity (especially if you’re reading this), but the tips and tricks found here can still be applied today. I really enjoyed reading this, and I think you would too. If it’s available in your library, be sure to check it out.

What of the Great Depression financial advice did you find most interesting – or most applicable to women of today? Let me know in the comments!

Help me not need to install one of those annoying pop-up messages – be sure to follow my blog for more great posts via e-mail or WordPress! Connect with me on Facebook or Twitter and say hello! You can also check out what I’m buying or baking on Instagram,  what I’m pinning on Pinterest, or the latest books I’m reading (or want to read) over on Goodreads.

2 thoughts on “It’s Up to the Women – Great Depression Financial Advice from Eleanor Roosevelt”

  1. Sounds like a really interesting book! Further proof that the basic rules of life really don’t change. All great tips. I like her advice on enjoying an evening of games/home music/reading at home versus paying for entertainment and recreation all the time. Thanks for sharing, Liz!

    1. I loved it-always a fan of older books. I think it would be really interesting to find old personal finance books and post about them! The more things change, the more they stay the same. 😀

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.