If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

August 1945


I have often wondered if you were born with the talent for giving the soft answer, honest and sincere, to some of the viciously rude questions that have been asked of you, or if you acquired this great art. Won't you please tell how you accomplished it?

I do not think that one could say that one was born with an attitude. Of course one acquires certain attitudes through the years. Living in the public eye accustoms one to accept criticism. One learns gradually to take it objectively and to try to think of it as directed at somebody else and evaluate whether it is just or unjust.

Perhaps the most truthful answer would be that one ceases to be really hurt by what people think and say unless one knows, respects and has an affection for the critic. Then, if the criticism brings one the realization that one has actually been at fault, it is helpful. Otherwise, one is so accustomed to public criticism made by many people who have no knowledge and no real desire to be fair, that one becomes fairly indifferent; and even when one recognizes that the criticism has some validity, if the critic is unknown and therefore lacks knowledge, one takes it as though it were directed at someone else—and it is always easy to be reasonable about criticism which concerns other people!


Why is it that only Army men are included in the point system for discharge? Although I realize that the Navy still needs a great number of men, I should think that in fairness to all the services this system should not be restricted to just one group.

I saw in the paper the other day that the Navy Department had now decided to work out a system whereby the men would get shore duty according to the time aboard ship and overseas, but the plan is not yet in final form.


Why hasn't a smaller-denomination bond been issued? I mean a $10 bond at purchase price of $7.50 that would have the usual rate of interest. So many people buy gifts who would rather buy bonds, but few of us can afford to pay $18.75.

Many suggestions for the issuance of $10-denominational bonds at $7.50 purchase price have been presented to the United States Treasury. The Treasury feels that its facilities are taxed to the limit by the present issues, and they could not undertake to make available generally to the public bonds in the denomination of $10.

The cost of issuance, handling lost bonds and numerous other transactions and the ultimate redemption would be greatly out of proportion to the receipts from the sale. It is felt that the $25 bond is as low as the Treasury can safely go and be sure to meet the public demands.

Availability of the War Saving Stamps in denominations of 10 cents to $5 and the widespread pay-roll-savings plan which amount to partial-payment plans for bond purchases open to 27,000,000 workers would seem to cover adequately for the very small investors.


In your opinion, is voluntary childlessness a bar to successful marriage?

I think that very few marriages are entirely happy if people voluntarily give up having children. Children are both a joy and a responsibility. They bring both pleasure and sorrow into the lives of their parents, but they are a tangible expression of the real love that exists between man and wife; and if you could have children and deliberately avoided it, I think something would be missing in the marriage relationship between young people.


If you were a boy twelve years old and your parents wouldn't let you have a dog, what would you do?

I think I would do my best to persuade my parents that I was a responsible person who would take care of a dog if I were allowed to have one. Most parents object to a dog because they think their children will not take full responsibility, will forget to feed it and exercise it and the animal will become more of a burden on the grownups than on the boy. If you can persuade your parents that you can be completely trusted to care for a dog and will avoid allowing the dog to become a nuisance to them, I think they will be more inclined to let you have one.


Are there any American soldiers buried in Germany? I am thinking particularly of members of our Air Force who were lost over Germany before our Army entered that country.

The International Red Cross reports that 2162 American fliers are buried in Germany, as well as other military personnel.


Does your family go in for nicknames? Do they have one for you?

Yes, my family goes in for nicknames. Many of the children are rarely called by their real names, and I sometimes wonder if they know what their names really are! I do not think that anyone has a nickname for me today, but when I was young I did have a nickname which I really liked very much. As I grew up it became so inappropriate that I thoroughly disliked it, and I think only a very few people remember it now, except a few of my relatives and old schoolmates.


This is not written through curiosity, and I hope you will not take it in that manner. I have been wondering why you don't live in the Big House at Hyde Park. I understand that this property was not to be turned over to the Government until your death or the death of your children.

It was made possible by provisions in my husband's will for me or for any of the children to live in the Big House at any time on due notification to the Government, provided that we paid all expenses and taxes while we lived there.

My husband had told all of us, however, that he doubted very much whether we would feel we had a right to shut people out of the Big House who came as sight-seers. We would, therefore, have very little privacy, which would make it difficult to live there with comfort or pleasure.

It would be a very heavy expense and I do not feel that I could afford to live there. I certainly do not think any of our children could afford it either. If at any time they wish to, they can notify the Government and live there for either short or long periods, or they can do as I am doing, renounce now all rights in the property. I prefer a far simpler way of living, and since I am now alone, a small house is easier to run and gives me much less sense of loneliness.


One argument in favor of compulsory military training is that it would improve the health of our youth. Don't you think that when a boy is seventeen or eighteen, it's pretty late for improvement?

I think a great deal can be done for the health of boys at seventeen or eighteen, but I do not think that waiting until then to begin would be a satisfactory solution to the health situation among young people in this country. I think we have to begin and improve the care of our mothers and babies, and from then on the young people should have far better care than they now get during the school years, with special attention in their adolescent years.

This can be achieved only if citizens in every community become interested in how they can improve the health of the community, and back whatever Government plans seem to be working toward an improved situation.


What do you consider your greatest contribution to your husband as his wife?

I am afraid that that is something which I am entirely incapable of answering. I have never felt that in any relationships which had much depth, one could evaluate the contribution made by one or the other person. I am quite sure I could not say in many of my friendships, or even as regards my children, what is the contribution made on either side, so I certainly could not do so where my husband was concerned. I think only he could have answered this question.


We know it will be many, many months before our husbands come home from the South Pacific and other shores. Is it true that the Government is planning to send the wives of these men to them—overseas, I mean? Could we wives get up such a movement? If so, how would you suggest we begin?

At present the War Department policy prohibits such travel of civilians for the purpose of joining military personnel upon whom they depend. The only exception is the Caribbean area. The reasons for this are shortages of transportation, shortages of food and housing, as well as the unrest in these countries. When the decision has been made as to when civilians are permitted to travel, the information will be disseminated by the War Department.


Do you feel having an "only child" is unfair—to the child? If it were impossible to have more than one, would you advise the adoption of a sister or brother?

I think if it is possible to have more than one child, it is better for the child you have. So many things are learned naturally when children grow up together which have to be taught with considerable difficulty if a child lives largely with grownups. If, however, it is impossible to have a brother or a sister, the question of adoption is again something which no one can advise about. Each situation is different. No child should be adopted unless it can receive the same love and care as you give your own child. Only two people who have thought it over carefully can decide whether this would be the case or not.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, August 1945

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

Ladies' Home Journal, volume 62, August 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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