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Love at the White House: a former First Lady's lesbian affairs.

A female journalist falls in love with the First Lady of the United States. Their love affair waxes and wanes over 30 years. No matter that work, competing interests, even other romantic dalliances threaten to separate them--their deep bond transcends all of life's ups and downs.

This is the story of the relationship between the longest-serving FLOTUS, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the AP reporter Lorena Hickok. Their love story is the subject of not one but two recent publications: the biography Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair That Shaped a First Lady, by Susan Quinn (Penguin Press), and the novel Loving Eleanor, by Susan Wittig Albert (Persevero Press).

These books offer very distinct takes on the relationship. Quinn's contextualizes the budding of Eleanor and Hick's relationship within a larger historical narrative about America during the Great Depression and the Second World War. The book is chronological and weaves together chapters that focus on Eleanor's and Hick's separate lives before they met, as well as their separate lives after they met--for the lives of these two working women proved a tremendous challenge to their relationship. They both traveled extensively: Eleanor, in the role of First Lady, speaking on behalf of her husband's New Deal programs, and Hick to report on poverty and society throughout the Depression, an assignment that took her to the poorest and most remote locations in the country.

Whereas Quinn is restrained with her language regarding the amount of sexual intimacy these two women shared, Albert dives right into it in her fictionalized account of the relationship, which is narrated through Hick's eyes. Albert's novel ascribes to many conventions of the lesbian romance and is replete with the typical language of romance novels in general: "[Eleanor] took my hand and kissed my fingers. 'Thank you,' she said. 'Oh ... I leaned forward and kissed her. 'Then come to me, dear,' I said, urgent now, direct."

But Albert's writing style has a source: the 3,500 letters uncovered in 1978, 10 years after Hick's death (300 of which were published in Empty Without You: The Intimate Letters of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok, Free Press, 1998). Hick demanded in her will that these letters remain unopened for that period of time; in 1978, researchers, historians, and friends of the two women opened up 18 boxes of letters and other correspondence between the two women dating from 1932 to 1962, the year of Eleanor's death. Some of these exchanges were quite explicit: "All day I've thought of you & another birthday I will be with you, & yet tonite you sounded so far away & formal," Eleanor wrote to Hick the day after FDR's inauguration in 1933. "Oh! I want to put my arms around you, I ache to hold you close. Your ring is a great comfort. I look at it & think, she does love me, or I wouldn't be wearing it!"

It is rumored that Eleanor wore Hick's ring for the rest of her life, even when the First Lady was romantically involved with other men and women. Hick, too, had flings with other women throughout the decades, especially when Eleanor became distant, for professional or personal reasons.

These two books provide two different ways of recording possibly one of the most unique, compelling, and high-profile lesbian relationships of all time.


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Author:Bianco, Marcie
Date:Feb 1, 2017
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