If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

February 1948


Would you tell me what books and authors your illustrious husband most frequently mentioned as having influenced his vision and action?

I am afraid he never mentioned books in this connection. He always talked of Mahan's Naval History as having been one of the books which he found most illuminating when he read it. He liked historical biographies primarily, and read very widely.

He had a very catholic interest in many subjects, and of course read a great deal of history, though I do not remember hearing him say at any time that particular writings or particular books had influenced his point of view. I should say that Woodrow Wilson had a great influence upon him, and Theodore Roosevelt, partly in their writings and much as individuals. My husband frequently talked about them, but not as inspirations.


I am program leader in the women's society of our church. We have read in the papers recently of billions of dollars in food and other supplies found in the storage houses of Greece withheld from the needy while thousands of children have died from malnutrition. What, if anything, can American churchwomen do (other than writing our congressmen) to see that the food sent to the war-torn countries reaches those for whom it is intended?

As to the first part of your statement, I made inquiries to try to find out as nearly as possible what the truth might be. I find that the supplies referred to were, in all probability, UNRRA material, and I am told that officials of this Government were aware, before the arrival in Greece of the American Mission for Aid to Greece, of the existence on the docks and in warehouses of a certain amount of equipment and supplies from UNRRA, consisting mainly of machinery and heavy equipment and also including such items as medical supplies.

The Greek government had no means of transporting machinery and equipment, and lacked the funds to furnish its use in an improvement program for transportation and distribution for use in public works, and so on. This situation was, of course, an important factor in restricting the transportation to vital areas. In some instances machinery could not be used because of the lack of essential parts. However, plans are now being formulated by officials and members of the American Mission for the effective use of material in the reorganization of Greek economy. The U. S. Mission is to assist the Greek government to use effectively the medical supplies and other goods.

I had also heard that food had not been equally distributed and that little or none had reached the outlying areas, partly because of the fact that transportation was not available and partly because there was no real desire on the part of the Greek government to feed the population which might be opposed to them. I wish all Americans, men and women alike, would not only write to their congressmen but would see that the President and the Secretary of State are aware of their concern that people should be given food and medical supplies on a basis of need.


The United World Federalists are trying to get Congress to have our representatives in the United Nations introduce a proposal to call a convention to amend the United Nations Charter and make the United Nations into a federal world government with limited powers adequate to prevent war. What is your stand with regard to the formation of a world government of this type?

I think we had better work within the United Nations and, through working, discover what is successful and what is not, and make the corrections that are needed in the Charter or in the rules of procedure, according to our practical experience. We may come in time to a world government, but we are not yet prepared for it and too much haste would, I think, be extremely harmful.


I need to discipline my speech and don't know exactly how to go about it. I often say something quite innocently that offends the person with whom I am talking. For instance, I mentioned someone's being fat to a fat lady. My face was as red as hers when I realized what I had done. I am thirty-nine years old and feel that I should have been able to overcome this fault long ago. What would you suggest?

I haven't any idea, my dear lady. Many of us say thoughtless things, but if they are not meant unkindly they will not be taken seriously by those to whom they are said. I think the only thing you can do is to practice thoughtfulness, and then perhaps you will speak more slowly and think first. As a matter of fact, it is really impossible never to say things which come naturally into the conversation, even if they do seem to allude to some individual in the group.

How can the average American woman be expected to believe that women of European countries, such as France, have little or no clothing when Paris designers decree that dresses must be far longer and far fuller? This also means far, far more expensive. An average woman who tries to keep up with the styles this year is not going to have much money left for relief drives. In your opinion, what is an ordinary woman to do?

The ordinary woman, in my opinion, should have common sense. If she likes a new style and can afford to have it, she should indulge herself in it. If she cannot afford it, or does not like it, then she should not. Being a slave to style has always seemed to me quite idiotic, though I think it is fun for young people who have the time and money to think more about clothes and looks than do the older women.

As a matter of fact, I think you will find the women of France are indulging very little in the new designs from the big dressmakers who send their designs over here. Most of the Frenchwomen, and I have known many of them, use little dressmakers and great economy and still manage to look smart and never extreme. It is only those who make it a habit to be fashionable and get themselves mentioned in the papers who really wear the latest French styles.


Why should a citizen of this country who is a member of the Communist Party claim, because of free speech, more power to work against his country than if he were a communist living in Russia?

I do not think that a communist living in this country has any more opportunity to work against our Government than the rest of us have to work for it. We can talk just as well as a communist can talk, and if we let him get away with talking more, we are to blame. A communist living in Russia is, of course, more effective because he talks about something which everyone around him knows exists and believes in. A communist talking in this country is talking to a receptive audience only when we have failed to make democracy work. I believe in free speech, and I am not really afraid that our people cannot be trusted to see the disadvantages of communism as long as we perfect the democratic processes at home.


My husband and I had words over putting flowers on his first wife's grave on her birthday, Memorial Day and Christmas Day. I don't think it necessary after we have been married two years and she has been gone four years. What is your opinion?

My opinion is that you would do well to read Maeterlinck's Blue Bird and then perhaps instead of being resentful about your husband's first wife, you would be the one to remind him. After all, if you love him you will be glad that he had happiness with his former wife; and you will not want him to forget her, because in remembering her he is paying you a very high tribute. You have given him a new happiness and will build your life with him so that in the future whichever one of you is left alone for a time on earth will have happy memories, which will make you want to do the little outward things, such as placing flowers on a grave, just as a sign that there is something that lives on in human relationships and that cannot be wiped out by death.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, February 1948

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

Ladies' Home Journal, volume 65, February 1948

Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project

Digital edition published 2014, 2016 by
The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project
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