Third article in Secular Woman's Women's History Month Series.

by Lauren Michelle Kinsey

It took around seventy years of relentless organizing, struggle, and solidarity for women in America to win the right to vote in 1920. I love the following music video for how it quickly evokes the struggle and gives the feeling of what women were up against in that period of history.

It was only a little over a decade after women won the right to vote that, in 1933, Eleanor Roosevelt became the First Lady of the United States. A powerhouse, she broke the rules about women’s roles. A public speaker, a traveler, a columnist, a policy advocate, she thought and acted independently from her husband.

In 1951 Eleanor Roosevelt wrote an article about the seven people who had influenced her most throughout her life. In it she wrote,

My mother died when I was six. After my father's death when I was eight years old, I did not have that sense of adequacy and of being cherished which he gave me until I met Mlle. Marie Souvestre when I was 15. The headmistress of the school I went to in England, she exerted perhaps the greatest influence on my girlhood.

According to the website of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum

She [Roosevelt] was educated by private tutors until the age of 15, when she was sent to Allenswood, a school for girls in England. The headmistress, Mademoiselle Marie Souvestre, took a special interest in young Eleanor and had a great influence on her education and thinking. At age 18, Eleanor returned to New York with a fresh sense of confidence in herself and her abilities.

Who is this woman who had such a profound influence on our powerful First Lady? What worldview did Marie possess that gave her the ability to empower the insecure Eleanor during such a sexist era? Well, according to Jeffrey D. Vowles of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, Souvestre was an out agnostic. He writes that, “At a time when the term atheist was virtually unutterable, she owned up to being an agnostic. Her teaching method was based on primordial doubt and the testing of every proposition.”

Sexism crumbles in the face of critical thinking. The brilliant and freethinking Marie Souvestre instilled in Eleanor Roosevelt, and many other important women, the basic tool that would set them free. The freedom of those women, in many ways has laid the foundation for the freedom you and I experience in our lifetimes. What can you and I accomplish that is worthy of the legacy that Souvestre left to us? What can we do to pay it forward?

About The Author

Lauren Michelle Kinsey is an amateur writer, reporter, photographer, and videographer. She’s written for Plunderbund about Ohio politics and for The Huffington Post about bisexuality. Her main areas of interest are science, health, technology, and politics. She’s driven by a desire to live a fulfilling life and make the world a better place. You can find links to follow her on social media at

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