If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

September 1951


Did you and your husband exchange many personal gifts? What gift from him do you prize most?

Yes, we exchanged many personal gifts. We always gave each other gifts on appropriate occasions, and if either of us saw something we thought would please the other one we were very happy to get it, if it was within our means.

I think perhaps the gift that means the most to me is a little gold locket and chain (see photograph) given me by my husband when we became engaged, on which all my children cut their teeth.


My husband has cancer and doesn’t know it. He begs me to tell him the truth about his sickness, but the doctor says I shouldn’t. The situation is almost killing me. I don’t know where to turn for advice. Can you help me?

No, I am afraid I cannot help you. The situation is a very difficult one for you, and I am deeply sympathetic, but only you and the doctor know your husband well enough to know whether the truth would make him face what lies before him or whether it would be better to let him go on without knowing. No outsider can make that decision for you.


Do you think it’s fair to retire people at 65? The average length of life increases all the time, but the retirement age stays the same. It doesn’t make any sense to me.

No, I do not think people should be retired automatically at 65. Those who are able to go on working I think should go on, even though undergoing periodic physical examinations. If it would be better for them to retire and do some other kind of work, I think they should be given the opportunity for training and be put into that other kind of work. To leave people with no work when the expectancy of life has much increased, I agree with you, makes very little sense.


The Russian delegates to the U.N. seem very cold and inhuman in their public appearances, but I understand that in private many of them are very pleasant and amusing. Have you found this to be true? Which ones especially?

I have had very few occasions on which to discover whether any of the Russian delegates are different in private from what they are in public. A few of them have dined with me, usually with an interpreter sitting behind their chairs. A few have spent evenings in my sitting room and on such occasions have been pleasant guests. They have always been courteous when they came, but they are nearly always impersonal and always very guarded in their remarks, never forgetting that they are government representatives and cannot speak in a personal capacity.


Isn’t it impossible for you to get on a bus or train without being recognized, and doesn’t this make you uncomfortable? How do you handle it, for instance, when you sit down next to someone who recognizes you but doesn’t say anything?

I can often get on a bus or a train and not have anybody recognize me. Sometimes I am recognized very quickly, but it never makes me uncomfortable. I do not always know whether the person next to me recognizes me, and I do not ever expect him or her to say anything. If strangers do speak to me I am only too happy to respond, but otherwise I go ahead with what I am doing. It is not unusual if strangers do not talk.


What did President Roosevelt plan to do when he retired from the Presidency to private life again?

My husband had planned when he retired to write regularly for one magazine and to devote himself to putting his papers in order and to enlarging and making more interesting the library at Hyde Park.


What did you find most pleasant about living in the White House, and what least pleasant?

The most pleasant was the profusion of flowers and the chance to send them to my friends. That will always remain with me as one of the enjoyments. Perhaps another was the historic interest of the second-floor rooms and the outlook from my window on the late-blooming magnolia tree planted by Andrew Jackson, which on moonlight nights could be one of the most beautiful sights in the world. The least pleasant was having so many guards and Secret Service men around and being reminded all the time of the need for protecting the President.


Why do you think so many GIs preferred European and Australian women to American women?

Perhaps because the European and Australian women made more fuss over them.

< Previous Column 1951 Next Column >

About this document

If You Ask Me, September 1951

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

McCall's, volume 78, September 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
Old Main Building, Suite 406
1951 F Street, NW
Washington, DC 20052