Then and Now: An Afternoon with Eleanor Roosevelt

Jane VanBoskirk presents the one-woman, one-hour play “Across A Barrier of Fear: The Life of Eleanor Roosevelt” at the Venice Community Center on Feb. 20.

Nationally known actress Jane VanBoskirk presents the one-woman, one-hour play, “Across A Barrier of Fear: The Life of Eleanor Roosevelt” at the Venice Community Center on Feb. 20. Written by Sharon Whitney it will be sponsored by Venice AAUW (American Association of University Women) to benefit AAUW Tech Trek.

According to the Visit Sarasota website, Eleanor Roosevelt strolled the shores of Siesta Key in the 1940s collecting shells on what was then a quiet secluded getaway. Here she marshalled strength for her work as a political partner for her husband, Franklin, President of the United States from March 1933 to April 1945. The First Lady found respite from her duties and life in the public eye by visiting relatives on Siesta Key, a practice she continued until her death in 1962. She wrote glowing praise of Sarasota, describing it as a charming and restful spot.

She was Eleanor Roosevelt: an aristocrat who championed the rights of workers; a mother of six, five of whom reached adulthood; the author of books, magazine columns and radio broadcasts; and a diplomat and tireless worker for universal human rights. “In her day, she was the most beloved woman in the world, and the most despised; the most quoted First Lady of all time, and the most lampooned. She was everywhere and unstoppable,” said Van Boskirk.

The title is drawn from the statement by Roosevelt that “Everything I ever did was accomplished across a barrier of fear.”

The play follows Eleanor from a lonely, neglected childhood to the world stage. Ignored by glamorous, self-absorbed parents, then orphaned at ten, she is so withdrawn she is unable to speak in the presence of others. She begins to find herself when she comes under the tutelage of a progressive headmistress of a girls’ finishing school. Doing charity work opens her eyes to a world beyond the aristocratic society into which she was born as she learns of sweatshops and child labor. She eventually finds her voice and begins a life of public service.

She married Franklin at the age of 20 and bore six children while watching his political rise. After he contracted polio she struggled to nurse him back to health and enabled him to continue his ascent to power and eventually the presidency, from a wheelchair.

She completely reinvented the role of First Lady by becoming her husband’s eyes and ears, going on fact-finding trips on his behalf and evolving into full political partnership. Heartbroken by lack of romance and a lack of intimacy in her marriage, she turns her energy into crusading for human rights. As a liberal icon she was reviled by reactionaries in her time but became a beacon of hope to working people and minorities. Surviving her husband’s sudden, shocking death at the close of WWII she eventually heads the United Nation’s Human Rights Commission and leads the crafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for the U.N.

“I am particularly drawn to portraying Eleanor because her story is relevant to these times — where our government stands on its responsibilities to provide freedom of speech and worship, and freedom from want and fear to all of its citizens, to protect us from harm, and to promote democracy here and abroad. Those were the critical issues of Eleanor and Franklin’s times and remain so today,” said Van Boskirk.

The cabaret-style event includes one free wine, beer or nonalcoholic beverage and “lite bites” following the performance. Cash bar is also available before and after the performance. Proceeds benefit AAUW Tech Trek, a program of “camperships” that give girls entering eighth grade a weeklong, hands-on experience in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

AAUW advances equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy and research. With nearly 250 members, the Venice branch is the largest in the state of Florida and one of the largest in the nation.

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