Among the many changes that took place during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, one of the most prominent was to renew the role of the first lady, until that moment almost figurative if not invisible. Eleanor Roosevelt would never have been comfortable because of her open and independent character, an independence that also extended to the personal. That is what we can find in a book written by the writer Susan Quinn and that delves into one of the most controversial episodes in the biography of the protagonist. And is that “Eleanor and Hick”, edited by Cassiopeia, investigates the relationship that the first lady of the United States had with Lorena Hickok, the journalist assigned by the Associated Press (AP), to follow in her footsteps.
Eleanor always had a public profile, militant, something that had been a good asset during the election campaign of her husband, a man with polio who, despite all the adversities, had managed to deal with the problems to the point of becoming 1932 in the victorious candidate of the Democratic Party to the presidency of the country. They are the hard times of the Great Depression. The Roosevelt’s arrival at the White House had made her happy, but it also raised questions about her future, especially from the most intimate side. Interestingly, it was a reporter who clarified how to face this new stage. Lorena Hickok, also called Hick, a reporter known for her nose to know how to find stories and explain them to her readers. Since the age of fourteen she worked as a servant in the homes of wealthy families in South Dakota, while Eleanor Roosevelt had not known the economic straits.
Despite the differences, both shared the fact of having gone through solitary childhoods. The two fell in love and the reporter soon stopped working at the news agency to move to the White House. There he was the thirteen years that the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt lasted, under the command of Harry Hopkins, the head of the New Deal aid programs. The first lady was in charge of facilitating that job that made her inseparable from Eleanor. The relationship was prolonged when they were not together through the letters in which there was no doubt about the nature of that relationship. «Oh! How I wanted to hug you in person instead of imagining it! Instead, I kissed your picture and my tears skipped, ”Eleanor wrote in a letter to Hick during the first year of their relationship. For its part, Lorena, on occasion, wrote letters in which she acted as a chronicler of what she saw inside and outside the presidential offices in a country that was trying to be reborn after the biggest economic crisis in its history: «This valley is the most cursed place I’ve ever seen. If you disagree with them, you are a communist, of course, ”he wrote to Eleanor from El Centro, in California. Another example: “My God, I wonder what an emergency will be in the eyes of the old ladies who run the Red Cross!” We speak of an epistolary formed by about three thousand three hundred letters and that is one of the axes of the investigation carried out by Susan Quinn, a living chronicle of what the relationship of the two women was, but also of the time they had to live .
Hick conserved the whole set, but after the death of Eleanor destroyed some of the missives, those that had a more explicit content, in addition to trying to rewrite others. Fortunately, he did not continue with that task and preferred to donate them to the presidential library that bears the president’s name. Although everything included a condition: the content could not be made public until ten years had passed since his death. After that time, in 1978, a journalist named Doris Faber agreed to the collection and was shocked to read them: «How could an adult, reasonably perceptive, deny that they were love letters? And that a romance, with at least some physical expression, had existed between this reporter and Eleanor Roosevelt? Amazing!”. The book published by Faber on the subject was a scandal, even for the apparently more open-minded minds of the Democratic Party in the 1980s, as was the case of Helen Gahagan Douglas that Nixon had long accused of being progressive, although Reality showed that it was not so much.
Hick has always been fascinated by Eleanor, long before he arrived at the White House, and he knew she was the news. Although at the beginning it was in the footsteps of Franklin D. Roosevelt, writing that the candidate was addressing “farmers with a very tanned and gloomy face, some so ragged that they remembered the photographs of starving Mongol peasants who appeared in the sections of hollow engraving of Sunday newspapers. They did not cheer. They did not applaud. They stood there under the scorching sun, silently, listening. His companion in the journalistic trench, Rags Ragsdale, would remember years later that “Lorena was more excited than ever when she returned. From that moment on, it was difficult for him to write with the usual AP restrictions on Mrs. Roosevelt ». Hick soon visited the Roosevelts in the family mansion in Hyde Park and after the 1932 Democratic convention set his goal. To Bill Chapin, his boss in AP, he sent the following telegram: «The lady has an enormous dignity, she is the protagonist». Shortly thereafter, in October, Chapin finally gave him the green light to report only who was going to be first lady: “Now it’s all yours, Hickok. Have fun!”. From that moment, as Quinn argues in the book, Hick became an appendix of Eleanor. The two realized that they kept secrets and that they could share them without problems. On the one hand, the journalist was a lesbian at a time when any such relationship was labeled immoral and scandalous. For his part, Eleanor pretended to the public opinion that he was living a happy marriage. No one knew that he had long been disappointed with the “great man” who had been unfaithful to him with an attractive secretary named Lucy Mercer, a wound that did not heal. They did not divorce so as not to ruin their political career, but from inside to each of the Roosevelts made the life they wanted. And Hick was discovering all that personally.
«It would be empty without you»
The epistolary initiated in those days gives a good account of what that relationship was. Shortly after Franklin Roosevelt became the new White House occupant, his wife wrote to her dearest friend: “Hick, my dear. I can’t go to bed tonight without telling you anything. You have done so much to be part of my life that it would be empty without you despite having it occupied every minute ». The letter concluded as follows: «Oh, honey! I hope you are happier with our friendship. I felt that today I had caused you more discomfort and difficulties, and almost more pain than you could bear and I don’t want to make you unhappy. All my Love; I will continue to lead you in my thoughts in the following minutes ». The letter, in the manner of a postscript, included the following verses: «Sleep peacefully, my dear. / The angels take care of you / and God protects you. / My love envelops you / all night ».
Hick would also show his affection in writing, as when before a Christmas meeting he sends a letter where he writes: «Good evening, my dear! I want to hug you and kiss you at the corner of your lips. And in a little over a week, I will do it! The journalist survived Eleanor. When, Hick died many of his most precious possessions went to relatives of who was first lady of the United States, among them the great blue cup he had used for coffee with milk during his years at the White House.