Alpine Apprentice: A Memoir
By Sarah Gorham
Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2017, 208 pp., $24.95, hardcover

By their presence, mountains are the enormous proof of our ephemeral lives. They dash minor ambition and ridicule complacency. They pull us up short and force a high level of achievement, a promise of physical duress and spiritual euphoria.

A mountain feeling was planted in my subconscious at fifteen, and it served nicely to counterpoint the practical education I received at slightly lower elevations in manmade houses and huts.

In four sentences, the poet and essayist Sarah Gorham evokes one psychic condition she explores in her memoir, Alpine Apprentice. Two teenage years spent at an international, Swiss boarding school (1969 – 1971) occasion the book, a heady mixture of lyricism, research, and self-reflection. Gorham juxtaposes brief, flash-fiction-like passages (on potatoes, meringue, and "bound meat"—herbed, dried beef shoulder) with meditations on adolescent psychology, avalanches, cultural geography, language acquisition, and progressive education. "I’ve been dreaming Switzerland for more than forty years. The landscape has dominated my subconscious since 1971, when I took my last flight out of Zurich as a teenager." Gorham proves an excellent guide to memory’s mysteries and the ways a gifted writer shapes lived experience into emotionally resonant art.

A colloquial, informed voice belies complex craft decisions, and Gorham’s literary nonfiction includes formal surprises. She gives readers a teenager’s lengthy list of Swiss-German profanities; she recounts Sherlock Holmes’s death at Reichenbach Falls; paired essays ("How to Get There" and "How to Return") bookend the text with contrasts, lessons, and losses. Another pair of essays— "The Twin Cities: Heimweh" and "The Twin Cities: Sehnsucht" offer delightful meditations on untranslatable Swiss-German words for "homesickness" and "nostalgia." This variety in subject and tone mirrors the mind’s meanderings and sense-making. Below, Gorham reflects on learning Swiss-German as an adolescent, yoking past and present:

The experts might say it’s better to master one tongue at a time. Forget modern dance till you’ve mastered ballet. Don’t improvise until you can read music. But when you’re tugged in two directions, as any adolescent is—Am I child or adult? Follower or leader? Bad girl or good? —the choice is not so simple. The miracle of Swiss versus High German is that you can have it both ways. You can flip from one kind of person to another. You can hang with your homies and please your teachers.

Living together in school "families," teachers and students at Ecole d’Humanité cook, clean, design academics, arts, and athletics, and govern themselves. Here’s Gorham reflecting on teenage risk-taking: "Unfortunately, the management area of the brain—the prefrontal cortex, responsible for making decisions and solving problems—is notoriously underdeveloped in adolescents." Here’s Gorham on a beloved teacher: "Somewhere in every grown-up there’s a scintilla of frivolousness, even unsafe behavior. We’d seen her cruel and certainly a little drunk. What did she dream about? Did she ever fumble or stutter? Was she ever untrue, misguided, reckless?"

I particularly appreciate Gorham’s multidimensional approach to writing about a tragic accident that reshapes the community. She brings in the science of avalanche conditions and the elements of chance and human frailty. With compassion for all involved, Gorham offers a moving, nuanced account.

Visuals add to the book’s riches. Gorham seeds the text with reproductions of typed letters (the author’s and her mother’s); handwritten, German vocabulary words; and photographs of the school’s founders with students. Early on, Gorham describes Edith and Paul Geheeb who, in 1934, fled Germany, moving the school to Switzerland. Along with the school’s history and educational philosophy, she also tells her own (rebellious girl’s) story. To do so, Gorham must interweave individual and community, revealing strengths and fault lines in this semi-utopia.

While I generally reserve this column for reviewing books of poems, I found myself drawn to re-reading this book as I would a book of poems. Alpine Apprentice, transporting readers to a mountain community in Bernese-Oberland, will refresh a hot summer’s day.

Sarah Gorham—poet, essayist, and publisher— lives in Prospect, Kentucky. She is the author of four collections of poetry: Bad Daughter (2011); The Cure (2003); The Tension Zone (1996); and Don’t Go Back to Sleep (1989). Her essay collection A Study in Perfect won the AWP Award for Creative Nonfiction in 2013. With Jeffrey Skinner, she co-edited the anthology Last Call: Poems on Alcoholism, Addiction, and Deliverance (1997). In 1994, Gorham founded Sarabande Books and serves as its president and editor-in-chief.

