If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

February 1947


Lately, everyone seems to be criticizing women for bad manners. Do you think women have worse manners than men?

I have never tried to compare the two, but I should think, on the whole, that women have better manners than men because good manners arise from thoughtfulness for others. The very nature of their job in life makes women think about others around them more than men usually have to do.


During the war, everything possible was done by Government, labor and management to speed business and resident housing. Now, when the need is just as urgent, why can't the same team work be brought to bear on the desperate housing conditions?

It could, if people as a whole had been willing to stick to the same self-sacrifices they accepted during the war period. All of them wanted, however, to get back to normal conditions; businessmen wanted to do business as usual­—they did not want to think about housing when they wanted to increase their business opportunities. People who had lived in small houses wanted bigger ones and they wanted them immediately. People who wanted to start small, new businesses did not want to wait for materials while necessary low-cost houses were being built.

Low-cost housing does not bring in as high profits and people are not anxious to go into this field, so a man who had his heart in it, like Mr. Wilson Wyatt, resigned because he could not even get the other people in the Government to cooperate with him, and we find ourselves the victims of a perfectly normal but selfish side of human nature.


We have to hide some the magazines form our adolescent children because of the references to liquor. What can we do about it?

I cannot imagine why you should hide magazines from you adolescent children because they have references to liquor. Do you think your children can live in this world and not know that liquor exists, or that the use of it is condemned when it is used to excess, but that it is a commodity on the market? I am afraid our adolescent children are not dependent for their information on the magazines which they find in their own homes, and the effort to hide them will be of little use. I should be inclined to tell them whatever you want them to know. They have to live in this world, so you have to trust them in the end.


Do you not think that rheumatic fever warrants a campaign such as the one for the March of Dimes? Is there anything that we or you could do to start such a campaign?

I do think rheumatic fever does warrant a campaign such as the one for the March of Dimes. There is nothing, however, that I could possibly do to start such a campaign. It could, of course, be started by any organization that had the machinery and interest to do so.


Many people have favorite proverbs, the philosophy of which they try to live, such as "Do unto others. . . ." What is yours?

I am afraid I haven't got one. I was brought up by my grandmother with constant admonitions and allusions to the old proverbs, and the one I remember well is "A stitch in time saves nine," but I cannot say that it was a favorite. "People who live in glass houses should not throw stones" was another one I heard frequently.


With national and world affairs being what they are today, I would like to make my opinions count. Is there any way other than writing to my congressman in which to do this?

Yes, the most potent way is talking to your neighbors and friends, and creating public opinion. Whether we live in a large or a small city, or in a village, it is what we and our neighbors think which really influences our representatives in the states and in the nation.


Will you perhaps suggest a half dozen or so books that you might call required reading on the American scene for those like myself who have come to this country as the wives of American servicemen? I came here from a small village in England and there is much I have to learn of this country I now call "home."

If you can get Dorothy Canfield's Hillsboro People and Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome, you will get a fair picture of New England. Carl Carmer's books will give you the background of New York State. To get the foundations of the wild and woolly west, you might read Bret Harte's The Luck of Roaring Camp. There are many charming stories of the South, but Gone With the Wind will give you a picture of the Civil War and its aftermath. If you will read Whittier's poems, and Walt Whitman's, and in addition some of the biographies of people like Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln by Carl Sandberg, you will get the flavor of the men whose ideals have built this country.


Would you please tell me what you think of the opening of radio programs for atheist propaganda?

I do not know what you mean, since I have never heard a radio program which touched on the subject. We all know that there are people who hold atheist theories, but it just happens I have never heard them on the radio. I cannot imagine how a program for this purpose which would create much public interest could be organized.


I am a girl, fifteen years of age, and in my sophomore year in high school. I'm invited to go to the movies and parties with boys who drive their own cars. My mother does not approve and I, having read your column, suggested writing to you. She agreed and we both will abide by your decisions.

I am rather an old lady to advise on this question, but I think my daughter felt the way your mother does, and I do not think she allowed her daughter, when she was fifteen, to go to movies and parties where boys who were not much older did the driving of the car. I think she felt that a little later on there would be more judgment which could not be expected at your age. In some states, boys are not allowed to drive until they reach eighteen, and then they cannot have a full license, except under certain conditions. That is because, in the nature of things, young people have less experience and less judgment. Put that down as one the advantages that come with age!


How can the ordinary layman exert influence so that the democratic ideal may be substituted for the Nazi gods—so that the spiritual vacuum about which I. A. R. Wylie writes may be filled with goals of value as we who believe in democracy see it?

I imagine we will have to get over our complacency and stop thinking that democracy is something which we have achieved and therefore we no longer have to work for it. We are still living a crusade, but the spirit of the crusade has gone out of us. We have become satisfied before we have achieved our goal. Our largest minority in this country, 13,000,000 people or more, can say quite truthfully that in more than a hundred and fifty year they have attained no democracy. To have attained political democracy without having attained spiritual or economic democracy is not the achievement of the goal for which our forefathers worked and hoped. Unless we carry on our crusade in the spirit of the early days of the founding of our country, we cannot expect to fill a spiritual vacuum, nor to prevent the economic chaos which threatens us at the present time.


To some people, love is near-passion; to some, a quiet understanding; to others, a more complex concoction. Will you give me a definition with your own list of ingredients?

Love can have all the things you mention and a good many more. One could write books on the subject, but I think it is perhaps easier to read those already written. Certainly there is no lack of definitions far better than I could give. Why not start off with the Sonnets from the Portuguese, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and then go on through almost all the poets? You will find that from the earliest days down to the present, love has been an unending theme.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, February 1947

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

Ladies' Home Journal, volume 64, February 1947

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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