A warm, intimate account of the love between Eleanor Roosevelt and reporter Lorena Hickok—a relationship that, over more than three decades, transformed both women's lives and empowered them to play significant roles in one of the most tumultuous periods in American history
In 1932, as her husband assumed the presidency, Eleanor Roosevelt entered the claustrophobic, duty-bound existence of the First Lady with dread. By that time, she had put her deep disappointment in her marriage behind her and developed an independent life—now threatened by the public role she would be forced to play. A lifeline came to her in the form of a feisty campaign reporter for the Associated Press: Lorena Hickok. Over the next thirty years, until Eleanor’s death, the two women carried on an extraordinary relationship: They were, at different points, lovers, confidantes, professional advisors, and caring friends.
They couldn't have been more different. Eleanor had been raised in one of the nation’s most powerful political families and was introduced to society as a debutante before marrying her distant cousin, Franklin. Hick, as she was known, had grown up poor in rural South Dakota and worked as a servant girl after she escaped an abusive home, eventually becoming one of the most respected reporters at the AP. Her admiration drew the buttoned-up Eleanor out of her shell, and the two quickly fell in love. For the next thirteen years, Hick had her own room at the White House, next door to the First Lady.
These fiercely compassionate women inspired each other to right the wrongs of the turbulent era in which they lived. During the Depression, Hick reported from the nation’s poorest areas for the WPA, and Eleanor used these reports to lobby her husband for New Deal programs. Hick encouraged Eleanor to turn their frequent letters into her popular and long-lasting syndicated column "My Day," and to befriend the female journalists who became her champions. When Eleanor’s tenure as First Lady ended with FDR's death, Hick pushed her to continue to use her popularity for good—advice Eleanor took by leading the UN’s postwar Human Rights Commission. At every turn, the bond these women shared was grounded in their determination to better their troubled world.
Deeply researched and told with great warmth, Eleanor and Hick is a vivid portrait of love and a revealing look at how an unlikely romance influenced some of the most consequential years in American history.
Susan Quinn grew up in Chillicothe, Ohio, and graduated from Oberlin College. She began her writing career as a newspaper reporter on a suburban daily outside of Cleveland, following two years as an apprentice actor at the Cleveland Playhouse. In 1967, she published her first book under the name Susan Jacobs: a nonfiction account of the making of a Broadway play called On Stage (Alfred A. Knopf). In 1972, after moving to Boston, she became a regular contributor to an alternative Cambridge weekly, The Real Paper, then a contributor and staff writer on Boston Magazine. In 1979, she won the Penney-Missouri magazine award for an investigative article for Boston Magazine on dangerous cargo transported through the city, and the Golden Hammer Award from the National Association of Home Builders for an investigative article on home inspections. She has written articles for many publications, including the New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly and Ms. Magazine. In 1987, she published her first biography, A Mind of Her Own; The Life of Karen Horney (Simon and Schuster, Addison-Wesley and Perseus) for which she received the Boston Globe's Laurence L. Winship Award.
For her next book, Marie Curie: A Life, she was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Rockefeller Foundation writing residency at Bellagio in Italy. A reviewer in Science magazine predicted that her book "is certain to be this generation's biography of Marie Curie.” Marie Curie was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award and was on the short list for the Fawcett Book Prize in England. It has been translated into eight languages, and was awarded the Elle Grand prix des lectrices in 1997.
In 2001, Quinn published Human Trials: Scientists, Investors and Patients in the Quest for a Cure. It was described as a “real-life thriller” by the New York Daily News. Human Trials was chosen by Library Journal as one of the best sci-tech books of 2001.
Susan Quinn has lectured all over the United States, and has spoken in France and Poland about her biography of Marie Curie. In 2000, the University of Wisconsin at Stout awarded her a Doctorate of Humane Letters.
Quinn has served as the Chair of PEN New England, a branch of the writers’ organization PEN International. She is an accomplished flutist, and continues to participate in chamber groups on a regular basis. Susan is married to a psychoanalyst, Daniel Jacobs and has two children and four grandchildren. She lives in Brookline, Massachusetts just outside of Boston.
Eleanor and Hick by Susan Quinn is a book I picked up from the library. I enjoyed this book and learned a lot of history from it too. When it talked about the history of Hick's life, it is so sad and yet if she lived today, this would not have happened. Sure, she might have had a drunk father that beat her but she couldn't live own her own as a young teen.She also wouldn't have to work at different places to feed herself. Hick had a hard life, a total opposite of Eleanor. I also learned more about Eleanor's life. Learning of all of FDR's indiscretions, which is probably just what most men of power did, is still disturbing. Both women were very independant and smart. Something that wasn't popular at that time. Eleanor and Hick had someone to talk with together and to bond with. When it turned to love, well good for them! They sure didn't have it at home. I enjoyed the book but it was slow in many spots but overall I got a lot of history bits here and there even in the slow zones.