Robin Becker’s Field Notes column is a regular feature of Women’s Review of Books, where she serves as poetry and contributing editor. Her most recent collection of poems is Tiger Heron (2014). Liberal Arts Research Professor of English and Women’s Studies at Penn State, Becker served as the Penn State Laureate in 2010 – 2011. Most recently, her poems appeared in the American Poetry Review and the New Yorker. Becker’s new collection of poems, WORDS with FRIENDS, is forthcoming from the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2018.

Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair That Shaped a First Lady
By Susan Quinn

New York: Penguin Press, 2016, 404 pp., $30.00, hardcover

Loving Eleanor: The Intimate Friendship of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok
By Susan Wittig Albert

Bertram, TX: Persevero Press, 2016, 322 pp., $27.15, hardcover

Reviewed by Blanche Wiesen Cook

At last! After decades of silence and tedious denial, two splendid books have arrived to celebrate Eleanor Roosevelt, Lorena Hickok, and their love for one another. Written with style and verve, and vigorously researched, both are filled with delightful details and provocative musings.

To add to our arsenal of hope in these hard times, they are by “straight”—and as far as we know—happily married women. I was fortunate enough to meet Susan Quinn and her husband Dan Jacobs at the Tucson Book Festival in March 2017. Aware of her important work on the New Deal Works Progress Administration (WPA), I asked her how she decided to write about ER and Hick. She replied that she thought learning about them might enhance her understanding of her lesbian daughter—and it did.

Eleanor And Hick is basically a dual biography that covers the antecedents and details of the women’s lives and changing friendship across the decades. Since ER was a serial romantic who never stopped growing and changing as she encountered new friends and confronted new situations, I quibbled with Quinn’s subtitle, The Love Affair that Shaped a First Lady. Hick enhanced ER’s writings and activism in many ways: she suggested that ER write her My Day newspaper column—which ER published daily from 1935 – 1962—and hold press conferences for women journalists only. But ER’s influences ranged from her high-school mentor Marie Souvestre; to her life-long friend and advisor Esther Lape (who began campaigning for a national, single-payer health-care plan as part of the l935 Social Security Act and did not stop until she died at the age of l00 in l982); to Lape’s partner Elizabeth Read, a noted international lawyer who became ER’s financial adviser; and ER’s secretary and traveling companion Malvina Thompson, known as Tommy. As another ER friend, Joseph Lash, frequently said, “ER is infinite.” Until there are biographies of Souvestre and Lape, as well as of Joseph Lash and his wife Trude Lash, we have only a partial sense of the many who influenced the ever-evolving ER.

Such differences are minimal, however, and one is delighted by Quinn’s impressive research and the new information she uncovers, such as the details of Hick’s five year relationship with Judge Marion Harron. Harron was profoundly in love with Hick, writing, “[Y]our mirth is as light and bright as sunshine and as warm.” According to Quinn, Harron was “the pursuer,” who longed for more than Hick was prepared to give. After they spent a happy time together in January l944, Harron compared herself to a devoted puppy: “My name is Butch—or Bo—and I always come when you whistle—lie flat when you say ‘flat’—and lick your cheek.” They separated in l945, when Hick rejected an exclusive relationship.

In addition to Harron, Hick had lifelong friendships with such political leaders as Mary Norton, the first woman Democrat to serve in Congress; Gladys Tillet, Democratic Party chair and US representative to the UN Commission on the Status of Women; and Helen Gahagan Douglas, congressional representative from California whose political career was essentially destroyed by a red-baiting Richard Nixon when she ran for Senate in 1950. These friendships give us a new understanding of Hick, as do her friendships with young people—including the Roosevelt grand-daughters. Moreover, Quinn’s research into Hick’s writings illuminates her deeper legacy, and the reason for her many lasting friendships. Her unsigned articles in the Democratic Digest include, for example, a December l943 column about FDR’s meeting at Tehran with Stalin and Churchill. They “met on a spot which had played a role in the lives of empire builders of ancient times—Alexander, Darius, Xerxes and Genghis Khan, and there mapped out destruction for those who dreamed of world empire in our time,” Hick wrote, with appropriate drama.

