If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

April 1954


You keep saying Americans are frightened by what's going on in this country now. Would you mind giving me a few examples of who it is that's so frightened?

I find that younger officials in government positions nowadays are extremely guarded in giving an opinion of any kind. That goes for diplomats, high and low, as well as for people in government departments. I find, too, that people will occasionally say to me that they do not want to go see So and So because they are not quite sure of what he believes in. That is an attitude one almost never encountered in the Thirties and Forties. I have also had people say they were not seeing So and So now because they were not sure of his past affiliations and that one has to be careful whom one sees. I don't know whether you call this being afraid, but I do.


I would be grateful to know on what you base your frequent statement that the Communists in this country advocate overthrow of this government by force.

Based on the interpretation which has been given to Communism, anyone who is not a Communist in the U.S. accepts the fact that the Communist party has been officially recognized as advocating the overthrow of the government by force. If you are a Communist, therefore, you are accepting this definition.


In several books written since your husband was President you are referred to as "meddling" in government activities. As someone who loves and admires you, I'd like to hear your side of this story.

I was never conscious of meddling in government activities. I passed on inquiries, complaints and suggestions which were sent to me. Having learned since that time that even high department heads sometimes felt my interest meant they were obligated to do things they did not think they should do, I am shocked and grieved. I had always supposed they would do only what they thought right and not accept any suggestions they considered wrong.


Don't you think jury duty should be compulsory for women as well as men?

Yes, I do—except that there have to be exceptions where women are concerned, since women who have small children can't leave them in order to serve on juries.


My sister eats her heart out about mistakes she made bringing up her oldest boy. She thinks you're a great woman, Mrs. Roosevelt, and I wish you could tell her a few mistakes you think you made when your children were growing up.

I don't think any mother is ever satisfied with the way she brought up her children. She always sees her mistakes. For instance, I gave in and allowed one of my sons to be sent to boarding school, when I knew he should have been allowed to follow his own bent and stay at home, but I did not have the courage to fight against the family tradition, nor did I trust my own judgment at that time. It was a serious mistake on my part.

I made my children do a great many things as little children by way of upholding discipline from nurses and governesses, none of which I would do now. I did too little for my three older children personally when they were babies.

One can always see the mistakes made afterward, but sometimes our children will accuse us of making mistakes which we feel sure we never made. I doubt whether children ever think they have had a perfect childhood or that their parents were ideal, no matter how much the parents try to do right according to their understanding.


If it's really cigarettes that are giving people cancer of the lungs, why can't cigarette companies be forbidden to encourage everybody to smoke?

That would be a little too like the effort made during Prohibition. You can't control advertising unless it is untruthful, nor can you control what people will buy except through some of the methods used in Prohibition. It is difficult to prove, I suppose, though many doctors believe that smoking is harmful. Perhaps it is a question of moderation, and three or four cigarettes a day may do no harm, whereas a chain smoker may develop all the worst illnesses which he is threatened with.


Of the thousands of pictures that have been taken of you I'd be curious to know which is your favorite and which your family likes best.

I haven't the remotest idea which my family likes best. I do not like photographs, because I dislike my looks very much, so I don't have a favorite, and I never asked my family which they liked best.


When your husband was President, did you take the side of Harry Hopkins against Secretary Ickes, as he claims in his book? Ickes claims you were not friendly to him and the President knew this.

There were certain things which at one time I remember thinking not very wise in the administration of the Department of the Interior as Mr. Ickes ran it in the early days. Mr. Burleu seemed to have too much power, and in those days Mr. Glavis' investigations seemed unusual, though today they would not be surprising. I do not remember taking any steps against any members of the official family, or having any feelings of unfriendliness towards anybody. I saw more of Mr. Hopkins in the later years because after his second wife died he was ill and lived for a time in the White House, but he was never a close friend of mine, and I never disliked Mr. Ickes.


Our fifth grade is working on a project about the health habits of famous people. Will you tell me yours, please?

I don't know that I have any formula. I just lead an ordinary sensible life, in which I manage to put in a good many hours of work.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, April 1954

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

McCall's, volume 81, April 1954

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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