I'm of two minds about this book: I appreciated learning about Lorena Hickok's considerable positive contribution to FDR's years as President and as a tremendously affirmative support for Eleanor Roosevelt. However, I did get bogged down with the breadth and detail of FDR's political career, within which I had to sometimes search for the nuggets of the story of "Hick" and Eleanor, to the point that I found myself avoiding "that damn book", and making myself groaningly finish it.
The first half fulfills the promise of its title, and moves along briskly and well. Hisk and Eleanor met on the Democratic convention trail, and gradually, Hick became Eleanor's sidekick and personal reporter. Eventually, she was asked to move into the White House and found work through Eleanor, which kept them in close company. Hick had grown up in abject poverty and her attitudes helped Eleanor to see America's Depression devastated people as those who needed action, and in turn influence her husband in government. Eleanor, as well, gained incredible self confidence with Hick's mentoring; her newspaper column, My Day, and eventual books, resulted from Hick's praise of their letters to one another. Hick offered her heart, time and insight unconditionally to Eleanor for thirty years.
The politics of the times do reverberate with a degree of déjà vu, the comparisons of slumping economies and jobless people being a critical issue in 1932 and today.
Some points, quotes and contrasts:
"Hick's travels through Georgia, Florida, and North and South Carolina led her to conclude that the rural South had never progressed beyond slave labor. 'When their slaves were taken away, they proceeded to establish a system of peonage that was as close to slavery as it possibly could be and included Whites as well as Blacks. That's all the tenant farmer is... a slave."
"The complaint of Governor Talmadge, that federal funds were luring workers away and causing a labor shortage were false, Hicks concluded. ...What really riled the establishment...in southern parlance, was that the... government should 'take all that trouble for jest pore white trashy an' Niggers.'"
The relief program was welcome for the terribly underpaid blacks. The "white growers liked it too, because it provided meagre sustenance in the off season", thus perpetuating a horrid cycle for poor underpaid and underemployed workers.
In 1934, the Works Progress Administration was formed, with "useful" projects. This program of the New Deal provided "more than eight million jobs to hungry and needy Americans, while enormously improving the country's infrastructure, transforming its public spaces, and INSPIRING A WAVE OF CREATIVITY IN THE ARTS."
In Roosevelt's third campaign for President, when Europe needed help in WWII, he ran against Wendell Willkie, Republican, who "was prone to making wild accusations: at one point he accused FDR of telephoning Hitler and Mussolini and urging them to 'sell Czechoslovakia down the river at Munich."
Hick wrote Eleanor, "Golly, he must be tough to cover. So much extemporaneous speaking- and always a chance to deny he said a thing, or say he was misinterpreted."
FDR "accused Willkie of using totalitarian techniques: repeating falsehoods over and over until people believed them. 'The majority of Americans will not be scared by this blitzkrieg of verbal incendiary bombs'".
Obviously, the American people of those times had a good barometer of what to fear.
Now, Eleanor continued to accrue a huge fan base while Hick was left to her own devices. In many ways, I came to dislike Eleanor Roosevelt even as I believe I understood her. Having suffered the terrible loss of both parents at a very early age, and harsh upbringing by her grandmother, Eleanor's behaviour showed evidence of disassociation. Intimate relationships caused her to distance coldly, yet be remarkably and almost naïvely generously "loving" to strangers who had no vested interest. After Hick loved her, and Eleanor grew in confidence, the First Lady shrugged off intimacy and moved on to an adoring public and volunteer work. Eleanor was a terrible mother, distant and really neglectful with their health; that original trauma may have interfered with her ability to truly bond, because of the fear triggered by loss. She compartmentalized her life, which is how she could be so effective in so many different areas but appalling in the ones closest to her. She was compelled to rescue, so was a remarkable advocate and public "personage", as Hicks described her. Access to the "person" was very limited, and that took its toll on Lorena Hickok.
So... worth the read. Lots to contemplate. Lots of detail, well researched and well written. 4 stars.
Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair that Shaped a First Lady by Susan Quinn shows us the personal life and independent career of Eleanor Roosevelt, and explores her friendships with women and men who enriched her life and whom she deeply loved. Lorena Hickcok (Hick) was an AP journalist covering the White House when Eleanor met her. Sharing a train car while campaigning started a relationship that helped Eleanor become a capable leader and broke Lorena's heart.
Discovering her husband's love affair with her personal secretary moved Eleanor to offer a divorce; Franklin's mother said it would ruin his political career. Eleanor never forgave Franklin and their marriage was never again emotionally or physically intimate.
