The Public and
Private Lives of Eleanor Roosevelt
expanded here is a story that first appeared in last years
inaugural season of Study With The Best, a regularly
scheduled 30-minute TV news magazine on CUNY-TV Channel 75.
all know about the public life and public works of Eleanor Roosevelt.
Perhaps the most famous woman of the 20th century, she was involved
in the womens, social justice, and peace movements, and she
was a life-long member of the National Association for the Advancement
of Colored People.
But FDRs first lady had a private life, too, a private life
that caused a sensation when it was revealed in the prize-winning
1992 book Eleanor Roosevelt: Vol. 1 1884-1933 by Blanche Wiesen
Cook, distinguished professor at CUNYs John Jay College of
The public had been led to believe that Eleanor was a lonely, depressed
and unhappy woman. Wiesen Cook discovered that the first lady had
several friendships, including one with State Trooper Earl Miller
and with the celebrated pioneering Associated Press reporter Lorena
Everywhere I went, on talk TV and talk radio, I was attacked
Eleanor Roosevelt was attacked for having a private life,
says Wiesen Cook, adding that the exact nature of each relationship
is left up to the reader. There was hysteria that accompanied
the idea that Eleanor Roosevelt might have had a private life, whether
it was in response to the fact that Franklin, her husband, had a
private life and she was wounded, terribly, terribly wounded when
she first discovered his affair with Lucy Mercer.
Wiesen Cook says that when Eleanor
discovered FDRs indiscretions, she opened her heart
to friendships and excitement and adventures, and she wasnt
just going to be left behind alone with her five children to suffer
in the corner. And she was going to live a very full and complete
life. And she did.
Indeed, the relationship she had with Hickock was a tremendous
friendship and lifelong intimacy and affection, Wiesen Cook
says. Hickock, the highest paid political reporter in the country,
was sort of in-your-face, tough and Miller was her
great romantic, handsome state trooper.
Wiesen Cook says that Roosevelt had been coping with adversity all
of her life. Her father, an alcoholic, died at 34, and her mother
gave up on the world at age 29. An orphan at 10, Eleanor Roosevelt
learned early to carry on without complaint. She really did
spend the rest of her life wanting to make things better for all
people in want and need and troubled people just like her own mother
and father, Wiesen Cook says.
Wiesen Cook says that her efforts on behalf of ER have been important
not only because hers is a controversial biography of a famous woman,
but also because it teaches a universal lesson about living life
to the fullest in the face of great andin Roosevelts
casevery public, scrutiny.
The second volume of the biography, covering the crucial years of
FDRs presidency, 1933-38, appeared in 1999, and Wiesen Cook
is now completing the third and final installment, which will focus
in particular on the widowed former First Ladys involvement
in post-war peace and social justice diplomacy.
The most amazing thing for me as a political person about
the story is that to the end of her life, she never stopped growing
and learning and changing and becoming better, says Wiesen
Cook. And so for me, shes a wonderful role model of
just how to be in the face of great adversity.