If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

July 1956


This is an old question but I've never seen you answer it. If one of your family fell in love with a Negro and they wanted to marry, would you approve?

I would consider it my duty to remind any member of my family who wanted to marry a Negro of the probable situation they would have to faceā€”the conditions in present-day society, the trials in their daily lives, but I would not expect, if they were in love, that they would be affected by the picture. If they did marry, facing their situation, then I would certainly do all I could to help them. Marriage is a very personal thing and nobody else can make a decision for any other human being. I hope the day will come when marriage between different races will not bring the difficulties in daily living that it entails today under certain conditions.


What in your opinion is the best short description ever written about your husband?

I am sorry, but I don't know any short description that I felt was really adequate. I think the person who really comes close to a good personal picture of him is John Gunther in his book Roosevelt in Retrospect.


I was shocked to read that you are opposed to a woman for Vice-President "until the country is ready for a woman President." Wouldn't the country be more ready for a woman President if one of them showed she could make a really good Vice-President?

No. As a matter of fact, the duties of a Vice-President do not in any way actually require the qualities of a good President, but in choosing a Vice-President it should be kept in mind that he may become President during his term of office, so he should be chosen not only because he can fulfill the relatively simple duties of a Vice-President but because he could become President if necessary. I think women need experience in many more positions, both elective and appointive, before they can take over this very important job.


A writer to our local paper (Wisconsin) accused you of franking all your mail. Do you have a franking privilege? If so, what is the justification for it and when do you use it?

I have a franking privilege for personal mail in the U.S., as does every other President's widow. Mrs. Wilson and Mrs. Coolidge have it also. It is granted by an act of Congress and it cannot be used on anything except personal mail. I do not use my frank on mail which goes out from the office of the American Association for the U.N., where I work as a volunteer. I only use it at home.


My husband and I will be bringing our children (ages six and ten) to New York City for their third visit this summer. They've been to the obvious things. But I thought there might be some special places that you and your grandchildren enjoy that would be nice to know about.

Did you take the children to the Museum of Modern Art to see the little Japanese house? Most people like that and are amazed at its flimsiness. One of my grandnephews remarked: "Gee, we couldn't roughhouse here!" Of course, the Natural History Museum is always enjoyable and I think the U.N. is something most youngsters enjoy. Have you taken the boat ride around Manhattan Island? I think children as well as grownups find that fun. Perhaps these are things you have already done but I can think of little that isn't quite familiar, I'm afraid.


What do you think of the suggestion that Harvard and the University of Moscow exchange students and professors?

I think it is a very good suggestion and I feel that the attitude of our State Department is quite wrong on the subject. Other countries will soon start exchanging students and professors with Russia, I am sure, whether we do it or not. No Soviet students will come here, however, unless we rescind our slightly foolish regulation of fingerprinting. It is certainly not hard to keep an eye on visitors when you know where they are 24 hours a day. The only way the Soviets will learn the truth about us is by coming here, and if we refuse exchanges of this kind, it proves we are afraid of Communism and don't have sufficient confidence in ourselves.


If the Democrats were to nominate a man you considered a very inferior candidate, would you consider voting Republican?

This is a very difficult decision and rarely a satisfying one. On the whole, I have felt that sticking to my own party was in the long run more satisfactory. If someone should be nominated for whom I consider it really impossible to vote, however, I should either not vote at all, or I should weigh the possibility that the opposition candidate had the strength and the willingness to oppose party policies of which I do not approve.


You once wrote that "self-discipline" was the most important lesson you learned as a child. How did you learn it? And how do you suggest I teach it to my child?

I doubt that you can teach the kind of self-discipline that I had in mind to your child, nor do I feel that you would really want to. It comes usually, I think, to a child who is an unhappy child. When you have no one to turn to, you learn perforce that you must have self-discipline. As a child I lived with my grandmother and two aunts whom I adored. I loved one aunt in particular and longed for her approval. For instance, if she were ill and asked me to go down in the middle of the night into the basement and out into the yard to get her some orange juice from the icehouse, I conquered my fear of the three dark flights of stairs and managed to feel my way down them and out into the yard, though I trembled all the way. I was repaid by the fact that I was doing something which would bring me love and as a small child I felt that was more important than anything else in the world. A child who is loved and is secure will learn discipline probably a little later and I hope in a happier way.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, July 1956

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

McCall's, volume 83, July 1956

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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