If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

January 1945


Don't you think that German prisoners of war in this country should be taught something about the American way of life and democratic ideals?

Under the Geneva Convention it is impossible to teach prisoners anything which they do not wish to learn. They have to request their reading matter, and whatever teaching they receive must be accepted willingly and not forced upon them. Our boys who are prisoners do not have to accept Nazi teaching and the Germans do not have to accept democratic teaching; but if they wish, it is available. Many universities are co-operating in giving German prisoners whatever they are willing to accept in the way of education.


Of what does Fala's balanced diet consist?

One regular meal every evening of mixed meat, vegetables and dog food, a small dog biscuit which the President gives him every morning, and occasional titbits begged from whoever cannot resist a little dog's pleadings!


It is proper to stand up when the national anthem is played in a picture show? What do you do?

I usually stand up unless there is a continuing repetition of just one or two bars. If the national anthem is just played once, I think wherever you are you should stand up.


What do you think the best attitude a bride should assume toward an interfering mother-in-law?

That is a very difficult question. If it is possible to bring about a kindly and co-operative feeling between a man's mother and his wife, it certainly should be done, because it makes a great difference in the life of the family. I do not, however, think that a bride should subordinate her relationship with her husband and children to placate her mother-in-law. Each of us has to live our own life, and when you start a home of your own, that must become the most important thing in the world to you. Nevertheless, I think if it is possible for a young bride to be perfectly honest with her mother-in-law, telling her how she feels and trying to show her that there might be built between them a real friendship and deep affection, it might help. If on each side they did not harbor grievances but spoke truthfully their opinions to each other and tried to make adjustments which made life easier between them, then the relationship might grow into one of trust and affection.


Did you ever make the statement that girls should learn to drink moderately?

No. I never said they should learn to drink moderately. I said it was better to learn at home what one could safely drink than to be surprised on some party into doing something one would later regret and be ashamed of. This constitutes, of course, a supposition that whether we like it or not, they may drink, but it is not advice that anyone should do any drinking.


Are you ever going to continue your autobiography which ended with your husband's election in 1932?

My autobiography ended with Governor Smith's first campaign for nomination for the presidency, in 1924. I fully intend to go on with my autobiography when I can find the time, but I would not want to have it published for some years to come.


As the world's most famous hostess, what qualities in a guest do you consider least enjoyable?



Sociologists estimate that 38 per cent of war marriages will end in divorce. In your opinion, is a wife's infidelity sufficient cause for divorce?

No woman's opinion is worth anything on this subject, as it is a man's decision. I have known very few men who did not consider that a wife's infidelity meant that she no longer cared for him, and certainly if two people no longer love each other that is sufficient cause for divorce.


What about the war widows who can't work because they have small children and no family to fall back on? Don't we owe them as much as we owe returning servicemen?

War widows are looked after under our insurance plans, and there has always been in this country a deep sense of obligation to both the widows and the children of veterans. I hope there will be as much concern about this in this war as there has been in the past.


In your opinion, how can a woman exert the most intelligent influence in politics: through her husband, as you have done; or by running for office on her own? Would you have run for office if your husband had not needed your help in the way you have given it?

It seems to me entirely a personal decision. Many women would find it almost impossible to run for office, and in that case they can best exercise their influence either through their personal contacts or in any other way that they can express themselves. If, however, it is possible for a woman to run for office and fill whatever other obligations she has, I think that is a part of her obligation as a citizen, just as it is with men. I would probably never have run for office because I would not have felt that I had the proper qualifications.


I love and admire my wife, but there is one subject on which we can never agree. She thinks I should help with the dishes. Do you think this is a husband's work?

I think anything connected with the home is as much the husband's work as the wife's. This silly idea that there is a division in housework seems to me foolish, when very often the wife earns money outside the home as well as the husband. Certainly if there are children, the wife has two jobs—the one of being a mother and the other of being a wife. The kind of man who thinks that helping with the dishes is beneath him will also think that helping with the baby is beneath him, and then he certainly is not going to be a very successful father.


Do you believe in giving young couples an allowance so that they don't have to wait too long to be married?

I certainly do if it can be done without hardship for the parents. Society is so constituted that the earning capacity begins very often at a late period, particularly where a certain amount of specialized education is necessary. To expect young people to refrain from marriage on that account often leads to great difficulties and some bitterness toward the family. Naturally, where the family is not in a position to do this, there is no such feeling, because young people know that there is need at home and no spare money to give them. Very often, in that case, the young man will go to work earlier than he would if he had different opportunities.


Refugee children who have returned to England from the United States are three years behind in some school subjects, such as math and French. Do you think that we perhaps "baby" our children too long, in not making full use of their capabilities?

No, I think our education is simply planned in different ways. We lay more stress on certain subjects and less on others, and perhaps we think that education includes some activities which are not strictly academic and therefore have a smaller place in education abroad. On the whole, the finished products seem to me quite satisfactory.


It seems to me that there is a very fine line between what is called tactfulness and what is out-and-out deceit. How do you distinguish between them?

I suppose what you mean is that if one refrains from saying things sometimes it is almost tantamount to allowing people to form an erroneous impression. I think there are times when it is necessary to state one's opinions and then tact has to be laid aside, but there are many occasions when it does no harm to be silent, and perhaps avoid a disagreeable situation. If directly asked a question I would think it was deceit not to tell the truth.


Is it true that a high-school senior of eighteen will not be allowed to finish high school before he is drafted?

According to an amendment to the Selective Service Act, any person eighteen or nineteen years of age who, while pursuing a course of instruction at a high school or similar institution of learning, is ordered to report for induction under this act during the last half of one of his academic years, such school or institution shall upon his request have his induction under this act postponed until the end of such academic year without regard to the date on which such academic year ends unless he ceases to pursue such course of instruction. The induction of any such person shall not be postponed under this subsection beyond a date which would constitute the end of his academic year if he continues to pursue such a course of instruction.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, January 1945

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

Ladies' Home Journal, volume 62, January 1945

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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