If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

October 1941


Last night at church the minister preaching in the pulpit quoted you as advising the young boys and girls of America to drink all the beer and smoke all the cigarettes they wanted, as it made them popular. The question I wish to ask is this: "What were your true remarks about this?"

I have answered this question so often that I am becoming rather weary of it. In a broadcast many years ago, during prohibition days, I said that I thought it was better if young people who were drinking surreptitiously, as many of them did, were open about it with their families and in their own homes. I explained that it was dangerous for young people to go outside the home without any knowledge of the effect of liquor, and perhaps find themselves in a situation where they were not accountable for their actions. From a situation of this kind, serious results may arise. I believe, at all times, in strict moderation in all things, and I cannot imagine that young people who want to lead healthy and pleasant lives would consider drinking or smoking to excess.


What induced you to buy a bicycle?

I haven't yet bought a bicycle, but I am planning to buy one because I think it is well to be able to get oneself about on a bicycle if we are going to have other means of transportation curtailed, and I have been told that it is good exercise, even for one of my advanced years!


Do you ever use perfume? If so, what kind?

Yes, I like perfume which is not too heavy, but I have no special brand that I use.


Have you ever said to yourself, "If only I were a man"? Or are you quite content with being a woman?

No, I have never wanted to be a man. I have often wanted to be more effective as a woman, but I have never felt that trousers would do the trick!


The child of my neighbor recently died because its parents, adherents of a religious cult, refused to call a physician. Should the parents or cult leaders be prosecuted for manslaughter?

No, I am afraid that you cannot hold people responsible where their religious beliefs make them do things which seem unwise to the rest of us. As I understand the law, it does not force people to have a doctor if they do not believe in it.


How would you describe your own personal blueprint for world peace?

I am afraid that I have not much faith in any one individual's blueprint for world peace. I only hope that we will, as people throughout the world, come to the realization that human suffering is too great if the world goes on waging wars. To me, it would seem wise to get together and decide on what economic measures must be undertaken to give the people of the world access to their primary necessities; and then perhaps it would be wise to remove from us all such things as armaments, which are both a burden and a temptation to nations, and to maintain some kind of international police force.

The basic thing, however, is that individuals should want peace, should care about other human beings all over the world, regardless of race, creed or color, and should be determined that they will not seek for purely personal advantage, but will seek for mutual advantage.


Do you believe in a fourth presidential term?

No, I do not believe in any presidential terms. It is an office which carries so many burdens that, as far as I am concerned, no one human being should ever be willing to undertake it.


You recently advocated "four children" families in this country. Don't you think that quality of upbringing is more important than quantity of children?

I am afraid the newspapers did not quote me quite correctly on "four children" families. As I understood him, Professor Zimmerman said he was concerned about the fact that families were growing smaller among the people who not only could afford to give adequate shelter, food and clothing to their children, but could also give them mental and spiritual sustenance. This, of course, does affect the quality of upbringing.

I do feel that any nation must be interested in having its children come into the world where they will have a fair chance for development, but I have no knowledge on which to base any estimate as to the exact size that families should be. I think it is still an individual question for each family to decide.


Have you a pet superstition?



What do you think of the increasing tendency of today's novelists to use so many "four-letter words" not spoken in polite society?

I did not know there were any words left that were not spoken in polite society.


What do you think is American women's commonest fault? American men's?

I am surprised that you should even suggest that the American woman has any faults; but since you do suggest it, I think perhaps it is their inability to take criticism and use it to the best advantage. This is a fault shared by both men and women very frequently.


Is Mr. Roosevelt of Jewish descent? Or what is his reason for favoring this nationality?

As far as I know, there is no Jewish blood on either side in my husband's ancestry. I do not think he favors any nationality particularly, and neither does he have any prejudices. He looks upon people as people, regardless of their race, religion or color, and when he is trying to find the right person to do a job, I think he tries to think exclusively about the qualities of mind and character which are essential for that job, and I doubt whether any other considerations enter into his decision.

If you feel that he has particularly favored any nationality, I think the answer is that that nationality may have had more to offer that was necessary to accomplish the ends desired. I should have said, however, that the distribution of work in such offices as are filled by the President was among many nationalities and religions.


What would you advise a young married woman of twenty-five to do who, before her marriage, was a college student and a schoolteacher used to belonging to clubs, but since her marriage is not allowed to attend church, belong to clubs, go out socially or acquire close friends of her own age?

Of course, if a young married woman voluntarily gives up these things because it gives her happiness to do so in order to please those whom she loves, there is no problem involved. If, however, it is done under duress and is building up bitterness in her and a sense of injury, then the situation is one which no human being can long tolerate and I should recommend revolt.


There has been talk and some evidence that you use your column, My Day, as a trial balloon to get public reaction to some of your husband's pet projects. Is this true?

No, it is not true because I know little or nothing about what you call my "husband's pet projects" until I see them in the newspapers as you do. We have been married for a good many years and it may be that my husband and I have grown to think alike on certain things, and so, confronted with the same situations, we probably have similar reactions.


Do you approve of divorce? Why do you think it is increasing in this country? Would you favor marriage-relation courses in our educational systems, beginning in high school?

Under certain circumstances, yes. There are a great many reasons. Divorce should never be undertaken lightly, but I have seen many cases where it brought an end to real unhappiness and created more useful lives for those involved. This cannot be the case, however, unless the people concerned are serious about their obligations and their purpose in life.

Yes, I would favor marriage-relation courses in our educational systems, beginning in high school, if they were given by people who had real vision and high standards.


Does your husband always remember your birthday? What was the best birthday present you ever received?

My husband always remembers my birthday. It would be easily understandable and excusable if he should forget, but there are too many people now to remind him for that ever to occur.

Probably the birthday present which gave me the greatest pleasure and thrill was a little blue enamel locket with three little pearls, on a fine gold chain, which my father gave me when I was six or seven years old. It was the first piece of jewelry that I had ever had.


Suppose you were to find yourself beside a complete stranger at dinner with no conversational clues to follow. How would you begin talking?

I think I would begin by asking him what he was interested in.


I find that people's ideas of religion vary so greatly that I think you ought to define what is religion.

I do not know that there is any real reason why I should define what religion is. That has been done by many people far better qualified to do so. I can only give my own personal definition, which has no foundation in theology. Religion to me is simply the conviction that all human beings must hold some belief in a Power greater than themselves, and that whatever their religious belief may be, it must move them to live better in this world and to approach whatever the future holds with serenity.


Why should I skimp and save a few hundred dollars for defense purposes and then see this money which I gave for defense wasted and thrown away on pet New Deal reform?

I think the money which goes into defense bonds is used strictly for defense purposes. You will forgive me, however, if I suggest that there is defense which is not covered by the training of men for the services, or even by military equipment, and that possibly though you seem to feel that your money would be wasted if it was used for what you call "pet New Deal reform," you might investigate some of these reforms and find that they are serving the purposes of defense better than you now think. So often people sweepingly denounce all Government projects, and I find they have never even visited some of the things against which they cry out.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, October 1941

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
[ ERPP bio | VIAF | WorldCat | DPLA | SNAC ]

Ladies' Home Journal, volume 58, October 1941

Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project

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