If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

November 1954


You say we all have a right to change our minds. I agree heartily, and I would like to know what you consider your own biggest change of mind in the past fifteen or twenty years.

Before 1934 I was inclined to feel that most people could achieve what they wanted if they were given an opportunity for education. After that I began to understand that the government had an obligation to give its people security as well as freedom in a world which could shift suddenly from prosperity to depression.

While I believe strongly in the rights and bargaining power of labor, I have in the last ten or fifteen years felt keenly the need for responsibility to grow with those rights and that power.

These I would say are the two most important changes in my thinking.


How often do you get a medical checkup?

About once every two years.


My oldest son has been divorced twice. I would like to keep up relations with his ex-wives, particularly the first one, but I'm told it's poor taste to have them visiting me all the time. If it's not too personal, could you tell me how you handle a similar situation?

I imagine it would be rather difficult if you had your son's ex-wives visiting you all the time, because your loyalty naturally must always be first to your son. If there are children, or if you had rather warm personal relations with his former wives, it is natural to want to keep up the friendship even after divorce, but I should think that must depend on what your son wants you to do, how you can do it with the least awkwardness for the ex-wives, and for your son, and perhaps his new wife if he has remarried.

I have managed to keep pleasant relationships with many ex-in-laws, but I don't think one can be too intimate.


It seems to me that you've increased your pace, not slackened it, as you've grown older. Is that true?

I have really never thought about whether I have increased or slackened my pace. One always goes a little slower as one grows older. I find I sleep on the train and am a little drowsy now and then, which did not happen when I was younger. But I also feel that with age I have fewer things the matter with me. I don't get colds so easily or headaches, which means that in a general way I am more dependable, because I rarely have to stop doing anything because of health.

On the whole I feel sure I am doing as much, if not more, than I did when I was younger. One reason, of course, is that I have fewer home duties. Since I live alone and really have only myself to think about in great part, I can do more of the things which other people ask me to do.


Is it true that your son John is a close friend of President Eisenhower?

I think he would hardly call himself a close friend of the President. The President gave him an appointment on a committee to study discrimination where government contracts are in force. He has had the pleasure of dining once with the President, and I am sure he has seen him a number of times. He has a great admiration for President Eisenhower and voted for him in the last election.


Your housekeeper at the White House, Mrs. Edith Helm, said recently that Prime Minister Churchill stayed at the White House secretly once with his wife for a full month. Is this true?

I don't really think this possible. I remember one occasion when, with a great deal of planning, we managed to keep a short visit made by the Prime Minister a secret for a few days. That it could have been possible for a month I doubt, and I do not remember the Prime Minister and Mrs. Churchill ever giving us the pleasure of such a long visit.


Was your husband's famous statement "The only thing to fear is fear itself" original with him?

It is a quotation I believe used by several famous men before my husband, among them Henry David Thoreau.


Have you changed your mind any in recent years about what our attitude should be toward Chiang Kai-shek?

No. Our attitude, of course, is conditioned by the circumstances of the whole Asian situation, but I have no fixed ideas on what it should be, and as far as I can remember I never had any fixed ideas. I think we have always treated the generalissimo with consideration and respect.


I am a student in American history, and I would like to ask you what man in our nation's history did your husband admire most?

I think he admired Jefferson and Lincoln above all, but he also admired Jackson.

< Previous Column 1954 Next Column >

About this document

If You Ask Me, November 1954

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

McCall's, volume 82, November 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
Old Main Building, Suite 406
1951 F Street, NW
Washington, DC