Isle of Lesbos : Letters & Journals : Eleanor Roosevelt & Lorena Hickok

 

Letters Between Eleanor Roosevelt & Lorena Hickok

Eleanor Roosevelt (ER) and Lorena Hickok began their decades-long relationship in 1933, before FDR's inauguration. Lorena, or Hick (as ER called her) was a highly successful reporter, and ER was about to become First Lady. They shared an emotional and romantic relationship that peaked in passion and later developed into a friendship that endured until death.

When their relationship began, ER was not a naive, inexperienced woman. Biographer Blanche Wiesen Cook states that after 1920, many of her closest friends were lesbians, and that she both honored their relationships and preserved their privacy. ER's letters (and she wrote ten to fifteen page letters daily to Hick for a time) indicate a romantic attachment that was physical. She knew what kind of attachment this was, and the secrecy its nature demanded. As a result, finding evidence is difficult--but not at impossible.

The relationship these two women shared has been--not surprisingly--heavily censored over the years. While they lived, photographs of family dinners were cropped to remove Hick's image. If she was included in a photograph, she was not identified. And she was certainly not talked about, even to biographers. After ER's death, Hick herself edited and retyped much of their correspondence. She burned some of ER's letters and many of her own. After Hick's death, her sister Ruby read the original versions of their first year of correspondence and then threw them in the fireplace, saying, "This is nobody's business."

Even Doris Faber, author of The Life of Lorena Hickok: ER's Friend was horrified by the correspondence. She tried to get the letters sealed from the public until after the year 2000, and when she couldn't do that, she decided to ignore content that reflected on the relationship. About one particularly romantic passage, she declares that there can be little doubt that "it could not mean what it appears to mean."

The collection Empty Without You: The Intimate Letters of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok, published in 1998, recently gave the public a new glimpse into the life of one of America's most beloved First Ladies.

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Letters

Some excerpts:

 

March 5, 1933
ER to Hick, written on the first evening after FDR's inauguration...

Hick my dearest--

I cannot go to bed tonight without a word to you. I felt a little as though a part of me was leaving tonight. you have grown so much to be a part of my life that it is empty without you, even though I'm busy every minute.

[details of day deleted]

Oh! darling. I hope on the whole you will be happier for my friendship. I felt I had brought you so much discomfort and hardship today & almost more heartache than you could bear & I don't want to make you unhappy--All my love I shall be saying to you over thought waves in a few minutes.

Good night my dear one
Angels guard thee
God protect thee
My love enfold thee
All the night through

 

Always yours

ER

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March 7, 1933
ER to Hick...

Hick darling,

All day I've thought of you & another birthday I will be with you, & yet tonite you sounded so far away & formal. Oh! I want to put my arms around you. I ache to hold you close. Your ring is a great comfort to me. I look at it and think she does love me, or I wouldn't be wearing it.

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[Date not provided]
ER to Hick

I wish I could lie down beside you tonight & take you in my arms.

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[Date not provided]
Hick writing to ER after a long separation...

Only eight more days . . . Funny how even the dearest face will fade away in time. Most clearly I remember your eyes, with a kind of teasing smile in them, and the feeling of that soft spot just north-east of the corner of your mouth against my lips. . . .

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Where to Learn More

Eleanor Roosevelt, Lorena A. Hickok, Empty Without You: The Intimate Letters of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok, Rodger Streitmatter, editor (Free Press, 1998)

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