If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

September 1944


What is the best thing to do when people you meet casually—say a taxicab driver or an office receptionist—make violently prejudiced (and untrue) remarks about a minority race? Usually I just keep my mouth shut. But is this really right? It seems to me that perhaps in keeping silent I am actually condoning these vicious remarks.

I rather think the time has come when keeping silent, if other people say things of which you cannot approve, is an escape from doing something disagreeable. Everyone has a right to his own opinion and to state it, therefore I do not think one should be heated or angry over what other people say; but if silence seems to give approval, then remaining silent is cowardly. I think one should say, "I have evidently had different experiences from what you have had, and I find on the whole that thus and so seems true." It may lead to an argument and it may require restraint and patience on both sides, but it will often clear up misconceptions and show that there are two points of view, and that it is possible to discuss questions on a reasonable basis even when feelings are involved as well as facts.


What quality in your husband do you think is most responsible for his success?

His patience and his ability to look at things historically. By that I mean that his vision is not limited by the immediate situation, but he is able to see the background and the future of whatever is under consideration. When he makes a decision he can patiently wait for the outcome; and if it was wrong or partially wrong, he has the patience to begin again.


Should we have religious-education courses in public schools?

I have always thought it would be quite possible to have religious education in schools which would not be objectionable to any particular group. One would have to realize that one had children belonging to many different religions and that, therefore, all of them would probably have special teaching in the points stressed by their denominations or religions. All religions have fundamental beliefs which could be incorporated in any teaching, and in which all groups could join. I believe it would be valuable to the children to realize that we lay stress on spiritual values.


Most little girls seem to want to be actresses. Do you remember—or would you be willing to tell—what was your earliest ambition?

I do not know that most little girls want to be actresses. I think all little girls are actresses, but then so are all little boys. Every child I have ever know "imagined" his way through his early life. My earliest ambition was to be a nurse.


Do you think that mothers with professional training should try to keep on their careers, and do you think part-time jobs for women after the war would make this possible?

Every mother has to decide the question for herself. Whether she keeps on with her work, whatever it may be, or devotes a certain number of years exclusively to her family, or however she arranges it, the decision is a personal one.


Women with professional training or special skills have been so much needed during the war that they have had to give up their personal desires and go back to work; but when the war is over, it becomes again a personal choice and one which cannot be decided by anyone but the individuals involved. Part-time jobs might be good solutions for some people, and might not be for others. It all depends upon the kind of person you are and what you decide to do with your life.


Have you and your husband ever taken lessons in public speaking?

As far as I know, my husband has never taken any lessons in public speaking. I took a course with Mrs. von Hesse in learning how to control my breathing and to use my voice, but I have never taken any lessons in public speaking, if you include in that the preparation of material and the presentation of it.


Can't something be done about landlords who refuse to rent to families with children?

I gather from the newspapers that something is being done. As far as I can learn, it is not legal for a landlord to refuse to take a family with children.


What has happened to your interest in youth movements?

As far as I know, nothing has happened to it! I never was interested in youth movements as such. I have always been interested in young people as individuals, and in any groups which they formed, but I never have considered that we had a real youth movement in this country in the sense that it has existed in European nations. I am just as interested today as I ever have been in young people, and work with them individually or in groups whenever I have the opportunity.


Don't you think that young women as well as men should be given the opportunity to serve in this war by studying medicine?

Certainly. I do not see any reason why young women should not have an opportunity to study medicine, though I doubt if they will be used in this war unless it lasts much longer than most of us hope.


If a plant closes down on account of strikers, is it possible for an employee who wants to keep on working to go elsewhere to some essential industry?

No. He would have to move through the United States Employment Service, and the policy is that they do not issue statements of availability or refer workers who are unemployed because of direct connection with a strike.


I have always admired the way the different generations of your family can live and get along together in one household. I should like to know the Roosevelt rules for happy family harmony.

I think the rule that we have among ourselves is never to interfere with our young people once they are grown up. We allow them to deal with the problems of their own children and try not to impose our ideas upon them. Their lives are their own. We love them, but cannot assume their responsibilities. Outside of that, the ordinary rules of courtesy and consideration for other people, which we feel should apply to one's family as well as among one's friends, certainly make life run more smoothly.


Is there any record kept of the distinguished guests who have visited the White House?

Yes, there is a guest book in the White House and guests are asked to sign it; and, in addition, in the ushers' office a record is kept or everyone who is in the house at all times.


If a new group of eighteen-year-olds can be drafted each year, don't you think that a corresponding number of men over thirty-eight should be discharged? My husband had to sell his business before he went into the Army and it will be much harder for him to make a comeback than a boy in his twenties.

I am afraid that your suggestion would not be possible, because we continue drafting in order to increase our Army with the hope of bringing the war more rapidly to an end. I quite realize that it is hard for older men to make a comeback. Having boys of my own who are older, I know just what that situation is; but even though it is harder for them, I sometimes think that the young boys who never had any civilian life, or any definite civilian work, have less to come back to after they have been torn apart by war, and so have perhaps as hard a time in getting readjusted to civilian existence as the older men.


Does the President like to have his family with him to listen to the election returns in November, or a group of his political chiefs?

The President has always had his family with him, as well as a number of people who have been close to him and done really intimate work in any campaign. I have never asked him whether he preferred having his family or the other people. We have just taken it for granted that he would like everybody who has a personal interest to be there if it is possible. Naturally, a great many of his family have hardly ever been with him, for they have been far away, but those who have been within reach have always tried to be on hand.


I know the experts say marriage should be a 50-50 affair, but don't you honestly think most wives are happier if the husband is just slightly more the boss?

I think people are happier in marriage when neither one is the boss, but when both of them are willing to give as well as take.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, September 1944

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

Ladies' Home Journal, volume 61, September 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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