Eleanor became involved with a series of friendships that offered her the love and companionship she needed. The deep love expressed in her letters to Lorena Hickcock, as well as to male friends Joe Lash and her doctor David Gurewitsch, show her deep capacity to love. If any of these relationships included sexual intimacy is uncertain and unknowable but Eleanor's letters to Hick express longing for physical contact and expressions of love.
Eleanor had a history of close relationships to women from her time away at school when she idolized a teacher, to her close friendships with lesbian couples. Eleanor also may have had problems with intimacy and closeness. Her involvement in causes and political work and role as First Lady meant Hick hardly ever had Eleanor all to herself. They took trips together, vacationed together, and spent special holidays together. But it was never enough for Hick.
Eleanor had a great heart and felt deeply, and fought courageously, for the underdog, the powerless, the marginal; she championed equality for all. This book also shows how Hick's reporting and WPA work brought to attention the grinding poverty and dangerous workplaces, the starvation and health crisis across the country during the Depression. Hick was also a competent leader for Democratic Women.
This book shows how these strong women, so disimilar in background and class, impacted FDR's policies and improved the lives of Americans.
I recieved a free ebook through First to Read in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
This is going to be one of the blockbuster popular histories of the fall, certainly to be featured on NPR and other big book promoters like that, so I was super excited to get an advanced copy. But unfortunately I was quite let down, because the book was actually kinda flat, and I was disappointed in it, though I’ve thought about it for several days and I still can’t totally put my finger on why it seemed so meh. I am slightly crazy about Eleanor Roosevelt, who is America’s greatest politician who never was, and I’ve always just accepted, in my post-everything-child privilege, that she was A Lesbian with some dumb cheating man who wouldn’t give her a divorce and that her partner was named Lorena Hickok, and that’s that. But the book, despite its stated thesis of documenting this great love affair, kinda made me question what I’d grown up “knowing” about Eleanor Roosevelt instead. Technically, the book was completely fine: The historical methodology, totally fine for pop history, the writing, unexciting but fine, the balance of the twin-biographies, fine. There's nothing structurally wrong with the book.
I think some of the problem is actually the subject matter and the historic materials at hand. While the author lavishes you with quotes from both sides of their 30 years of correspondence, it is just plain hard to squeeze too much spice and sex from the Eleanor-Hick letters, they are decidedly not like James Joyce to his mistress here. The evidence presented supports a romantic affair, with a lot of XOXO letters, U-Haul daydreaming about getting a sweet cottage together, a “special friendship” ring, and some cozy sleepovers in Eleanor’s sweet gayborhood apartment where we can infer human beings did natural human being things, but it’s striking how quickly it faded out to just correspondence about their political work and their health, far from the devoted lifetime romance the blurb promises you.
It’s also pretty plain this was an unbalanced love, Hick loved Eleanor more than she was loved in return. Hick quit her hard-won AP reporting job and devoted most of her life to her, pushed away other nice women she could have built a more emotionally satisfying life with, Eleanor… actively courted other emotional intimacies and didn’t give up anything that I could notice. I have been forced by this book, in short, to come to terms with the knowledge that Eleanor Roosevelt was a Bad Lesbian, and I’m not very happy about it. Which is fine, that’s history for you, always crushing your history-crushes, but the blurb promised me “a vivid portrait of love” and I got something more like a depressing series of blurry paparazzi photos of Eleanor taking a good woman for granted.
I do think the author, however, has put together the most complete set of stories about Hick yet published, including fresh interviews with people who knew her in her final years, which is probably the main value of the book. I didn’t know anything but the bare facts about Hick before reading this, and I now am kinda crazy about her, this grumpy looking woman with a fat cigarette hanging out of her mouth just doing her thing, working hard for 30 years and never being sure if she’d gotten a single position after being with Eleanor on her talent and without nepotism. There’s also some decent research on the other lesbian couples Eleanor and Hick hung out with, though I’d have liked more work on them, if only because it’s comforting to know Eleanor and Hick knew other lesbians in (what we’d consider today) more healthy relationships, and fights the general historical misconception of ye olden days being nonstop lonely closeted homosexual tragedy. So get the book if you want to read more about the beginning of women's involvement in Democratic party politics and a particular badass lesbian journalist, but temper your expectations of a great inspirational romance, because it’s just not here.
My copy of this book was free from the publisher for the purposes of review.
3 stars or 4 stars? I honestly don't know. As evidence of a love story through a changing time in our country's history, strong four stars. Otherwise, it is rather dull. Audiobook I found my mind wandering it was easy to lose track of the narrative because little action takes place. I'm glad I read it, just not happy I own it and can't sell it
I found Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair That Shaped a First Lady to be somewhat underwhelming. I guess with a subtitle like that I expected there to be tons more focus on the actual relationship/love affair between Eleanor and Hick, but you don't really get that. I mean, you get some, but a lot of this book is focused on what these two ladies did separately as opposed to together.
