If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

July 1951


My five-and-a-half-year-old son asked me, "Mother, what makes war?" I don't know what to say. How can you answer a small boy like this in terms he'll understand?

I think the only thing to do is to explain to him that nations are not very different from individual people. He knows there are times when he quarrels with his playmates. Make him analyze what brings about those quarrels and he will soon understand how, on the national level, wars occur in the world.


My husband says the Truman administration is a cesspool of corruption. How can I answer him?

You can tell your husband that if any government is "a cesspool of corruption" every individual citizen in the country is responsible when the government is a republic. Governments do not become corrupt unless their citizens have allowed low standards to exist. If you live in a democracy, you set the standards as the individual citizen. You elect your representatives, and the government belongs to you. You and I have to correct anything that is wrong—and we can always be heard. If anything is wrong, the blame is ours.


I dread the change of life. How did you keep it from interfering with your busy life?

It is largely a question of really being busy and keeping oneself interested. I know there are abnormal cases, but for the ordinary woman it is quite easy to carry on life in a perfectly normal ordinary way. Discomforts are involved, but if you are busy and keep up your interests the discomforts will hardly be noticed.


Did you or any member of your family get especially high marks in school? I don't think marks mean much, and I'm in favor of abolishing report cards. Do you agree?

It happens that while I was in school in England, from the time I was fifteen until I was eighteen, I did get fairly high marks. My husband got high marks in things in which he was interested. My brother too had exceptionally good grades in both school and college. My children had high marks when they were interested and really wanted to work, but otherwise they just "got by," which always used to make me very angry.

I do not think I should want to abolish report cards. I might want to abolish marks of certain types, because I think it is hard to make them accurate: but report cards in general, I think, give an idea of the effort and the amount of work done, thus enabling the parents to keep in touch with what the child is doing and cooperate with the school.


Would you favor the nomination of President Truman for another term?

This is not a question that one can answer at the present time. My husband used to call such questions "iffy" questions. Circumstances change so quickly these days that it is very difficult to say ahead of time what will seem the wisest thing to do.


Do you get up as soon as your alarm rings in the morning? My wife is always too tired to get up and fix breakfast. I tell her you're older and you work harder than she does and I bet you don't lie around in bed in the morning.

I do not have an alarm clock. I always awake. In the country my dogs wake me if I do not happen already to be awake, and I have to get up and let the younger dog out at about seven o'clock. I get up for breakfast, because I have done that all my life. Perhaps your wife is up later at night or is not quite as strong as I am. Many things enter into whether one is eager to get up in the morning or not.


At what age did you allow your boys to start smoking?

It really was not a question of "allowing" them. The school they attended did not permit them to smoke at school. They began to smoke in the holidays, when they were about seventeen years old. Both my husband and I used to suggest that moderation was a good thing, but we always preferred they be open about whatever they did, so smoking was never forbidden.


Do you agree that a girl should hide her intellectual side if she's going to be popular with boys?

No. What is the use of being liked by people whom you do not like? If you hide the things in which you are really interested in order to please people of different interests, you are not going to have friends with whom you can be natural, and that seems to me a very foolish way to live. I think, however, that if a girl boasts of her knowledge everyone will laugh at her. Just be perfectly natural and talk about the things that interest you with people who have similar interests. Then you will have friends that you will enjoy and who will enjoy you.


What trait do you like best in a house guest?

I think I enjoy my house guests more when they are able to look after themselves and have plenty of interests to keep them busy!


A magazine article says that you appealed to the State Department on behalf of Communist Hanns Eisler. Is this true?

No. I never appealed on behalf of Hanns Eisler. I sent overto the State Department a letter which had come to me in his behalf when he was awaiting entry into this country and simply asked that it be looked into and action be taken according to their best judgment. This was standard practice.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, July 1951

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

McCall's, volume 78, July 1951

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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