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
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."