I also would have liked it if this book included more of the letters that Hick and Eleanor wrote each other. I know that this book mentions that Hick destroyed some of the letters, particularly the ones that she herself wrote, but I would've liked to read at least ONE of the letters word for word. In fact, I think that this book would have benefited greatly if it was told in as somewhat epistolary style, but it wasn't.
For the most part, I found Eleanor and Hick to be somewhat engaging. But there were parts of it that dragged on a bit. I did like the emphasis placed on Hick since I feel like she was just a tad more interesting than Eleanor or rather it's easier to connect with Hick because you get a better feel of her rather than of Eleanor. In the end, I still recommend Eleanor and Hick.
The first half of this was really good! Very readable and engaging. I'd heard of Hick before, but had no idea she and Eleanor had such a close (probably romantic, possible sexual) relationship.
Then my library loan expired and I had to wait to read the second half, so some of my waning interest is probably due to that, but also the second half of the book was more about Eleanor and Hick as individuals. Which was still interesting, but wasn't what the book promised.
Eleanor had other close, special friends, and, by the end of the book, I just wasn't sure that Hick was more special than any other. But then maybe the book wasn't trying to say she was, just that it WAS a special relationship.
Thank you First Reads for the opportunity to read Eleanor and Hick. This book chronicles the love between two women and the influence that the First Lady had during the depression, the war and the years following the war. I doubt that Mrs. Roosevelt would have been as effective without the stimulus of Ms. Hickock. And, the focus of the book really is on Hick's influence rather than on the relationship between the two women. So, the subtitle is a bit misleading. No matter. This is a tale that needed to be told.
Lorena Hickok was Eleanor Roosevelt's very close and personal "friend". I cannot even begin to imagine what it must have been like to gay in 1930's and 40's it must be hard enough in our somewhat more enlightened times. Add to that imagine being a lesbian and being the First Lady. Before reading this I had heard the rumors that Eleanor Roosevelt may have been a lesbian and I wanted to learn more about that part of her life.
This book was fascinating but also slow moving and boring at times. I get that the author did tons of research for this book but she could of slimmed it down a little. It was just information overload. I didn't need an entire chapter about friends who are never mentioned again. Overall it was informative but it was also a little on the dull side.
It's one of those unknown historical innuendos: Did first lady Eleanor Roosevelt have a physical love affair with Lorena Hickock? Maybe. Maybe not. What is known is that the two were beloved, lifelong friends. Whether it was anything more than that is merely controversial insinuations and whispered suggestions.
Written by Susan Quinn, this biography of Eleanor and Hick (as she was nicknamed) is fascinating. Based not only on the historical record, but also on the 3,000 letters the two women wrote each other, this is an in-depth and intimate account of their unusual and close friendship.
When they met, Eleanor was the country's new first lady after her husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was elected president in 1932. Hick was a "gal reporter" for The Associated Press and was assigned to interview Mrs. Roosevelt. Their fast and furious friendship was so intense that Hick left her coveted job at AP and moved into the White House where she lived off and on during Roosevelt's long tenure as president. During the years of the Great Depression, Eleanor arranged for Hick to work for Harry Hopkins, one of the president's closest advisors, traveling the country and reporting on real life—from the mining camps of West Virginia to the slums of Puerto Rico—in missives that forced the government to act and help. This was in no small part because Eleanor used Hick's reports to push FDR into doing something concrete and real to solve these problems.
The book delves deeply into Eleanor's crumbling marriage, Franklin's betrayals with Lucy Mercer and other women, Eleanor's children's unhappy marriages, and her own unerring and constant quest to "be of use"—from the Depression through World War II and the years following FDR's death.
Most of all, this is a story of how two women—seemingly in love, but sometimes at odds—supported, inspired, and comforted one another as the weight of the world's problems fell around them. Whether their relationship was physical or not, it was definitely romantic.
The book is a captivating read, although sometimes it gets weighed down in the historical details. Still, it's a refreshing and special take on the Roosevelt presidency from a different point of view.
Gosh, I'm so disappointed. As a card carrying lesbian from birth, I'm unclear how I had never heard of Eleanor and Hick. So, you can only imagine my reaction when I saw this title. I was beyond pumped. Although full of information, I found this book boring and a struggle to get through. It was neither warm nor intimate. I actually feel bad that I disliked it so much. (((le sigh)))))
This is a tender book, written with obvious deep affection for both Eleanor and Hick. It's also illuminating - I learned so much that I didn't know about Eleanor Roosevelt, about FDR, about their relationship, and about the complicated ways in which they both navigated the world, alone and together.
