If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

May 1948


Last evening while conversing with some young women I have known for years, the subject of racial equality came up. To my dismay, several girls whom I had always considered fair and unprejudiced made such remarks as: "I don't believe in equal rights for colored and white people." Similar remarks were made regarding Jewish people. Will you kindly tell me how one goes about calmly trying to convince people who consider themselves "nice people" but harbor within their minds such prejudices? Every one of these girls is a member of some church in our community.

I would suggest that the girls you mention be given a copy of In Henry's Back-yard to read as a starter.

Sometimes I think we are a little too calm when we run up against this type of prejudice. However, the best thing to point out is that one is not asking for equal rights to begin with, but equal opportunities, and then when those are obtainable the rights will take care of themselves.

One might suggest that democracy is today at the crossroads, and unless we show some zeal in fighting for fundamental democratic beliefs, we may find other beliefs in the ascendancy.

We have found in a number of instances that states' rights had to be subordinated to the good of the whole people. When we flout the Constitution by an appeal to states' rights, we are, I think, courting disaster. Sooner or later a nation has to make up its mind to be a united nation or fall apart, and the attitude of these young ladies is an attitude which will bring about dissolution, since we cannot remove people who have been here long enough to become citizens.


In view of the successful administration of our United States under the bicameral system of government, do you think the Jewish and Arab factions of the partitioned Palestinian states could be persuaded to adopt our form of government in the interest of unity and peace in the Holy Land?

I do not know whether the adoption of our form of government would help in a peaceful solution of the Arab and Jewish difficulties, but I think the leaders on both sides might be approached and asked whether they would care to model their government on ours, and try to see how it works. This, however, is something which the United Nations Commission will have to work out with the respective states.


I will soon be teaching a class of church-women. Can you suggest some practical way in which we can help to make the United Nations succeed?

The most practical way is to study what is going on in the United Nations and be familiar with the questions involved. There is one particularly practical way which should appeal to all women: co-operation in collecting funds for the Overseas Aid through which the money will be raised for the Children's Emergency Fund. That fund is distributing food and medical supplies to children on a basis of need all over Europe, India and China.


Many people have not had the opportunity to advance their formal education as they would like. What books or other reading material would you suggest to one who would broaden his views of today's problems as well as learn facts of the past? What qualities go to make a "refined person"?

I am afraid my list of books, since I have never undertaken to make up a "five-foot shelf," or anything of the kind, would be a pretty long list, because there are many things in history and biography and science and fiction that one would not like to feel one had never at least dipped into. I think people must follow their own desires and find out what interests them and take every opportunity to read whatever comes their way in order to find out if they can develop new interests in subjects which they never happen to have come in contact with before. It is well worth while to belong to a library and go to the library and browse through the books and see what one becomes interested in.

I am not able to define that particular word "refined." I suppose it would require good taste to be a refined person, but I do not think I want to be refined. There is a certain lack of vitality in the word. I want to be informed, intelligent and ever curious. That would seem to me a more interesting approach to life than the effort to become a refined person.


My husband's mother is coming to live with us. She has lived by herself far away for a long time and has been extremely unhappy and lonely. We have had an unusually happy marriage and I have a happy disposition, but when she's here I find it is all I can do to keep from displaying ill temper and being depressed. She and my husband seem so happy together and I feel like a wet blanket and finally lose confidence in myself. My husband is a fine man with a strong character. I have three lovely sons—one a small baby. I want to do a good job in bringing up our children. How can I learn to relax and to have positive thinking about this? Is there anything I can read that will help?

If I were you, I would have a talk with your mother-in-law and with your husband, together or separately, as you find easier, but I would tell them both the same things: namely, that somehow a way must be found in which you can be included in the pleasures they find in their mutual companionship. You must, of course, make an effort to be companionable. If your mother-in-law is going to live with you, definite rules as regards the children should be decided on. You must have the final say-so, and there must be no effort to sabotage your discipline or your position with the children. Grandmothers can be a great help, but they can also be a heart-rending burden to their daughters-in-law, and only honesty between all concerned can save that situation. Honestly talking over things and not repressing your feelings, but making an effort to be kind and spontaneous in your contacts, will, I hope, bring you success.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, May 1948

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

Ladies' Home Journal, volume 65, May 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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