If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

December 1947


I was shocked to hear George H. Earle quoted as saying that he was proud to be called a warmonger if it meant dropping bombs on Russia. This is a free country, but shouldn't it be a criminal offense to make statements like that?

Mr. George Earle's remark is one of which I think every American is ashamed. Nevertheless, we prize our freedom very highly in this country and I would dislike turning our country into a police state. I feel sure that most of our people can stand up under the impact of such silly and wicked remarks as Mr. Earle's and realize that when a man makes such statements and believes them, he is not worth listening to.


Will you please explain where religion enters into Communism? Or are Communists atheists?

I have no idea whether Communists are atheists, but I do remember at one time they did not permit the practice of religion in Russia, largely, I think, because the Orthodox Church had allowed certain abuses to grow up which caused resentment. Now, however, I understand that they allow freedom of worship to all people. For a time the devotion to Communism as a way of life, and also as a political belief, was a substitute in the minds of the people for religion, just as in Hitler's Germany he established a state religion.


Our discussion group of young married people reviewed the news account of your effort to have Hanns Eisler admitted to the United States. Several believe the request for assistance came from a source unknown to you personally, and in an attempt to be helpful you addressed a note to Mr. Sumner Welles. Another group believed you knew of Hanns Eisler's membership in the Communist Party but do not regard the influx of Communists into our country with the same alarm that others of us do. Still others believe that you knew Hanns Eisler's past in Germany, but for a reason obscure to your reading public, wrote the letter to Mr. Welles believing the New Deal Administration so strongly entrenched that this letter would never come to light. Which of these opinions is the truth?

If you read my letter to Mr. Sumner Welles which was published in the New York papers, you will realize that all I asked was that Mr. Eisler's case be reviewed. A number of papers had been brought to me by a man whom I knew slightly, but I also knew that several other people, such as Miss Dorothy Thompson and Mr. Alvin Johnson, were interested in Mr. Eisler. I had never heard of him before that, and naturally I did not know that he was supposed to be connected with the Communist Party. In any case, at that time one was more concerned as to whether Germans were connected with the Nazi Party, and I was assured that he was not.

While I was in Washington I passed on hundreds of requests to different departments of the Government. Their files are probably filled with memos of different types. I never asked that anything specific be done, but always asked that situations be investigated or people be given a proper hearing.

I never dreamed at the time that any of the letters or memos had the slightest importance, and even after the Dies Committee began to function, it never occurred to me that there was anything to hide in these communications; but it is apparent now that under the Dies Committee and its successor, the Un-American Affairs Committee, we are becoming somewhat inclined to the pattern of communistic and fascist states. Gestapo methods are making many people fearful. That I have never been and hope I never will be.


I wonder how many other people are as confused as myself. What I wish to know is: For what does the Democratic Party stand; also the Republican? Will you state the essential differences between these parties?

Traditionally, the Democratic Party has stood as the liberal party and the Republican as the more conservative party, but in both parties nowadays there are conservatives and liberals, and many people feel there is no longer a clear-cut line of policies between them.

However, I should say that it was fairly well established that while there is a conservative group within the Democratic Party, it is not so closely allied to the great moneyed interests of the country, and one of the great difference between the two parties is that the Republican Party traditionally has been very closely tied to the powerful moneyed interests of this country as well as other countries, and is so well disciplined that there is little appeal from party decisions.


Please explain to me why it is so terrible to write a letter to a person and not sign your name. Sometimes we wish people to know something, and what is the difference who tells them, and why do they have to know from whom it comes?

When you want to tell someone something you should be willing to stand by what you have written and to sign your name to it. No one who hasn't the courage to be identified with what he writes should indulge himself in writing. Very few people pay any attention to anonymous letters, and no one has much respect for those who write them.


We have been having an argument over what age is called middle age and what is old age. I would very much like your opinion.

Age is a matter of the mind as well as of the body. I have known people old in years who were yet young in their outlook on life and in some ways managed even to keep their bodies young by their mental processes.

Ordinarily, old age is supposed to begin at sixty. After that you are more or less living on borrowed time, and after seventy most people count each year as an unusual gift.


I have been married for almost a year, and during that time have known very great happiness. I love my husband dearly, and have every reason to believe he feels the same way about me. I think he is a model husband—kind, considerate and loving. There is only one area of our lives where we have ever had any disagreement or unpleasantness. Even before our marriage, my mother-in-law and I came into a conflict of minds which has not improved with time. Although I am not happy about this lack of friendliness between us, it is my husband's attitude which makes me most unhappy. In every disagreement between his mother and myself I have never known him to defend me, my ideas, actions or points of view. Rather, he nullifies every effort of mine to explain my point of view by an effort at nonchalance and an apologetic attempt to soothe his mother's ruffled feelings. I cannot understand why he should refuse to defend me even when I am right, nor why he is emotionally tied to his mother, unless it is a subconscious feeling of obligation. She is both poor and a widow. What would you advise me to do about this situation?

I would advise you to try to refrain from putting your husband in a position where he has to take sides between you and his mother. It is hard for a man to side against his mother even if he feels his wife is right, and I think you will find that if you just keep quiet, he will gradually come to take up the cudgels in your behalf. Of course, if your mother-in-law lives with you, I realize that that is an extremely difficult situation because the rubs and disagreements must be very constant. If it is possible it would be better if you could at least live in separate quarters. I think you would find it easier to get along.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, December 1947

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Ladies' Home Journal, volume 64, December 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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