A dual biography of the 30-year relationship between Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) and Lorena Hickok (1893-1968).
In 1932, Hickok was an Associated Press journalist writing about politics and other serious matters, unusual for a woman at the time. Soon after she met soon-to-be White House occupant Eleanor, the two formed an intimate relationship that lasted at various levels of intensity until Roosevelt's death. Biographer Quinn (Furious Improvisation: How the WPA and a Cast of Thousands Made High Art out of Desperate Times, 2008, etc.) delves into the privileged but unhappy upbringing of Roosevelt—she was the niece of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and distant cousin of her eventual husband, Franklin Roosevelt—on the East Coast and in Europe as well as the poverty-stricken, abusive childhood of Hickok in rural South Dakota. Roosevelt was normally demure, physically tall, and somewhat slender, while Hickok was loud, brash, and overweight. “[Hickok] reveled in food and drink, played a good game of poker, smoked a lot…and was capable of swearing a blue streak,” writes the author. “Unlike Eleanor, who kept strong emotions under control, Hick let it all out.” Indeed, the intellectual, emotional, and physical chemistry seemed out of sync on the surface. Quinn deftly explores how the unlikely relationship evolved, relying on correspondence between the women, oral histories in archives, various government documents, and numerous other sources that allow readers to learn a great deal about normally private affairs. The author’s exploration of Hickok’s journalism and government jobs offers detailed, fascinating human portraits of citizens caught in the grip of an extended financial depression. The benevolent and often daring initiatives of Roosevelt have been copiously documented for decades; Quinn sorts through the massive volume of material, making wise choices about how best to illuminate Roosevelt's character.
A relentlessly captivating study of two remarkable individuals who helped extend the roles of American women in the public policy realm.