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About The Book

Experience the “heartwarming, smart, and at times even humorous” (Woman’s World) wisdom of Eleanor Roosevelt in this annotated collection of the candid advice columns that she wrote for more than twenty years.

In 1941, Eleanor Roosevelt embarked on a new career as an advice columnist. She had already transformed the role of first lady with her regular press conferences, her activism on behalf of women, minorities, and youth, her lecture tours, and her syndicated newspaper column. When Ladies Home Journal offered her an advice column, she embraced it as yet another way for her to connect with the public. “If You Ask Me” quickly became a lifeline for Americans of all ages.

Over the twenty years that Eleanor wrote her advice column, no question was too trivial and no topic was out of bounds. Practical, warm-hearted, and often witty, Eleanor’s answers were so forthright her editors included a disclaimer that her views were not necessarily those of the magazines or the Roosevelt administration. Asked, for example, if she had any Republican friends, she replied, “I hope so.” Queried about whether or when she would retire, she said, “I never plan ahead.” As for the suggestion that federal or state governments build public bomb shelters, she considered the idea “nonsense.” Covering a wide variety of topics—everything from war, peace, and politics to love, marriage, religion, and popular culture—these columns reveal Eleanor Roosevelt’s warmth, humanity, and timeless relevance.


If You Ask Me
Do you think equal pay to women who fill men’s jobs is economically justified?

Certainly. If women do the same work I have always believed that they should receive the same pay. [MARCH 1944]

What can be done to help saleswomen to obtain a living wage?

The only thing that can be done to help any workers to obtain proper working conditions and to get better wages is to organize. Only the strength of an organization of workers can bring about any changes. [JUNE 1944]

Which do you think is the harder—working in an office all day or doing the housework for a family?

Doing housework for a family. Usually work in the office is centered about a particular job that needs to be done, and when it is done it is over for the day. The housework for the family, however, may start when the youngest member of the family wakes up and it goes on through the vicissitudes of the day until late into the night. [NOVEMBER 1945]

Women need more time to be women, not merely cogs in the machinery of the business world. Why don’t more employers use double shifts or something that will make it possible for more women to work part-time?

I am afraid if women want to be considered on a par with men in the business world they must work a man’s hours and find time for their own interests in their spare time. Part-time shifts in most businesses are very difficult and not as efficient as full-time work. However, where there is a possibility of giving part-time work it should be arranged so it does not hurt the work to be done, and where women need part-time work because of home duties it should be available. [OCTOBER 1949]

It seems to me that women who hold jobs outside the home should be allowed income-tax deductions for domestic help they would not otherwise employ. What is your opinion of this?

I do not see why women who work outside the home should be allowed to deduct the cost of domestic help any more than men who employ domestic help in their homes are allowed to deduct the wages from their income tax. If a woman wants to hold a job outside of the home, she does it on exactly the same basis as a man, and should take the same deductions on her business expenses as he does. If she has help for reasons that are connected with her business, such as entertainment, she can legitimately, I imagine, show the connection and make a deduction. But what deductions she makes should be on that basis and not on the basis of “I want to work and therefore need help in my home.” [MARCH 1951]

Eleanor Roosevelt’s views on deductions changed particularly with regard to working mothers, who by the end of the 1950s were a third of the female workforce. Two years after she answered the question below, Eleanor described the rule against working mothers deducting the cost of a “home worker” as “unrealistic and unfair.”4

Don’t you think a working mother should be allowed to deduct the salary of a housekeeper from her income tax?

Yes, I do. The working mother must have someone to stay with her children and to take the burden of the house from her shoulders. It is certainly a part of her business to have someone in her house to help her, so it would seem to me a legitimate deduction from her income tax. [MARCH 1959]

Although she had long fought for women’s rights, Eleanor Roosevelt was ambivalent about the effort to ratify an Equal Rights Amendment. Based on her experience with the women’s labor movement in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, she believed ratification of such an amendment would adversely affect hard-won protections for women working in industry by invalidating protective legislation that among other things set maximum working hours and exempted them from jobs then considered too dangerous for them. As her answer below indicates, she believed it would be more productive to concentrate on repealing state laws limiting women’s rights and activities because “it is usually the state laws that really affect their lives.” However, the movement of women into male-dominated trade unions during and after World War II combined with her work with the U.N. Human Rights Commission and the U.N.’s Commission on the Status of Women did make her rethink her position. Still, she never fully endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment.5

I know that you used to be against the Equal Rights Amendment. Since its form has changed somewhat, and since various organizations have changed their minds in regard to it, I am wondering what your present opinion is. If you are now for the amendment what are your reasons?

I have always felt that the Equal Rights Amendment was unnecessary and that, if we put half the work which has to be expended on getting an amendment to the Constitution into amending the state laws which are really objectionable as they concern women in our various states, we would be better off and further ahead than we are now. I objected to the Equal Rights Amendment at first because of its effect on women in industry, particularly the unorganized women in industry. I am not sure that I think even now there is sufficient organization among the working women to make it possible to do away with all protective legislation for women. For that reason I think I would still prefer to see us give our energies to the removal from the statute books of really harmful legislation which handicaps women. However, if the majority of women in the country decide that they desire an Equal Rights Amendment of course all of us will accept it, since we all believe, in this country, in majority rule. [JUNE 1949]

Don’t you think we should have a law protecting the victims of sex crimes from the publicity they receive when they report these crimes to the police?