While Quinn’s work follows ER and Hick separately through their lives, Susan Wittig Albert’s Loving Eleanor is a vivid “fictional interpretation,” written from Hick’s perspective as her relationship with ER unfolded and endured. Albert’s novel, which is rooted in the women’s correspondence, is so skillfully told that I found her “enhancements” believable and profoundly moving. For example, there’s the mystery of Earl Miller’s lost papers. Miller was ER’s bodyguard and possibly her lover; we know that ER and Miller wrote to each other regularly, much as Hick and ER did. Lash revealed that the letters mysteriously disappeared. Why and how? Read this book: Albert has a theory.

Both Quinn and Albert credit Hick’s reports to presidential adviser Harry Hopkins and ER for many of the New Deal programs that saved lives and promoted hope during the worst years of poverty and decline during the Depression. In Hick’s reports from the mining camps of West Virginia, she unburdened her heart to ER—and demanded, writes Albert, “Listen! Something has to be done. Pay attention!” Immediately, ER set off to meet Hick and a contingent from the Quaker American Friends Service Committee, directed by Clarence Pickett. Together with Pickett, who later became an official in the Interior Department, ER helped to develop Arthurdale, (originally called Reedsville), a “homestead” project that provided housing for the families of displaced miners.

Albert imagines Hick’s feelings about Thompson, Miller, FDR, Lash—and the many other folks in ER’s life. And she delves into Hick’s intimate life: her youthful relationship with the contralto Ernestine Schumann-Heink and above all, her deep commitment to ER, which curtailed her relationship with Harron. Like Quinn, Albert concludes that Harron wanted more than Hick could give. Evidently, for several years Hick juggled her love for Harron, while, Albert concludes, her “heart was reaching out for Eleanor, loving her still, loving her always.”

In this mean moment of backlash and bigotry, Quinn and Albert offer healing pleasures and political reminders: two women changed history while enveloped in passion and love. They created programs for the poor and disenfranchised; they fought for democracy, freedom, and justice against rule by the careless and greedy. These books fortify us as we proceed into the unknown, shoulder to shoulder with ER and Hick, Quinn and Albert, hearts open, fists high!

Blanche Wiesen Cook is a distinguished professor of History and Women’s Studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She is the author of a three-volume, award-winning, best-selling biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, and her other books include Crystal Eastman on Women and Revolution (1978) and The Declassified Eisenhower : A Divided Legacy Of Peace and Political Warfare (1981). a frequent contributor of reviews and columns to many newspapers and periodicals as well as a popular television commentator. Cook is the former vice-president for research of the American Historical Association; former vice-president and chair of the Fund for Open Information and Accountability (FOIA, Inc.); and co-founder and co-chair of the Freedom of Information and Access Committee of the Organization of American Historians.

By Blanche Wiesen Cook

Reviewed by Brigid O’Farrell

“Admired and beloved, scorned and reviled, influential, controversial, and timeless, Eleanor Roosevelt changed history.” Thus begins Blanche Wiesen Cook’s much awaited third and final volume of Eleanor Roosevelt’s biography. Neither Roosevelt nor Cook disappoints. No matter how much has been written by and about ER (as she frequently signed her name) there is always more to learn about one of the most admired and most vilified women of the twentieth century. Indeed, her life story remains a source of fascination for many, as well as a guide and inspiration for those committed to human rights and social justice. In 2016 alone, Cook’s volume follows Patricia Bell-Scott’s work exploring ER’s relationship with the activist, civil rights lawyer, and minister Pauli Murray, The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship, Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt and the Struggle for Social Justice, and Susan Quinn’s Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair That Shaped a First Lady. [See reviews in this issue]

The first volume of Cook’s biography, Eleanor Roosevelt: The Early Years, 1884-1933 (1992) covered ER’s difficult childhood, marital challenges, and early political career. The second volume, Eleanor Roosevelt: The Defining Years, 1933-1938 (1999), explored her first five years in the White House. While the previous volumes comprehensively covered a multitude of issues, ideas, and people, in this one, Cook, a professor of history at John Jay College and Graduate Center, City University of New York, focuses on how ER was—and was not—able to influence public opinion and policy in two areas during World War II: race discrimination at home and the plight of war refugees around the world.

In 1939 Eleanor Roosevelt was 55 years old and had been married to Franklin D. Roosevelt for 34 years. They had raised a daughter and four sons, whose various wives, husbands, and grandchildren were all part of life in the vibrant, often-tense, and ever-changing world of the Roosevelt White House. The Roosevelts’ complex marriage allowed them both a great deal of independence which meant that an array of intimate friends joined the family circle. ER had become well known for her indefatigable schedule, prolific communications, and concern for others. During the Great Depression many came to her for help, and she responded both publicly and behind the scenes. She was accused of being a Communist, attacked by members of Congress and fellow journalists, and placed under surveillance by the FBI. She was the target of multiple death threats. In a Gallup poll in 1939, however, her approval rating with the public was 68 percent, while her husband’s was just 51 percent.