It did feel a little bit like this book was trying to do a LOT with a little. Quinn admits that the record of letters is incomplete, so it does feel like she's stretching to make a whole book out of a relationship that was primarily centered over a limited number of years. Hick is certainly a piece of Eleanor's development, but she wasn't THE piece, as this title implies, and as a librarian, I constantly found myself wondering how much of what Quinn is weaving in her narrative is factual/documented, and how much is her reading between the lines and taking her best guess at bringing to life a relationships between two very private people.
I both loved this book and also wanted it to be both more (a more expansive look at all of the relationships that played a role in shaping ER's life) and less (confined just to ER and Hick's relationship without trying to stretch it into more than it might have been). But it's an impressive act of narrative humanity nonetheless.
An interesting read for sure. Eleanor and Franklin had an interesting relationship that was peppered and spicy with a dollop of infidelity. I really enjoyed the historical aspect of the book. The personal relationships, however were pretty darn dysfunctional. Not a lot of truth in this marriage but a fair share of jealousy. I probably would have enjoyed the book so much more if it was my first read of Eleanor and Hicks relationship. I read White Houses by Amy Bloom two years ago and I was shocked by all the relationships being juggled. This reading I knew about the relationship but was shocked that Eleanor was writing Hicks love letters on White House stationary. She was certainly a passionate woman...both about her duty to country and the people in her life.
“she was not able or willing to devote herself to just one other person. She was always going to be tied not only to a husband but to bonds of duty and friendship with many others.” ― Susan Quinn, Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair That Shaped a First Lady
A beautiful and personal historical account told through letters between Eleanor Roosevelt and her romantic partner Lorena Hickok. I had no idea how extensive their relationship was. It hurts that their story stayed hidden for so long and that so many people view queer relationships as relatively "new." They had many lesbian friends who were living in partnerships. In no way did their sexuality diminish these powerful women's efficacy as political influencers. On the contrary, they inspired and strengthened one another. I'm so grateful that these letters were preserved!
As a reader, I gravitate towards books about neglected history. Events that textbooks and mainstream nonfiction books don’t talk about or mention only in passing. Most of the time, that neglected history is about women, a group that has been long oppressed and silenced. Susan Quinn’s Eleanor and Hick is a commendable effort to give a voice to those women and to make them the protagonists of their own lives.
I was aware that Eleanor Roosevelt had been involved with another woman, but that was about all I knew. So I was delighted to discover the existence of this book, and for the most part, it did not disappoint. I would have wanted a somewhat different story, but that’s obviously not the author’s fault.
Although they had met before, Eleanor and Hick did not bond until 1932, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt first ran for president. Perhaps it was due to Eleanor’s apprehension about the upcoming election that the relationship happened. For all her warmth, she disliked showing vulnerability and had never given herself completely to another person. Hick was one of the exceptions. Eleanor was so candid that after her death in 1962, Hick destroyed some of her letters because, as she told Eleanor’s daughter Anna, she wasn’t discreet in them. It doesn’t matter what they contained; what matters is that Eleanor found someone she could be herself with, no holds barred. And Hick loved her with such devotion that she overwhelmed the temperate Eleanor.
Because of those differences, which are explored in-depth, as well as the demands of public life, their romance ended in a few years (Whoever says it was just a friendship is stupid or in denial. Friends don’t write to each other like those two.) Both moved on to other people, but Eleanor remained the epicentre of Hick’s life, which created an imbalance of power. Still, they corresponded frequently, as they had always done, and supported each other through many trials and tribulations (declining health, heartbreak, financial problems, difficult relatives, etc.)
Susan Quinn does a great job of painting a portrait of Eleanor and Hick together and apart. She writes about their early lives, the events that shaped them, their differing personalities. However, she doesn’t gloss over the fact that both women could be hateful, making it difficult to even care about them: Hick was a raging racist, comparing black people with animals and making a distinction between “our” people (whites) and people of colour. Eleanor, too, started out as anti-Semitic and had an ableist attitude. Towards the end of his life, Franklin made a rare reference to his disability in public: he asked the attendees of a conference to pardon him for sitting down, but it was easier than carrying the weight of his leg braces. Eleanor viewed it as a “surrender,” assuming that he had “accepted a certain degree of invalidism,” rather than understanding how difficult it must have been for him to pretend he wasn’t struggling. For someone who became famous for her humane stances, she could be surprisingly insensitive.
Going back to the book’s main subject, what makes Eleanor and Hick’s relationship so intriguing is the improbability of it; even the most imaginative novelist would have a hard time coming up with something so extraordinary. So while the romance didn’t last, Eleanor and Hick’s is still a love story. One that took on many forms.
