Eleanor and Hick by Susan Quinn
Published by Penguin Press, 416 pages, $30
As first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt fiercely promoted the liberal ideas of the president’s New Deal, but it’s less well-known that she did so in intimate connection with Lorena “Hick” Hickok, an AP journalist. Working together closely, the two women also shared a deep love, exchanging more than 3,000 letters, which prove a rich source for Brookline author Susan Quinn in this fascinating look at their relationship.
Raised in a troubled family under very different circumstances from the high-born Eleanor, the feisty Hick chronicled the sufferings of the poor during the Depression. Eleanor was often alongside her. The pair drove everywhere in Eleanor’s roadster, twining political missions with homey affection. Home became the White House, where Hick had her own room and lived, on and off, for 13 years.
Quinn deems it a love affair, with cuddling and tickling, possibly more. Hick was gay; Eleanor was less inclined to physical affection, even with her children. FDR, after an affair, slept in his own room, and this triangle involved both wariness and real respect. After all, Hick’s reports for the Works Progress Administration filtered significantly into FDR’s programs.
However powerful her influence, though, Hick was not first lady, and she suffered exclusions and money problems. But in Quinn’s engaging rendering—which spans a significant swath of history, including World War II—Hick is an ebullient character full of bold brilliance, one who encouraged her iconic friend to write the “My Day” column that reached millions.
From Page 115: “Hick dearest,” Eleanor wrote afterward, “it seems years since we sat and read and read and were alone together. I loved every minute and I am going to live on it during these next few weeks.”
Hick wrote Eleanor, “I had a little ache when I unpacked my briefcase and realized that I was in the cottage at Warm Springs, with you, when I packed it early this morning.”