24 November 2008

Simply Irresistible

Everyone once in a while I come across a quote by some famous person that moves me deeply in some way. Sometimes it's poignant, sometimes it sad, and occasionally it's a little shocking or funny. The quote I share with you today is one of the latter. They are the words of one of America's most beloved and influential First Ladies who, in case you're not up on your American history, quite possibly had a lesbian relationship with her long-time friend and companion, Lorena Hickok, known as "Hick." Only a few of the many letters written by Eleanor Roosevelt to Hick survived. They were preserved and published a few years ago. Many other letters, however, were burned by Hickok at the passing of the First Lady in 1962. The ones that survived certainly imply intimacy and affection between the two women.

Hickok was a well-known lesbian in her day. Apparently she wore masculine attire and drank scotch, which may seem a little tame in today's world, but would have tended to make her more than a little bit notorious in the 1930s. She also smoked cigars and played poker with the other reporters. She was one of the first female reporters in America. She covered the First Lady on behalf of the Associated Press until she was forced to resign because her relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt "compromised her journalistic integrity."1 Hickok gave Eleanor a sapphire ring, which she wore on Inauguration Day in 1933. Later Hick moved into the White House and went to work for the Democratic National Convention.

While people try hard to deny that this relationship was lesbian in nature, you have to do more than your fair share of sticking your head in the sand to deny it successfully. One line quoted from an extant letter from Eleanor to Lorena reads, "I want to put my arms around you & kiss you at the corner of your mouth."2 I don't know about you, but I rather doubt that a woman who didn't love another woman romantically would write a line like that in a private letter, particularly when the recipient was a known lesbian. One wonders what might have been revealed in the letters Hickok later burned. I, for one, am glad that Hick protected Roosevelt's private thoughts and words, given the homophobic atmosphere that prevaded the country at the time of her passing, which still lingers in the political arena today.

All that aside, I share with you some of Eleanor Roosevelt's more public thoughts and words. They certainly allow a glimpse into the lively internal world of this First Lady:

"I had a rose named after me and I was very flattered. But I was not pleased to read the description in the catalog: 'No good in a bed, but fine against a wall.' -- Eleanor Roosevelt

1. http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A493535
2. Doris Faber, The Life of Lorena Hickok: E.R.'s Friend, New York: William Morrow, 1980, page 111.

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