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Foundations of a Public Life:  ER's Education

ER's Education

"For three years, I basked in her generous presence, and I think those three years did much to form my character and give me the confidence to go through some of the trials that awaited me."

     - Eleanor Roosevelt, describing Marie Souvestre's influence on her, The Seven People Who Shaped My Life, 1951

Until age 15, Eleanor was educated in small private classes conducted in her family's homes. She had few friends and froze when called upon to answer questions. But she loved learning and read voraciously.

In 1899, her Grandmother Hall sent her to Allenswood Academy, an exclusive girls' finishing school near London. Allenswood's headmistress was Marie Souvestre, a formidable woman of deep intellect and progressive ideas.

Eleanor flourished at Allenswood. She described her years there as the "happiest of my life." Souvestre recognized ER's hidden strengths, helped her gain confidence, and awakened her social conscience. This "extraordinary character," ER recalled, "exerted perhaps the greatest influence on my girlhood."

In 1902, Eleanor reluctantly came home from Allenswood to make her debut in New York society. Her formal education was over. But ER was profoundly changed. She kept Marie Souvestre's portrait on her desk throughout her life.
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