After poring through approximately two hundred pages of letters requesting help from Mrs. Roosevelt, readers will more than likely be curious about how the First Lady responded to them. Practical problems, above all time limitations, impeded her ability to respond personally to this correspondence. In the Depression decade Mrs. Roosevelt received so many letters—300,000 pieces of mail in 1933, 90,000 in 1937, 198,000 in 1939, and 110,000 in 1940—that she simply could not personally reply to or even read most of them.1 She did take a strong interest in the correspondence, so that despite her hectic schedule and frequent travels she managed to read about fifty pieces of her general mail per day. But fifty letters constituted only a small proportion of the daily mail that poor people sent to her. The First Lady's immense amount of mail led her to rely heavily upon her staff members, who handled most of the correspondence, including the youth letters published here. The staff responses to these youth letters suggest that Mrs. Roosevelt read less than 5 percent of them.2 Most of the responses were written and signed not by Mrs. Roosevelt herself but by her personal secretary Malvina T. (“Tommy”) Scheiderand her assistants. Thus the question of how well Mrs. Roosevelt responded to these letters is less about her own humanitarianism than about how able an administrator she was and how sensitive her staff was to the distress of those who wrote to her.
In most cases the First Lady's staff was unable to fulfill the requests that Depression youths made for material assistance. Less than 1 percent of the needy youths whose letters appeared in this book obtained the material aid they had requested of the First Lady. About 5 percent were told by the First Lady's staff that they should seek help from New Deal agencies, while 3 percent were directed toward charities, and another 3 percent to educational institutions. But these figures were dwarfed by the overall rejection