Dec. 21st, 2016

magenta: (Books)

“Loving Eleanor” by Susan Wittig Albert. (Gotten through ILL from the Washington County Library because Hennepin County doesn't own) In the 1920's, Lorena Hickok was a reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune (This was before it merged with the Minneapolis Daily Star.) Women were not really accepted as reporters then; she was a pioneer in the field. While she was not openly lesbian – which would have been dangerous at the time – she lived with the same woman for eight years, in the penthouse of the luxurious Leamington Hotel. When her lover eloped with a man, she fled and ended up in New York, working for the Associated Press. In 1928 she was given the assignment to interview Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of the then Democratic candidate for the Governor of New York. Thus began a friendship, a long term relationship that had to be completely hidden. Hick, she was known, interviewed Eleanor several times when FDR was Governor, and wrote a number of significant stories about her. They saw more and more of each other, and became lovers, writing to each other every day. Eleanor Roosevelt had not had a sexual relationship with her husband for some time; FDR had a number of affairs.

Hick followed Eleanor to Washington, and at times stayed in the White House. When their closeness alarmed FDR and the administration, Hick was given a job with the Federal Emergency Relief Administration; she was to travel around the country and investigate the depths of the Depression. Even for a woman who had grown up in poverty on the plains of North Dakota, what she found was horrifying. It enabled FERA to give aid where it was needed most, but the book she wrote was too upsetting to be published until many years later. Despite occasional vacation trips together, the First Lady was too recognizable for them to have any privacy. Eventually, they drifted apart, but remained friends until Eleanor's death. Hick had a successful career as a writer. The letters they wrote each other mostly survived, and were released to the public many years later, after both women's deaths. Other books have been written about both of them; this novelization by Albert, an accomplished writer, is cogent and moving, and I strongly recommend it, especially for anyone interested in lesbian history.

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