If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

December 1950


Are you in favor of drafting women for defense work if we are involved in a full-scale war?

If we are involved in a full-scale war, I think every woman as well as every man should be drafted to do the work she is best capable of doing. A full-scale war at this time would mean such a complete change in all our lives that a draft of this kind would, I think, be essential. I hope, however, we will never have a full-scale war and that we, the human race, will have enough intelligence to avoid it, since from my point of view it would mean practically ending our civilization.


I have two young sons just entering adolescence. My husband thinks I should explain the facts of sexual maturity to them, and I think he should. We’d be interested to know how you and your husband handled this problem.

I think in the case of boys it is usually far better if their father is able to explain such things as they need to know and at the times when they need to know them. It is so important to choose the right time, not to do it too early and not to leave it till too late.

My husband was extremely shy about discussing any of these questions with our boys. I always answered any question that was asked by any of my children as truthfully as possible and told them what I thought they were able to understand, and I never told them anything which was not true. I think probably some of the masters in school were more helpful even than their father with our boys, though he did agree that he would tell them what he felt was essential. I always had an idea that he told them comparatively little!


I’m told that if Karl Marx’s theories had been practiced as he intended, Russia would not be a dictatorship today. Can you explain this statement to me?

Karl Marx, like all important thinkers, has produced many schools of followers. All of them claim him as their inspiration while they violently disagree with one another. The moderate socialists in pre-revolutionary Russia—the Menshiviks, whom the Bolsheviks suppressed—were vigorously opposed to the concept of dictatorship, and they also claimed they were Marxists. Many of the moderate socialist parties in Europe today who are violently anticommunist venerate Karl Marx.

We must remember that Marx wrote in England in opposition to the hardships he saw brought about by the then existing economic system. That was a time of great industrial distress. We might compare it to the depression days we ourselves have known and look upon Marx’s feelings in comparison with the way we used to feel when we saw lines of men waiting for a handout of a cup of coffee and a bun perhaps in some of our big cities. We must also remember that Karl Marx is used by the communists who follow his doctrines and tailor them to fit the particular interpretation which they desire.


Do you ever have any apprehensions about flying?

None. I am 65 years old and face the fact that many of us, old and young, may come to the end of our lives at any time no matter what we do; but at 65 one has lived a long life and can say with resignation, "The Lord’s will be done."


What do you consider the most important turning point in your life?

The decision on the part of my grandmother to send me to boarding school in England to Mlle. Souvestre, who was a very remarkable teacher and awakened in me an intellectual curiosity which I have been grateful for all of my life.


Do you think a liberal American can conscientiously accept the United States’ support of Franco—even as a means of fighting communism?

As far as I know there is no suggestion that the United States should support Franco. It is unfortunate that any support which is given to Spain must, of necessity, be some help to Franco. As a democracy, we can never want to support the one dictator left who accepted help to achieve his purposes from Hitler and Mussolini, against whom we fought a successful war. There must be, however, very valid arguments as to why it is necessary to do for Spain and the Spanish people certain things which, while they may help Franco, are not done for that purpose.

Like so many other things, there is more than one consideration, and the question is not a clear-cut one—shall we do this because it is right, or not do it because it is wrong? That, unfortunately, is the way many questions present themselves today. There is no uncomplicated question before the world, and one must count on the chance that the best thing is being done, though one regrets certain aspects of doing it.


Do you think it’s such a tragedy for a woman not to marry?

That is a question that can only be answered by the individual women themselves. For some women it would be a very serious tragedy. For others, perhaps not a tragedy at all. Speaking generally, I think women who have had the experience of marriage are happier, and most women who have had no children regret the lack of this experience and feel at times that not having the companionship of a husband and children is a great loss.

Dr. Henry F. Helmholz* asks: “How do you think the White House Conference on Children and Youth can best aid in the vital task of securing and maintaining world peace?”

It can encourage work with children in undeveloped countries. As far as the fight against communism goes, I think this help to undeveloped countries is almost more important than anything else we can do, well as I understand the importance of military action at the present time.

If the work of the White House Conference is thoroughly done, we will not only consider advances for children in our own country but for children the world over. We will see that our children can profit most from the advances that have been made here when the children in other countries profit also. By indicating our objectives in such matters, I think we are contributing to understanding at home and abroad. This effort will help to establish freedom and peace in the world. Of that I am convinced.


< Previous Column 1950 Next Column >

About this document

If You Ask Me, December 1950

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

McCall's, volume 78, December 1950

Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project

Digital edition published 2014, 2016 by
The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project
The George Washington University
Old Main Building, Suite 406
1951 F Street, NW
Washington, DC 20052