If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

July 1945


What is to become of our eighteen-year-old boys who have been drafted right out of high school and not allowed to graduate? My son has a year of high school unfinished and is very unhappy and worried about his chances of getting a job without even a high-school diploma.

I think the boys who haven't finished high school should, when they return, be given an opportunity not only to finish high school but to have further training they need to fit them for the work they wish to do.

It seems to me that we should organize special educational facilities for these returning boys so that they can do the necessary work more rapidly and be treated as the mature people they will be on their return.

It would be impossible to put them back in the classes with the regular students and have them get the kind of preparation that they will need. This should be planned for in every community, and where a community hasn't sufficient facilities, that community should at least find out where the facilities are available so they can send the boys there on their return.


Do you think a woman of forty-five is too old to start taking an active part in politics? I do not mean petty ward politics, but something that would be constructive.

Certainly not. Forty-five, from my point of view, is still young! At that age a woman is usually freer at home and can give more time to outside activities. She also has the benefit of more experience in living, and if she has been interested in public affairs she has probably gained a good background of knowledge about people and events at home and abroad. There are so few people who are really willing to take an active part in public affairs that I think a woman of forty-five will find herself welcomed with open arms. It is wise to start at the bottom and work up, as a knowledge of county and ward politics is very useful.


Do you feel that your husband would have been as truly great a man had he not been stricken, as he was, with infantile paralysis? Being physically handicapped myself, I am interested in learning whether you think an illness or infirmity can be instrumental in awakening powers that might otherwise have remained undeveloped.

I think it depends largely upon the individual's strength of character and ability to use to good advantage whatever happens to him in life. In the case of my husband, he accepted infantile paralysis as a challenge. I never but once heard him complain, and never did he take the attitude that he was going to be a useless member of society. With that as a beginning, I think that the years of discipline and suffering which he went through made him the great individual that he became, and that he understood human suffering and he knew it could be overcome. He also knew that one must have physical and spiritual courage; and, if one had that, there was no situation that could not be met.


Don't you think that people frequently use religion as an escape from something which they do not understand or will not accept? To me, the person who professes he is highly religious and attends church, but who leads a life entirely opposing these religious teachings, is far worse than the one who claims no religion.

I think everyone will agree with your statement. As to your question, I doubt very much whether anyone can long use religion as an escape. They may use it for a time to deceive themselves and others, but if they are really religious they are bound to find in their religion a challenge which has to be met in their daily lives. If it is just an assumed attitude, it will not serve you long, nor fool other people long. If you are truly religious, you must believe in certain things, and those beliefs have to be translated into action; and whether other people know it or not, you will soon be conscious of your own shortcomings and religion will cease to be an escape under those circumstances and become a constant prick to your conscience.


Since the Red Cross is producing such essential services for the armed forces, why must it depend on appeals to the public for funds instead of receiving part of the taxpayers' money as a legitimate call on Federal funds?

The Red Cross was established under Government aegis, of course, but as a voluntary organization. It has been the expression of the people's will to help in different types of situations for many years. I think a change to using money from tax funds and not make an appeal to the people would be extremely bad. What is taken out of our taxes we look upon as essential, but we can grouse about what we pay in taxes and every now and then investigate as to whether these moneys are being properly spent or not. We can investigate charitable institutions and should do so, but we cannot begrudge or complain about what we have given, and it would deprive us of something we hold very dear, I think, if we could not give to the activities undertaken by the Red Cross.


Do you think it is cruel to cut off parts of dogs' tails?

I have always been told that if you cut off the tail of a very young puppy, he did not feel it. Later on, I should think it was cruel. It has never seemed to me a very good idea, however, since it is purely a whim of certain breeders which makes people cut off dogs' tails and shape their ears.


Is gray hair a disadvantage to a woman and should she dye it?

In seeking a job, sometimes gray hair is a disadvantage, but no more of a disadvantage than the years which the gray hair denotes. I have always found that telling the truth about yourself and your age was a wise plan, and then if you get a job you would not have some hidden facts hanging over you which you dreaded having revealed.

As to dyeing one's hair—that is not crime. It is purely a matter of taste and convenience. I think it is the obligation of every woman to look as nice as she can no matter what her age, but some women look better as Nature made them, and some women think they can improve on Nature or give her a helping hand. It is one of those individual things which every woman has to decide for herself. As an individual, I prefer not to be bothered interfering with Nature, but Nature did not give me curly hair and I find my hair looks better and stays neater when I have it curled; so, as I said, your obligation is to look as well as you can, but you are the one to decide how you will do it.


What is a "Navy Divorce"? Why is it so easy for a serviceman to divorce a wife to whom he has been married for four years without the wife having any knowledge of it until after it has been made final?

There is no such thing as a "Navy divorce." The serviceman is governed by the same laws as anybody else in the matter of divorce. The laws vary in the different states, but a divorce has to be obtained through regular legal procedure and a wife has to be notified and a copy of the summary and complaint is mailed to her last-known address and she is given a stated time in which to file her answer. Where it is impossible to reach a defendant by mail, a notice is published in the newspaper. If no answer is received from the defendant within a stated time, the divorce proceedings may go on to conclusion.

If some state laws are deficient in not assuring the defendant of proper notice, that is the fault of the state.


On visiting several large department stores, I find shelves full of bath mats but no towels. We can do without bath mats, but towels and washcloths are a must. It is also almost impossible to buy sheets and pillowcases. What is the reason?

I think the reason that you can find bath mats but no towels is that many people have felt as you do, that they could do without bath mats but had to have towels, therefore towels have been bought and mats have been left on the shelves. There is a shortage of cotton goods for civilian use and only a certain amount of production is allowed, since the military needs have to be filled first.

Now that the war in Europe is over there will probably be an increase in some of the things which civilians can buy, but not immediately, because changing men from Europe to the Pacific will mean great changes in equipment and clothing, which will probably take for a time even more than is now being used of the production capacity.


Do you think girls between the ages of fifteen and seventeen should read best sellers such as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Forever Amber?

You are asking a very difficult question, because what a girl should read depends so much upon the girl and her family. I was brought up in an atmosphere of books, standard books and current books, and no book was forbidden me. Occasionally when I read something which was beyond my years and which I did not understand, I would ask questions of my elders, and if they found my questions embarrassing or did not wish to answer them, in a strange and mysterious way my book would be lost!

I never felt, however, that it did me any harm to have this freedom in my choice of reading. If I was too young to understand something, it went over my head and I remained completely innocent. If I did understand it, I was always free to discuss any questions that arose in my mind with my elders; and that, I think, is very valuable because it gives the elders a chance to guide the thinking of the youthful mind in these formative years.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, July 1945

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

Ladies' Home Journal, volume 62, July 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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