If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

March 1961


On the basis of your own experience, do you think the two little Kennedy children will face any special problems because of their father's office?

No, I think both of them will manage quite well.


I understand that, every year, you give large sums of money to various charities. With all the demands made on you, you must also have to turn down many appeals. How do you decide which charities are most deserving?

I give fairly large amounts to the organizations I work with and small amounts to groups with which I have been associated or which appeal to me as having special interest.


I've noticed a number of references to Mrs. Kennedy's press secretary, which surprised me because I thought only the President needed a press secretary. While you were in the White House, did you have such a secretary, and if so, what did she do?

I had a secretary for the social entertaining at the White House and one for personal work. Both came to press conferences and answered questions in their particular field. My regular secretary took down all the questions and answers at the press conferences. I did not have a press secretary in the sense that a President has, and it may well be that Mrs. Kennedy will not hold press conferences. Each individual has the right to arrange life in the White House as seems best.


You have often been quoted as favoring more and more help to the underprivileged. Sooner or later—probably sooner—this will mean higher taxes for my husband, who earns $15,000 a year. We live comfortably but very modestly with our three children, care for two aged and completely dependent relatives, and cannot—with our present state and federal taxes—set aside any savings. Do you think it is fair that hard-working, middle-class people like us must go on forever without being able to set aside their own competence for the future? Where will it all end? Why should my husband even try to earn more, when he will be able to keep practically nothing of it for himself?

I should think that, with the number of dependents you have, you could write off a considerable amount on your taxes. So you should still be able to earn a little more and, through insurance, put a little aside. I believe in Social Security, of course, and in whatever savings and investments are possible for one's own future. I think there is no reason one should not try to earn more, even if one keeps only a part of it and pays more to the government.


How do you feel about the limitation of two terms for a President of the United States? Would you favor the law's repeal?

I have always felt that it was a good tradition for Presidents to serve only two terms, but I consider it unwise to have this written into law. The people should have the right to decide if circumstances arise where they feel it essential to re-elect a President more than once.


I am sure all your children went to private schools, not because you are a snobbish person, which I know you are not, but because you could afford it. What would you advise a person to do who has several children in a city where the public schools are downright dreadful, but who cannot afford the luxury of a private school?

Of course, in that case, there is no alternative. The children must go to public schools, and I would advise that, as residents of the area, you join with others in working and agitating for better schools. I have always felt it was a pity that so many people sent their children to private schools, because they are then less likely to work for improved public schools. My children went to private schools because of tradition. I fought it for a time, but my mother-in-law and husband made the final decision. I think private schools have an advantage in being able to do a certain amount of experimentation that public schools have come to more slowly. But I believe that, for the good of the community, more of us should have children in public schools, so we can fight together for better schools.


Toward the end of the 1960 Presidential campaign, you made a personal appearance in New York in company with all the leaders of Tammany Hall, with whom, on various occasions, you have expressed deep disagreement about Democratic Party policies. It was a great show of harmony, but everything fell apart the minute the election was over. Would you repeat such a performance if the circumstances were to be repeated? Do you think such a spurious show of harmony is representative of good citizenship? As a native New Yorker and generally inclined toward the Democrats, I dislike Carmine De Sapio, the Tammany Hall leader, and consider him an evil influence. On the other hand, I feel that you represent what is good and decent, and I can't bear seeing you stand together.

Governor Lehman, Mr. Finletter, and I were specially asked to go to that meeting, since our Democratic candidate for the Presidency would appear at it. We agreed to do so because we felt it was well understood that we had worked through the campaign separately, but all for the Democratic ticket. I am not opposed to Mr. De Sapio as a person: I am opposed to the kind of boss rule he represents. That fight must go on, but if I were asked again to appear at a meeting at the end of a campaign, I would certainly do it if my co-workers felt it was wise.


Do you have to file an income-tax report? Or have you, as the widow of a former President, some dispensation that exempts you?

I have to file with greater care than most people, because the Internal Revenue Department scans my income tax report with more watchful eyes. My bank makes out my return, based on information my secretary provides. I don't think there have been any mistakes in the past, and I hope very much there will be none in the future. As far as I know, there is no dispensation for any former President or his wife.


This is pure personal curiosity, but I wonder if you have the same experience that we other mothers of boys do. Do you receive letters from your sons' wives but seldom from your sons themselves?

Of course. I used to write my own mother-in-law far more often than my husband did. While I can't say that all my daughters-in-law are frequent correspondents, I must say they are more attentive to letter writing than my sons are!


Recently, I received a pamphlet advocating "moral rearmament." Are you familiar with this movement? If so, do you think it is worthwhile?

Yes, I am familiar with the movement. It has a hold in many countries, and I don't question its value for some people. It happens to have little appeal to me because of a certain emotional side I think that a mistake. I don't believe it has the great impact to bring about world peace that it claims to have.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, March 1961

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

McCall's, volume 88, March 1961

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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