If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

November 1944


So many parents are facing the problem of what to do with boys of sixteen and seventeen who say, "I'll be in the service next year," using that as an excuse for unreasonable requests and behavior. Do you think they should be allowed extra privileges on this account?

No. I hardly think one should allow a boy of sixteen or seventeen to behave any differently because of the fact that he may be in the service in a year's time. You would want his behavior and his character training to go on in exactly the same way, and you would want him to continue his education so that he would get as much as possible before he entered the service. The only thing that I can think of that might be a little different is the desire one would feel to show one's love because of the impending separation. Even here restraint would probably have to be exercised, since boys of this age are apt to dislike open expressions of affection.


What will the postwar world hold for girls who are now working in defense plants? I refer especially to young, unmarried girls who went directly to these jobs from school and have no other training.

Many of the girls, I should think, would get married. Those who become skilled and wish to retain their jobs or similar ones, if there is full employment, will be able to do so. If there is not full employment, they will be wise to try to acquire some added education which will enable them to do a job which they really care to do as a permanent occupation. If they are saving their money, they probably will have enough to tide them over this period of further training. They certainly should not attempt to continue in a job which isn't congenial, or in which there seems no future, when a little training along some other line might give them a skill for some more-congenial work.


Do you think that, in general, the newspapers of the country have been unfair to your husband?

The great majority of the newspapers in the country, in their news stories, make every attempt to be fair. In their editorials, of course, they express their own personal opinions. Those opinions have for the most part been opposed in the past to many of the policies of the Administration, and the newspapers are entitled to express their ideas.

Occasionally one finds people who deliberately slant the facts to suit their own point of view, and they might be called unfair, but I really do not feel that unless one had a complete knowledge of the press of the country one could say with any semblance of knowledge whether the attitude in general toward any individual had been fair or unfair.


Do you believe the United States, Britain, Russia and China should immediately—before the war's end—set up definite plans for an international military police force?

I do not know that this has to be definitely settled before the war ends, because the armed forces which these nations now have will be a very satisfactory police force for a short time, at least, after the armistice. As soon as possible, however, the definite plans should be settled which are aimed at keeping the peace of the world in the future.


Regardless of who is elected in November, do you think the President of the United States should attend the peace conference?

Not of necessity. If his presence there when the time comes seems to be needed, of course, he should go, as should the heads of the other nations. If for any reason duties at home seem more important to the President when the time comes, he will have to make his decision then, not now. He cannot make it until he knows all the circumstances of the situations as they are at that time.


Why aren't Americans of Japanese ancestry given the opportunity to volunteer for the Navy?

Under present war conditions and to safeguard in all respects the security of the Navy, it is considered not to be in the best interests of the national safety to induct or commission in the Navy, or Naval Reserve, individuals of Japanese ancestry. This is a matter of general expediency and not to be construed as a reflection on the motives or loyalty of any individual.

Necessarily, the Navy's policy with respect to persons of Japanese ancestry affects a large number of loyal Japanese-American citizens. In general, these citizens have been quick to realize that this policy is in the best interests of the prosecution of the war with Japan.


Do you think it is true that we cannot fight efficiently without hating the enemy?

Most of the military officers I know tell me that this is true. I do not feel that I can judge. From talking with some of the men I know in the services, I feel that it is not always necessary to hate individuals if you understand well enough what the ideas are that have made these individuals deserve your hate. You may hate the idea and still pity the human being who is ruled by it. Where intelligence and education are not present, however, hate of individuals and races may be necessary.


Have you ever heard a night-clubber's imitation of you or the President which you thought really good? Who did it? What, in it, struck home with you?

I have heard people imitate me, but not necessarily night-club entertainers. I have heard people imitate the President on the air and never thought it particularly good. The only person I have ever heard take me off well is my cousin, Mrs. Nicholas Longworth. I have been taken off frequently at the Women's Press Club parties, and they usually have been pretty good. Once, I believe, a gentleman did an imitation of me at a Cabinet dinner, but I have forgotten his name and cannot remember what I thought of it. However, it is difficult to see yourself as others see you!


Do you believe that prayer is really answered? Could you cite one specific example of answered prayer?

It depends entirely on how you pray, whether prayer is answered or not. If people pray for special things, I doubt if anyone could be quite sure whether his prayer had been answered or not. If we pray, however, for the things that I think one can legitimately pray for—for instance, courage to meet whatever the day may bring—then I think we can find in our hearts the knowledge whether our prayers were really answered or not.


Are you superstitious? Do you throw salt over your shoulder if you spill it, never pass people on your home steps, wish on a falling star, put your hat on a bed (it means sickness for the occupant), cross your fingers when you tell a fib?

I do not think I am superstitious. I do sometimes use, as a matter of habit, some of the old-time phrases of my childhood. I occasionally knock on wood if I say I am never ill, or something of that kind, but I am afraid I do not really believe in any superstition. For instance, one very common superstition is that one should not sit down at table with thirteen, and the first person to get up will be the first person in the group to die. I was brought up in a large family where we sat down with thirteen frequently. I make sure, when we are thirteen, to be the first person to get up, in case any of my guests are superstitious. I have done that for many years and I am still here, so I feel no superstition on this score.


When you are traveling, how do you handle the clothes problem—number, variety, cleaning, and so on?

I rarely am gone long enough to have any clothes cleaned. I take as little as possible, but all the things go together so as not to need any accessories; and except in hot climates, where one has to wear light things, I try to wear dark and very simple clothes. Where underclothes are concerned, one can usually manage to get some washed and ironed if one has twenty-four hours in any one place.


As a mother of four children, I protest strongly against the modern method of teaching children to read without first teaching them the alphabet. I taught my first child before she entered school, but did not have time to teach the three younger ones, and they are poor readers and spellers. What is your opinion on this question?

I am not an educator and my opinion is probably not worth a great deal, but my children were taught to read in a variety of ways. It is so long ago that I cannot remember which ones learned more quickly, nor the exact advantages or disadvantages of the different methods, but I know that today they all read equally easily. I think no matter how children learn to read, the stress should be on acquiring the habit of reading. It is this habit which makes for fluency and rapid reading.

Spelling is, of course, a different matter, and that seems to me to come very largely by cultivating one's memory. Constant practice in spelling exercises while you are young is very helpful. The old-fashioned spelling competitions, I think, were very good, and I wish we still put on what were known in the old days as spelling bees!

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About this document

If You Ask Me, November 1944

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

Ladies' Home Journal, volume 61, November 1944

Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project

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