If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

August 1944

 

If you and the President believe in democracy so sincerely, why did you send you children to private schools?

Because in both my husband's family and in my family there was a tradition which made it seem natural to send the boys to Groton. Their father had gone there, and their grandfathers had held the belief that if you could afford it; you should pay for your children's education as well as paying in taxes for the education of other children whose parents were not so well off.

I have thought for many years that theory is one of doubtful validity. Our public schools would be better if people who really wished to see their children obtain the best possible education were personally and vitally concerned in public schools, I believe.

There is value in private schools when they develop new techniques of teaching and making educational experiments. In addition, of course, it is possible to give very much more individual attention to children and to limit the size of classes and occasionally to develop individual abilities as they are discovered. I think this could be done, however, if the need were recognized, in public schools; and though it is still a debatable question, I think it is one which should be carefully considered and debated even more than it is at present.

Very careful decisions should be made as to why we send children to private schools. Some children, without question, should go to public schools and will do better there. Others might need what private schools have to offer; but that this decision should be made purely on whether a family is able to pay for it or not seems to me very questionable, and this is recognized by the private schools, for they are giving more and more scholarships.

In the postwar world I hope we can make our public schools better than they have been in the past; and if private schools continue to function, they should have clearly defined objectives.

 

Why can manufacturers make nylon slips, blouses, toothbrushes, and so on, and not nylon stockings?

The WPB has not allowed the manufacture of any nylon material other than for war purposes. The material used in slips, blouses, and so on, has come from military rejects, principally material that was woven for parachutes but was rejected because of some defect and was not considered suitable for use in parachutes. As far as toothbrushes and some surgical equipment are concerned, all through the war nylon has been allocated for the manufacture of these things because of the acute shortage of hog bristles, which were formerly mostly imported from China.

 

Of all parts of the world which you have not visited, which would you like most to visit?

I have never been anywhere in the world where I did not find things in which I was interested. The places I want to see most at present are China and Russia.

 

Do you think that venereal-disease programs over the air and in the movies would help prevent the spread of this disease?

Yes, I do. Ignorance has a great deal to do with the spread of all social diseases. The only difficulty is that anything which goes over the air or is shown in the movies may be heard and seen by people for whom it is really not intended. Many children would not be able to understand certain information and should not obtain it in this way. How these vehicles for public information can be limited so they will reach only the proper groups is a question that is difficult to decide, but I think in some way we must resolve it, because the power of education controlled by the movies and the radio is too great to give up using it for this particular purpose.

 

Do you think it hurts children to read newspaper comic strips?

I do not suppose it really hurts them, but too much time spent on them seems to me a mistake.

 

Is it true that some of the blood plasma donated by Americans is given to Japs who are taken prisoner? Certainly they don't give plasma to our boys.

Under the Treaty of Geneva, our medical service is required to give all enemy wounded the same treatment as our men. Unfortunately, the Japanese do not live up to the terms of this treaty, and that is a sign of the difference in our civilizations which is all in our favor.

 

No wonder servicemen are fed up with civilians when all they read about is black markets, luxury spending, strikes, and so on. Don't you think that this gives a very false picture of the American people as a whole, and breaks down soldier morale?

Yes, I think that we are getting a distorted picture of civilian life in this country. On the whole, the average person is quite uncomplaining, accepting restrictions and working very hard at whatever his job may be. A limited number of people probably do get gas from black markets, spend more money than they ever had before, and we know there are a limited number of unwarranted strikes.

On the other hand, we know that a great many people are investing in War Bonds, are contributing to the Red Cross and War Fund drives, are helping wherever there is any need and are not buying in black markets. The level of production in this country is high, so strikes cannot be so high as some people seem to think. I imagine that the soldier knows this is true. He may grouse about the people at home. He may find people at home grousing, as many of them do, but, by and large, he must know that a very extraordinary conversion to war production has taken place in this country, and that must buck him up as he faces his own job.

 

As a guest of honor on many occasions, you must constantly be receiving flowers to wear. What flowers are your real favorites?

I am afraid my favorite flowers are not the ones which are usually put in corsage bouquets. I like pansies and lilies of the valley and the small yellow cluster roses like those that grew in our grandmothers' gardens.

 

What vocation would you choose if you could live your life over?

I have never thought about what I would choose, because, like many other women, very little that I have done in life seems to have been done as a matter of choice.

The circumstances that surround women as a rule force most of them into certain channels, and it is rare that a woman is so cut off from responsibilities for those around her that she can make a very free choice as to an occupation. The best she can do is to use the opportunities that come to her in life to the best advantage, according to her abilities. This is a little less true today than it was in the past, but nevertheless it still holds true, since women, or the greatest number of women, must subordinate themselves to the life of the family.

 

My husband and I are putting every spare cent we have into War Bonds. Our friends say we are foolish because we may not be able to cash them immediately after the war. Do you think we should save up some money?

You can always cash your War Bonds. Of course, you do not get the face value until the come due, but you get what you put into them, plus interest.

If you know of something which you are going to want to buy immediately at the close of the war, it might be wise to keep a small sum of ready cash on hand to cover such specific articles. The advantage of War Bonds is, first, that you are doing a patriotic thing in lending your money to the Government to use for its present needs. Secondly, they carry a certain amount of interest which, if you keep them the full time, is greatly to your advantage. For instance, the $18.75 you put into a bond pays $25 in cash when it matures.

 

Am I justified, when we are urged to avoid all unnecessary travel, in making a long and costly railroad journey to say good-by to my husband about to go overseas?

Certainly. That is why people are being urged not to travel unnecessarily. Nobody is urged to give up necessary journeys, and I consider seeing your husband off and saying good-by before he goes overseas an absolutely vital necessity, and nobody could begrudge to a wife.

 

What kind of postwar plan could be adopted to remove the stigma from domestic service? Should household servants be unionized?

Yes, I think household servants should be unionized both for the protection of the employer as well as for the protection of the employee. In the past we often expected to train people who came to us for domestic service. If they become unionized they will have to meet certain standards of work and have certain qualifications; or if they come to be trained, that will be recognized in their rate of pay. There will be rules as to how they should be housed and fed and their hours of work and time off. All this will dignify domestic service and it will become a profession or a science rather than the type of work which anyone who cannot do anything else takes up.

The objection of most girls to domestic service is that the hours are irregular. It will require an approach to one's home similar to the approach to one's business. It can be done, but not in the old way which took into account only the life of the employer and not the life of the employee.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, August 1944

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

Ladies' Home Journal, volume 61, August 1944

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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