Special Collections and University Archives

Henrietta Nesbitt, First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Harriet Elliott take the “Consumer’s Pledge for Total Defense”*

Harriet Wiseman Elliott is considered one of the most illustrious faculty members who ever taught at UNC Greensboro. Born in Carbondale, Illinois, on July 10, 1884, Elliott grew up in a close and politically active family. She soon followed in the footsteps of her father, Allan Elliott, who was very committed to causes related to social injustice and community economics.

A lifelong Democrat, Elliott made a name for herself, both in Greensboro, where she taught political science at the State Normal and Industrial College (now UNCG), and nationally. She was particularly active in causes such as women’s suffrage and home front mobilization during World War I. Her status as an activist was so impressive that when the United States entered the Second World War, she was asked by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to serve in many roles, namely, as Consumer Advisor on the National Defense Advisory Committee (1940-1941), Chairman of the War Finance Committee, Woman’s Division (1942-1946), Deputy Director of the Office of Price Administration, and U.S. delegate to the United Nations Conference on Education, Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in London (1945).

Elliott’s history of political engagement, her reputation as an educator, and her skill as an orator, were utilized by the government in educational films and presentations in which she urged the American people to conserve resources and contribute to the war effort locally.

In 1943, she assisted in crafting a short film to warn the public about the consequences of not taking home front mobilization seriously. No Exceptions was produced by 20th Century Fox and was distributed as a public service by the War Activities Committee, Motion Picture Industry. Elliott was given credit for the original idea for the film, along with actor and novelist, Foster Fitz-Simons, and Elinor Morganthau, the wife of US Secretary of State, Henry M. Morganthau, Jr. and personal friend of the president and first lady. The film was a notable propaganda tool that promoted a unified national mobilization initiative and encouraged sacrifice from every American. It has been digitized by the Library of Congress and can be accessed through this link:

Elliott also spoke at public events throughout the country and recorded promotional speeches urging Americans to do their part in the conservation of national resources. An example of one of these recordings was found in the Harriet Elliott manuscript collection: At the time of its creation, she was the Association Administrator in charge of the Consumer Division of the Office of Price Administration. Made in honor of “War Against Waste Day” during Civilian Defense Week, the brief speech recognized the importance of every American in the war effort and stressed the public’s responsibility in conserving resources such as coal, steel, timber, rubber, and even food and clothing. She emphasizes self-discipline and encourages Americans to “buy wisely,” and stretch the use of everything they use and wear. At the end of the recording, Elliott asks Americans to take the “Consumer’s Pledge for Total Defense,” promising to waste nothing, thereby promoting strategic national defense. It was Elliott who drafted this pledge, and even First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, took part in the oath.

For more information on the Harriet Elliott Manuscript Collection, please see the finding aid located at this link:

*Photograph courtesy of The White House Historical Association:

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