If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

July 1948


Like many women in their twenties, I am beginning to face and fear a future alone with no husband for love and companionship. What advice would you give those of us who do not marry, to permit us to lead full and happy lives, free of the fear of loneliness? Do you think overeducation which lifts a woman above the intellectual level of the people she meets is ill-advised?

I should advise any young woman who does not marry to take a deep interest in young people, so that she will have the same satisfaction with other children that she might have had with her own. I should also advise her to build up very warm friendships and cultivate her interest in some kind of work which will tie her down to obligations, so that she will never find time hanging heavily on her hands and feel that her existence is profitless.

There is no such thing, from my point of view, as overeducation, nor being above any people because of formal education that you might have been fortunate enough to acquire. Anyone with character and the opportunity can acquire a formal education, and many people who have not had a chance for book learning are wiser than those who have had. If education hasn't given you enough understanding so that you can get on with people around you and appreciate their quality, and perhaps help them through your opportunities to more opportunities of their own, so that their interests may coincide with yours, then I am afraid your education has done you more harm than good.


During my husband's life I had plenty of this world's goods, including household help. After his death I had to be father and mother and, due to financial reverses, I had to go to work at office positions and sales. Now I am past sixty, and younger people are filling such positions. I am considered a good cook and have taken a position doing housework, just as I required it of those in my employ. It suddenly occurred to me that there is no security to work of this sort. Don't you think there should be Social Security for those who do housework?

Yes, I have always felt there should be Social Security for those who do housework. It is rather complicated to work out because the collections come from so many people, but Great Britain has done it by a stamp system, and I think we will eventually work it out here. There is agitation every year to have household workers and farm labor included in Social Security, but so far the pressure hasn't been great enough on Congress to get them to do so.


I am 16 years old, and my problem is that my parents can't see the teen-age way on entertainment. I enjoy sports and traveling to neighboring cities for our school games. My parents absolutely can't see it. It seems they want me to stay home six days a week and like it. I go to church and a show on Sunday. I don't mind staying home, but even here my entertainment is fenced in; no murder-mystery books or radio—anyway, my father monopolizes the radio in the evening. What should I do? Just go against my mother's will? How can I show her I need and enjoy going places?

No, I certainly would not go against my mother if I were you. I think probably if you introduced to her whoever is to be with you as a chaperon, when you go to neighboring cities for school games, she might be more willing to let you go. Perhaps in time your father and mother may give you a little radio which you can use in your own room, but they are right, I think, in not wanting you to waste your time on murder-mystery books or too much listening to the radio when you should be doing other things. At your age, there are many things which still are an obligation to do every day. You might plan with your parents for some free time when you could do as you wish, and that would allow you to listen to such radio programs as you wanted during that time. If you make sure that your parents know the people with whom you want to "go places," they probably will be more willing to have you go; and if you show them that your taste in people and in reading and in radio is good, that will probably make a difference in their allowing you more freedom of choice


Please explain why it is that the nineteenth-century liberals fought for the liberation of the individual from the control of the state or government, while today's liberals seem to be always on the side of more government controls over the individual.

Because in the nineteenth century the individual had comparatively few liberties. There was no recognition that the government owed an individual certain things as a right. There were charities, but at that time the government was not conceived as doing away with charity. Now it is accepted that the government has an obligation to guard the rights of an individual so carefully that he never reaches a point which needs charity.

Nowadays the government controls which are advocated by the liberals are all to safeguard, in a modern and very complicated world, some of the things which individuals have come to feel they have a right to achieve. For instance, we insist that the government must see that every man who wants to work is able to get work suitable to his ability and at a wage on which he and his family can live. The nineteenth-century liberals did not have to face that problem and therefore no regulation was needed. Regulations have come only as our complicated civilization has made them necessary.


More than a year ago I read your book, This is My Story, and I want to read more. Have you ever thought of writing a continuation?

I am now busy writing the second volume of my autobiography and I hope to be through in the course of the next few months.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, July 1948

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

Ladies' Home Journal, volume 65, July 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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