If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

October 1948


Is it true that your husband, the late President Roosevelt, never wrote his own speeches?

No. My husband wrote a great many speeches in his own hand. When he became President, however, he developed a regular routine. First of all he decided on the subject with which he was going to deal, then he called in the Government officials charged with the responsibility for the work on this particular subject: for instance, if it was to be a fiscal speech, the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve Board were consulted; if agriculture, the Department of Agriculture and allied agencies, and so on.

After he had all the facts, he usually sat down with two or three people and explained his ideas of what he wished said. They made a first draft and brought it back to him. He then went over it, and sometimes there were as many as six or eight or ten drafts of the same speech. One member of this small group was usually someone adept at phrasing, another was good at cutting, because in any speech which is made over the radio one is apt to put a great deal too much into it to fit the time. In between each rewriting my husband went over it again, and if you ever go the library at Hyde Park you will see the collection of speeches with corrections on the various copies in my husband's own handwriting.

When a speech was finally written, my husband always practically knew every word that was in it by heart, as he had gone over it so often. It was the final expression of his original thoughts. I have, however, seen my husband take a speech which his advisers thought was completely finished, tear it up and dictate an entirely new speech because he felt it was not simple and clear enough. He retained the facts, but he was particularly adept at putting thoughts into simple and clear enough words so that even I, who might not know anything on the subject, found I could comprehend what he was talking about.


In a magazine article I read that you have trained yourself so that you can take short naps when you have a little free time during the day. I have heard of other people being able to do this. Are there any words of instruction or advice that you could give to help another person develop this ability?

I would only suggest that you be so tired that you cannot keep your eyes open. If you are as weary as that and have learned to relax instead of becoming keyed up and tense, you will find that your eyes will close and you will be asleep for a few minutes until some unexpected sound awakens you. It may be for one or three or five minutes, but the principle requirement is that you be very weary, and still able to relax. Don't do it in an automobile, however, unless you pull off the road first!


My only child is almost three, and ordinarily I would consider having another in the next year, but I am afraid to bring a baby into this world with its present uncertainties. When I read about the dreadful things that can happen I become actually ill with fear of what our future may be. Have you any advice for me?

Yes. Stop being afraid. Suppose our great-grandmothers had been afraid to leave Virginia, for instance, and journey westward; this country would never have been settled—and they faced as many uncertainties and unknowns as we do today. You will ruin your child of three if you live under a cloud of fear, and you will ruin yourself as a citizen, and your own happiness and that of your family, if you do not learn to face whatever comes with courage. If you haven't got courage, make believe you have it and that will help you to acquire it.


A group of us are trying to build up interest in national politics by campaigning for our high-school student council and class officers. I have discussed this with the principal and American-history teacher, and they are in favor of it. Can you give any suggestions on how to get and keep the students' interest? The principal has agreed to let us have assemblies and campus campaigning.

If there is any way in which the problems which you face in your school can be tied up with the questions that are being discussed in your community, state and nation, then I think you will find that in a very painless way you can lead the members of the student body to think about their government. For instance, if you have any racial questions that you face, you can tie them up with the racial questions which we face in the nation. Discrimination can exist in school, and it can be wiped out in school in just the same way that it should be wiped out in the nation. I think if you can get some local speaker to explain to you special subjects that touch your lives, that may help to broaden your interests. For instance, every boy and girl today is touched by the draft, and an understanding of the reasons for military preparation and the hope of peace in the future generation and disarmament among nations could be quite easy to tie up with your school interests.


In questions concerning communism, I believe your answers are biased in favor of a totalitarian system which is seeking to destroy our form of government. I am an Episcopalian who is proud of the ancient dignity of a great church. I think of our late President, a fellow Episcopalian, and wonder why he was such an ardent admirer of atheistic Russia and why he did so much to make Russia a powerful state.

I do not know why you should think my answers on communism are biased in favor of any totalitarian system. I am completely opposed to such a system, whether Fascist or communist. The fact that the Russian government, like the Hitler government, imposed atheism on their people for a time does not mean the people of Russia are atheists. In fact, the government has already lifted its ban on the various religions and allows them complete freedom in Russia today. In both cases the effort was made to center the interest in the state rather than in the church. My husband made it one of the conditions in the first agreement with Russia that people be allowed to worship as they desired. However, I do not feel that the Episcopal Church is the only church in the world and I feel that people have the right to make their own decisions as to what they mean by religious freedom.


One of my girl friends wanted to meet the boy I go with, or did go with, and so I got her a date with a friend of his. Now she is going with my boy friend and I am left holding the bag. How can I win him back?

If I were you I would not try to win him back. If he can be taken away so easily, I do not think his affection is very deep. I would be inclined to find someone else whom I liked. Perhaps you will find that a new boy is really more attractive than the old one, and I should hope he might have a stronger character.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, October 1948

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

Ladies' Home Journal, volume 65, October 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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