Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Required reading for all women: "Eleanor Roosevelt – feminist icon"

Eleanor Roosevelt, an early role model.
In my early 20s, married and a stay at home mom with two young children, I used to eagerly read Eleanor Roosevelt’s monthly column in Redbook Magazine. She became a major role model for me in the days before women were welcomed on either the national or the world stage. Heck, we weren’t even welcomed in the ranks of professionals in whatever field.

Over the ensuing years, though, I somehow never got around to reading Eleanor’s biography and although I heard that FDR betrayed her, I wasn't sure whether it was rumor or fact.  Reading Eleanor Clift’s piece at the Daily Beast this morning brought tears to my eyes, and I marveled at the enduring heroism of my early role model.

Clift’s piece, titled Eleanor Roosevelt – feminist icon - should be required reading for all women, feminist or not:

Eleanor Roosevelt’s challenges began at a very young age with a mother who belittled her and a drug-addicted, alcoholic father who worshipped her. Orphaned by the age of ten and taken in by a well-meaning but dour grandmother, she found her footing at Allenswood, a girls’ boarding school just outside of London. The French headmistress, Marie Souvestre, took 15-year-old Eleanor under her wing and gave her a glimpse of what an independent woman’s life could be.

It was at Allenswood that Eleanor learned she had a brain, that she could be popular, and even became captain of the field hockey team. Under Souvestre’s tutelage, Eleanor began to discover the woman she would become and the social causes she would embrace, adopting Souvestre’s commitment to social justice and an affinity for the underdog. “I became more of a feminist than I ever thought possible,” Eleanor later wrote. She wanted to stay on after graduating and teach alongside her mentor but bowed to convention and returned home to make her societal debut.

Nearly six feet tall, slender and with piercing blue eyes, the young Eleanor was not the aged woman that we have come to associate with her. Her teeth were not the best--there was no orthodontic work available then--but when 22-year-old Franklin Roosevelt proposed to a then 19-year-old Eleanor, he was as smitten with her as she was with the dashing young man. A man who also happened to be her fifth cousin once removed.

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