Eleanor Roosevelt: Across a Barrier of Fear 🗓

Written by Sharon Whitney
Performed by Jane Van Boskirk
Purchase tickets here.
The title of the play is drawn from a statement made by Eleanor Roosevelt, summing up her life: “Everything I ever did was always accomplished across a barrier of fear.”

The play follows Eleanor from lonely, neglected childhood to the world stage. We meet her as a child ignored by glamorous, self-absorbed parents, then orphaned at 10 and so withdrawn she was unable to speak in the presence of others. We see her find herself and trace her growing awareness of the world, as she sees beyond the aristocratic society into which she was born, doing charity work that opened her eyes to sweatshops and child labor and launched her into a lifetime of public service.

Through her eyes, we witness the political rise of Franklin D. Roosevelt, whom she marries at 20 and for whom she bears six children. In her words, we experience the trauma of Franklin’s crippling polio, and her struggle along with trusted advisor Louis Howe, who became her political mentor, to nurse Franklin back to health and enable him to continue his ascent to power from his wheelchair.

With her husband in the White House, we follow her as she completely reinvents the role of First Lady, becoming her husband’s eyes and ears, going on fact-finding tours on his behalf and evolving into full political partnership. We become her confidants as she reveals the woman beneath the liberal icon and crusader for human rights, reviled by reactionaries but a beacon of hope to working people and minorities. And finally we watch as she overcomes the death of her husband and partner to head the U.N.’s Human Rights Commission and lead the crafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


In her lifetime on the stage, Jane VanBoskirk has performed searing dramas and musical comedies. She is best-known to Pacific Northwest audiences for her touring one-woman shows, rooted in history and exploring a range of fascinating personalities. She has introduced audiences to firebrand organizer Mother Jones, missionary Mother Cabrini, pioneering woman doctor Bethenia Owens Adair, suffragist Abigail Scott Duniway, and Florence Reece, a miner’s wife who penned “Which Side Are You On?” Her historical recreations have been a staple of Young Audiences tours, and have been sponsored by many other Northwest arts and humanities organizations. She performed “Eleanor Roosevelt – Across a Barrier of Fear” at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

“For the past 40 years, researching and performing women in history have been my passion. Some are well known, while with others, we interviewed descendants about their ancestors to gather the information needed to bring forgotten but fascinating stories into the historical light. I have been able to pursue this vision thanks to funding by commissions of the humanities, arts, and community education, and supported through contributions of talent by historians, playwrights, costumers, and fellow performers. I bring these women to life for the education and entertainment of audiences throughout the Northwest, and have followed back along the Oregon Trail to the Northeastern states. Somehow, Eleanor Roosevelt encompasses all the historical women I’ve portrayed. Playing her is a high point of my career.”

This performance is made possible by our generous sponsor, Martha McIntire.

2018-2019 Theater Performances