The Complete Eleanor Roosevelt: Author Reveals Less Savory Side
Butters, Patrick, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Outside, a barefoot black man slips between a van and a car in the hot sun, clutching a bent cardboard sign that reads "Homeless. Hungry."
Inside the cool, cushioned darkness of the Willard Intercontinental Hotel, Blanche Wiesen Cook is hot.
"I think it's unconscionable that there are 7 million to 9 million homeless Americans," says the history professor at John Jay College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. "What's happened to the goal of affordable housing?"
While Ms. Wiesen Cook has been barnstorming for her book, "Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume 2, 1933-1938," such broader issues take up her talking time. This is a mean-spirited time in this country, Ms. Wiesen Cook says, and that's not what the blue-eyed, grandmotherly Eleanor Roosevelt was all about.
Ms. Wiesen Cook troops over to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, a red book bag strapped to her back. With salt-and-pepper hair and turquoise rings on her fingers, she enters the auditorium, owlishly looking about the room. She seems to know lots of people here.
Immediately, Ms. Wiesen Cook is waylaid by a cluster of adoring women near the front row. Leading the historian is a tall, lithe Smithsonian Associates coordinator who, smiling patiently, stops as Ms. Wiesen Cook hugs this one or chats with that one. The ghost of Eleanor Roosevelt lives on.
Ms. Wiesen Cook is indeed pushing her book, a 686-pager, published by Viking for $34.95. Yet the 58-year-old New York native seems just as intent on getting her audience motivated.
Homelessness and civil rights continually recur as themes. She also exhorts that someone should write a book on Esther Lape, a little-known friend of Mrs. Roosevelt's and a staunch World Court ally.
Earlier, at the Willard, Ms. Wiesen Cook recalls her own meetings with Mrs. Roosevelt when she was a student at Hunter College in the early 1960s.
Even at the time of her death in 1962 at age 78, Mrs. Roosevelt still was pushing young people to fight for civil rights and against the nuclear arms race.
"She lit up a room," Ms. Wiesen Cook says. "Energy bounced off her. When she walked into a room, you knew she was there even when you weren't looking.
"And she was very tall. She had a great aura of power."
So there's a built-in reverence. Yet Ms. Wiesen Cook has raised eyebrows by presenting less savory - to conventional historians, anyway - aspects of the first lady. The second volume of her biography, which only covers five years but is exhaustive in detail, documents Mrs. Roosevelt's close friendships with bodyguard Earl Miller and especially Associated Press reporter Lorena Hickock.
Mrs. Roosevelt met Miss Hickock shortly before FDR's election in 1933. They became fast friends, so much that Mrs. Roosevelt urged Miss Hickock to quit her job and work for the administration so they could be together.
This picture chronicles a well-respected journalist who pathetically gives up career and prestige for a relationship with Mrs. Roosevelt. ("Never give up your career for a woman," Ms. Wiesen Cook says to the tittering audience.)
While Mrs. Roosevelt's letters to Miss Hickock are intimate - "Darling, I ache for you" - Ms. Wiesen Cook gamely lets the documents speak for themselves.
She also highlights Mrs. Roosevelt's changing attitude on race. When her husband worked in the Navy Department, Mrs. Roosevelt wrote to his mother, "The Jew party was appalling."
The first lady was upbraided by blacks for publicly using the term "darky." And as early as 1933, Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt received reports from inside Germany that the Nazi leadership was moving toward full-scale elimination of its Jewish citizenry. …