If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

August 1954


I would like your answer to Admiral Robert A. Theobald's charge, in The Final Secret of Pearl Harbor, that your husband knew about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in advance and failed to notify the United States command in Hawaii.

I am quite certain my husband did not know about Pearl Harbor in advance.

Notification to the people in the field would have come from the military generals anyway, and not directly from my husband. But to suppose that he knew and deliberately withheld such information from the people in command is simply ridiculous, and many people who saw him the day of the attack will corroborate my statement that he was shocked and horrified, as well as surprised.


Who is your favorite painter?



Were you always a religious person, or did you go through the unbelieving period so many people do when young? I would like to know also what experiences strengthened your religious feeling most.

I don't think I ever went through an "unbelieving" period, but as I have grown older I have found certain interpretations given by different religions interesting to study, and while I was taught by my grandmother that every word in the Bible is literally true I have as time went on considered some of it to be more or less allegoric.

I think suffering strengthens anyone's religion, because there is a feeling that one needs strength beyond one's own capacity to carry a burden, whether it be a physical, mental or spiritual burden.


How much money do you spend a year in contributions to political causes?

It varies according to the years. In campaign years, of course, I may give a little more, but I would think a few hundred dollars, at most five hundred, would cover any year.


It is hard to know what to will your children when you have just a few choice pieces and they all want the same thing. I would value your wisdom in such a matter.

It is a problem if all your children want the same thing. I should think you would have to let them choose according to age, the oldest having the first choice and so on down. That is the way my husband arranged his will. Or you could decide according to what you think would be most suitable and of most use to your different children. They would surely value anything you decided to give them.


You mentioned once that your husband had a special way of handling situations and looking at things as a result of having had polio. I'd be grateful if you could be more specific about this.

I do not think my husband's illness changed him basically, but it deepened and enormously strengthened certain sides of his character. He had to make up his mind about doing something in regard to his illness and then wait months to find out whether his decision had been right or wrong. He was able to carry this kind of patience and self-control over into the decisions he had to make in government, and even during the most uncertain periods he was never discouraged or hopeless.


I have heard it said that you were once a stutterer. I am interested because I am a stutterer and would welcome help in curing my affliction.

I am afraid whoever told you that I was a stutterer was mistaken. You could probably get help, however, from reading the life of King George VI, who mastered his difficulty in a wonderful way.


How is it possible in your busy day to write as much as you do? Does someone else actually do the writing from your ideas?

No, nobody does any writing for me. I dictate my own columns and my own articles and anything that appears under my name—except in one instance, when I permitted certain articles on the U.N. to be written by someone else after discussion with me and under my supervision. In this instance I did not actually dictate what went into the articles.


You people who have always screamed about equal recognition for women have finally got your way—women are being appointed to all kinds of government posts. Will you please tell me what good this is doing anybody? What, if anything, have these women accomplished?

I am interested that you think women are receiving equal recognition, for I assure you it is far from equal. They are not equal, nor are they in comparable posts when it comes to making policy decisions. There is a lady, Mrs. Oveta Culp Hobby, in the Cabinet, in a post which is not top level, though I consider it an important one.

As far as I know, Mrs. Oswald B. Lord, who has followed me in the U.N., is doing extremely well. I know that Frances Perkins was a very good Secretary of Labor in my husband's administration, and although I have not had close contact with the women appointees of the Eisenhower administration I know that many women in active positions in the department which is now Mrs. Hobby's have done well in the past. Our first woman minister, Mrs. J. Borden Harriman, did very well in Norway, and Mrs. Eugenie Anderson, who was our first woman ambassador, did a very fine job in Denmark.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, August 1954

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

McCall's, volume 81, August 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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Washington, DC