Thursday, February 28, 2019

More History Lite - and a Very Good Read

"The White Houses" by Amy Bloom  218 pages, $27

Bloom has done a thorough research job on the relationship between Eleanor Roosevelt during the White House years with Lorena Hickok, a newspaper reporter.  Publicly, they were good friends; "Hick" as she was nicknamed, was on the WH payroll as an assistant to "the man behind FDR" Louis Howe who lived in the White House as did Missy LeHand FDR's private secretary (and so much more, ahem.)  "Hick had the connecting bedroom with Eleanor.

The White House was a seething hotbed of people misbehaving sexually and who'd a thunk it in the late '30s and early '40s there!  The press knew all about all of it, but kept their mouths shut.  Shades of Kennedy to come … 

I must admit to a certain prurient curiosity about FDR's sexual abilities in as much as he had to be helped into and out of bed.  Er, might prove a bit awkward, don't you think, too?  I mean if you can't get onto the playground without help...and rather limiting for athleticism in the sack.  Reverse missionary?  

For years Eleanor and Hick were believed to be "just friends" in that peculiar way that the world in those years rarely recognized "lesbians" but merely assumed that they were what they said they were:  good friends.  

And for years Franklin knew all about Eleanor and Hick; just as they knew about Missy and Lucy Mercer.  (And so did the White House staff."  Omerta ruled. 

This story is largely Hick talking about this relationship (again based we are assured by her letters)  which included their favorite places (weeks on end at Val-Kil, Eleanor's cabin) and their trip to report back to FDR on the state of the poor people which was something of a honeymoon for the pair as Eleanor refused  Secret Servicemen on it.

Hick clearly was a toughie and reading of her childhood - horrible - father molested her, mother died badly of cancer when Hick was 13; she'd already been caring for her two younger sisters since their births.  She was sent out to work at 16, instead escaped with a traveling circus where she was the secretary,  then when it got close enough to Chicago, decamped and looked up a sympathetic  cousin and got through high school.  Instead of college, she became a reporter.         

These words may not actively portray how fascinating it is to read actual quotes - leaving Missy Le Hand's burial, Hick remarked, "He (FDR) ate her.  (gesture at the descending coffin) Those are just bones."  Eleanor said, "Really, Hick."  

Missy Le hand was his private secretary for 21 years.  Stress-induced strokes laid her low and #3 killed her when she was only 48 years old.

Lucy Mercer ran with FDR, then married, and then went back to a limited relationship with him.  She died age 57 of leukemia.  

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