If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

April 1949

 

Please give me some advice in regard to necking. I will be twenty-five in two months. I am an only child, live with my parents, am considered nice-looking, and rather shy. I have been a stenographer for three years and I am a church member. I have only dated five boys several times and each date ended in a necking bout. Is necking something that everyone does and no one admits? Do girls who refuse to neck ever get married?

My dear young lady, I think you are not very grown up in spite of your twenty-five years. I would advise you to have a few more dates and perhaps you will find among your friends boys who do not insist on necking. Probably most girls today have had some necking experiences, but I do not think that really has anything to do with whether you get married or not.

 

Do you believe that Christianity has failed or that the United States is not really Christian but just a nation that gives lip service? Don't you think the United Churches is what is needed instead of the United Nations?

You put a great many questions into one, it seems to me, and each of them might well take a book to answer! Certainly, Christianity has not failed, but Christianity is something that is accepted or rejected by the individual, and even when he accepts it he may still not live up to it all the time or even part of the time. Nations are made up of individuals, but I do not think it would be fair to say that a nation has rejected Christianity because either among its citizens or in its government you found certain things which you did not think were compatible with your particular interpretation of the doctrines of Christianity.

Whether you believe as a Protestant or a Catholic, or a Jew or a Moslem or a Buddhist, it is the fruits of your belief as evidenced in your daily life that are of concern to your fellow human beings. If you believe in God, you naturally think that as a Supreme Being He will not judge you by your conduct alone, but also, with His infinite knowledge, for your intentions, taking your temptations into account and sometimes giving you credit for your victories.

The United Nations is an instrument, a piece of machinery, through which human beings, imperfect as they are, strive for greater perfections. The churches on earth are in much the same position, only they supposedly strive for greater perfection only in the spiritual field, whereas the United Nations has to deal with both the spiritual and the material. We cannot do away with either; they have different functions, but the two functions complement each other and are valuable together.

 

It has been reported that you signed a petition favoring the placing of a statue of Sacco and Vanzetti in Boston. Whether their conviction for murder was right or wrong, do you mind giving your line of reasoning whereby these avowed anarchists should receive any notice from decent people?

I did not sign a petition to place a statue of Sacco and Vanzetti on the Boston Common. I did sign a manifesto on the anniversary of their death and joined with others in suggesting that Gutzon Borglum's plaque be placed on Boston Common. It is a very beautiful thing with some very remarkable words: "What I wish more than all in this last hour of agony is that our case and our fate may be understood in their real being and serve as a tremendous lesson to the forces of freedom so that our suffering and death will not have been in vain."

It is true that these men believed in the philosophy of anarchism. Their trial lasted seven years, and many people believed that it was not a fair trial and that they never were proved guilty of the pay-roll murder with which they were charged. They were actually put to death "less upon the evidence than for the crime of holding extreme opinions."

Curiously enough, it was the same type of hysteria which swept our country at that time after World War I, as is sweeping our country again today. This type of trial has certain ties with the lynching mobs, and even with the Nazi killings of the Jews. I do not know that I agree with every expression to be found in the manifesto, and it was so stated by most of those who signed the manifesto. I believe so strongly, however, in the democratic processes, in the refusal to consider a man guilty until his guilt is proved, and in the wiping out of the kind of hysteria which stirs up in people the mob spirit in the way which is being done again, that I will do all I can to remind us of our basic freedoms. Anyone who holds advanced liberal opinions is labeled "communist" without the need of any proof these days, which creates a dangerous situation, since it endangers free speech. I have fought the ideas of the Russian communists in the United Nations and I have upheld the democratic ideals, and I believe that these ideals require us to fight for the rights of individuals to have freedom of thought and speech and action, always conditioned by the provision that one cannot advocate the overthrow of the Government by force.

 

An argument has arisen among some of my fellow workers and myself. It is a tradition or custom for the presidential candidates of the two major parties to exchange votes, or do they vote for themselves?

I haven't the remotest idea what a candidate for office does about his opponent. I never asked my husband how he cast his ballot, but I would suppose that if you believed in your party and in your own ability to fill the job, you would naturally vote for your party and the electors of your party.

 

I am a rather young housewife who for four years has been working to help my husband make a down payment on a little home. Do you think I could safely quit my job now and keep house as I have wanted to do all my life, or do you think that conditions in the future might be such that I'd better keep my job?

Not knowing you and your husband, it is a little difficult for me to decide just what conditions you mean. If you are talking about world conditions as a whole, I would tell you that nearly all people have to make such decisions as face you without too great a sense of security. Do you suppose our ancestors, when they decided to embark on the Mayflower, were sure what conditions they would meet in the future? It seems rather improbable.

If I were you, I would talk the situation over with your husband and decide what would give you the greatest sense of achievement and happiness. Then I would go ahead and do it and meet whatever comes in the future as best you can when it confronts you.

 

Would it not be possible to outlaw the Communist Party in the United States, although we are supposed to be a free country where everyone can express his convictions?

I think it would be highly unwise to outlaw the Communist Party in the United States. How would you feel if you were a citizen of the U.S.S.R. and decided that you preferred to have a more democratic form of government and you were outlawed because of it? That is practically what would happen to you in Russia today, but that has never happened to us in the United States. We are a free country, we can express our convictions with only the limitation of not advocating the overthrow of the Government by force. We can use all the persuasion that lies in our power. We trust, however, that democracy will so completely meet the needs of the people that there will always be among us people who believe strongly enough in it to fight for it with words and by deeds. We must prove that the people's well-being is satisfactory because of the way we use our democracy and that there is no value in making any change.

 

In almost every newspaper and magazine there are articles and pictures of Europe's homeless children. There is a kind of desperate irony in these accounts to my husband and me. We have been trying for three years to adopt a child and, although we have been approved by an adoption agency, we are told we must continue to be patient because there are sixty families waiting for every available child. Cannot something be done to bring these homeless European children and childless American homes together?

Yes, I think undoubtedly something can be done, and if I were you I would go to the Joint Distribution Committee and find out from them what you can do. I am sure there are orphan children coming here whom they would be glad to place in a good home.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, April 1949

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

Ladies' Home Journal, volume 66, April 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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