Lorena Hickok, popularly known as "Hick", was born in East Troy in Walworth County, Wisconsin, the daughter of Anna Adelsa (née Waite) and Addison Hickok. During childhood, Hickok experienced a troubled family life, characterized by abuse, unemployment, and repeated moves. She left home at the age of fourteen to work as a maid until her mother's cousin, Ella Ellis, took her in. While living with Ellis, Hickok finished high school and enrolled at Lawrence College in Appleton, Wisconsin.
Hickok never adjusted to college and dropped out after one year. She was then hired to cover train arrivals and departures and write personal interest stories at The Battle Creek Evening News. To attempt to follow in the footsteps of her role model, novelist Edna Ferber, she eventually joined the Milwaukee Sentinel as its society editor, but moved on to the city beat, where she developed a knack as an interviewer. Hickok then worked in Minneapolis and New York, but was unsuccessful in such a big city and was fired after just a month. She returned to Minneapolis to work for the Minneapolis Tribune and enrolled at the University of Minnesota, but ended up leaving upon being forced to live in a women's dormitory. She stayed with the Minneapolis Tribune, where she was given opportunities unusual for a female reporter. She had a by-line and was the paper's chief reporter, covering politics and football and preparing editorials. She left the Minneapolis Tribune in 1926. After a period of travel, and ill health, she went to New York. After working for "The Mirror" for about a year, Hickok landed a job with the Associated Press in 1928, where she became one of the wire service's most valued correspondents. She reported in a prominent way on such huge events as the Lindbergh kidnapping. Her specialty was campaign reporting, often sharing campaign trails with her male colleagues.
Hickok first met Eleanor Roosevelt in the summer of 1928, at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in New York City. In 1932, she convinced her editors to allow her to cover Eleanor Roosevelt during the presidential campaign and for the four month interregnum period. Through that experience, she and Mrs. Roosevelt developed a close relationship.
Because she felt she could no longer be objective in covering the Roosevelts, Hickok left the Associated Press in 1933. Eleanor Roosevelt then helped her obtain the position as a Chief Investigator for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), where she conducted some fact-finding missions. During this time, she also provided public relations advice to the first lady. She is credited with pushing Roosevelt to write her own newspaper column, "My Day", and to hold weekly press conferences specifically for female journalists.
During her time with FERA, Hickok developed a dislike of reporters. In one report to Hopkins in 1934, she wrote, “Believe me, the next state administrator who lets out any publicity on me is going to get his head cracked...” Hickok had also vented to Hopkins's secretary, Kathryn Godwin, about how she was “fed-up with publicity”. She said, “I want to kick every reporter I see. Which is a state for me to get into, since I’ll probably be back in business myself after I get through with this.” Two weeks after writing the letter to Hopkins, Hickok saw an article in Time Magazine, which referred to her in some not–so-ladylike terms. Referring to that article, Hickok had said to the Godwin, “I suppose I am a ‘rotund lady with a husky voice’ and ‘baggy clothes,’ [Time's words], but honestly don’t believe my manner is ‘peremptory.’” Hickok went on to say that, if they felt that way about her then, “Why the Hell CAN’T they leave me alone?” In a letter (February, 1934) to Godwin, Hickok admitted that the Time article had upset her: “… that damned article in Time Magazine, has made something of a wreck out of me … as I came in, they handed me, with beaming smiles, a copy of Time. I read the thing and wanted to curse until the air was blue.”
March through July 1934 was marked by highs and lows in Hickok’s life. In several letters between the women, Eleanor spoke of “longing to kiss and hold” Lorena in her arms. Yet, in another letter from Eleanor, in May 1934, Eleanor implied that she did not like the instability of Lorena’s life, and found it discomforting, “saying that she was tired of the ‘bad things’ that Lorena’s temperamental nature did to her (her being Hickok).” Eleanor even told Hickok that she thought Hickok was in a mental and emotional depression.
Hickok became the executive secretary of the Women's Division of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in 1940, and from early January, 1941 until shortly after FDR's fourth inauguration in 1945, she lived at the White House. During her time there, Hickok's nominal address was at the Mayflower Hotel in DC, where she met most people. Also during this time, she formed an intense friendship with the Honorable Marion Janet Harron, a United States Tax Court judge who was ten years younger than her and almost the only person to visit her at the White House.
When Hickok's diabetes worsened in 1945, she was forced to leave her position with the DNC. Two years later, Eleanor Roosevelt helped her obtain a position with the New York State Democratic Committee. When Hickok's health continued to decline to the point where she became frail and partially blind, she moved to Hyde Park to be closer to Mrs. Roosevelt. She lived in a cottage on the Roosevelt estate, where she died in 1968.
The cottage where Lorena Hickok lived with Eleanor Roosevelt in the Hyde Park's estate with Franklin Delano Roosevelt had his native mansion (photo by Elisa)
Hickok wrote several books, co-authoring "Ladies of Courage" with Eleanor Roosevelt in 1954, and following that with "The Story of Franklin D. Roosevelt," (1956), "The Story of Hellen Keller" (1958), "The Story of Eleanor Roosevelt" (1959), and several more.
