More on Reading Eleanor and Hick

I’m about a third of the way through Eleanor and Hick, by Susan Quinn, and enjoying the book very much. The story is at an exceptionally poignant moment in the relationship between these two women. Lorena Hickok was an AP reporter, a prestigious and hard-to-get job for a woman in that era. By 1932 she was the best known female reporter in the country. She gave up her role at the AP to live in the White House and be by Eleanor Roosevelt’s side. Having extraneous people living on the third floor wasn’t all that unusual: FDR aide Louis Howe lived there, as did FDR secretary Missy LeHand. Family members came and went, like a Roosevelt grandson “Buzzie”.

Eleanor arranged jobs for Hick, to keep her busy and to bring in some income. Being close to Eleanor was always enough for Hick, the professional trade-off worth the sacrifice. But Hick was never enough for Eleanor, who had a wide ranging public life as First Lady, a huge circle of friends and associates, and indeed remained in her marriage, however distant it might have been.

I think that imbalance can occur in any relationship: best friends, a lesbian couple like his one, a heterosexual couple, political allies, even business partners.

The imbalance always falls hardest on the one who needs the relationship more, in this case on Lorena Hickok. She and Eleanor remained in each other’s lives until Hick’s death in 1968; she had moved to a cottage on the Roosevelt estate in Hyde Park — still in her beloved’s orbit, but not at Eleanor’s side and not living right upstairs.

Eleanor even turned the tables on Hick as a journalist, however unintentionally. Hick wrote serious, well-researched pieces on those most affected by the Depression, and they drew the respectful but more limited readership that serious journalism draws. Eleanor started writing My Day, a rather chatty account of what she did all day as First Lady, and her readership grew to four million. Eleanor’s memoirs drew huge advances; she was, after all, and interesting and activist First Lady. Hick’s memoir drew little interest from publishers. She had become, although still a journalist, best known for being a FoE, Friend of Eleanor.

Poignant, as I said. The book reminds me that relationships are really, really hard.

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