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Eleanor Roosevelt: The Student

Allenswood: A secure place to begin....

Hi there- Bette Hardwick here from sometime in the 1920s with the second part of a four-part series I did for the Philadelphia Inquirer on Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt.

There is a lot to tell, so I’ve divided my notes up into four parts: Childhood is out and School, Early Marriage, and Political Activism are coming soon.

You will remember that Eleanor had a tragic childhood and she was left an orphan at ten. Well, things finally started looking brighter when she was sent away to school.

Allenswood Academy

Eleanor and her brother Hall were sent to live with her Grandmother.

Eleanor and Hall

Life with Grandmother Hall was confining and lonesome until Eleanor was sent to England to attend Allenswood Academy in London in 1899.

There, Eleanor began to study under the tutelage of Mademoiselle Marie Souvestre, a bold, articulate woman whose commitment to liberal causes and detailed study of history played a key role in shaping Eleanor’s social and political development.

The three years that Eleanor spent at Allenswood were the happiest years of her adolescence. Eleanor was “‘everything’ at the school. She was beloved by everybody.”

Marie Souvestre

 “Mlle. Souvestre shocked one into thinking, and that, on the whole, was very beneficial.” ER

Eleanor formed close, lifelong friendships with her classmates; studied language, literature, and history; learned to state her opinions on controversial political events clearly and concisely; and spent the summers traveling Europe with her headmistress, who insisted upon seeing both the grandeur and the squalor of the nations they visited.

Gradually she gained “confidence and independence” and later marveled that she was “totally without fear in this new phase of my life”.

When Eleanor returned to her family’s West 37th Street home in 1902 to make her debut, she continued to follow the principles that Souvestre instilled in her.

While dutifully obeying her family’s wishes regarding her social responsibilities, Eleanor Roosevelt became active in the social reform movement of the Progressive Era.

She was strongly influenced by the idealized example of the reform-oriented incumbent President, her uncle Theodore Roosevelt. Besides exposing her to the people of an entirely separate socio-economic class from her own and their problems, it taught her the power of organized political reform and the process necessary to legally effect fair labor practices.

Eleanor was not interested in leading the social life of a debutante as her grandmother, and other relatives expected. However, it was from this circle of other elite class women that she met others who were interested in reform efforts to improve the lives of the impoverished masses that existed within deplorable living and working conditions. These debutantes had coalesced into a formal organization known as the “Junior League,”

Eleanor also volunteered for the Consumer’s League. Her work consisted of visiting the tenement apartments where workers both lived and worked under dangerous and unhealthy conditions in these so-called “sweatshops,” her first such visits being to those who were expected to turn out thousands of little artificial flowers that would be used on hats and other clothes for manufacturer’s, but for which they were paid so little money they remained in abject poverty.

Her commitment to these activities soon began to attract attention and Eleanor Roosevelt, much to her family’s chagrin, soon became known within New York reform circles as a staunch and dedicated worker.

There is more information on Eleanor Roosevelt in the Bootleggers Chronicles or online.

If you’re a fan of the 1920s and want a bit of escapism, consider signing up for The Unstoppable Jennie Justo. This is a great fictional story based on true facts and will give you a taste of Sherilyn’s books that I know we’re all waiting to be published.

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