The relationship between Eleanor Roosevelt and Associated Press reporter Lorena Hickok has sparked vociferous debate ever since 1978, when archivists at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library discovered eighteen boxes filled with letters the two women exchanged during their thirty-year friendship. But until now we have been offered only the odd quotation or excerpt from their voluminous correspondence.
In Empty Without You, journalist and historian Rodger Streitmatter has transcribed and annotated 300 letters that shed new light on the legendary, passionate, and intense bond between these extraordinary women. Written with the candor and introspection of a private diary, the letters expose the most private thoughts, feelings, and motivations of their authors and allow us to assess the full dimensions of a remarkable friendship. From the day Eleanor moved into the White House and installed Lorena in a bedroom just a few feet from her own, each woman virtually lived for the other. When Lorena was away, Eleanor kissed her picture of "dearest Hick" every night before going to bed, while Lorena marked the days off her calendar in anticipation of their next meeting. In the summer of 1933, Eleanor and Lorena took a three-week road trip together, often traveling incognito. The friends even discussed a future in which they would share a home and blend their separate lives into one.
Perhaps as valuable as these intimations of a love affair are the glimpses this collection offers of an Eleanor Roosevelt strikingly different from the icon she has become. Although the figure who emerges in these pages is as determined and politically adept as the woman we know, she is also surprisingly sarcastic and funny, tender and vulnerable, and even judgmental and petty -- all less public but no less important attributes of our most beloved first lady.
Having fought her way to the top of the news room, AP reporter Lorena Hickok refused to write women's page pieces on Eleanor Roosevelt when she was assigned to cover FDR's campaign for governor of New York in 1928. By the time FDR ran for president, his wife had become one of his most trusted political advisers, and it was inevitable that she and Hickok ("Hick") would meet. Their fascinating correspondence is a testimonial not only to a passionate (and at one time undoubtedly physical) relationship, but to both women's remarkable intelligence and humanity. Eleanor's letters record much: her daily routine; her role as mother; her love for Hick; and her unabashed views on politics, racism, poverty, war and women's roles. Eleanor redefined the role of first lady from model housewife to political adviser and, with Hick's help, she wrote articles and eventually her own syndicated column. For her part, Hick, fearing conflict of interest, gave up her job at AP and took a position in the Roosevelt administration as a relief investigator. But she missed reporting, and the long hours of travel also undermined her confidence in her relationship with Eleanor. The letters speak of botched attempts at privacy, disrupted plans and endless apologies from Eleanor, but their relationship endured, evolving from one of lovers to one of devoted friends. The editorial comments are minimal (mostly constrained to prologue, epilogue and notes highlighting the fairly obvious passages indicating a physical relationship). Still, on its own this collection provides not only a heart-wrenching and personal look at a friendship but also a unique view of a turbulent time in American history.