If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

August 1941


Before you proceed with your newest, most intriguing idea of conscripting our daughters, will you please give a little advice from your overflowing stock of knowledge as to how we may secure commissions for our draft-age sons? Similar, if possible, to those of your family.

As far as I know, the most important thing, in order to obtain a commission today in our military services, is to be qualified to have one. To do that, one must have done some work in the past which can be usefully applied in some branch of the service, and to have done it well. The other way is to have taken the officers' training courses in college and pursued one's training from then on every year, which entitles you to a reserve officer's commission.

Since you ask me specifically about my own sons, I will tell you exactly how they obtained their commissions.

James took the course in college. He was then taken into the Marine Corps and did the required training as a reserve officer, long before the present emergency, to hold his commission. When his father went to South America, James was given a high rank in order to be able to appear with his father at certain functions. On his return to the United States, he himself asked his father to request his demotion. Before he was called as a reserve officer in this emergency he reported for duty in Los Angeles, where he was then living, and went regularly and worked with the unit with which he would be called to serve. He was actually called for active duty in that unit last autumn.

Elliott had worked for a time on the West Coast, and some of his first work was with an airplane-manufacturing company, and later he worked as an aviation editor for a newspaper. He learned to fly and held a license, but his eyes would not permit his entry into the Army as a pilot. He knew that he would not be drafted because he has a wife and two children, and yet he felt he would like to be useful, so he came to Washington and asked the Army authorities where his experience could be of use. He was commissioned and, as far as I know, his work has been satisfactory.

Franklin, Junior, took his Navy training course in college and has done his cruise in the Naval Reserve every year since. He was commissioned an ensign as a result of the work, and has been in the reserves. He was called in April and has been on active duty ever since.

John, our youngest son, never was interested in anything military and took no courses in college. He has, however, applied himself to the merchandising business, and when he made his application for ensign in the Supply Corps of the Navy, he explained that the was then an assistant manager of a branch store and was about to be made manager, and he thought his merchandising experience could be useful either on a ship or at a shore station. His number has not yet been called in the draft, and, like all other boys in the Navy, he was taken as a volunteer. Of course, as you know, practice cruises and courses at Annapolis are now available to those who wish to apply, and the boys will be selected on their ability to qualify. John, like Elliott, unfortunately is extremely nearsighted, and for some branches of the Navy service that would be a bar.

You seem not to like my idea of conscripting your daughters. I merely suggested that girls be conscripted for a year's training, and the suggestion was made in order that you, and many other people, might talk over the idea. I did not expect it to be accepted, but a year's training in their own communities might help the community and the girls too. In ordinary times, when there isn't so much drama attached to service, it is sometimes hard to make oneself do many of the things which might be helpful to oneself and to others as well.


Why not a compulsory law against our worst Fifth Columnist: the liquor traffic that Lloyd George rightly called the greatest enemy?

We tried a compulsory law against the liquor traffic once, and all we got from it was worse liquor, more lawbreakers and, if anything, more drunkards than ever. Perhaps that is a little too sweeping, for I do think it may have helped certain people who could not afford to buy even the cheapest and the most poisonous of bootleg whisky.

I am afraid that I will never feel that that was a successful experiment, in spite of the nobility that went into its conception, and in spite of the fact that I believed in it in the beginning. I would be glad to see all the hard liquor in the world at the bottom of the sea, but I have come to the conclusion that where our morals are concerned, perhaps our own characters must be strong enough to save them. The police did not seem able to do it during Prohibition!


Don't you think Charles Lindbergh and his wife should go to Germany and stay with old Hitler?

No, I should be sorry indeed to see poor Mr. Lindbergh and his charming wife in Germany. We ought to keep our illusions as long as we can in this world.


Could it be Popeye's spinach, or have you your own formula for vitality? As a domestic-science teacher, I should be interested to know whether you have any schedule of food and rest which might account, in part, for your amazing energy.

