If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

May 1955

 

Would you be willing to tell me where your opinion of President Eisenhower has changed most in the past two years?

I am afraid it has not changed very much. He is a fine soldier and a good man. He was that when he was elected, and he is that today.

 

My "socially connected" mother-in-law keeps telling me that there is no longer any real "society" in this country. The great "society" families, she says, have let down their standards and live just like "café society" today. Do you think this is true?

I can remember a time when in New York City society was supposed to be composed of 400 people, some belonging to "old" families who had come over here one or two generations before, frequently families who had made a great deal of money in the intervening time between their arrival and the early 1900s. Society, as it was then known, was somewhat different perhaps from café society today, but in essentials not very different because to most of these families amusing themselves and having enough money to make a little more show than their neighbors was important. If it was not money, being able to say your people had been important in some European country before they came here was considered a mark of distinction.

There were charming people and cultivated people in that restricted group in early New York, but in almost every group that you mix in today in New York's vastly larger population you can also find charming and cultivated people. Society has to be made up today of people who move in many different circles. Sometimes they cross lines, sometimes they do not, but there can't be the old differentiation which existed when the city was smaller.

On the question of standards, your mother-in-law probably means that there is a change in moral standards and in manners. But I don't think you can limit this to any one group. It seems to me to be much more an individual matter.

 

I read where the Girl Scouts took some phrase about helping the United Nations out of their handbook. As a former honorary chairman of the Girl Scouts and former representative to the U.N., what is your feeling about this?

I regret that the Girl Scouts were intimidated into changing any of the wording which they had in their last book. There has been nothing subversive in anything they said in the past, and it seems to me the present handbook has become a weak and wishy-washy document.

 

There was a great stir in England not long ago because in a radio debate a woman gave some talks in favor of atheism. Would you be for or against letting an atheist express his views over the air here?

I would not have the slightest desire to prevent an atheist from airing his or her views. I would feel, however, that equal time should be given to anyone else who wished to protest or answer these views. There are atheists in the world, and preventing them from saying what they think is certainly not going to wipe out atheism.

 

Do you still serve your celebrated guests hot dogs and potato salad for lunch?

Not always. It just depends on the kind of meal it happens to be.

 

If for financial or physical reasons you were not able to live independently now, would you move in with one of your children or would you consider some kind of residence for older people? At 78 I am no longer strong enough to run my own house. I hate to burden my daughter and her husband, who have three small children, but I also hate the thought of an "old-age" home.

I have seen some very delightful homes where I should be entirely contented to go and live if I were no longer able to live in my own home. It is a mistake, I think, for older people to move in with a young family. I know it was frequently done years ago. Having Grandmother in the house was often useful and valuable for the children, but modern life is lived in smaller quarters, it is more hurried and less leisurely, and I think it is harder for different generations to adjust to each other. Personally, therefore, I should prefer to try to find a home in which I felt could have some privacy and live contentedly during my old age.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, May 1955

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

McCall's, volume 82, May 1955

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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