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UMaine Today Magazine


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Isle au Haut
Isle au Haut
 

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Eleanor Days

During and after her White House years, Eleanor Roosevelt was empowered, sustained and emboldened in her social activism by like-minded women. That same courage and commitment to be an agent of social change is the inspiration for women leaders in Maine who gather every June for leadership retreats on Isle au Haut.

Eleanor Days: A Women's Leadership Retreat is an outgrowth of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Gender Project, which explores socialization and equity issues in homes, schools and communities. Among its initiatives is the Turn Beauty Inside Out program for girls.

"Many of the women who were coming together to support girls remembered their own issues and realities of growing up in a culture that was even more limiting than it is today, including stereotypes of what is means to be girls and women. They noticed how these messages were still affecting their work and leadership," says Gender Project Coordinator Aileen Fortune. "That's when we knew we also needed to do something for women."

Since its inception in 2004, 48 women have attended the week-long leadership retreats, led by Fortune, an Extension faculty member; and organization development consultants and facilitators Eileen Conlon and Deb Burwell. Some participants work with girls involved in Turn Beauty Inside Out, which focuses on issues of body image, empowerment, media literacy and leadership development. All of the women professors and teachers, social workers, agency directors and service providers gather as a group of 10 at each retreat to explore such leadership topics as self-care/sustaining ourselves for the long haul, and collaboration and competition in women's leadership.

"As we try to balance our lives, often we pay more attention to what we don't get done and forget to remember our brilliance," says Fortune, a York County parenting and child development specialist for 25 years.

Eleanor Days is held at Stone Cottage, once the secluded summer residence of judge Harlan Stone, who was nominated to be the 12th chief justice of the United States by President Franklin Roosevelt. According to island lore, the Roosevelts were among the Stone Cottage visitors.

"Eleanor was a bold leader whose work in the world was sustained by other women who kept her strong and aware of who she was," Fortune says. "That whole idea of being sustained and emboldened by a group of women inspired this work."

UMaine Today Magazine
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