Hickok willed her personal papers to the FDR Library, in Hyde Park, New York, part of the US National Archives. Her donation was contained in 18 filing boxes that, according to the provisions of her will, were to be sealed until 10 years after her death.
In early May, 1978, Doris Faber, as part of research for a projected short biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, became perhaps the first person outside the National Archives to open these boxes, and was astounded to discover that they contained 2336 letters from Mrs. Roosevelt to Lorena, most of them dated in the 1930s, and continuing right up to Mrs. Roosevelt's death in 1962.
A key passage from just one early 12-page handwritten missive to Lorena from Eleanor sheds light on their relationship:
Goodnight, dear one. I want to put my arms around you and kiss you at the corner of your mouth. And in a little more than a week now — I shall!
It is not universally accepted by historians that the two were romantically connected.
Hickok's papers remain at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Museum, where they are available to the public.
Burial: Rhinebeck Cemetery, Rhinebeck, Dutchess County, New York, USA
Eleanor Roosevelt had a deeply committed relationship with her husband that involved working together closely and raising five children. They also both had lovers and committed relationships outside their marriage. For several years Eleanor Roosevelt was romantically and sexually involved with journalist Lorena Hickok; later this relationship was replaced by a profound, if complicated, friendship. Hickok reported on Roosevelt's political work and, in 1959, authored a book for young adults, The Story of Eleanor Roosevelt, that detailed her former lover's life and work. Their letters give a profound sense of their involvement. On February 4, 1934, Roosevelt wrote to Hickok from the White House:
Hick darling, I just talked to you, darling, it was so good to hear your voice. If I just could take you in my arms. Dear, I often feel rebellious too & yet I know we get more joy when we are together than we would have if we lived apart in the same city & could only meet for short periods now & then. Someday perhaps fate will be kind & let us arrange a life more to our liking [but] for the time being we are lucky to have what we have. Dearest, we are happy together & strong relationships have to grow deep roots.
Roosevelt remained intensely involved with her "ladies' brain trust" for decades. Later in life, working with the United Nations, she was deeply committed to international human rights.
By the 1930s, after the advent of sexology, female romantic friendships were widely, and suspiciously, viewed as sexual and unhealthy. In addition, freer discussion of lesbianism and sex allowed female social justice activists, and all Americans, to understand gender and sexuality in a new light. Although her letters do give us a portrait of an intensely passionate woman, we can never know exactly what Eleanor Roosevelt felt - it is widely believed that, in addition to her affair with Hickok, she also had an affair with her bodyguard, Earl Miller, who was ten years her junior - but we know that her close female friendships sustained her life and her progressive political vision. As her life, loves, political interests, and passions demonstrate, Roosevelt, unlike the women in the social purity movement, valued personal and social freedoms over the idea of restricting human behavior. Eleanor Roosevelt and her female friends believed in creating a world in which people were helped to find and make their own lives and happiness, not simply be protected from social evils. In this way, their work was a rejoinder to the divisive strictures of the persecuting society, which had retained its hold on much of American social and political culture over the previous two centuries.--A Queer History of the United States by Michael Bronski
Empty Without You: The Intimate Letters Of Eleanor Roosevelt And Lorena Hickok by Rodger Streitmatter
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Da Capo Press; annotated edition edition (September 20, 2000)
Amazon: Empty Without You: The Intimate Letters Of Eleanor Roosevelt And Lorena Hickok
In 1978, more than 3,500 letters written over a thirty-year friendship between Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok were discovered by archivists. Although the most explicit letters had been burned (Lorena told Eleanor's daughter, "Your mother wasn't always so very discreet in her letters to me"), the find was still electrifying enough to create controversy about the nature of the women's relationship. Historian Rodger Streitmatter has transcribed and annotated more than 300 of those letters—published here for the first time—and put them within the context of the lives of these two extraordinary women, allowing us to understand the role of this remarkable friendship in Roosevelt's transformation into a crusading First Lady.
One Third of a Nation: Lorena Hickok Reports on the Great Depression edited by Richard Lowitt & Maurine H. Beasley
Paperback: 440 pages
Publisher: University of Illinois Press (May 1, 1983)
Amazon: One Third of a Nation: Lorena Hickok Reports on the Great Depression
Between 1933 and 1935, Lorena Hickok traveled across thirty-two states as a "confidential investigator" for Harry Hopkins, head of FDR's Federal Emergency Relief Administration. Her assignment was to gather information about the day-to-day toll the Depression was exacting on individual citizens. "One Third of a Nation" is her record, underscored by the eloquent photographs of Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, and others, of the shocking plight of millions of unemployed and dispossessed Americans.
Life of Lorena Hickok E. R.'s Friend by Doris Faber
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: William Morrow & Co; 1st edition (March 1980)
Amazon: Life of Lorena Hickok E. R.'s Friend