From this starting point, Cook’s final volume covers the years of World War II in depth, moving back and forth between ER’s public and private lives. While supporting US allies and troops, the first lady spoke out forcefully regarding many of the issues raised by the war: the slaughter of Jews in Europe, the lynching of African Americans at home, race riots in defense industries, race segregation in the military, restrictions for women in war work and the armed forces, the internment of Japanese American citizens, and the endless, isolationist, racist, and anti-Communist resistance from Congress, the State Department, and much of the public. At the same time, in letters, newspaper columns, and other venues, she shared her thoughts about plays seen, concerts heard, books read, grandchildren visited, and, always, Democratic politics. Central to her influence and her moods was her relationship with her husband.

Cook uses a wealth of primary and secondary sources to supplement ER’s own My Day columns (she published more than 8,000): her talks, books, articles, radio shows, television broadcasts, press conferences, and voluminous correspondence—especially with a group Cook calls ER’s “steadies,” to whom she revealed some of her inner feelings, frustrations, and joys. This core group included Esther Lape and Elizabeth Read, early activists and mentors from New York City; Malvina “Tommy” Thompson, ER’s long-serving personal secretary; Earl Miller, her handsome, fun-loving bodyguard; and the influential reporter Lorena “Hick” Hickok. While the relationship with Hick was no longer as intimate as described in Volume II, she remained ER’s dear friend and continued to live in the White House. As this volume begins, Joe Lash, a leader of the American Youth Congress, enters this close circle with his future wife, Trudy Pratt. There were tensions among all these people, others came and went, but ER sought emotional and political support, advice, and counsel from her steady confidantes, and they’re central in this biography.

Cook writes that “ER believed union rights, civil rights, and human rights would help create a peaceful world defined by economic security, housing, health, and freedom for all humanity.” She was passionately committed to these goals. Her 1940 book, The Moral Basis of Democracy, articulated the philosophy behind much of her activism. As war raged in Europe, ER called on fellow citizens to decide what democracy means, “to clarify in our minds the standards by which we live.” Equality was the basis of democracy, she argued, both political and economic. Within this framework ER addressed racial discrimination and the plight of war refugees. Cook skillfully shows how she educated the public, helped individuals and groups, and influenced her husband’s administration.

In the summer of 1940 alone, ER helped establish both the Committee for the Care of European Children and the Emergency Rescue Committee. Together with the journalist Varian Fry, she worked to save the lives of more than 2,000 Europeans. At the same time she pushed FDR and the State Department to do more not only for those being attacked in Europe by Hitler and Mussolini, but also for the Chinese suffering under Japanese occupation and, starting in 1942, for the Japanese Americans being sent to internment camps. Many of her efforts, however, were not successful. When the steamship SS St. Louis cruised the East Coast with 926 refugees, the US refused them entry. “To date,” writes Cook, “not one word about the St. Louis has been found in ER’s writings.” Her husband placed certain topics off limits for strategic and political reasons, and she complied.

From ER’s perspective, Cook effectively shines a light on the anti-Semitism of the US State Department. The strong resistance and obstruction that ER met with were experienced by others in the administration. When Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau’s efforts to rescue Jewish refugees were thwarted, he initiated a review of the State Department. Finally, in 1944, he took FDR his report, “On the Acquiescence of This Government in the Murder of the Jews.” According to Cook, the report detailed the complicity of people like Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long, a friend of FDR’s who was, in ER’s word a “fascist.” Long left the department, and an independent War Refugee Board was established, but rescue efforts were slow, and few doors were opened in the United States. ER later wrote “We let our consciences realize too late the need of standing up against something that we knew was wrong. We have therefore had to avenge it—but we did nothing to prevent it.” She carried this lesson to the United Nations.