I do not think I have any amazing energy. I simply have a good constitution, come of strong people on both sides, and, as far as I know, I have never abused my health. Perhaps it is best to say that the Lord has been good to me.


Do you think women should serve on the governing boards of churches?

I cannot see why women should not serve on the governing board of a church, considering the fact that if it were not for the work of women, a good deal of the work of the churches would be left undone.


How would you feel if you were a colored woman and your sweetheart had been inducted into the Army and he was even refused a descent seat in a movie house or camp grounds, because he was a Negro?

I think if I were a colored woman and faced the situation which you describe I should feel deeply resentful. There are many things in our democracy which are not as yet democratic, but I think if I were either a colored soldier or his sweetheart, I should try to remember how far my race has come in some seventy-odd years. The change is very great and, hard as the present seems, there is much already for which to be thankful, and the progress will probably accelerate as time goes on.


Last week a representative from Washington told a group of clubwomen that in the national-defense centers true Americans were outnumbered by Communists and Fascists. Do you know if this is true?

I have no idea who the representative from Washington was who told your group of clubwomen that in national-defense centers Communists and Fascists outnumbered true Americans. "National-defense centers" seems to me a little vague. It might mean an Army camp, or a factory where defense materials are being produced. My feeling is that it is a greatly exaggerated statement, though it might be possible, in one or two localities, to pick out a factory and perhaps find a preponderance of Communist workers in it. Perhaps in another locality you might find more Fascist sympathizers, but you would, it seems to me, have to pick your locality carefully; and to say that anywhere such groups far outnumber those who believe in democracy is, I think, a gross exaggeration.


Does a girl have a right to expect to marry if she does not wish to raise children?

I do not think that any girl who does not wish to have children should expect to marry, except under very exceptional circumstances. For instance, it is conceivable that two people might wish to marry and yet know that they should not have children, but this is very rare. If a girl is strong and well, the bearing of children is a privilege and the natural expression of the love of two people for each other.


What was the most moving letter you ever received?

I think the most moving letter I ever received was one sent me after the death of our infant son, by a woman who had lost her only child at birth and never had another one.


Do you think a woman is happier doing her own work or directing servants to do it for her?

I think a woman is happier doing her own work unless she has a gift which make it possible for her to accomplish some other kind of work by having people help her in her home. It is wise for her, however, to know how to do the work before she tries directing anyone else, for it will certainly make her household run more smoothly.


Do you ever feel shy any more when you are meeting important people? If so, do you have any formula for overcoming it?

Yes, I often feel shy, and the only way to get over it is to try to forget about yourself as a person and think only about what you can do to make the people around you have a better time.


What has been your most embarrassing experience as First Lady?

I cannot remember ever having an embarrassing experience. Perhaps I do not recognize them when they occur.


Do you read comics? If so, what is your favorite comic-strip character?

I am sorry to say I do not read any of the comics. I just haven't the time and I have no small children around to urge me to read them aloud.


What is your favorite poem?

Stephen Vincent Benét's John Brown's Body. It is a little hard, though, to say, because I read a great deal of poetry, and when I reread some of my old favorites, I decide that I like them better than my newer ones. If you were to ask me tomorrow, therefore, I might have just reread Milton's sonnet On His Blindness and have decided that is my favorite for the moment!


Are you afraid of mice?

I do not like them, but I do not shriek when I see one.


What do you consider the three most important qualifications of a good husband?

That he shall be honest, not only in material things, but in intellectual things; that he shall be capable of real love; and that he shall find the world an increasingly interesting place in which to live every day of his life.


Do you believe in spanking children when they are naughty?

When children are very small and too young to reason with, I think the judicious administering of a gentle spank may be of value, but never after a child can be made to understand and reason.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, August 1941

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Ladies' Home Journal, volume 58, August 1941

Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project

Digital edition published 2014, 2016 by
The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project
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