Eleanor Roosevelt’s lifetime coincided with major turning points in the social history of women in America. She was born into middle-class, Victorian society with all of its rigidity and staunch conformity. The society confined women physically, morally, and psychologically with restrictive dress and relegated them to lives of public and political inactivity. Yet by the early years of Eleanor’s married life, women had begun to make great strides into the public sphere. It was along with many other women that Eleanor became an independent, “modern” woman in the 1920s, adopting the liberating fashions of the day to facilitate her ambitions.
The story of the American woman can be told through the images of what she wore and was she was expected to wear. From the 1890s through the 1930s, women’s role changed drastically from that of a “parlor ornament” to an independent working-girl. The corresponding women’s dress reflects this transformation and functions as a barometer of the time–revealing how women were regarded and how they regarded themselves in American society.