If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

August 1942


Whom do you consider the three greatest women of all times, and why?

Florence Nightingale is one of the greatest women in history because she contributed a new conception of one of the purposes to which women should dedicate themselves.

I imagine Mme. Curie, because she demonstrated that a woman's brain has as much ability for scientific research as a man's, and that a woman can be as steadfast in purpose and as self-denying in her work, will always be considered great.

Harriet Beecher Stowe, because she had the heart to understand a great social problem and all its implications, and the courage to use her ability as a writer to bring it home to the conscience of the people as a whole, seems to me another great woman.

I have used these three women simply as symbols of the development of new phases in women's experience. I doubt if any human beings, just by themselves, are very important; but when they start a new trend of thought and action, they are apt to symbolize for their contemporaries and for the future a new idea, and therefore they become important.


For his great courage and foresight should not Gen. William Mitchell be honored by a memorial in Washington?

I do not really know how people who are to be honored by memorials in Washington are chosen. It seems to me, though, that they should be very carefully chosen, and on the whole it would seem wiser to me to honor more people in their own home states rather than in the District of Columbia, which cannot continue indefinitely to find sites for memorials.


Should we discourage children from playing war games?

We might wish to discourage them, but it would be utterly useless at the present time, so we might as well give in gracefully and try to see that when war games are played they teach the lessons which we wish our children to learn—­fair play, magnanimity in victory, courage in defeat and no hatred of peoples.


As a Jew I have often been puzzled what to answer when confronted with a request for either my nationality or my religion. Since I was born here, my nation is America, and I do not follow the doctrines of any religion. Yet I am considered deceptive by some in replying "American" to my nationality and "None" to my religion. What do you, as an American and a Christian, think my response should be, and in what manner do you consider me to be a Jew?

As I understand it, to be a Jew is to belong to the Jewish religion; the term has nothing whatever to do with a racial background. If you want to be completely honest, you would naturally say, "I am an American, born in this country. My parents [or grandparents, as the case may be] came from such and such a country. I belong to no religion, but my parents were of the Jewish faith."


Don't you think persons having extraordinary expenses for medical services should be allowed to deduct at least a portion of them from income when computing income for tax purposes?

I should think one should be allowed to deduct from one's income-tax return all medical expenses which are not covered by insurance.


What is your greatest fear?

My greatest fear has always been that I would be afraid—afraid physically or mentally or morally—and allow myself to be influenced by fear instead of by my honest convictions.


How do you think our boys who have gone to war and risked their lives should treat conscientious objectors after the war?

I should think that the boys who go through the war, and who believe in what they are doing, would have a respect for a conscientious objector who had an equally strong belief that he should not kill other people.

We have put these conscientious objectors to work in this war. They are clamoring for more dangerous work. Some of them are already doing work which requires great courage, but not the taking of another man's life. It would certainly seem a curious thing to me if a boy were not able to understand, having had deep convictions himself, that other people have a right to equally deep convictions and that they should be respected.


Is it true that you have used your influence to prevent the President from appointing a new Secretary of Labor?

I have never tried to influence the President in any appointment, nor have I ever tried to prevent his doing anything.


You have said that all well-established unions within the CIO and AFL make public their financial statements, but I find that local unions are not very co-operative in this matter. Have you investigated this?

I thought that I stated that the small and weaker unions are never very anxious to make public their financial situation, because in publishing the membership list they reveal their weakness; and when they are trying to organize before they are well established, this may give the cue to the employer as to whether they are able to stand up for their rights or not.


Being a hairdresser, it has often puzzled me why a modern woman, such as you, has never changed her hair style. Do you have any particular reason for not having a new hair-do?

I have changed my hair style several times, perhaps not often enough. In any case, when you reach my age, if you can find anything which is moderately becoming, it is better to leave it alone and care less about being in the fashion and more about being inconspicuous!

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About this document

If You Ask Me, August 1942

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

Ladies' Home Journal, volume 59, August 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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