If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

May 1947


Do you think the number of children parents plan to have should be influenced by the family's income? After all, a man doesn't know how much he'll be making when his children reach college age, so how can he judge?

It probably isn't possible for a man to judge how much he will be making when his children reach college age, but if he goes along and has children reasonably spaced, he is apt to have a fairly good idea of how he is getting on in the world.


Don't you think if people learned to say "cancer" without shuddering or whispering, more victims would consult physicians when the first significant symptoms appear?

Yes, I think you are right, and I think the sooner we learn that cancer is curable if recognized in time, the greater the chances of curing and saving more people who suffer from this disease.


My daughter has been working for about a year—since her graduation from college—and receives a fairly good salary. However, we still buy her clothes and frequently give her money for "extras." We can afford to do this, and if we didn't she would have to give up some of her weekend trips and various activities that she enjoys. But I sometimes wonder whether we're really being fair to her. If she marries someone of moderate means—as she probably will—I'm not sure that she will be able to make the necessary adjustment easily. What do you think we should do?

I think when a girl or a boy is through with her or his education and starts out to earn a living, it is very salutary to have to live on a salary. In fact, if a child earning a living has to pay something for board and lodging at home, I think it will give him a better idea of what living costs amount to, and even if the parents take the money and put it into a fund for that child to have in the future, I think it is a good experience.


In our freshman year at high school we had a course given by a public-health nurse covering many phases of health, and also some sex education. We liked it because it was the most wholesome and natural approach and we could ask questions which we hesitate to discuss with our parents. But the course was so short! Why can't all high schools have a semester of this kind of instruction, just when girls need it most?

If such a course is well given, I think the kind of instruction that you seem to have had is well worth while; but if it cannot be given well at school, then I think the parents should manage to answer the questions and a child should not hesitate to ask whatever is on his or her mind. This is natural curiosity, and knowledge is necessary for safety.


Should an elderly woman with no means of livelihood have a sense of guilt at having to take charity from the county? True, I'm not physically fit to hold a job, and my three daughters have all they can do to keep their own families. But I can't help that feeling that if people knew (besides the bank and county employees) I just couldn't face them. Is it guilt or false pride? I earned my own way since I was 13 years old, married at 17, widowed at 36, and lost close to $20,000 in the depression years. Maybe it's that word "indigent" on the check. I don't know. What do you think?

I certainly do not think you should have any sense of guilt. In a few short years I hope Social Security will mean that everybody who has worked during the best years of their life will have sufficient to live on from the time they stop work. In the meantime, I wish that checks did not have to carry the word "indigent"; but just forget about it, and certainly do not feel any sense of shame or guilt.


In my state only 8 per cent of the feeble-minded are in institutions. Do you believe the remaining 92 per cent who are at large should be allowed to produce children three times as fast as normal citizens? Would it not be better to sterilize the mentally deficient and prevent children from being born to feeble-minded parents?

I have always felt that in some way the objectives you are suggesting should be achieved. Just how to do it is the difficulty, since some states do not have the proper legislation, and in other cases there are religious scruples to be encountered, but it seems quite terrible to allow the mentally unfit to continue to have children.


Which of the many honorable and enviable jobs you have undertaken do you enjoy the most?

I think I enjoy most my service on the United Nations, though while I am actually doing the work, I find the amount of time consumed going back and forth leaves me so little time for myself that I feel a little driven and sometimes a little resentful! Nevertheless, the work is very interesting and I feel that if we succeed, this small amount of sacrifice will mean nothing to any of us. Almost equally, however, though for different reasons, I enjoy writing, so I am a fortunate person.


I am a retired teacher, 70 years old, with a pension which would keep me in comparative comfort—one room in a residential hotel in the heart of the city. My children are married and the gulf between us is wide. We don't see eye to eye. I have no social life; was always too busy with my work and study to build one. Have very few friends and am no mixer. Homes for the aged require all our possessions. I cannot give them up, for I paid a high price for my independence. Now I wonder, is there any place for people like me? I am "not alone," I know that.

I think there are many people who are lonesome as they grow older, but I wonder if you could not do something to narrow the gulf between you and the younger generation. Usually we cannot see eye to eye because we grew up in different periods, and have different viewpoints, but we can listen understandingly to each other, and those of us who are older can provide patience and tolerance and interest for the young. When we get older we see more and more clearly that it is only through companionship with the young that we ourselves can stay young.


I am twenty-two and an unusually shy person. I am attractive enough and have nice clothes and I definitely am not conceited, but I don't seem to have nearly as many friends as those who are less fortunate than I. Please advise.

I really cannot advise you except to say that if you would stop worrying about yourself and think about others, and give them a good time, you probably would find yourself gathering more friends around you, and before you knew it you would have as many friends as you wanted.


Many things that were frowned upon by society in 1897 seem to be accepted by most people today. Do you think this is a sign of social advancement, or of moral regression?

It depends entirely on what those are. Some things that were frowned upon in 1897 can well be accepted today. Others we would be wise to continue to oppose.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, May 1947

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

Ladies' Home Journal, volume 64, May 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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