If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

May 1942


Don't you think bona fide farmers should be exempt from the draft?

Not of necessity. That decision should be left to the draft board. Each family has to be considered as a unit. If there are other people in the family who can equally well manage a farm, the draft board must make that decision; but I do think it vitally important that every draft board should realize that the production of food is a necessity for winning the war, and that therefore we must see that an adequate number of people are left on the land in order to produce the maximum amount of food.

A prominent doctor has suggested that one way to reduce the shocking abortion racket in this country would be to make prospective illegitimacy a legal cause for abortion. What do you think?

It seems to me that making prospective illegitimacy a legal cause for abortion would not in any way meet this situation. The only real answer to this question, I think, is more knowledge of planned parenthood. It is not a question which can be legislated.


What was your impression of the Duchess of Windsor, and how would you describe her personality?

My impression of the Duchess of Windsor was that she was a well-groomed and attractive-looking woman. She showed an intelligent interest in what was being done for civilian defense in this country, but the time I could spend with her was very short and I would not feel qualified to give a real description of her personality.


Before you left OCD you were the object of some extremely severe criticism by many sections of the public and press. Do you think that such criticism of a public figure has a place in our accepted freedom of the press?

I think that criticism of any public figure is entirely permissible if it is done constructively, with the object of improving conditions or serving some public purpose, and if the criticism is based on real knowledge of facts, and not colored by ulterior motives and a desire to create impressions which have no foundation in fact.


In times like these do you think it is right for women to spend money for pretty new clothes? Or should they wear their old ones?

I think if women have money to spend and need new clothes, they might just as well get pretty ones. I think we should take into consideration, when we are buying new clothes, that there are certain kinds of materials which will be unavailable because of war needs, and we should not attempt to get these particular materials; but where consumer goods are produced, it means that there are people who need the employment through their production, and it also means that the people who have been in the business of distribution of consumer goods, and cannot distribute only war materials, should go on with their business and should be given legitimate support. As to wearing our old clothes, I do feel that from necessity we shall all be wearing them; but whether we are wearing old clothes or new ones, I think that we should make every effort to make them as pretty and becoming as possible.


Can tin be reclaimed from used cars? If so, how can it be gathered most usefully?

There is very little tin in cars. There is some in the bearings and some in soldering—but it is mixed with other metals and is not worth the trouble it would take to melt it down and separate the metals. Therefore, I do not think we should make the effort to reclaim it.


Don't you think corsets should be classed as necessary, despite the rubber shortage?

No. I imagine we shall find some kind of substitute which will serve to keep us sylphlike.

Since sponsors of radio programs for children seem indifferent to the protests of individual parents concerning gangster and horror stories on the air, is it possible to have legislation passed prohibiting them?

I think it would be a pity to pass legislation which would be censorship legislation, either for the press or the radio or the movies. All these distributors of news and entertainment, of necessity, are anxious to please the public; and once you get the public educated so that they are really determined that their children shall not listen to certain programs on the air, you will have no difficulty getting them off the air.


Some time ago I read that you were wearing cotton stockings. How do you like them?

I like them very much. I have always worn cotton stockings in the country because they are better for sports wear, and I find them perfectly comfortable in the city.


Do you think sixteen-year-old boys should be allowed to drive cars?

It depends on the sixteen-year-old's sense of responsibility. They should certainly be allowed to drive cars with older people accompanying them, because that is the way to learn how to drive. Whether they should be allowed to go into crowded thoroughfares, alone, is a question of the ability and sense of responsibility of the individual sixteen-year-old boy.


Why doesn't the Government regulate labor unions as it does businesses and banks? Why shouldn't unions be compelled to publish audited financial statements and to hold annual open elections of officers? Labor would gain; only the dishonest labor leaders would lose.

To answer your question one has to consider, first of all, the collective-bargaining power. This was not completely accepted even by our Government until the passage of the National Labor Relations Act in 1936, and it has never been completely accepted by American industry.

