If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

April 1961


At the time of his appointment to the Cabinet, there was considerable publicity about the fact that Secretary of Defense McNamara had to sell his Ford holdings. Do you think it is necessary to penalize public servants in this way? It seems to me that if our Cabinet members can't be trusted to separate personal interests from public duty, they shouldn't be trusted in such important positions at all.

It is customary, and has been for many years, for people accepting positions in government to divest themselves of holdings in any enterprise that does business with the government. It is not a question of distrust; it is a question of influence that might stem from the mere fact that they have such holdings. Therefore, it is probably a wise decision that no one working in the government shall have a considerable interest in any company transacting business with the government.


We live in a suburb that is largely populated by couples, like ourselves, who have several school-age or younger children. A tremendous emphasis is put on civic and philanthropic activities, and most of the other mothers are active members of the P.T.A. and den mothers for Cub Scouts; work on the alter guild or sing in the choir; participate in rummage sales, fairs, bake sales; attend reading clubs; volunteer to drive the blind; work for the League of Women Voters; etc.; etc. All these are worthwhile activities, but they all mean spending a lot of time away from home. I have three children and a house that seem to keep me pretty busy. I know the other women are critical of my not joining in their activities; but I notice that if some emergency arises—at school, for example—their children call me, because their own mothers aren't at home. Am I badly out of step, or do you agree that a lot of women are letting their extracurricular activities become even more important and time-consuming than their families and homes?

It is quite evident that this is a matter of judgment. Naturally, the care of one's children comes first. The fact that other children call you, however, because they know you are at home is not very important. With the modern gadgets we have in our homes, almost every woman can do something outside her home, and I think this is good. As a rule, it gives a woman some interest that occupies her mind, and so her outlook is fresher and more abreast with her husband's. When he returns from activities outside his home, he should have someone with something besides the daily routine of housework and child care to talk about. One should not do more than one is able; but one should try, I think, to be a part of the community.


Have you ever given thought to permanent retirement? Where would you like to spend the years ahead?

I never think of permanent retirement, because I believe one goes on as long as one can and only when health or disability makes this impossible, curtails one's activities. However, if I gave up some or all my activities, I should live, I hope, in exactly the same places I am now living.


With so many grandchildren—and even, I believe, great-grandchildren—you must have a good opportunity to observe the behavior of young people today. Do you feel they are any different from the youngsters of other generations; and if so, do you have an explanation for the difference?

On the whole, I find the young people today more thoughtful as a generation, and I think the reason is easy to discover. They live in a troubled world, and they hear all around them discussions of questions that are hard to resolve but that affect their future lives. If they are of college age, they are probably studying with professors who stimulate them to think of world conditions. This cannot help making them more thoughtful than were previous generations, who grew up in far less troubled times.


Do you think William Dawson, the Negro Congressman from Illinois, was wise in refusing the Cabinet post of Postmaster General when it was offered to him? It has seemed, to many of us, that it was an opportunity to represent his race in an unprecedented way, and we have wondered why he declined the honor.

I think Mr. Dawson did what he probably felt best suited his abilities. He is a good Congressman, interested in his work, and he feels he is serving his constituents. Had he been Postmaster General, he might not have done as well, since this job requires some very definite qualifications—probably those of a business executive. I don't think it unwise to refuse an offer if it is something you do not feel you are as well qualified to do as the job you currently hold.


In your view, is the Electoral College a better reflection of the will of the people than the actual popular vote?

I have not been able to reach a clear-cut decision. It seems to me that in the Electoral College we get a balance of representation. However, I know a great many people who believe we should do away with the Electoral College, because it no longer serves the purpose for which it was intended.


Our teen-age daughter is very much interested in politics as a career. She and we have tried to discover what kind of education is the best preparation for such a career, but no one seems very sure. Do you think a law degree is necessary; and if not, what college course would you recommend?

I don't believe politics is a career you can prepare for. In our country, I think, it is much better to have an occupation you enjoy and are successful in. Then, if you have the urge to run for elective office or accept an appointive office, you can do so and feel free, because you can always return to your original occupation with pleasure and profit. In this way, no one can intimidate you by saying that if you do this or that, you will not be re-elected or reappointed. You will be free, without any consideration or expediency, to do what is right; and this makes for a better public servant. A good all-around general education, with some specialization in history and government and economics, is the best preparation. But this background would also be good preparation for many other careers.


Perhaps just a as a footnote for history, would you be willing to say now whether, in your opinion, Mr. Roosevelt was in sufficiently good health to run for a fourth term?

All the doctors who examined my husband said he could run safely if he would observe certain rules for rest and relaxation. Of course, one never knows whether one can observe these rules at all times. However, if a man is deeply interested in the work he is doing, it is probably as injurious to his health to remove this interest as to have him continue, even if he cannot always follow doctor's orders. I would not feel I had sufficient knowledge to have an opinion on this particular question.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, April 1961

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

McCall's, volume 88, April 1961

Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project

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