If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

May 1960


If war broke out again between the Arab and Israeli forces, is it your opinion that the United States should take sides or remain strictly aloof?

I hope very much that the UN will be able to prevent war between the Arab and Israeli forces, and I think our influence should be brought to bear on the Arab governments, if possible, to keep them from open violence of any kind and to get them to realize that Israel is the one country that can be of very great use in their own development.


Are any of your evenings devoted to playing cards, and if so, do you have any favorite game?

No. I'm afraid I never have time to play cards in the evening. When I have friends in for dinner, it is usually informal and there is so much talk I doubt that anyone would consider being marooned at a card table. Occasionally, when I have a few moments, I play a game of solitaire—but not often and never for long.


Do you have any close friends who are Republicans?

Not only do I have Republican friends, but my youngest son and his wife are ardent Republicans!


When the Salk vaccine was first made available, we were told that all people under forty should have polio injections. Recently, I've read stories and seen TV programs indicating that people over forty also are subject to polio. Because of your late husband's illness, I'm sure you have given this subject thought. Have you yourself been inoculated, and do you recommend the shots for all people, regardless of age?

One may contract polio at almost any age. Dr. Leona Baumgartner told me she had one case of a woman eighty years old. When the vaccine first became available, it was stressed that only people under forty should avail themselves of it, because at that time it was in short production. There would not have been enough vaccine for shots for older people, and the risk of contracting polio is less as you grow older. Now the vaccine is available in sufficient quantity, so that anyone can get it, and I think those who have not been exposed should have the shots. I did not have them, because if I had been going to have polio, I would have had it when I took care of my husband without any help during the first two weeks of his illness.


Have you any personal opinion of General de Gaulle? Do you feel he is the right man for France at this time?

I don't suppose France would have chosen General de Gaulle if she did not think he was the right man. I have never met the General and have no way of forming an opinion about him.


Shortly we will have not only a new President but also a new First Lady. What, according to your own experience, will be the most difficult problem the First Lady will face?

Living her own life as she wants to live it. There are certain things you are obliged to do as First Lady. In many ways, you are hemmed in, and you have to fight your way out if you feel you really want some life of your own.


You have frequently mentioned that reading is one of your favorite recreations. Would you tell us two or three recently published books that you have especially enjoyed?

I am sorry to say that my time for reading books for pure enjoyment is very short indeed. While I was in Puerto Rico for a few days, I managed to read Arthur M. Schlesinger's The Coming of the New Deal and enjoyed it very much. I also read Advise and Consent, by Allen Drury; The Ugly American, by W. J. Lederer and E. L. Burdick; One Hour, by Lillian Smith; and Strike for a Kingdom, by Menna Gallie. In between, I read poetry at odd times.


I am an ardent gardener. Do you, too, find pleasure in growing things?

No. I wish I did, but I have no green thumb, and I have never had any experience in gardening.


During my childhood, my mother used to cite two of your grandchildren, Sistie and Buzzie, as examples for whatever she wanted me to do or not to do—"Sistie and Buzzie always finish their milk," and "Sistie and Buzzie never slam the door." I have often wondered where they are now and whether they have children of their own.

I think your mother must have had a somewhat idealized picture of Sistie and Buzzie, because they were very normal children, who did not always finish their milk and very frequently slammed doors! They are grown up now. Sistie is married to Van Seagraves and has three children—very charming ones. She and her husband are living in her mother's house on a farm on the outskirts of Syracuse, New York. Buzzie is now called Curtis. He has been married twice and has one daughter, Julianna, a very charming and well-brought-up child.


You are always described as being tall. Just how tall are you, and have you ever felt that it was a disadvantage?

There have been moments when I wished I were shorter, but I don't think it is really a disadvantage. I was—and I think I still am—5 feet 11 inches, though I am told one shrinks as one grows older.


With the many requests you must receive to appear at functions throughout the country and make speeches, on what basis do you decide which ones you will accept?

All requests for lectures go through my lecture agent, Mr. W. Colston Leigh. I give him a certain amount of time, and when this is filled, I cannot do any more lectures. I do the same thing with my agent for radio and TV, though I don't have so many requests for these. I do a good deal of lecturing for the American Association for the UN, as a volunteer.


Have you any words of advice or comfort for a woman who has just been widowed?

Yes. I would urge her to keep very busy, to work at something as hard as she possibly can, and to become interested in as many things and as many people as possible. To lose someone one loves and to be alone is very difficult, but this adjustment has to be made by many people, and I think it is easier if you are occupied.


Do you speak any other languages besides English and French?

French is the only language besides English that I speak with ease. I know a little German and a little Spanish and a little Italian. I would not dare try to speak either Spanish or Italian extemporaneously, because I have forgotten a great deal; but I can still prepare and read a speech in either language.


Are former Presidents and their wives or widows the only people who have lifetime franking privileges, or is this privilege granted to others?

Besides these, I know of nobody else who has lifetime franking privileges. Senators and Representatives have the franking privilege for official material while they are in office, and perhaps other government officials have it while they keep their position.


I have never understood why there is so much competition between the United States and Russia in the conquest of space. Can you explain why it matters who gets to the moon first?

Yes. There is a national pride in achieving new discoveries ahead of other countries. There is probably also some advantage in both scientific and military ways.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, May 1960

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

McCall's, volume 87, May 1960

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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