The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project is a university-chartered research center associated with the Department of History of The George Washington University

The George Washington University

The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project
Questions and Answers about Eleanor Roosevelt

Question: What was ER's educational background?

Answer:

[picture: Marie Souvestre]Eleanor Roosevelt had very little formal education and began school late. After realizing that seven-year-old Eleanor could not read, two great aunts tried to teach her and reprimanded ER's mother, Anna, for neglecting ER's education. Anna then hired Frederic Roser and his assistant, Miss Tomes, to conduct private classes for young ER and a few of her peers in upstairs rooms of the Roosevelt and Hall homes. Because of her parents' separation, it was a difficult time for ER. She was a lonely child with few friends. She thought Roser pompous but admired Miss Tomes, recalling in her autobiography that "for Miss Tomes my admiration has grown as the years have gone by."(1) At first the shy ER froze when called upon to answer questions, prompting her classmates to tease her and her teachers to scold her. She found grammar and arithmetic challenging, but she gradually relaxed, mastering all subjects except long division. She especially loved poetry and memorized Tennyson's "The Revenge" in one day. She read voraciously, often hiding books under her mattress or climbing a cherry tree or the attic steps so that she might read uninterrupted. Charles Dickens, Sir Walter Scott, William Thackeray, and Florence Montgomery were her favorite novelists and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Rudyard Kipling, and Alfred Lord Tennyson her favorite poets.

[picture: Allenswood Academy, 1900]At the urging of her aunts, who were troubled by ER's painful shyness and perhaps worried about the eventual return of rowdy relatives to the Tivoli estate, Grandmother Hall sent fifteen-year-old ER to Allenswood Academy, a private school for young women outside London, England, run by Marie Souvestre. ER studied French (with Mademoiselle Souvestre), German, Italian, English literature, composition, music, drawing, painting and dance. Souvestre quickly assumed an instrumental role in ER's personal development, and demanded that she appreciate history, geography, and philosophy (even though the school did not offer courses in these subjects). Headmistress and pupil grew so close that Souvestre was second only to Elliot in ER's heart.

ER so loved Allenswood that she wanted to join its faculty and told prospective students her three years at the school "have certainly been the happiest years of my life."(2) However, ER deferred to her family's wishes and at eighteen, after three years at Allenswood, she returned home to make her debut in New York society that fall. Her formal education ended with Allenswood, although ER continued to read voraciously. She often told interviewers that her major regret was her lack of a college education.
 


Notes:

  1. Eleanor Roosevelt, The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt (New York: Harper & Row, 1961), 20-32.
     
  2. Joseph P. Lash, Eleanor and Franklin (New York: Signet Press, 1971), 133.

Sources:

Cook, Blanche Wiesen. Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume One, 1884-1993. New York: Viking Press, 1992, 102-124.

Lash, Joseph P. Eleanor and Franklin. New York: Signet Press, 1971, 117-133.

Roosevelt, Eleanor, The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt. New York: Harper & Row, 1961, 20-32.

Roosevelt, Eleanor. You Learn By Living. New York: Harper & Row, 1960, 4-7.