One of my passions these days is learning about the history of the world. I can’t remember how I discovered this book, it was possibly a recommendation on goodreads. I do remember reading in a historical book about Eleanor Roosevelt's Tour of the South Pacific in 1943, when she visited our soldiers in Australia during World War II. There was no hesitation with the full 5 star rating I gave it. It was so interesting and enlightening.
Eleanor Roosevelt, was First Lady of the U.S.A from March 4, 1933, to April 12, 1945, during her husband President Franklin D. Roosevelt's four terms in office, making her the longest-serving First Lady of the United States.
She served as First Lady during the Great Depression of the 1930’s and during World War II and played a key role in humanitarian issues. Encouraged by his wife, Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed more women to federal posts than any previous president; he also included black Americans in federal job programs (though they remained largely segregated). Eleanor waged a persistent battle against racism in the military.
Eleanor did not have a happy childhood, as a young child she had an itinerant life adjusting to houses that didn’t feel like home. Her father had been sanctioned by family from living at home during much of Eleanor’s childhood due to his alcoholism and erratic behaviour.
Her father, Elliott Roosevelt, had been a big-game hunter in the 1880’s (which didn’t impress me at all). At age 34, an alcoholic, his failed suicide attempt, jumping out of a window, caused him to suffer a seizure, and his death a few days later. Eleanor had idolised her father, and he adored his “pretty, companionable little daughter” who he had nicknamed “Little Nell”.
Eleanor’s mother, Anna Hall, was an American socialite and a celebrated beauty, sometimes described as being shallow and vain. Unforgivably, she had nicknamed her only daughter Eleanor as “Granny”, considering her daughter a disappointment, lacking beauty and personality to succeed in Society. “She is such a funny child”, her mother said in her presence, “so old-fashioned, that we always call her ‘Granny’“. Eleanor’s mother died from diphtheria in 1892 at the age of 29. Eleanor was just 8 years old.
Eleanor married her fifth cousin, once removed (Eleanor is the niece of Franklin D Roosevelt’s uncle), Franklin Delano Roosevelt (an only child of wealthy parents) when she was 19 years old, living in grand houses decorated entirely by her mother-in-law, who ruled.
In 1921, aged 39, Franklin D. Roosevelt (referred to as FDR henceforth) had contracted polio, leaving him permanently paralysed from the waist down. Roosevelt won the 1932 presidential election in a landslide and became the first (and as of 2020 the only) physically disabled person to be President of the United States. Before he moved into the White House, ramps were added to make it wheelchair-friendly. Any pictures of the President were taken at certain angles and at a distance, his disability largely hidden from the public.
“When Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected and served as the 32nd president of the United States (from 1933 until his death in 1945), Eleanor's life revolved around her duties as a mother to five children and a politician’s wife whose only job was to smooth her husband’s path and engage in the usual round of teas, luncheons, and dinners. This was to change following Eleanor’s discovery that she could be effective as a volunteer in a world of so much suffering and need. She began to spend long days volunteering: organising the Red Cross canteen, knitting and encouraging others to knit, serving coffee and sandwiches to the troops at Union Station. She visited the wounded and the shell-shocked in hospitals. She raised money to build a recreational centre for the wounded.”
FDR’s famous line in his inaugural speech in 1932 was “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
While reading of FDR’s campaigning and accomplishments, not to mention his flirtations and affairs with other women, I found it was easy to forget that he was wheelchair dependent.
As a mother, Eleanor was not good at showing her feelings, and hugging and kissing her children did not come naturally to her. Nor was she sympathetic to their illnesses or injuries.
Lorena Hickok (“Hick”), an American journalist, determined and persistent in her reporting, exhibited her empathy for outcasts of every kind, and could be relied upon to tell the most vivid and candid stories of hardship.
Hick also had an unhappy childhood. Tall for her age, and convinced she was “hopelessly ugly”. “Her father was a man who seemed to go through life in a permanent rage”. Hick described her father as the “most undisciplined person she ever knew.” Hick learned early in life “never to expect love or affection from anyone.” This being said, she of course craved affection or attention from anyone that was willing to give it.
Hick was thirteen when her mother died of a stroke. It wasn’t long before her father married the housekeeper who had been taken on after her mother’s death. Within a year Hick was asked to leave and find somewhere else to live. She was 14 years old.
“Hick’s happiest memories were of life on the farm, and especially of farm animals. “I cannot remember when I decided that I liked animals better than people,” she wrote years later, “but all my life I have felt more at ease with them.” She sensed that animals’ judgement was “based on something deeper than what you look like, how you are dressed or how you rate with your fellow humans.”
Hick had her first interview with Eleanor in 1928. In 1932, Hick was assigned to report on Eleanor Roosevelt during her husband’s presidential campaign and for the period between his election and inauguration. Hick and Eleanor soon became more than “just friends”, enjoying each other’s company and little trips away together.