In addition to helping refugees, civil rights was a second key part of ER’s social justice platform. She believed that racism must be eliminated, and that “[i]f democracy is to survive, it must be because it meets the needs of the people.” Cook details ER’s work on many issues with African American leaders including Walter White of the NAACP; A. Phillip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; Mary McLeod Bethune, director of Negro Affairs at the National Youth Administration; and Pauli Murray, the civil rights activist and lawyer. ER focused on ending the wage differences and deplorable conditions in defense plants faced by black and women workers. She fought for an end to racial segregation in housing and employment, and lobbied for the full integration of black and white women in the military. Cook documents several cases in which ER and her allies were successful in shifting policies, as well as helping individuals. The combat missions of the all-black Tuskegee Airmen and improvements in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), for example, are attributed in part to her support for their corps. She was unsuccessful, however, in other cases, such as the fight to save Odell Waller, a Virginia sharecropper sentenced to death for killing his white landlord in self-defense. Although the case drew national attention and repeated interventions by ER, and eventually ended up in the Supreme Court, Waller was executed in 1942.

With her own four sons on active duty in the war, ER brought comfort to hundreds of thousands of US troops. In 1942, FDR asked her to go to England and Cook describes her task: “to use her personal warmth and diplomatic magic to fortify the Anglo-American alliance, encourage troop morale, and keep the United Nations together.” While often in disagreement with Prime Minister Winston Churchill, she successfully toured bombed-out sections of London, met with women’ s military organizations, visited factories, and talked with the troops. In 1943 she traveled from Hawaii to New Zealand, Australia, and seventeen Pacific Islands, visiting hospitals and recreation centers. In 1944, FDR asked her to go to the Caribbean and South America to visit military bases and diplomatic installations. She wrote columns for the public and reports for government officials about her travels, and of course maintained regular contact with the president.

When FDR excluded her from the war discussions, including from his trips to Teheran and Yalta for meetings with foreign leaders, she felt sidelined and angry. Yet, Cook argues, FDR’s 1944 message to Congress guaranteeing education, training, job security, and health care for returning veterans in what became known as the GI Bill reflected ER’s positions. The bill renewed her faith, and she was hopeful as plans for the United Nations moved forward.

Cook writes that ER was often lonely. She experienced periods of depression and longed for the kinds of loving relationships that she had experienced neither in her childhood nor her marriage. As Cook writes, Eleanor and Franklin had a strong partnership: supportive, respectful, affectionate. Yet their complex relationship also led to strong disagreements and even emotional damage. ER could not be uncritical of her husband—in fact, she came to feel she was the only person who would disagree with him and remind him of the values they had fought for together during the New Deal. While FDR sometimes felt frustrated with her, on a rare occasion in 1943, he gave a New Year’s toast “To the person who makes it possible for the president to carry on,” and raised a glass to his wife.

Cook covers the last seventeen years of ER’s life, after FDR’s death in 1945, in an epilogue. Yet, ER accomplished much in this period, from helping to create the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights to chairing President Kennedy’s Commission on the Status of Women. Cook’s discussion of ER’s focus on race and refugees during the war makes an important contribution to our understanding of US history and Roosevelt herself, but this is not the full biography that those looking for more insight on ER’s late-life positions on education, workers’ rights, women’s rights, and politics may be looking for. Because of her evolving role in advancing women’s rights, this period in her life is of particular importance to historians of women.

ER brought a unique energy, self-discipline, skills, compassion, and love to those last years that deserve their own in-depth historical analysis. Cook has taken us through one more phase of this amazing woman’s life, illuminating her basic humanity, her many activities, her relationships, policies, and emotions. But the story isn’t over. The final volume of Eleanor Roosevelt’s biography is still to come.

Brigid O’Farrell is an independent scholar affiliated with the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project at George Washington University. Her research and writing focus on women’s labor history and sex segregation in blue-collar employment. Her most recent book is She Was One of Us: Eleanor Roosevelt and the American Worker (2010).

The Firebrand and the First Lady:
Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice
By Patricia Bell-Scott
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016, 464 pp., $30.00, hardcover

Reviewed by Dayo F. Gore

On December 6, 1938, the lawyer and civil rights activist Pauli Murray wrote to Franklin Roosevelt seeking to draw the second-term president’s attention to the widespread discrimination faced by African Americans. “Have you time to listen to the problem of one of your millions of fellow citizens, which will illustrate most clearly one of the problems of democracy in America?” she inquired. “I speak not only for myself but for 12,000,000 other citizens … I am a Negro, the most oppressed, the most misunderstood and the most neglected section of your population.”

