Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair That Shaped A First Lady by Susan Quinn Audio Book: 14 hours Book: 416 pages
This is the story of Eleanor Roosevelt and the intimate relationship she shared with Associated Press reporter Lorena Hickok. Eleanor Roosevelt married her 5th cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Up to that time she had lived a pretty loveless life. Eleanor’s mother was a beautiful society woman enraptured by all that her looks and her family’s money brought her way. She married a man of prestige who’s family was also very well off and enjoyed the material things, the privileges and society events that wealth allowed her. When Eleanor was born her mother anticipated a genteel beauty of a little girl to dress up in party clothes with ribbons in her hair that she could show off to all of her group. However, Eleanor was never genteel nor did her mother appreciate her appearance. Eleanor had red hair and freckles and preferred to play rough and tumble enjoying her days instead of staying starched and delicate as her mother insisted. Growing up was painful for Eleanor as her mother insulted her constanly for being “an ugly duckling,” Eleanor never quite fit in as no matter how she tried hard to please her mother it was an impossible feat. Her mother treated her with disdain insulting her looks and her weight constantly. While Eleanor’s self-esteem was low, she was a charming child and very smart. When it came time for her to go to school her mother shipped her off to live with her maternal grandmother to attend a private school taught by a French woman. Eleanor’s life at her grandmother’s home didn’t improve any as her grandmother and aunts scolded her often for not being elegant enough nor pretty enough. School was another story. In school Eleanor excelled and surpassed all the other students to become Madame’s special protégé’. Eleanor learned to speak French fluently, excelled at all of her studies under Madame’s tutelage and went on trips to France with Madame. At school and while in France Eleanor felt at ease. Finally she had found her niche’ in life. She was accepted, had friends and learned to laugh and enjoy herself. When Madame decided to move back to France she wanted her special student to come live with her in France but Eleanor’s grandmother wouldn’t allow it and made Eleanor leave the school and return home. It was heartbreaking for both Eleanor and Madame and they wrote loving letters to one another for the rest of Madame’s life. Perhaps a love affair or perhaps an idyllic relationship born of love and respect that others didn’t understand. Eleanor’s grandmother decided it was time for Eleanor to have her coming out as a debutante, find her a husband, get married and settle down. (Her Grandmother and her mother both thought that education for a woman was ridiculous.) Hence where she and Franklin were able to chat and find they were quite fond of one another. One thing led to another and Eleanor and Franklin married and had five children. Eleanor had learned the graces and social etiquette, had travelled, was well read and had strong opinions and political views. She became the backbone behind her husband’s political aspirations and partner in getting him elected. Eleanor’s mother-in-law treated her badly never believing she was worthy of her son and Franklin allowed his mother to rule over their home until the day she died. Eleanor was never allowed to even pick the furniture, rugs or pictures on the wall of her own family home. Franklin had always been a flirt and loved the company of woman, Eleanor tolerated all of his behavior until the day she found a pack of love letters in Franklin’s suitcase from Eleanor’s own secretary Lucy Mercer. Things were never the same between the couple again. Eleanor wanted to divorce but Franklin’s mother forbid it saying it would be political suicide for his career. So they stayed together throughout his life living in separate rooms and sometimes separate abodes as Eleanor set up house for her and her friends in a little cottage on the Roosevelt property where they spent vacations and entertained when away from the White House. Enter AP reporter Lorena Hickok who was sent to cover the Roosevelts and the election. Lorena, too, had suffered through her childhood from a mother who didn’t protect her from an abusive father. When her mother died, Lorena’s father soon took up with another woman and married her. As soon as the new wife came into the house she told Lorena she would have to go somewhere else to live she would not be living with them. Her father agreed. Lorena was 13 and had no where to go. She came up by her bootstraps doing whatever she could to earn enough to live on and eek out an existence, falling into love affairs with a few kind women she encountered along her journey. She finally lucked into the job at a newspaper and proved herself to be strong and resilient when going after a story. When she went on tour with the Roosevelts on the campaign trail she got to spend a lot of time with Eleanor who she learned to admire. Over the days and months they shared stories, late night suppers and adventures stumping the trail together in Eleanor’s car around the country. The more time they spent together, the more they shared and found they had both always felt unloved. Feelings began to grow, they grew closer in their friendship forming a loving bond between them. They grew so close that it tore their hearts out to be apart. They escaped the campaign and dashed off in Eleanor’s car for secret trysts where they could share all the things they couldn’t share with anyone else. When apart they wrote loving letters to one another telling how desperate they were to be together again and spoke of how much they loved one another. Eleanor eventually moved “Hick,” into the white house where she lived with the first lady and family for 13 years. Their happiest times were when they were together, although Hick’s jealousy often had to be dealt with as she hated it when anyone including Eleanor’s children took up too much of her time taking her away from Hick. If anyone tried to press too close to Eleanor, Hick would go into a rage of jealousy. Eleanor eventually had to put some distance between them to keep things out of the press. Though they still entertained café society, Hick threatened in one of her rages to leave and Eleanor agreed perhaps it was time and she should. They kept in touch and continued to see one another though less frequently up until the day Eleanor died. Hick had gone on to other relationships with women they both knew and some she met on her own. Hick finally settled in to a loving relationship with another woman and Eleanor became an ambassador for the U.N. after Franklin’s death under the auspices of then President Harry S. Truman. Eleanor was her own woman and while keeping her private life under wraps until well after her death she did donate her private correspondence including love letters from Hick to the Library of Congress and Hick kept most all of her letters from Eleanor until she died and the letters turned up and they along with the letters in Eleanor’s collection were allowed to be read by the public. Both women loved one another, supported one another, protected one another and each in her way went on to make the world a better place to the best of their ability. A tender rendering by Susan Quinn. Well written, and a read that takes you through some of the finest hours in history and introduces you to some major historical figures in ways you have never heard before showing you they are human, too.