Eleanor and Hick exchanged thousands of letters during their lifetimes, putting their hearts, their feelings, their hopes and their dreams into these letters. “Both Eleanor and Hick had painful secrets – Hick because she was a lesbian, in a time when her kind of love was considered immoral and shameful, and Eleanor because she had to pretend she was happily married. Homosexuality was viewed in the wider world as both shocking and criminal. But among Eleanor’s political friends, such lifetime liaisons were common.”
Although Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickock came from such different backgrounds (the author describes Hick as “a rough-edged working-class type”), it’s easy to understand how they were drawn to each other. Both had unhappy childhoods, had low self-esteem in varying degrees, and both wanted to be loved. Especially Hick, who quickly became jealous of Eleanor’s female friends, often putting a strain on the relationship she shared with Eleanor. “Hick resented being sandwiched in among Eleanor’s many obligations. She resented even more being sandwiched in among Eleanor’s friends.”
Even though this special friendship/relationship had its trials, Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok remained very dear friends to the end.
There were some references in the book to well-known operas, which I really enjoyed listening to on YouTube. Also looked at what the ‘collegiate shag’ was all about. If you’d like to brighten your day, have a look. :-)
Interesting and involving, this book totally captivated me from the beginning. Some of the aspects of the relationship are so heartbreakingly sad they were hard to read about. I enjoyed the clearer picture of Eleanor and Hick.
I am thankful that someone wrote a book which openly acknowledges Eleanor's love relationship with Lorena Hickok. Before responding to the book, I want to share a story. Several years ago when I was teaching Women's Studies, I was on both the committee to develop the program for Women's History Week and on the board of the Women's Studies program. For the history month celebration we decided to bring Pat Bond to perform. She was an actor who had put together a one-woman show about Eleanor and Hick using only the words from their letters to one another. She was a splendid actor and had been on Broadway doing her one-woman show about Gertrude Stein (Gertie, Gertie, Gertie is Back, Back, Back). When we presented the idea to the Women's Studies board, a history professor (who was supposedly an expert on Eleanor Roosevelt) started yelling "I don't know what Pat Bond does but I know it's WRONG!" She went on the say that if we brought Pat to perform we would need to devote a whole day to Eleanor to undo the damage to her reputation. We ultimately ignored Prof. Goodart's objections and brought Pat anyway. Her performance was well-attended and powerful. That's the kind of homophobia that I have encountered most of my adult life in academia. I once did a paper on the ways in which women's relationships in history and literature were covered up or lied about. I had lots of material to work from. In this book, Quinn uses primary source materials and presents a balanced and enlightening view of Eleanor's and Hick's life. She openly discusses their relationship without any form of sensationalism. She also presents their stories in the context of the historical moments of their lives.
i think i was a bit misled by the title and was henceforth a bit disappointed. although the novel does focus on the relationship between eleanor and hick during their lifetimes, it felt more like a documentation of FDR's presidency and eleanor's actions during it. i appreciated quinn approaching many different angles of eleanor roosevelt, not all of which were flattering (ex= racism, anti-semitism, zionism, etc.) and also highlighting her great successes (diplomacy, connection with youth, ability to adapt and change ideas). i think quinn focused less on hick, but it was interesting to hypothesize on eleanor and hick's separate relationships with queerness. both didn't exactly approach with #pride, so it felt a bit weird to be reading in pride month. however, how tf would they be proud during the early to mid-20th century. lowkey i wanted to hear more about their gay ass friends who seemed a bit more out. so, this was definitely an interesting and thought provoking read, but not exactly "the love affair that shaped a first lady." i also just think that sometimes it got a little bit long (but honestly how could it not when you are documenting a three term president + his wife until her death).
(ATY #20 - A fiction or nonfiction book that is set during 1900 -1951)
Eleanor Roosevelt has always been someone I admire and this book affirms this. I’ll note, this is more of a general biography of her life with a focus on her relationship with Hick which is more heavy in the beginning of the book than the second half on. I expected it to focus on their relationship more closely throughout. A great read nonetheless.
Overall a most interesting, thorough background of Eleanor and Hick’s relationship. The writing and research was well done but I couldn’t understand why Hicks lived in the White House and was allowed to carry on with Eleanor. If Hicks had been a man, I would be of the same opinion. The bits about each woman’s early life was telling and insightful; Eleanor’s hands on approach to helping in and out of the White House was really wonderful and certainly showed her desire to help all people. Her relationship to Hicks was more than I had known and bothered me. Maybe it was just too much that I didn’t really want to know.
This was a lovely, non-fluff escape into history. Richly personal details, empathetic nuance, and lots of fun. Like riding shotgun on a romance rollercoaster and then watching it level into steady motion. Great history, great biography, great pleasure.
