Historical fiction readers have the opportunity to view these trailblazing women through the lens of fiction. Susan Wittig Albert’s Loving Eleanor, which beat the two biographies to press by over six months, is an engrossing novel about the same determined women covered in Quinn’s work Lorena Hickok broke the glass ceiling as the first female reporter for the Associated Press, and in Albert’s novel, “Hick” narrates the story of how her career and life were deeply affected by her three-decades-long relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt.
The two first meet in 1928, during the early days of Eleanor’s role as wife to New York’s new governor. Hick finds herself disarmed by the vulnerability she doesn’t expect to see in a political figure. Eleanor and FDR have a long-term partnership, and share several children and a grandchild, but they move in separate circles. When Hick is assigned to cover Eleanor during FDR’s first presidential campaign in 1932, the attraction between Hick and the woman she nicknames “Madam” develops into a passionate affair, which has its ups and downs but finally settles into a loving friendship.
The narrative engagingly depicts how Hick encourages Eleanor to show her private side to the world by holding press conferences of her own and penning her “My Day” newspaper column – and how their relationship changes as Eleanor’s travel and other responsibilities become more demanding, and as her fame grows. It’s moving to see a woman as capable as Eleanor Roosevelt find her public voice at last, but just as affecting are many scenes involving Hick on her own. She’s obliged to quit her journalism career and leave Eleanor’s side (and the White House bedroom she’s occupied for years) in the name of damage control. Their affair attracts unwanted attention, and FDR’s reputation must be protected.
As an investigator for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, Hick travels to regions of incredible hardship, including West Virginia’s economically depressed coal country. In her new role, which is both more challenging and rewarding than she expects, she enables the voices of America’s overlooked citizens be heard by those in power.
For insight into the two women's daily lives and emotional connection, Loving Eleanor is well worth the read.
Loving Eleanor was published in February by Persevero Press ($14.99 pb, $5.99 Kindle, 306pp). I’m grateful for the opportunity to have read it via NetGalley.