I think there should be a law to protect anyone who does not wish to be given publicity. [JULY 1952]

Have you ever said to yourself, “If only I were a man”? Or are you quite content with being a woman?

No, I have never wanted to be a man. I have often wanted to be more effective as a woman, but I have never felt that trousers would do the trick! [OCTOBER 1941]

Men frequently claim that women show little loyalty between themselves, have practically no sense of sex solidarity. What do you think about this?

I do not think you can talk about sex solidarity in women any more than you can in men. Both men and women will stand up for each other at times, and both men and women are sometimes disloyal to each other, but I do not think women are apt to be any more disloyal to other women than men are to other men. It is the person and not the sex which counts. [JANUARY 1942]

Generally speaking, do you think women are less truthful than men?

No. Women are quite as truthful as men, sometimes even more so. [JANUARY 1942]

Do you think women have as much sense of humor as men?

A sense of humor is purely personal and has nothing to do with sex. I have known men with no sense of humor and I have known women with none. Both men and women can have a keen sense of humor and both can have none.

Sometimes I think that women are more apt to have a greater sense of fun because they have traditionally adapted themselves to the mood of the people they are with and therefore reflect the atmosphere around them more quickly than do men. [JULY 1944]

What do you think is American women’s commonest fault? American men’s?

I am surprised that you should even suggest that the American woman has any faults; but since you do suggest it, I think perhaps it is their inability to take criticism and use it to the best advantage. This is a fault shared by both men and women very frequently. [OCTOBER 1941]

A very intelligent man I know complains that women now spend most of this country’s money, and by the end of the war they will have all the jobs and men will have no chance at all. Do you think there is any truth in this?

I think it is complete nonsense. If men go around, however, talking like that they will create a psychology which will bring about the very thing they wish to prevent. [JUNE 1942]

What do you consider the most unattractive characteristic of a woman’s manner in social activities—loquaciousness, reticence, aloofness, insincere enthusiasm, cattiness, and so on?

I consider the most unattractive characteristic anyone can have, man or woman, is the kind of selfishness or lack of consideration which leads to all the other things you have mentioned. One of the very important social attributes of a woman is that she be interested in other people more than in herself. [MARCH 1945]

Since American women spend so much of their time in business and politics, what can be done to keep them out of the taverns? Do you think if taverns were licensed to sell spiritous liquors only, and if tables and chairs for women and soft drinks and all food and music were banned in taverns, it would do any good?

I haven’t the faintest idea. Women nearly always go where men go. In the long run, it seems to me, the important thing is to make whatever place people go to a decent place in which to be. [FEBRUARY 1946]

What do you consider the best years of a woman’s life?

I do not really know what are the best years of a woman’s life, because it depends so much on how she develops. If she is able to learn from life to get the best out of it at all times, then probably at whatever age she is those years will be the best she has had. But we do not all do that.

If you ask me what years I thought were the most enjoyable I would again have to qualify my answer because the enjoyment is different at different times. Certainly the years when women have young children are very rewarding, but again they are often filled with anxiety.

The years of youth, when there is less responsibility, are enjoyable—but the anxieties of youth are also very marked, and there are few young people who escape them.

The best thing we all can do is to learn to make use of the years as they go by and enjoy whatever period of life we are in. [MARCH 1951]

Recently in your page in the Journal you stated your approval of women holding political office, but said you did not feel qualified yourself. What qualifications should a woman have to run for Congress?

She should be fairly young and strong and healthy. She should have a good education and if possible some experience in political work on a community and state level. She should have convictions as to what she believes is necessary for her community and for the nation as a whole, and she should have some comprehension of the nation’s place in the world of today. [DECEMBER 1945]

I can’t see that women have derived any benefit at all from the right to vote. Do you think they have? If so, what?

I most certainly do. The benefit they have derived, from my point of view, is the fact that they can exert their direct influence and build up tremendous power because of their vote and that of other women, which can be cast for the things they really care about. Women wield the same power over their representatives that men do, and they carry equal responsibility. I prefer to do that myself rather than rely on persuading the men I happen to know to act as I think they should. [APRIL 1951]

Do you feel there is a double standard in politics? That is, are women candidates for office treated more gently by their opponents than men?

I have watched a great many women in political life, and I think there may be more reticence in bringing up certain types of accusation against a woman. I have an idea, however, that if accusations have some foundation in fact, they won’t be left out of a political campaign. When anyone, man or woman, goes into politics, I believe one has to develop a pretty tough skin and take for granted one will be treated no more gently than any other candidate. [MARCH 1962]

About The Author

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) was an American politician, diplomat, writer, and activist. She is also the nation’s longest-serving First Lady (1933 to 1945). A committed advocate for democracy, civil rights, and social justice, she was tireless in her efforts to improve political, economic, and social conditions at home and abroad. She brought the same energy and devotion to her work at the United Nations where, as chair of the Human Rights Commission she played a key role in the creation and passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). A woman of her time who was also ahead of her time, she never gave up the struggle to create a better world because she believed that “lost causes are usually won in the end.”

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (November 7, 2024)
  • Length: 272 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781501179808

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