If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

December 1946


I guess you'll be rather surprised to hear from a boy, but I've got a problem. I am nineteen years old. My mother considers me a child and my father thinks I am as much of a man as he is. Isn't that a mess? I look at it this way. The Army thought I was old enough to go to war. Why am I a child at home? I went with a girl before I went overseas, and now I am starting out in a new and good job. I love her very much, and we would like to get married in a few months, but it would cause a complete eruption in my home. All I need is some way to make mother see the light and understand what I want to do.

Nineteen is rather young to get married, though I realize that having been in the war and overseas, you are probably mature for your years. That may not, however, be the case for the girl, and possibly your mother is not so much disturbed because she thinks you are a child, as because she feels that both of you, in the course of the next few years or so, may change, as so often happens, and then you might find you have made a mistake and were not as compatible as one should be in a life partnership. I think you have every right to demand that you be treated as a man at home, and be given freedom in every possible way; but if your mother asks you to wait a year, even though you are both anxious to get married and you have a good job, remember there are many years ahead of you. A man who marries, at twenty-one, a girl who is perhaps a year or two younger than himself still has a long period to enjoy the happiness which he has waited for. Of course I do not know what the special circumstances may be, and I am only giving you advice in a very general way, because in almost every case there are special reasons which might well change the point of view which a stranger like myself holds.


Do you approve of intermarriage of Negroes and whites?

At the present time I think that intermarriage between Negroes and whites may bring to both of the people involved great unhappiness, because of the social pattern in which we happen to live. If, of course, two people, with full realization of what they are facing, decide they still want to marry, that is their right and no one else can interfere, but it takes very strong characters to face the kind of situation in which they will find themselves in almost any part of the world. For those I love, I should dread the suffering which must almost certainly lie ahead.


As a nonveteran's family, we are not entitled to help of any kind in solving our housing problem, so far as I can ascertain. If I didn't have children, I wouldn't mind living in a tent, if it comes to that. However, if I didn't have two children, I would have the money to buy a house. We figure our two children have cost us at least $4500. Not realizing that the housing shortage was still with us, we started the third child that was to round out our family. Now we face having the house sold, or high rental which we cannot afford to pay. As a graduate chemist, my husband has not made a large salary. We are both college graduates. Is there any agency which helps out people like us? Do you think, lacking a home for my baby, I should give it up for adoption?

I certainly would not give my baby up for adoption. I am sure that you will find some answer to your problem. Nearly every city has established a housing agency which is trying to help people in your situation. Housing is being built by both Federal and state agencies, not only for veterans but also to increase low-cost accommodations.


Do you approve of playing cards for money, betting at races, gambling of any sort?

I was brought up to be opposed to all these things. I think now, however, that it is not the actual risking of a small sum of money which bothers me. I object to playing cards for money when the stakes are high enough so that anyone at the table could possibly be inconvenienced by whatever might be lost. I object to betting at races or gambling when people become so dependent on the excitement that they risk more than they can afford to lose. It isn't inherently wrong to spend small sums of money for pleasure, but anything which goes beyond that makes me very uncomfortable.


I am thirteen years of age and in junior high school. I like very much to go out and have fun with the girls, but my mother taught me it was wrong to yell on the street and call attention to myself and flirt and whistle at boys I don't know. The only girls my age that I would care to run around with do these things. How could I still be friends with them and go places with them and yet not be the fun killer?

I happen to have been brought up in an era which thought that whistling and flirting with boys on the street was not done. I am afraid, therefore that, like your mother, I would feel a little bit uncomfortable in doing it. If you like the girls and still find pleasure in their company, even though you cannot do the kind of things they do, I suppose it will not bother them very much whether you act as they do or not. I rather think, however, that you will soon find that you are bored with both the girls and the kind of boys they are "picking up." You may find other friends who are more congenial and who meet their friends in other ways.


In your opinion, what city in the United States has the most comfortable summer climate?

Good heavens! I haven't any idea, because what one person considers a comfortable summer climate somebody else would dislike extremely. I do not like cities in summer and much prefer the country, so I think everyone who possibly can be out of town should have no favorite summer city.


How do you "let off steam" when you are in a good healthy rage?

I cannot say that I ever really allow myself to be in a good healthy rage! If something annoys me very much my children tell me I become extremely quiet, and it used to be a byword in the family: "Look out, ma's very quiet." I think probably the life I have been obliged to lead has disciplined me more than is either wise or necessary for most people. Ordinarily I would say a good way to let off steam is to exercise hard.


I am a woman of thirty-five with a husband and three children. My problem is that my recently widowed mother feels that I am obligated to take her into our home now that she is alone. Financially, we are able to provide her with an apartment of her own, near enough to us for friendly visits, but enabling to us to keep our privacy as a family. Don't you think this is better than having three generations under one roof?

I have always believed that we older people are better off when we live alone, much as we long to have our children with us and much as we love them. We are usually not good for our children or for their children when we live with them. It was a very wise provision of nature's to give people their children to bring up while they are young. Older people can help from experience, but sometimes they have had too many experiences to make it wise for them always to be around the young.


Has the fact that you were born to wealth and have always enjoyed luxuries that are denied to many, through no fault of their own, ever bothered your conscience? Or do you feel justified in not sharing it?

I wonder what makes you feel I have always enjoyed luxuries. I have always had a home, but when I was young it was not my own and I had a great sense of obligation to my grandmother and aunts and uncles who took me in. I probably worried about money more than most youngsters because my grandmother never let me know whether I could have anything, and frequently I could not have the things I really wanted most. I have seen many youngsters in far poorer homes who had many more things than I had when I was young.

As to the last part of your question, I do not know what you call sharing. Everyone pays the Government a tax on income, and that is shared with people as a whole. As I have made more money my obligations have grown and all I have is "shared" with others, so I do not really think my conscience ever troubles me.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, December 1946

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

Ladies' Home Journal, volume 63, December 1946

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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