Murray penned a companion letter to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in the hope that ER would “try to understand” even if her husband did not. This proved a successful gambit, as Eleanor Roosevelt sent a reply some two weeks later assuring Murray that “I understand perfectly,” but cautioning her that “the South is changing, but don’t push too fast.” The scholar Patricia Bell-Scott explains that Murray’s two letters, which detail her frustration with Jim Crow segregation, mark the beginning of a more than twenty-year friendship and epistolary exchange between Murray and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Bell-Scott’s exploration of the intriguing relationship between Murray, a young radical, and Roosevelt, a popular first lady and influential political figure more than twenty years Murray’s senior, provides the frame for her engaging history, The Firebrand and the First Lady. Murray’s lengthy correspondence with Roosevelt is not wholly unique, given both women’s letter-writing practices. Murray had numerous epistolary relationships, some with notable figures such as the NAACP legal activist and future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and others with close friends and political allies such as the labor organizer Maida Springer Kemp. Recently, Murray’s forty years of correspondence with her mentor Caroline Ware was culled into an annotated collection by the historian Anna Firor Scott.

The Firebrand and the First Lady adds a new wrinkle to Murray and Roosevelt’s often-cited epistolary friendship by examining their extensive personal letters alongside oral interviews, recollections, published writings, and voluminous archival records to tell a broader and more expansive story. In so doing, Bell-Scott provides a richly textured portrait not only of the women’s evolving friendship but also of their individual lives and a selective but engaging history of post-1930s civil rights organizing and US race and gender politics.

Bell-Scott’s narrative opens with a Prelude describing Murray and Roosevelt’s first encounter at Camp Tera in 1934, when Murray is 33 and the first lady is in her fifties. (Camp TERA—Temporary Emergency Relief Assistance—was part of a federal camp program organized as a kind of counterpart to the Civilian Conservation Corps—the CCC—which offered work to men. Camp TERA and others were meant to offer respite to poor, sick, starving women.) Bell-Scott’s Prelude briefly outlines the formative aspects of each women’s childhood, family circumstances, and expectations—those that shaped each one’s sense of herself and led her to Camp TERA, Murray as a resident and Roosevelt as a celebrated visitor and champion of the program.

The story unfolds in brief chronological chapters that trace the development of the women’s friendship and activism from the 1930s until Murray’s death in 1984, providing valuable historical context for the brief biographical sketches that anchor the narrative. Readers receive a complete accounting of Murray’s adult life, but learn about only the last three decades of Roosevelt’s, who died in 1962. Murray’s eclectic and expansive life path is clearly the center of most of the chapters, although the narrative also provides a new entry point into Roosevelt’s more familiar biography.

Bell-Scott sketches Murray’s life, from her shifting career opportunities and ambitions, deep family connections, and expansive political affiliations and investments, to her struggles with her gender identity, same-sex desire, and health. She examines similar issues in Roosevelt’s life, including her husband’s affairs and illness, her own ambitions and passion for teaching, as well as her intimate friendships with women, including the journalist Lorena Hickok, a lesbian. Yet, although Bell-Scott acknowledges Murray’s struggle with gender identity and sexuality, and Roosevelt’s rumored lesbian relationships, neither is given full analysis it deserves.

Bell-Scott’s circumspect treatment of the women’s shared queer affinities and rejection of dominant gender norms submerges what was perhaps an important aspect of their friendship. For example, in a 1955 exchange, Murray includes a photo of herself in “pants, galoshes, a beanie cap and sweater” that she felt represents her “most natural self.” Roosevelt declares the picture “delightful.” Bell-Scott does not comment on how Murray’s desire for a more masculine presentation—and Roosevelt’s support for the practice—informed their friendship, even though it was Roosevelt’s “unpretentiousness” and rejection of the gendered expectations that caught Murray’s attention in their initial meeting.

The friendship was not just epistolary. Murray visited Roosevelt at her New York City apartment; in her upstate New York home, Val-Kill; and at the White House. Bell-Scott writes that Murray felt their simpatico was informed by the fact that both had lost parents at an early age and were raised by older relatives. Murray also found it significant that she and Roosevelt shared “Anna” as a rarely used first name, and that Roosevelt’s birthday fell one day after Murray’s mother’s.

