If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

October 1947


Is it true, as Senator McCarthy, of Wisconsin, is quoted as saying, that "for over a year, the United States and Russia have been at war"?

No. I should not say that it was true. Technically, at present, the world is at peace, but in many parts of the world there are misunderstandings and bloodshed between peoples. Tensions between ourselves and the U.S.S.R. have grown decidedly greater in the last few months; and in a sense, of course, the whole world is at war, not just the U.S.S.R. and the United States. A great many people have definite aims and objectives. The line between the East and the West, however, is being rather clearly drawn at present. The misunderstandings which might lead to war are certainly not any less than they were a few months ago, and probably the strain grows greater.

It does no good, however, to make statements such as Senator McCarthy is quoted as having made. We should really try to understand what brings about misunderstandings, and where there is something that can be done to clear them up, we should try to do it.

With the U.S.S.R., it is difficult because there are fundamental differences that go back many years, but it is worth making every effort to learn to live together, since another war is unthinkable.


Why wouldn't a national sweepstakes lottery, for the purpose of eliminating the national debt incurred during the war, be a good idea? I understand that other countries have them.

There has always been a great feeling in this country against a national lottery. Not only religious groups, but other groups as well, have been opposed to encouraging gambling, so I think it would not be possible to have one in this country.


Why didn't President Roosevelt buy any War Savings Bonds?

He did, but he bought them for our children and grandchildren and gave them to them immediately. My understanding is that he bought to the limit on each issue.

There is a story, unfortunately widely current, that President Roosevelt's coffin was opened before burial to one person only—Mr. Molotov. I have tried to refute this story, but I am now asking you to tell me whether it is true or not true.

These rumors always seem strange to me. My husband and I had talked on various occasions of our dislike for the usual lying-in-state which public servants usually were subjected to, and it was his wish that the coffin be closed soon as possible. It was left open after we reached the White House long enough for me to go and place a few flowers where I wished them to be. The ushers and the people who had duties to perform were the only ones who saw the coffin open, as our children who were at home at the time preferred to remember their father as they had known him.

This story of Mr. Molotov's having seen the coffin open is utterly ridiculous. I do not even remember whether Mr. Molotov was in this country. He may have been, but as far as I am concerned, I have no idea who among the diplomats attended the funeral services, and certainly no one of them saw the coffin open.


Do you believe that a woman can live a normal and adjusted life without marriage?

I have known many women who for one reason or another have not married and who seemed, as far as I was able to tell, to be normal and well adjusted to life. I think, however, it is preferable for women to be married, since that is a normal experience.


Are former Presidents and their wives asked back to the White House on state occasions or are they dropped like hot potatoes?

I think there is a custom which dictates the occasions on which former Presidents and their wives are formally invited to the White House. They do not automatically attend every function, because it is very difficult for the White House to accommodate all the people who have to be invited during the social season. On an informal basis there are, of course, frequent occasions when a President may want to talk to or see a former President, or when he and his wife may be invited in an entirely informal way if a personal relationship exists between them, but that is an entirely personal thing.

I will tell you a secret: by the time you have been in the White House for one term or more, formal functions become something you go through frequently with more of a sense of duty than a pleasure. You are glad to see people, but seeing them in that formal way is not very satisfactory and it is very tiring, so I doubt if Chief Executives or their wives pine to return to the White House for formal functions.


What do you think is the reason so many European visitors get the impression that American women are not only bossy but do not even like men?

I did not know that this was an impression that many Europeans carried away with them after visiting this country, but it is a fact that American women cater less to their men than do the foreign women. I think there is a more real equality here. Occasionally we find a spoiled woman among us, but that balances itself out, for occasionally we find a spoiled man. The kind of playing up to the men which is prevalent abroad, very largely because women are in the majority and men in the minority, is not yet known in this country.


Don't you think that both education and racial discrimination could be helped by taking public education away from the states altogether and bringing it under the control of the Federal Government, so that it could be the same all over the country?

I think it would be a pity to take education away from the states. I believe in Federal aid to the states and in equalizing the opportunity for all children as quickly as it can be done, but the smaller unit is important, since it knows more about the teachers and children within the state than the National Government. The National Government may well set standards below which no state must fall. For instance, a certain number of school weeks in a year, a certain rate of pay for teachers, a certain standard of education where teachers are concerned, and so on; but to turn the entire control over to the Federal Government would, I think, not be an improvement.


Religion teaches us to live by the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule. Yet this is impossible—and impractical if you have to work for a living. Don't you think we are kidding ourselves when we say we do live by them? Wouldn't it be more honest and better for us and the people with whom we come into contact if we worked out an ethical code which it would be possible to attain?

It is a very sad commentary on our society that many people would say as you do, that they cannot earn a living and really live with their neighbors according to the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments. I have heard it many times, and recognize the fact that in order to keep a job you will sometimes have to make compromises. Make them as little as you can, and in your own life try to live in the way that you really feel you want to live. It will change even the business conditions under which you struggle at present. No ethical code will meet the situation any better than the old religious code. It is simply that not enough people have come together with the firm determination to really live the things which they say they believe.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, October 1947

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

Ladies' Home Journal, volume 64, October 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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