If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

September 1947

 

If, as James A. Farley says, you told him "Franklin finds it hard to relax with people who aren't his social equals," what did you mean by this statement?

Mr. Farley has a remarkable memory. I am quite sure the remark which he quotes, or which Mr. Trohan has put in quotes, could never have been made by me, since I never have had such thoughts. It never occurred to me that Mr. and Mrs. Farley felt themselves in any group different from that which we were in.

It is always possible that something you say may be misinterpreted, but that happens in the other person's mind and not in your own mind. I have always liked people, as did my husband, for what they were as individuals, and we enjoyed ourselves and relaxed with people of many and varied backgrounds. It is true, however, that if you have similar interests and beliefs, it may be easier to relax.

One can always take an interest in conversations on work where there is mutual interest and one can like people a great deal—in fact, have a real fondness for anyone, even though the contacts are entirely on the work level. That would not, of necessity, mean that you had as good a time of an evening or when you were talking on subjects which were unrelated to the particular working interest.

I am deeply grieved to find that Mr. Farley was not the person I thought him; or perhaps it would be better to say that I am grieved to find that Mr. Farley allowed himself to be made the kind of personality that Mr. Trohan, of the Chicago Tribune, would inevitably make him.

Unwittingly in some way I, who was responsible for purely society matters in the White House, seem to have hurt both Mr. and Mrs. Farley. For that I am genuinely sorry, but I feel I never treated them any differently from any other member of the Cabinet. From my point of view, being a member of the Cabinet meant that you carried heavy administrative burdens and were a part of the whole official family. The position would not have been yours unless you were looked upon as a man of parts. Mr. Farley failed to understand this. His tremendous emphasis on purely society questions during those years when the really important things were the new policies on social questions of the day shows that apparently Mr. Farley thought so little of those objectives that he did not even think them worth mentioning in these first articles.

I have always liked and admired Mr. Farley and his special gifts and capacities. I still hope that when Mr. Trohan is through creating the Jim Farley of these articles I can find again the real Jim Farley whom one could not help liking and admiring.

 

Is it true, as Ernie Pyle wrote, that you wear a hearing aid?

I wear a hearing aid on occasion. I should wear it much more often, but I am an impatient person and I haven't yet become accustomed to wearing it constantly.

 

Some friends of mine were discussing religion recently and one of them said that you are a Presbyterian. Another was sure you were a Baptist or Methodist. Which denomination do you belong to?

I was brought up an Episcopalian. I still go to the Episcopal Church because that was my husband's church, but I wish with all my heart that in the Protestant group we could have fewer denominations.

 

My daughter is a student in one of the local high schools. Before the Junior Prom this year a Negro student asked if she expected to attend. When she said "No," he told her he would like to take her if she would go with him. She thanked him, but told him she had made other plans for the evening. What would be your reaction to such a situation? Would you permit your daughter to attend a prom with a colored boy, or would you have felt, as I did, a little bit disconcerted at the idea of his even suggesting such a thing?

Your question is a difficult one to answer because there must be a background to it. If your daughter had known this young boy well, I do not think that it was in any way astonishing that he should ask her to go with him, because if they had been on a purely friendly acquaintanceship basis, there was no more reason why she should not go with him than with any one of the other boys whom she knew equally well.

What lies back of your feeling, of course, is the old fear of intermarriage between races. That is something I feel we have to deal with on an entirely different basis from mere friendly association. There may come a time when it will seem as natural to marry a man from any race, or any part of the world, as it will to marry your next-door neighbor. We haven't reached that time as yet, and there is still considerable feeling when people marry who have different religious backgrounds, and there is, of course, more feeling still about intermarriage between different races. So it seems to me that that question has to be dealt with individually, by families, by individuals and by society. At present intermarriage between races, and even between people of different religions, often brings reprisals from society and from families, which make for great unhappiness. Anyone undertaking such a marriage must have a full realization of what she is actually facing.

However, going to a prom is like any other casual thing which you do; and if we are not going to be able to have ordinary contacts with people who are citizens of our own country, how on earth can we expect that we will be able to have the same kind of contact with people who live in different parts of the world? I think we can have peace in our hearts and real friendship for people even though there may still be some fundamental reason why we would not marry. Therefore, if I were you I would not worry too much about the people with whom your daughter dances. I should hope that she could be unconsciously friendly with all her associates in school, and I would be rather proud that a boy of another race felt that he could ask your daughter to go to a prom—which shows, I think, that her attitude has been kind and mature.

 

Last summer I met a fellow whom I came to like a great deal. I went home at the end of the summer and we corresponded often. However, he keeps "forgetting" to write me. I wrote him last several months ago and haven't heard from him since. I swallowed my pride twice and wrote a second letter but just couldn't again. I am only 16, he is 19. What should I do?

If you are only 16, I think I would forget it. The boy evidently has and it will not be very hard for you.

 

I heard a prominent lawyer say that juvenile delinquency is no more prevalent today that it was in the ‘20's. Do you think this is so?

After every war there is always an upsurge of juvenile delinquency, and it is quite understandable. Those who were young, and not old enough to go to war, usually did not have as much discipline as they should have had, since their elders were away. Those who went to war and returned and are still young have had so much discipline that the return to civilian life is difficult. It always takes a certain amount of time to return to normal conditions, but this war was longer and more devastating and it will undoubtedly affect more young people adversely, and take longer to recover from it.

 

You have implied in your newspaper column that we should support a progressive in the next Presidential campaign. As you look at both major parties today, do you see any such person worthy of support? If a third party presented such a candidate, would you support him?

I think things need to be done so quickly today that it would be a great pity if a third party came into the field. It seems to me that we are facing a situation which a democracy must face sooner or later. The leadership must come from the people and they must see that they uphold the liberal things which the leaders do and even that they initiate them if they desire liberal government.

My own feeling is that there are more liberal people who are leaders in the Administration, and in the legislative branch of our Government, belonging to the Democratic Party. That being the case, I shall work in the Democratic Party. As Congress goes on its way, there have emerged a few liberal Republicans, but when you balance one party against the other, the balance is still in favor of the Democrats, and if the people make it clear that what they are looking for is a liberal Government, I think they can obtain it and that there is an opportunity, even in the South, to throw out the reactionary individuals and elect more liberal candidates.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, September 1947

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

Ladies' Home Journal, volume 64, September 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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