Bell-Scott outlines the ways Murray and Roosevelt’s quite different personal experiences of oppression and privilege informed their friendship and particular investments in social justice. In their letters, they debated the pace of social change, institutional segregation, and the limits of liberal politics as well as their similar life experiences. They turned to each other for insight around a host of issues. Both supported economic, racial, and gender equality. In fact, Roosevelt confessed, if it hadn’t been for her husband, she would have joined Murray in voting for the socialist candidate Norman Thomas in the 1932 election. The first lady was a powerful supporter for the young and politically ambitious Murray, at times even willing to champion Murray’s causes to the president—although her efforts were not always successful. For example, at Murray’s urging, Roosevelt made “a personal appeal to the governor [of Virginia]” and to the president to spare the life of Odell Waller, a black sharecropper who had killed his white boss. But Waller was executed.

In turn, for Roosevelt, Murray represented an authentic voice of black America, whom Roosevelt often quoted in her weekly newspaper column. Murray defended the first lady in print and was a helpful listener as Roosevelt negotiated “her personal feelings” in the midst of her very public life, writes Bell-Scott.

This study illuminates the debates and differences between Murray and Roosevelt regarding “the struggle for social justice,” which they saw as concerned mainly with racial justice and women’s equality, although it could also extend to international politics. They often clashed over the pace of change, and Roosevelt came to view Murray as a “firebrand” who was at times guilty of “foolish things” such as Murray’s sharp critiques in both letters and writings of liberal officials’ (including the Roosevelts) acquiescence to racial segregation. Indeed, Murray herself was under no illusions that Roosevelt was anything other than “a regular Democrat,” writes Bell-Scott.

In her challenge to Roosevelt, Murray represented a younger generation of African American and women thinkers. Emerging from a US radical milieu shaped by World War I, the Russian Revolution, the Harlem Renaissance, and the Great Depression, she was well versed in a range of communist thought and organizing. Her stay at Camp Tera, though significant, was curtailed: she was expelled after the director found her copy of Marx’s Das Kapital. She briefly joined the Jay Lovestone Communist Party (Opposition), and throughout her life was affiliated with the Socialist Party and its leading members, such as A. Philip Randolph.

Such political investments provide an alternative vision and useful contrast to Roosevelt’s more cautious liberalism. This is particularly striking as Bell-Scott traces their debates over the federal government’s refusal to intervene in Jim Crow segregation and Roosevelt’s urging for patience regarding demands for racial equality. It’s also visible in their discussions of World War II and postwar politics; the cold-war red scare, which had a devastating impact on Murray’s career; and the NAACP’s successful efforts to challenge segregation, which culminated in the Brown v Board of Education decision invalidating the doctrine of “separate but equal,” which Roosevelt celebrated vicariously through Murray, who was overjoyed by the court decision. Bell-Scott also draws on their political lives to detail Roosevelt’s involvement in the founding of the United Nations, which Murray championed and followed closely; both women’s roles in the President’s Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW), which Roosevelt chaired; and Murray’s key activism in addressing race and gender discrimination in her support of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and her role in the founding of the National Organization for Women (NOW) two years later.

Ultimately, Murray’s longstanding political identity as a self-described “revolutionary pacifist” with “an independent inquiring mind” made it difficult for her to find common cause with Roosevelt and other mainstream liberals—yet she was also marginalized in the male dominated, heteronormative civil rights movement. She was antagonistic to the militant politics emerging from the left even as she was still tainted as communist and un-American by cold-war red-baiting. Bell-Scott sidesteps this lifelong tension in Murray’s left-liberal politics, as she acknowledges but minimizes Murray’s longstanding connection to socialism. Bell-Scott’s narrative is unabashedly progressive: she depicts Murray moving away from her youthful radicalism and toward mainstream liberal politics and the Democratic Party. Thus, in the book’s final section Bell-Scott writes, “Murray had come a long way from voting socialist …to embracing the southern Democrat Lyndon Johnson in 1964” as a “registered but independent Democrat.” The shift, Bell-Scott notes, would have “delighted Roosevelt,” and she presents it as the natural culmination of their friendship and Murray’s maturity. While this framing makes for a seamless narrative, it minimizes Murray’s ideological investments and elides the ways McCarthyism and cold war anticommunism foreclosed not only Murray’s career but also her brand of left-liberal politics.

Overall The Firebrand and the First Lady is a vivid, detailed, and compelling history. In delineating Murray and Roosevelt’s deep friendship, and in its attentiveness to both their personal biographies and their political activism, the book provides a much-needed, fuller account of Murray’s life than we’ve had before, as well as a useful reading of Roosevelt’s politics and personality. While greater attention to the nuances of Murray’s left politics, and Roosevelt and Murray’s common ground in challenging dominant gender and sexual norms, would have provided a fuller picture of their political vision and a more powerful lens into their friendship and shared investment in the struggle for social justice, the study nevertheless provides important details concerning these issues. Moreover, the centering of the women’s own voices produces an absorbing portrait of these two individuals and the era in which they lived and worked.

