If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

November 1960


Should federal or state governments build bomb shelters for everyone? If there couldn't be enough for everyone, should there be none?

I think it is nonsense to build bomb shelters. It is quite evident, from all we are told about modern nuclear weapons, that the shelters would be useless. We had better bend our efforts to preventing nuclear war and not worry about how we can preserve our own skins. I do not approve of individuals' building shelters, and I would consider it a waste of government money to build them for public use.



What careers would you advise your granddaughters and great-granddaughters to prepare for?

I would advise them to prepare for the kind of work they enjoy doing, since one does best the work one loves. I would hope they would not be deterred by the mere fact that the preparation might be difficult.



I have heard many charges that both recent political conventions were rigged. Is there no way they could be made to reflect honestly the preferences of the people?

I think it is quite obvious, and has been for some time, that all political conventions are rigged, to some extent. The last two were perhaps a little better "managed" than ever before. I do believe there are ways of choosing our presidential nominees in a more serious and democratic manner.



Don't you think it would be a good idea for each candidate to let the public know his choices for cabinet posts ahead of the election? The various secretaries have such great influence in their fields that it seems to me the public has a right to know what they can expect in such important areas as labor, foreign affairs, and agriculture.

No. I think it would be unwise for any candidate to take upon himself the responsibility of announcing whom he would appoint as heads of the various cabinet departments. His hands would then be tied, and he would not be able to make any changes, even if they were indicated by a change in circumstances. This could be a serious handicap to a president.



Should public officials accept preferential treatment of any sort? What about special license plates on their cars, which win them courtesies from the police? At what point does a luncheon or hotel bill, a bottle of Christmas whisky, or an invitation to a cocktail party become an attempt to "influence" a public official?

You have posed some difficult questions. Many public officials are obliged to have special license plates—not because they want special courtesies, but because they need to be identified. I think, if you are a public official, it is easy enough to accept a gift and return it in kind, so there is absolutely no question of having received something for which you are in any way indebted. You should know when something might be considered a bribe, so you can be careful not to accept anything that you cannot return as a private individual.



Don't you think the law requiring a more rigorous examination for qualified foreign-trained doctors than for United States-trained doctors will unfairly eliminate much-needed physicians from private practice?

I did not know that foreign doctors were given more difficult examinations than American doctors. I can only imagine that if this is so, it is because we feel the American doctor receives certain training a foreign doctor may not have had. We are short of good physicians in this country, and I would be inclined to think it would be important to persuade some of our top-ranking people that we should allow more medical students to be trained in our colleges. We should also welcome doctors from other countries as long as our needs are not filled.



Men like Huey Long and Senator McCarthy have aroused fears of a "man on horseback" in the United States. Under what circumstances would we stand in danger of a dictatorship, and what would be the best ways for citizens to recognize the potential danger and oppose it?

Men who have the instincts for dictatorship are always a danger in any society. Free citizens must be constantly alert to preserve their liberties. In the United States, it is easy to discover a demagogue, but it sometimes requires courage to stand up immediately and say you don't agree with certain methods and certain ideas. However, if we want to preserve our liberties, we had better show that courage—it is the only way I know of to remain a free people.



Did you ever exercise censorship over the books your children read or the movies they attended?

No, not exactly censorship, though I gave the children the books I felt would be appropriate for them to read and they would enjoy. Movies were not a problem, because, during their childhoods, films were much less an accepted diversion, and we lived mostly in the country, where we had to plan to see a movie or play. Actually, I think censorship over books is foolish, because anything harmful will probably be above children's heads and they will not take it in. They will absorb only what they are able to understand.



Should United States passport holders be allowed to go to China? Would you be interested in going?

I would be extremely interested in going to China and have twice applied for a visa. However, I recognize the difficulty of allowing Americans to visit a country that is not recognized by our government, and I know such a visa requires special arrangements. I think it would be unwise to allow visits (except for very special situations) of Americans to Communist China today.



Do you believe IQ tests are an accurate gauge of potentiality? And did you know your children's IQs?

Some of my children were given IQ tests. They did not always accurately represent the children's potential. However, these tests can be representative and helpful if given properly and evaluated in connection with other kinds of observation.



Let's face it—aren't Negroes, except in schools, segregated in New York? Most of them live in one area by themselves, in Harlem; they have their own newspapers and magazines; they're almost never seen in any "white" restaurants; and they are employed in only the most menial jobs. Where do Northerners get off, talking so much about desegregation?

You are right as far as housing is concerned, although great strides are being made in integration, particularly in government-subsidized housing. However, there is marked progress in integration in many other aspects of life. All Negroes are not, any longer, employed in menial jobs. Many move at ease in professional and financial circles, and you will often now see Negroes in parties at what you call white restaurants. The change is gradual, but I don't think Negroes need feel any shame in the progress they are making, and I hope they will continue to progress steadily. I realize we in the North have much less to do than the South in desegregation, and therefore we should have more understanding of the greater problems that exist in the South.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, November 1960

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

McCall's, volume 88, November 1960

Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project

Digital edition published 2014, 2016 by
The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project
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