If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

December 1941

 

At various times I have heard that you and Mr. Roosevelt are separated, but that you live together to keep down scandal in the United States. I do not believe this is at all true. Will you please answer this so that I may read it in black and white?

You are young, I imagine, and therefore your question is neither impertinent nor malicious. It is the kind of question, however, which, when I was young, we were taught belonged to the realm of things about which one might speculate, but never talk. Gossip of the kind which you have heard is whispered about almost all people in public life, and no one should notice it.

 

Frequently, on reading your answers to questions in the LADIES' HOME JOURNAL, I have felt myself prompted to write to you, to express my gratitude for the example they offer of generosity and fine spirit. At times the questions seem obviously designed to bait you, in an attempt to arouse anger or hurt, and I am sure the first reaction of the average woman would be anger. I am thinking particularly of an ill-natured letter about your sons' commissions.

I think the American women who admire you would be glad to know whether you have had to make efforts to control temper, and, if so, what you consider the most effective discipline to school oneself to the courtesy you show to people who seem rude. I wish I might believe that someday I might acquire such mastery of the soft answer, and I am grateful for your example.

You are very kind in what you say about my courtesy in answering questions. I rarely feel anger any more about anything, but that is the result of years of self-discipline which began when I was a little girl. There is very little that anyone, outside of the few people I care for deeply, could say or do which would either hurt or annoy me. Therefore, it is entirely easy to treat with courtesy questions or criticisms or remarks from people whom I do not know, or even whom I know slightly. This may be indifference, but it can never be anger.

 

Why can't your sons grow up like other American boys? At their advanced ages they are still acting like schoolboys, sliding in on their father's coattails. Their father can't even take a little boat trip but what they are right at his heels. Their father said "mere coincidence." Small world, isn't it? Suppose the other two little fellows could not run fast enough and missed the boat.

You ask a question and then you make a statement. I think I had better answer your question first. My sons have not been able to grow up like other boys because you, and people like you, will not allow them to. No President's sons or daughters are left sufficiently out of the limelight to be permitted to make the mistakes which other young people make, without any notice being taken of them. No President's children are permitted to learn from hard experience, not because of their parents' wishes, but because so many people, wishing to curry favor with their parents, try to do it through the children and do not let them suffer the results of their mistakes. Later on, as they grow up, people take advantage of their lack of experience and they learn bitterly that people are greedy and selfish and use them, and that rarely is real friendship offered to them. You are fortunate, indeed, if you can keep young people from becoming completely embittered through this experience.

All I can say is that I think there are few of the children of Presidents who would not echo Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.'s, remark to his father: "The worst thing that ever happened to us was when you became President."

Incidentally, I cannot agree with you in your last statement. Our four boys are pretty well grown up and have accepted their responsibilities and have accomplished some pretty hard and responsible jobs with great success.

There is nothing unusual in a father's wanting to have his children with him when he hasn't seen them for many weeks, if they happen to be within reach. Not only are there few fathers who would deny themselves the pleasure of seeing their sons, but if they happened to have an appreciation of history they might covet for their children an opportunity to be present at a historical event. The other two boys who were not present were both on duty elsewhere, and it is not the habit of a President's family to shirk its duty.

 

Do you believe the movies sent by us to South America give a false impression of the United States?

I do not happen to be familiar with the movies which we sent to South America. I have been told that some of the movies which we used to send to Europe gave a false picture of our daily life, and I imagine this may have been the case with some we have sent to South America. However, there is now a great effort to send really good films to South America.

 

Do you approve of teaching children to believe in Santa Claus? And do you believe they should be brought up on fairy stories and the "make-believe" school of children's literature, or are you in favor of stories with a scientific basis?

I certainly do believe in teaching children to believe in Santa Claus. They learn soon enough that Santa Claus is mother or father, or some other kind person. Why not let them have the joy of believing that Santa Claus does come to all children and that he is such a jolly old saint?

I do not see why children cannot be brought up on stories with a scientific basis and also on fairy stories. I believe in cultivating all sides of a child's mind. It is good to learn to think things through logically and accurately, but even the scientist occasionally finds that he needs a little imagination, and fairy stories cultivate imagination, so I would not neglect them.

