There have been earlier accounts of Eleanor Roosevelt’s long friendship with and romantic attachment to former Associated Press reporter Lorena Hickok. But in Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair That Shaped a First Lady, author Susan Quinn draws on the more than 3,300 letters the two women wrote each other, delving deeper into their intimacy. The book also presents an inside look at the mechanics of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency as he deals with the ravages of the Great Depression and the horrors of World War II.
Assigned to cover Mrs. Roosevelt during her husband’s first run for the White House in 1932, Hickok quickly became enamored of her subject’s fierce independence and generally warm personality. Theirs was not an obvious match. Eleanor, who by this time had given birth to six children, was the patrician niece of former President Teddy Roosevelt—rich, educated abroad and sure of her place in the social firmament. Hickok—or “Hick,” as she was commonly called—had grown up impoverished and insecure in a dysfunctional family in small-town South Dakota. She had worked as a maid before finding her way into journalism and inching her way up to national prominence in that rough-and-tumble trade. Nonetheless, the two women soon found common ground—so much so that Hick resigned as a reporter, joined the new Roosevelt administration and became a semi-permanent fixture in the White House until FDR’s death in 1945.
Passionate at first and strong to the end, Eleanor and Hick’s relationship cooled gradually as the tireless first lady embraced new and more demanding reform projects and widened her circle of interesting friends. Nonetheless, Hick remained a strong influence on Eleanor, encouraging her as a writer and aiding her in her programs to help the poor and disenfranchised. Both worked valiantly to improve the lot of women and engage them in self-liberating politics. But quite apart from chronicling a beautiful and complex friendship, the author also makes a strong case here that Eleanor Roosevelt was the most politically significant first lady America has ever had.