If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

June 1942


First I'd like to tell you how much I enjoy your page in the LADIES' HOME JOURNAL. Then how much I admire the quality in you, which I cannot seem to gain in myself—the very rare quality of humility. I don't mean that in any but the beautiful sense it is given in the Bible. I think humility need not lack righteous force. How did you gain this quality? It is my ideal, but I'm quick to see faults and criticize and retaliate—in action, at least. Has Christianity been your method, or just having to put up with unpleasant things through your life, or what? Were you always able to give a "soft answer," or does it grow with time? What I admire is that you don't just answer the way you do to look well, but you really seem to feel that way. If only we all did, there wouldn't be wars, would there?

I like you very much. You make me think of my mother, and she is just about right. In case this sounds awfully childish, I'm nearly thirty and have three children, and I know you feel about yours the way I do about mine. If I can only learn to pray and keep my hands off their lives. But I think humility comes in there too. Can you tell me how you have learned? I don't really think anyone can be born that way.

You are young: thirty years old, with three children, seems very young to me now!

I think being able to give a soft answer is something which comes to us with age. We mellow as we grow older; from experience we learn why other people are the way they are, and we know how often we have fallen short of what we wanted to be or to do ourselves. If we really could look upon ourselves, nationally, with sufficient humility so that we realized we had faults and tried to get on with other people and to see their point of view as well as our own, we might eliminate wars.

As to Christianity, I think anyone who really thinks about the life of Christ must of necessity be influenced by it. It has always seemed to me that if we ever succeeded in living up to the standards which He set for us, we would eliminate much of the conflict in the world. We would certainly get on better in our communities.

I am particularly interested in the part of your question which deals with your children. You will keep your hands off their lives if you feel as you do about it. As they grow older you will respect them as personalities and realize that they must have a chance to grow, and the only way to give them that chance is to let them experiment for themselves with life. If you have ever had other people try to guide your life, you must know how unsatisfactory it is both for them and for you, and that may be a help.


I don't mean to be rude, but do you have colored blood in your family, as you seem to derive so much pleasure from associating with colored folks. Would you approve of one of your children having as a most intimate friend a colored person?

I only know about all my ancestors as far back as their arrival in this country, but I do know in certain cases where they came from and where they lived before coming here.

I haven't as yet discovered during that period any colored blood, but, of course, if any of us go back far enough, I suppose we can find that we all stem from the same beginnings. I have no feeling that the colored race is inferior to the white race. Given the same opportunities over several generations, they have produced artists, scientists, educators and many valuable citizens. I would certainly have no objection if a child of mine chose a friend among the peoples of any race, regardless of color or creed.


How would you teach the story of Adam and Eve to children, since you regard it as a myth? How can you reject parts of the Bible and accept others? Does your belief in the story of Adam and eve as an allegory interfere with your faith in Jesus as the world's Redeemer?

I would teach the story of Adam and Eve as an allegory. It is difficult to accept the entire Old Testament in any other way. The story of Adam and Eve does not in any way affect my belief in the beauty and divine inspiration of Christ's life.


Don't you think that parents who sacrifice to send their children to college should be able to take these expenses off their income-tax return?

It would be very difficult to differentiate between those who make a sacrifice to send their children to college and those who send them when their incomes are adequate to do so. If this could be proved, a request might be made to the Treasury Department for a ruling, because it does seem to me to be an expense which could very well be considered deductible.


Do you think that boy-style haircuts for young girls in war work would be a good thing?

I think that is an individual preference the girls will have to work out for themselves.


Although I am an American, my husband is Chinese. He has been in this country twenty years and we have been married three years and have twin sons nine months old. Since our marriage I have been continually confronted with the attitude of people concerning racial differences, and often have been openly insulted, although I believe we are neither unfriendly nor inhospitable. Can you suggest some way to cope with this situation?

It is indeed sad that you have had to meet with racial discrimination of the kind which you describe. I think the only thing to do is to bear people's insults with dignity, and in time, I am sure, they will begin to realize that these foolish prejudices about other races have got to be lived down, if the war is to be won and there is to be a lasting peace afterward.


Did you ever have any of your writings published before your husband became President of the United States?

I had several articles published in magazines, and wrote and published three books: It's Up to the Women; Hunting Big Game in the Eighties; and When You Grow Up to Vote.


When and if this war is won by our Allied forces, should we adopt a persecuting or humane treatment toward the enemy?

Of course we should treat humanely the peoples of the enemy countries. It will probably be necessary to restore order, but they should be given, rapidly, the opportunity to increase their material well-being and to begin again to build up a contented and free existence.


Do you think girls should be allowed to wear slacks to school for patriotic reasons, since they save silk stockings, rubber garters and girdles, and are more comfortable than a dress?

I haven't any idea. It seems to me that girls wearing dresses could go without stockings as well as they could wearing slacks. That would save both stockings and rubber garters just the same. Very few young girls wear girdles under a dress. I think this is a question of what is appropriate at all times, and not a question to which one can give a blanket answer.


I have been a social worker and a public-health nurse and wonder if it is necessary to send our boys out each morning to the drill ground on a breakfast of only bread, butter and coffee?

It is very rare that any boy in the Army does not have at least fruit, cereal or eggs with breakfast. If they take just bread and butter and coffee, it must be from preference. I have heard nothing about such a light breakfast from any of the boys with whom I have come in contact.


Do you think one should buy War Savings Bonds while one still owes debts for illness, or when one wishes to refurnish the house, and so on?

I think one should always pay one's debts before one does anything else. I do not think it is necessary to refurnish one's house except with absolutely necessary items at the present time: and once one is free of debt it might be possible to set aside a certain sum to be spent on War Savings Bonds each week.


It is true that no Catholic can be the President of the United States? I heard that President Roosevelt is or was a Catholic. Is that true?

As far as I know, there is nothing in the Constitution which would prevent a Catholic from being elected to the presidency of the United States. However, a Catholic President has never been elected. President Franklin D. Roosevelt is an Episcopalian, not a Catholic.


Why should we permit alcoholic drinks to be manufactured and sold with no restrictions whatsoever when sugar is being rationed.

As I understand it is necessary to manufacture alcohol for various commercial purposes. Aside from that, I imagine the manufactures of any kind of drinks will be regulated just as soon as other people are.


What do you think the 135,000 Jewish young men of Palestine, who volunteered for service for the Allied cause, can do to get into service? So far only 12,000 have been taken into the English army.

I think the best thing for them to do is to prepare themselves physically to be ready, when the army needs them, to enter in as good physical condition as possible. Undoubtedly they will eventually be allowed to fight for their country.


A very intelligent man I know complains that women now spend most of this country's money, and by the end of the war they will have all the jobs and men will have no chance at all. Do you think there is any truth in this?

I think it is complete nonsense. If men go around, however, talking like that they will create a psychology which will bring about the very thing they wish to prevent.


I've read about various dogs that have been White House pets, but never any cats. Why? Don't you like cats?

I have no objection whatsoever to cats, but I do not think they make quite as companionable pets as dogs. We have a cat in the country, but cats have always seemed to me to have rather reserved dispositions; as Kipling said: "To walk by their lone."

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About this document

If You Ask Me, June 1942

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

Ladies' Home Journal, volume 59, June 1942

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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