If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

October 1962


I would like to do volunteer work, but I have no special training. Is there any volunteer field where I could get some training?

On a national scale, both the Red Cross and the Junior League have training programs for various kinds of volunteer work. In New York, the Citizens' Committee for Children also offers volunteer courses.


Governor Hughes, of New Jersey, has urged that New York State raise its minimum drinking age from 18 to 21. How do you feel about this proposal?

Since the fiasco of Prohibition, I have had very little faith in the effectiveness of laws governing drinking. However, in this instance, I am inclined to favor raising the drinking age in New York. If even a few automobile accidents involving young people could be prevented, it would be worthwhile. Of course, if the law were really enforced, and heavy penalties inflicted on people who sold liquor to minors, we might see a substantial decline in the accident rate. However, I am not very hopeful of such enforcement.


The Mental Health Association claims that one in ten of our citizens is mentally ill. To what do you attribute this increase of mental illness in this country?

Personally, I doubt that there has been any increase in mental illness—only an increase in our awareness of it. When I was a girl, I remember many, many people who suffered from such problems. If their cases were not severe, they were called "eccentrics" or "not quite right"; if they suffered from more serious problems, they were literally confined to attic rooms. Many family circles included one such member; but since they were considered a disgrace, they were kept out of sight and never discussed outside the family. Today, happily, we are far more enlightened and understand that such people are suffering from a disease that can be treated. Since we are generally more open about mental illness, I believe it simply appears to be more prevalent than formerly.


Do you think eventually all schools and colleges in the country will be coeducational? Is this desirable?

I rather hope the trend toward making schools coeducational will never be completely universal. Among my dozens of grandchildren, grandnieces and grandnephews, and their friends, I find some with tremendous enthusiasm for the coeducational schools they attend, and others with at least equal enthusiasm for their all-men or all-girl colleges. I like the idea that young people will always have some choice, since it seems to me it is one important way of avoiding total conformity.


Although we are all urged to keep abreast of national and international problems, I find this very hard to do. When I read newspaper accounts of what's happening, I find that they never explain the background. Is there any way that the average person—without unlimited time—can get the whole story on important issues?

The best way I know to get the whole story on important events is to read the news and opinion magazines. They have both the space and the time to supply background material, while a newspaper usually can only report the most recent developments in a situation. Ideally, I think one should read two of these magazines—one with a generally liberal and one with a generally conservative point of view.


Having visited Russia, do you think there are things they are doing better than we, which we might do well to learn about and possibly imitate?

I think the Soviets are conspicuously ahead of us in their teaching of foreign languages. In the first place, they actually teach youngsters a way to learn a language that makes the mastering of a third and fourth and fifth language easy for them. Second, they provide substantial incentives by increasing the living allowance of a college student by an additional percentage for each extra language he studies. Third, most of their teachers are foreigners teaching their native tongues. A Russian student learning English can, for example, study "American" English or "British" English. I would very much like to see a similar program started in this country.

< Previous Column 1962 Next Column >

About this document

If You Ask Me, October 1962

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

McCall's, volume 90, October 1962

Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project

Digital edition published 2014, 2016 by
The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project
The George Washington University
Old Main Building, Suite 406
1951 F Street, NW
Washington, DC