Eleanor Roosevelt began her life as a scared and painfully shy child. She had always felt inferior to her beautiful mother and dashing father, whose grandeur Eleanor feared she would never be able to attain. Eleanor was orphaned at a young age, her mother dying of diphtheria and her father dying of alcoholism. These circumstances forced Eleanor to live with several different members of her family, including her grandmother Mary Hall. During the time at her grandmother’s estate in Tivoli, Eleanor prepared for schooling abroad. She began her schooling at Allenswood Academy in Britain at the age of fifteen, under the supervision of Marie Souvestre. It was at Allenswood that Eleanor was taught to speak her mind and defend her opinions. Souvestre gave her students confidence and a sense of pride by demanding that the girls put in their best effort, she refused to take anything less. In her time at Allenswood, Eleanor Roosevelt began to develop her strength. From that point on she continued to become a stronger woman through her courtship and marriage to FDR, her friendship with Lorena Hickok who believed in everything Eleanor did, and her innovative, activist tenure as First Lady of the United States.
Like Eleanor Roosevelt, Kaye Gibbons’ novels portray the strength of women. Each female character either begins as a strong woman or develops into one through the help of a reliable support system. Gibbons uses the time period in her novels to emphasize how her characters are able to transcend the traditional domestic role ascribed to women. For her female characters, the hardest obstacle each encounters is men. Charlie Kate Birch from Charms for the Easy Life realizes that men “at best would take advantage of [you], or at worst, leave [you]” (92). This realization empowers her to succeed as a single mother and doctor in the early and mid twentieth century. Gibbons’ women are able to use their own resources to accomplish their goals. They acknowledge that to achieve true happiness they must take control of their own lives.
Major Works Consulted:
Cook, Blanche W. Eleanor Roosevelt. Vol. 1-2. New York: Penguin, 1992.
Gibbons, Kaye. Sights Unseen. New York: G.P. Putnam Sons, 1995.
Gibbons, Kaye. Charms for the Easy Life. New York: Harper Perennial, 2005.
Divining Women. New York: Harper Perennial, 2005.
Youngs, J. William T. Eleanor Roosevelt: Personal and Public Life. New York: HarperCollins, 1995.