Demands for complete regulation of labor unions probably arise out of the feeling that organized labor is irresponsible, but it has been proved over and over again that labor unions develop in direct proportion to employers' acceptance of unions and therefore of the principle of collective bargaining. Since business can choose for itself whether or not it shall incorporate, and it is never compelled to do so, to compel the incorporation of associations of workers who have banded together to protect their collective economy and welfare interests would be unfair, for they would be singled out for oppressive legislation when business was not.

This demand, I fear, often comes from the people who are really opposed to the workers' forming themselves into unions for protective purposes, and therefore would like to find a new and powerful weapon with which to destroy these organizations.

Individual unionists are liable for their acts, and the record of arrests made for even peaceful picketing proves beyond doubt that responsibility, while it may not be carried by the union as a whole, is certainly carried by each individual member of the union for whatever acts he may perform.

Most of the unions that I know publish a report of their financial status to their members, and do so in more accurate and simple form than do most business corporations. The reason that unions are not anxious to publish their financial statements for the benefit of the public is that when they are not well established, this information would inform employers immediately of certain of their weaknesses. All the well-established unions within the CIO and the AFL make public their financial statements.


You are quoted as having said, "I think if the people of this country can be reached with the truth, their judgment will be in favor of the many, as against the privileged few." In which of the two categories would you place your immediate family?

Our family, like my husband and myself, have been amongst the very privileged people in this country because we have had great opportunities. That does not mean, however, that we will not range ourselves in the battle of the future on the side of the many, because the understanding of democracy is strong in us all. We have the ability to imagine what are the desires of the many, and to do our part, I hope, to see those desires fulfilled.


Why should the prosperous defense workers be entitled to a forty-hour week when the men who fight to protect them, and need desperately more of what they make, have no such privilege? We are the arsenal of democracy. Why shouldn't our soldiers of production fight as long hours as our soldiers in uniform, who are risking their lives as well?

In nearly all the defense industries the forty-hour week is a thing of the past. There is, however, such a thing as using labor intelligently and to the best possible advantage. It has been found in England that raising the weekly hours of work beyond a certain point retards production rather than increases it, and we are apt to find this same thing here. At the present time the forty-hour week is not being applied arbitrarily.

Your question as to the fighting forces is purely rhetorical, because you fight to preserve your life in the moments when you have to do so. It is not your choice and it is not done in a planned way, according to the best methods of producing even your own ability to fight. You are trained with the idea that you shall cling to your life and the protection of those whom you love until the last gasp, and the best army is the army that has the most staying power and the largest stake for which to fight. It is true we are the arsenal of democracy; but, being the arsenal, we must regulate those who produce the wherewithal for our battles, so that they will produce the maximum amount and not work them to the point of fatigue where they will produce less.


Do you think women, when this war is over, should sit at the peace table with equal voice in solving the problems that must be solved if we are to have a continuing peace?

I think it would be well if we could have some representation of women at the peace table. They certainly will not have an equal voice because they do not have an equal voice in government or in the conduct of the war, and they cannot until they carry equal responsibility in everything.


Doesn't it seem unfair to sentence a private to twenty years for falling asleep on guard duty while permitting Admiral Kimmel and General Short to retire on a pension?

I do not know to what case you refer, of a soldier sentenced to twenty years in prison. This question was brought up before and a reply from the War Department informs me that until December 7, 1941, when the President invoked wartime penalties for military offenses, the maximum punishment for sleeping while on guard was a dishonorable discharge and six months' imprisonment. Even if a heavier penalty was mistakenly assigned, it could not become effective until it had been brought to the attention of a board of review set up in the War Department for passing finally upon cases involving heavy penalties. This board would detect the error and reduce the penalty to conform to regulations. No case involving the sentence mentioned has come to the attention of the War Department.


I have no money to pay for a nurse's training. How can I become one? I want to serve.

I understand that some of the larger city hospitals do take trainees without the payment of a fee by them, but the sum paid by trainees in most hospitals is very nominal and often is repaid by the hospitals in stipends while the person is in training.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, May 1942

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

Ladies' Home Journal, volume 59, May 1942

Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project

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