Thursday, September 8, 2016

FDR's "Office Wife"-- and the Many Loves of Eleanor

President Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor were a formidible leadership team but early in Franklin's career their relationship had become a marriage of convience. Each found imtimacy in relationships and friendships outside their marriage. Missy LeHand, FDR's personal secretary was at his side 24-7, swimming with him at Warm Springs and acting as a chief of staff. Eleanor's friendship, and perhaps love affair, with newswoman Lorena Hickock helped transform her into the First Lady of the World.

The Gatekeeper: Missy LeHand, FDR, and the Untold Partnership that Defined a Presidency by Kathryn Smith is the first biography of President Roosevelt's constant companion for twenty years in the office and out, the first female 'chief of staff' who could be found with her boss at night only wearing her nightgown.

With only a high school education Missy was hired as a personal secretary before FDR contracted polio. She rose with her boss to become his 'gatekeeper' and an influential and respected advisor in the White House.

Missy dedicated her life to her boss, She accompanied FDR as he pursued therapy, going on cruises and at Warm Springs (a place Eleanor disliked). Missy served as his hostess while Eleanor was following her own interests. Missy was given rooms in the governor's mansion and the White House and was intimate with Eleanor and the Roosevelt family.

Hobnobbing with the powerful and high society, including Joe Kennedy, Missy could pull off glamour and had flirtations and love affairs. Popular magazines ran articles about her. Her love letters to Bill Bullitt offer us glimpses of the woman.

Smith's biography covers FDR's life and career showing how Missy played her part. Much of this information I had already learned from other books about FDR, but this book offers deeper information on Missy's career, her health issues and death, her family, the articles and comments written about her by others, and especially her love letters where we finally hear Missy's voice.

I was glad to see a book about Missy.  I have read quite a few books on FDR, including James Tobin's The Man He Became , A First Class Temperament by Geoffrey Ward, and Doris Kearns Goodwin's marvelous No Ordinary Time, I sped read through much of the early parts of the book.

I received a free ebook from First to Read in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The Gatekeeper
Kathryn Smith
Touchstone
Publication Sept. 6, 2016
$28 hard cover
ISBN:9781501114960

Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair that Shaped a First Lady by Susan Quinn shows us the personal life and independent career of Eleanor Roosevelt, and explores her friendships with women and men who enriched her life and whom she deeply loved. Lorena Hickcok (Hick) was an AP journalist covering the White House when Eleanor met her. Sharing a train car while campaigning started a relationship that helped Eleanor become a capable leader and broke Lorena's heart.

Discovering her husband's love affair with her personal secretary moved Eleanor to offer a divorce; Franklin's mother said it would ruin his political career. Eleanor never forgave Franklin and their marriage was never again emotionally or physically intimate.

Eleanor became involved with a series of friendships that offered her the love and companionship she needed. The deep love expressed in her letters to Lorena Hickcock, as well as to male friends Joe Lash and her doctor David Gurewitsch, show her deep capacity to love. If any of these relationships included sexual intimacy is uncertain and unknowable but Eleanor's letters to Hick express longing for physical contact and expressions of love.

Eleanor had a history of close relationships to women from her time away at school when she idolized a teacher, to her close friendships with lesbian couples. Eleanor also may have had problems with intimacy and closeness. Her involvement in causes and political work and role as First Lady meant Hick hardly ever had Eleanor all to herself. They took trips together, vacationed together, and spent special holidays together. But it was never enough for Hick.

Eleanor had a great heart and felt deeply, and fought courageously, for the underdog, the powerless, the marginal; she championed equality for all. This book also shows how Hick's reporting and WPA work brought to attention the grinding poverty and dangerous workplaces, the starvation and health crisis across the country during the Depression. Hick was also a competent leader for Democratic Women.

This book shows how these strong women, so disimilar in background and class, impacted FDR's policies and improved the lives of Americans.

I recieved a free ebook through First to Read in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair that Shaped a First Lady
Susan Quinn
$30 hardcover
Publication Date: Sept 16, 2016
ISBN: 9781594205408