If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

March 1948


In the United Nations meetings, how do our representatives, such as yourself, decide how they will vote on matters? There is no way to find out what the majority of people want, so I wonder what means you use to make your decisions.

In the first place, the subjects under discussion are usually well known beforehand, because in the commissions an agenda is prepared by the secretariat in plenty of time to give our State Department and members of the commissions an opportunity to study it. The State Department, with the aid of the interdepartmental committee, canvasses the whole question; and on some specific subjects, such as Human Rights, the commission of which I am chairman, a meeting was called with the representatives of most of the organizations interested in this field and a discussion was held for a whole day. These representatives went back for further discussion with their respective organizations and then reported to the State Department the opinions held in each group. These opinions are all taken into consideration in framing the State Department's position.

Of course, any position taken by the State Department is the United States' position only, and the representatives of the United States then must take into consideration the positions taken by all the other nations represented.

In the General Assembly Committee all fifty-seven nations have representatives present, but on the commissions and councils, and so on, there are a smaller number, usually eighteen or less.

If we find that the position taken by the State Department, even though it is one which represents as wide a coverage of public opinion as they were able to reach, is not in accord with that of a majority of other nations, we may have to modify our position. There is much discussion, of course, about the things that cannot be modified because they represent principles held by the United States, traditional positions which have been felt important for a long time in this country. On the other hand, we have to bear in mind that co-operation means not being hidebound in adhering to our own point of view. We try to accept whatever is the opinion of the majority of the group that we are working in, if in the main it seems to cover the ideas held by the people of the United States as far as the State Department, and we ourselves, have been able to gauge through contact with organizations, the press and any private sources of information or contact that any of us may have.

The State Department, through the committee of representatives of organizations which it has established, and through its interdepartmental committee in which all questions touching the interests of different departments are carefully canvassed and discussed, really makes a great effort to bring both the experts on particular subjects and the general public into consultation. A representative of the Government on any commission or in the General Assembly is kept in very close touch at all times with whatever is being done and with the general thinking developed along the lines of its specific activities and responsibilities.


My home-economics class would like to know the order of serving at a formal dinner at which the President of the United States and his wife are guests of honor. Which should be served first?

The President and his wife very rarely go out to dinner while they are in the White House. There used to be a custom that every cabinet member gave a dinner every year for the President and his wife, but during my husband's terms of office he was too busy and this was changed and the cabinet gave a combined dinner once a year.

It is usually the custom for service to be started first with the President, but almost simultaneously with his wife. In the White House when guests from some other land are being entertained, the President and his most important guest are served simultaneously. When the President is in a foreign land, of course, the customs of that country are observed, though out of courtesy an effort is made to meet whatever are the customs of our country where it may add to the President's comfort.


I have a daughter sixteen years old. She is neat, nice-looking and quite active in high school, where she is in her last year. Her girl friends have dates for week ends and she stays home. She dresses well and makes a good appearance. Can you explain to me what is wrong? She doesn't complain, but I know she is not happy.

I am afraid without knowing a great deal more about your daughter and your home, it is difficult to give any explanation. I wonder if perhaps there is not something which prevents her from freely asking her friends into her own home. If she does that, the dates will follow automatically, I think; but it is imperative that she feel free to invite young people and that when they come they feel comfortable and welcome.


Is there anything an average American citizen can do about the report of the President's Committee on Civil Rights?

Yes. See that your representatives in Congress are in favor of pushing for the recognition and establishment of the recommendations made by that committee, and in addition see to it that your own community lives up to those recommendations, and live up to them in your own life. That is the best way to make that committee's recommendations become a reality in our nation.


I am sending my question from Formosa. I know Mr. Roosevelt was a famous collector of postage stamps. Please tell me where the collection is at present.

My husband's collection of postage stamps was part of his residuary estate and the trustees were directed to dispose of it in any way they saw fit. They sold it at auction and I imagine a great many different people own portions of that collection.


What, in your opinion, will happen to the financial structure of this country if we continue aiding the European countries, who, for the most part, have already taken all but a few remaining steps to communism? Nobody in Washington seems to consider the eventual end to our continually mounting Federal deficit.

There are a great many countries in Europe who have not taken any steps toward communism. Socialism is not communism—in fact, it is very far from it—and if you consider the present government in Great Britain, for instance, is on its way to communism, I think you would find that the British people would vehemently deny your conclusion.

The real value of aid to existing democracies is that they must get on their feet, since chaos and despair are the way to force acceptance of economic communism. If democracies do not make a comeback in the economic field, we will find ourselves facing a constantly increasing area of communism in the world.

I wonder if you have given much thought to what that would mean to our economy. Our only hope of preserving for our people their present standard of living lies in bringing the countries of Western Europe back to economic stability in order that they may be politically stable as well. In Eastern Europe, communism is the answer they have chosen—and perhaps it is the only possible answer to their economic plight—but with our aid it should not be forced on those who have known other standards.

People in Washington are considering very carefully the mounting Federal deficit, but have you considered what would happen if you faced a completely communist Europe? This mounting Federal deficit, as it looks today, would look like a golden age to us.

Incidentally, it would be well for a great many people to realize that even the states which have accepted communism have done so in large part because their economy had reached a point where there seemed to be no other economic solution. I believe, of course, that aid for rehabilitation should go even to the communist countries, since with a better standard of living there is bound to be more insistence on individual rights.


I realize that no person who has accomplished as much for the good of our nation as you have could help but step on a few toes. This is where the malicious rumor I am constantly hearing must have had its origin. It is generally believed in this part of the country that you are part Negro and that is why you are taking up for them. Could you manage to let them know the truth?

Anyone who cares to look into the genealogy of the Roosevelts—and I happen to be descended from the Theodore Roosevelt side of the family—can also look into the collateral branches and can find the answer to your question. As far as I know, I have no Negro blood; but I suppose if any of us could trace our ancestry back far enough we would find that in the tribes from which we are all originally descended, all kinds of blood is mixed. It always seems quite foolish to me to begin to wonder what strains you might have beyond those you actually know about!

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About this document

If You Ask Me, March 1948

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

Ladies' Home Journal, volume 65, March 1948

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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