If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

March 1949

 

I am a woman about forty years of age and not bad to look at, have a college education, a good responsible job, sense of humor, good disposition, and am not aggressive or set in my ways. I have never had the opportunity of meeting eligible, unmarried men and I am craving a home and companionship. I enjoy cooking and making others happy. Have you any suggestions?

Your situation does not sound to me very desperate. It seems to me that at your age it ought to be possible to make opportunities for meeting eligible unmarried men. Use a little ingenuity in your business to make friends. It is not impossible for a woman to do some entertaining on her own, and to issue some invitations if she becomes friendly with people whom she meets either in the course of her work or in the course of her outside activities.

 

Our daughter left our home during the war to work in an airplane plant in another city. She became very much interested in the labor union there. One of the leaders and his wife paid a lot of attention to her, helped her get ahead in the union. They often tried to interest her in communism, but she laughed at them. One night they told her of a speech to be made which they knew would interest her. Arriving at the hall, she found she could not get in without signing a membership card. They told her to go ahead, she could have the card destroyed after the meeting. She is now an ardent communist. All this happened four years ago. She has since married and her husband was trained in the school of communism in New York. We were a happy, close family until this happened, but they cannot help showing their contempt for us since they have finally given up trying to convert us. They very often express their hatred of the middle class. Well, we are of the middle class. How are we to meet this situation?

I think the situation that you describe requires patience. You do not want to have an open break with your daughter. If at some time she needs you, you will want her to feel free to call upon you. Young people are very apt to become ardent crusaders for ideals, and they do not realize sometimes that their ideals exist in their own minds and not in reality. Time, however, may prove this to them, and if I were you I should cease to argue. You certainly can rise above any contempt that they may show. You are the elders and you should not be touched by what the young ones may think. Have patience and I am sure that time will show that the real values are preserved in the long run.

 

Have you never felt the desperate need of birth control on a massive scale when seeing some of the hopeless, tragic and destitute peoples of the world? Do you not have a feeling of guilt at the delay in not helping these women when you stop to compare conditions in which your children were born and theirs? Isn't it just about agreed that the need for more space is the basic cause of war?

No, I do not really think that the need for more space is the basic cause of war. There are a great many elements that enter into the final difficulties which arise between peoples and force them to resort to force.

I have often felt that in certain conditions birth control might be a help, and it may be one of the answers to the food situation which scientists are trying to solve. I do not feel qualified to judge, however, what are the needs and necessities from the scientific point of view for the preservation and improvement of the life of the human being on this planet. Therefore I cannot say that I have the feelings which you suggest, nor the assurance that in one simple answer all the questions that confront us will be solved.

 

American history has shown that our government is great because it is a two-party government with each party making its contributions and constantly prodding the opposition to put forth its best efforts. Although your sympathies are understandably allied with the Democratic Party, do you not feel that the balance of power should shift at regular intervals?

I do not know that I would feel that the balance of power had to shift at any regular intervals. I do believe strongly in the two-party system for the reasons which you give, but I think the balance of power should shift when the people feel it necessary or advisable. That does not mean that any precise time should be laid down. It has always been evident that our people shift from time to time. For instance, we had a shift toward conservatism four years ago and again two years ago which affected many congressional candidates and local situations. In the last election that trend was reversed, showing that the swing goes on fairly often and is affected by the needs of the people as they see them.

 

Why does Article I of the United Nations Draft International Declaration of Human Rights read "all human beings are born free and equal"? What is the significance of the term "free" as coordinate with "equal"? Are you, as the United States representative on the committee, satisfied with this disagreement with our own Declaration? Do you not think that a comprehensive application of the truth "all men are created equal" to the West-East situation by the Western democracies would be a move toward durable peace?

It did not occur to me as United States representative that I was writing a document which was to agree with our own Declaration of Independence. There were seventeen other nations besides the United States represented on the Human Rights Commission, and there were eighteen governments represented on the Economic and Social Council and fifty-eight nations represented on Committee No. 3 of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights could not and should not be a United States or even an Anglo-Saxon document. It had to meet the needs of the expressed desires of many people believing in other religions and living under other conditions and cultures and legal doctrines and laws. The clause "all human beings are born free and equal" was of course a compromise clause. You must also realize that this document must be translated into five official languages and that such language must be used as can mean the same thing in all five languages. That sometimes leads to a change in the English language. One of the major difficulties arises out of the religious beliefs or nonbeliefs. There are, for instance, far more Mohammedans in the world than Christians. Some of us believe that all men are created equal; some may not; and when you work on an international level you try to come as near as possible to expressing something which can be accepted by all the people represented.

 

Our parents brought foreign names from foreign countries with endings such as "ski," "ic," etc. I think it would be much better if we dropped those useless endings. Could we do it legally without any trouble, or would we have to go through court and pay charges?

I consulted a lawyer who tells me that it is not within the jurisdiction of anyone who is not a lawyer or a judge to tell you what you should do if you desire to change your name. I have known people who changed their names, but this question should be approached through the court or advice of a lawyer. I am sure the Legal Aid Society would give you this information free of charge or for a very small fee.

 

I have read that you voted against "equal rights for illegitimate children" at a United Nations meeting. If this is true, please explain why you did so.

There was a very active group in Paris who wished to have inserted in one of the articles of the Universal Bill of Human Rights the absolute equality of illegitimate children with legitimate children. The motion was introduced by the delegate from Yugoslavia. The article as it read asserted the equal rights of all children, and many of us felt that it was a pity to single out illegitimate children for mention, and we also felt that while illegitimate children should have, as is now stated in the article, equal social rights with all other children, there were certain rights which it was impossible to give illegitimate children under many forms of law. It is natural, of course, to want to shelter children as much as one possibly can, but my own feeling was that we had done something better in stating that all children had equal rights than in singling out any one group.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, March 1949

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

Ladies' Home Journal, volume 66, March 1949

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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