White Houses is a fictional account of the romantic relationship between Eleanor Roosevelt and journalist Lorena Hickock. The story is told by Hick, as she looks back at their relationship during her later years.
Hick met Eleanor when she was assigned to cover the Roosevelts while FDR was governor of New York and running for President. Upon first meeting Eleanor, Hick observed that “She was dull and pleasant for the first five minutes. I…looked at her in cheap, sensible serge dress and flat shoes and thought, who in the name of Christ has dressed you?” Hick and Eleanor met frequently and when FDR’s Secretary’s mother died, Eleanor invited Hick to join her on the trip to Potsdam for the funeral.
As the novel describes the growth of their relationship, we learn that Hick came from a poor rural family in South Dakota, where she was abused and put to work at the age of 13. She ran away and joined a circus for a short period of time. Eleanor also tells her story, about commencing her education in England and being forced back to America.
After FDR won the Presidential election, Hick and others moved into the White House. She gave up her job as a journalist and went to work for Harold Hopkins to help run Federal Emergency Relief. While FDR engaged in numerous romantic dalliances, the relationship between Hick and Eleanor continued to grow. However, for a variety of reasons, Hick ultimately moved out of the White House and the relationship waned. Neither stopped thinking about the other.
Throughout there are numerous others in the story—romances, friends and family. After FDR died, Hick and Eleanor reconnected for a couple of days in Eleanor’s New York apartment. Eleanor went on to advocate for the poor and downtrodden and Hick became a successful journalist. They reconnected a couple of times before Eleanor’s death. Hick could not bring herself to go to Eleanor’s funeral and continued to think about her regularly. The story is in part a love story and in other part a tragedy. It seems that neither quite got what they wanted from the relationship.
The story is intriguing and was created from a great deal of research. In the Author’s Note at the end, Amy Bloom observes that “Lorena Hickock was tough, fair, funny and frank. She was one hell of a reporter and aside from the outline of her dirt-poor childhood in South Dakota, not much of her story existed, except through the eyes of other reporters and lots of other Roosevelts. She had, literally, been cut out of the history (the White House staff routinely cropped her out of every photo of every family picnic, holiday and party—even when she lived in the White House).” This effort to simply delete Hick from Eleanor’s history, standing alone, makes the story fascinating and compelling. You can reserve this book at the Cuyahoga County Library by clicking here.