 

My question is, why do so many Americans hate English people?

Many Americans hate English people because their history books are written that way. They learn that we fought the English and gained our independence, and that we fought them again in 1812 to preserve certain rights, and they never go beyond our fighting days. They do not realize that we have lived for over a hundred years without a fortified border between the United States and Canada, and that Canada belongs to the British Empire. They do not realize that most Americans who really get to know individual English people like them and get on well with them. They simply continue in the tradition which was started in their school days.

Perhaps I might add that some English people, particularly the traveling English, have a genius for doing and saying the wrong thing, but so have some Americans, particularly those who used to travel in Europe.

 

Do you believe the five points of Pope Pius XII for peace are the foundation for a lasting, enduring peace, more so than the plan of Mr. Clarence Streit's Union Now?

Pope Pius XII's five points seem to me a very good basis for peace. However, I do not think that you can compare Clarence Streit's Union Now with the broad principles enunciated by Pope Pius. The Pope is stating the characteristics which must exist in human beings before we can hope to keep the world at peace. Mr. Streit is trying to formulate a plan to attain a more peaceful world, but he does not attempt to base his plan only on the moral and spiritual qualities which should be developed. Somehow the two do not seem to me incompatible with each other.

 

Where both wife and husband work, even if his salary is larger and their hours about the same, should he help with the work in the apartment and in preparing meals?

Any husband and wife, if they both work, will usually want to share the work of the apartment or the home. It is more fun to do the work when two people work together; and if they want more leisure time together to enjoy their lives, the way to get it is to do the work with four hands instead of two.

 

What do you think is a nice age for girls to start having dates?

I think it depends greatly on the individual girl. Some girls have enough sense and enough poise at fourteen, and some girls seem to have very little sense at eighteen. I think it is as well, however, for girls to start, under proper supervision, to have dates fairly young, because they get over, in the days when things are not too serious, some of what might be called the irresponsible crush period which seems to be a part of all adolescence.

 

What do you think can and should be done to overcome anti-Semitism in this country?

I think much can be done do overcome anti-Semitism in this country. Jewish people themselves can help by trying to be as natural and unself-conscious as possible. They can go about their own lives, doing the things they have always done, but trying not to be too aggressive or too ingratiating or too flattering to the people who they suspect are sizing them up. On the other hand, all the rest of us can try to forget that the people with whom we associate belong to any particular race or to any particular religion. We can treat others with the respect due human beings and we will receive respect in return, regardless of race, color or creed.

 

Do you consider that the woman who stocks up now for the next two years on household and personal articles of which there is likely to be a shortage is a hoarder, or simply provident?

Any stocking up tends to make prices rise. I would advise buying as usual, and taking the chances that the average person has to take, if I wanted to sleep well at night.

 

Do you believe in nicknames? Have you ever had any?

I hardly think it necessary to "believe" in nicknames. They are not convictions. Either a nickname appeals to someone and you are saddled with it for the rest of your life, whether you think it appropriate or not, or you may be the kind of person who never has a nickname.

Yes, I have had nicknames in my childhood. When I was very small I was called "Granny," and a little later on I was called "Tottie," and my father called me "Little Nell." Since I have attained more mature years, I have always used my full name.

 

My son is halfway through high school and planning on college. He wants a liberal-arts course, says someone should help preserve the beauty of the culture in this mechanized era. My husband is irritated by this stand and urges that the boy train himself for technical work so that he will not be a misfit in a scientific era. What do you think?

I do not know your son, so I cannot give you any very good advice about what he should do, but I have found one very good rule is to let a young person decide for himself, after he has been given the benefit of your experience.

If you force him into what you think is good for him, sometimes because you wish you had done it yourself, and he really cares enormously for something else, he is apt not to work so hard and to feel put upon. After all, a boy who is old enough to go to college, and is going to be more or less on his own, is old enough to make the decision as to how he wants to prepare for life.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, December 1941

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

Ladies' Home Journal, volume 58, December 1941

Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project

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