Although I knew Eleanor Roosevelt was a well respected and amazing woman, I had never read anything about her life before now. I devoured this book and found it to be very well written.
When FDR became president, the Roosevelt's marriage was already on shaky grounds. His mother threatened to cut ties with her son if he separated from Eleanor so the two remained married yet, in many ways they maintained separate lives. Eleanor had never wanted to assume the role as First Lady. She had a busy independent life but, her unhappiness was difficult to conceal. FDR had several extramarital affairs before he was stricken with polio while vacationing in Maine. The couple had six children in ten years.
Lorena Hickok "Hick" was a reporter for the Associated Press. She later quit her job to become the reporter for the Roosevelt administration. For a number of years she had her own room next to Eleanor in the White House. The women soon became very close. Confidants, professional advisors, friends and possibly lovers, it was not unusual for the two women to vacation together and take long weekends away. Their relationship would span some 30 years.
Both woman had very sad childhoods and although Eleanor's family was wealthy, Hick wasn't as lucky. Her mother died when she was just 13 and her father was abusive. She began working as a maid at the age of 14 when her stepmother kicked her out of the house.
There is so much information in this book about the accomplishments of both FDR and Eleanor that I found fascinating. The photos were wonderful as well and, although this book is 400+ pages, it was a pleasure to read and keep reading. It's a wonderful story about a 30 year friendship that transformed two women.
The author does an impressive job chronicling not only Eleanor and Hick's relationship through excerpts from letters the two were constantly exchanging. I felt bad about the fact Hick died several years after Eleanor and that her ashes remained unclaimed. Her remains were eventually dumped in an unclaimed remains area of a cemetery in Rhinebeck, NY. Fortunately, on May 10, 2000, some 32 years after her death, a simple ceremony, marker and dogwood tree were placed there and dedicated on her behalf.
Susan Quinn's book is an absorbing account of the complex and intense relationship between Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok. From their first meeting when Hick was a noted reporter until the end of their lives, they were deeply involved with each other. Hickok was a lesbian, as were a remarkable number of Eleanor's friends. Quinn's book suggests that although the two may have been physically intimate, it was their spirits that united them. Eleanor was starved for love and affection. Her loveless relationship with FDR and her selfish and rudderless children often drained her. Hick provided an essential emotional support during key periods of Eleanor's years as First Lady. To dismiss Eleanor Roosevelt as a lesbian would be a mistake. At the very least, Eleanor was bisexual and there are several accounts of her physical and emotional attraction to men. But always considered the "ugly duckling," Eleanor was most relaxed and contented in her relationships with other women. One of the great surprises in this tome is the decency, long since lost, of the American press. Respect for the privacy of the Roosevelts and the avoidance of discussing his paralysis would never occur in today's world, and that is both shameful and a pity. This is a must read for feminists, LGBT supporters, and aficionados of 20th century history.
As a big fan of Eleanor Roosevelt, it's sometimes hard to find biographies that stay true to her while also providing a fresh perspective. This book has managed to do that by taking her widely-acknowledged and yet still slightly secret relationship with Lorena Hickock and putting it center stage. By writing the book as a dual biography of the two women, the author was able to highlight the ways in which their lives intersected and diverged without convoluted effort.
I enjoyed reading more about this relationship, and was very pleased that the author did not sugar-coat any of the more negative aspects. Often, biographies about ER shy away from the complications that plagued her family and/or present her as a super-human who floated gracefully above it all. This book not only presented her troubles in a straightforward and non-judgemental way, but the author also allows us to see the places where ER got frustrated or angry or tired much more clearly than other biographers I've read.
I dinged a star because at times the writing veered toward a "list-ish" style I didn't love, and because there were a few places where Hick faded out of the narrative for longer than I would have liked. But overall it's an enjoyable and enlightening book
A friend passed this book on to me when she was done with it, but I won't be passing it on because I've carried it everywhere, bent corners, accidentally set it down on my lunch, etc., because I could barely cease reading.
The interweaving of historical and personal stories is fascinating. The New Deal efforts to save people was both an effort by FDR and a personal campaign by Eleanor Roosevelt, her dear friend Lorena Hickok, and a dozen or more others who could not stand to see miners freezing and starving in tents and farmers unable to make a living no matter how hard they worked. Hickok played a crucial role, driving all over the country to observe the reality of the Depression and reporting in detail what she found.
Eleanor R., though burdened by the infidelity of FDR and the difficulties of their children, carried on in ways I had no previous knowledge of, including bringing many women into positions of influence in politics and playing an important role in the establishment of the United Nations.
Not just a list of names, dates and conferences, this book builds on the personalities and drive of a host of remarkable, if imperfect, people and I highly recommend it.