Dayo F. Gore is an associate professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies and the Critical Gender Studies program at the University of California, San Diego. She is the author of Radicalism at the Crossroads: African American Women Activists in the Cold War (2011) and co-editor of Want to Start of Revolution: Radical Women in the Black Freedom Struggle (2009).

Eleanor Roosevelt: World War II and Beyond, 1939-1962

By Blanche Wiesen Cook

Reviewed by Brigid O’Farrell

“Admired and beloved, scorned and reviled, influential, controversial, and timeless, Eleanor Roosevelt changed history.” Thus begins Blanche Wiesen Cook’s much awaited third and final volume of Eleanor Roosevelt’s biography. Neither Roosevelt nor Cook disappoints. No matter how much has been written by and about ER (as she frequently signed her name) there is always more to learn about one of the most admired and most vilified women of the twentieth century. Indeed, her life story remains a source of fascination for many, as well as a guide and inspiration for those committed to human rights and social justice. In 2016 alone, Cook’s volume follows Patricia Bell-Scott’s work exploring ER’s relationship with the activist, civil rights lawyer, and minister Pauli Murray, The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship, Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt and the Struggle for Social Justice, and Susan Quinn’s Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair That Shaped a First Lady. [See reviews in this issue]

The first volume of Cook’s biography, Eleanor Roosevelt: The Early Years, 1884-1933 (1992) covered ER’s difficult childhood, marital challenges, and early political career. The second volume, Eleanor Roosevelt: The Defining Years, 1933-1938 (1999), explored her first five years in the White House. While the previous volumes comprehensively covered a multitude of issues, ideas, and people, in this one, Cook, a professor of history at John Jay College and Graduate Center, City University of New York, focuses on how ER was—and was not—able to influence public opinion and policy in two areas during World War II: race discrimination at home and the plight of war refugees around the world.

In 1939 Eleanor Roosevelt was 55 years old and had been married to Franklin D. Roosevelt for 34 years. They had raised a daughter and four sons, whose various wives, husbands, and grandchildren were all part of life in the vibrant, often-tense, and ever-changing world of the Roosevelt White House. The Roosevelts’ complex marriage allowed them both a great deal of independence which meant that an array of intimate friends joined the family circle. ER had become well known for her indefatigable schedule, prolific communications, and concern for others. During the Great Depression many came to her for help, and she responded both publicly and behind the scenes. She was accused of being a Communist, attacked by members of Congress and fellow journalists, and placed under surveillance by the FBI. She was the target of multiple death threats. In a Gallup poll in 1939, however, her approval rating with the public was 68 percent, while her husband’s was just 51 percent.

From this starting point, Cook’s final volume covers the years of World War II in depth, moving back and forth between ER’s public and private lives. While supporting US allies and troops, the first lady spoke out forcefully regarding many of the issues raised by the war: the slaughter of Jews in Europe, the lynching of African Americans at home, race riots in defense industries, race segregation in the military, restrictions for women in war work and the armed forces, the internment of Japanese American citizens, and the endless, isolationist, racist, and anti-Communist resistance from Congress, the State Department, and much of the public. At the same time, in letters, newspaper columns, and other venues, she shared her thoughts about plays seen, concerts heard, books read, grandchildren visited, and, always, Democratic politics. Central to her influence and her moods was her relationship with her husband.

Cook uses a wealth of primary and secondary sources to supplement ER’s own My Day columns (she published more than 8,000): her talks, books, articles, radio shows, television broadcasts, press conferences, and voluminous correspondence—especially with a group Cook calls ER’s “steadies,” to whom she revealed some of her inner feelings, frustrations, and joys. This core group included Esther Lape and Elizabeth Read, early activists and mentors from New York City; Malvina “Tommy” Thompson, ER’s long-serving personal secretary; Earl Miller, her handsome, fun-loving bodyguard; and the influential reporter Lorena “Hick” Hickok. While the relationship with Hick was no longer as intimate as described in Volume II, she remained ER’s dear friend and continued to live in the White House. As this volume begins, Joe Lash, a leader of the American Youth Congress, enters this close circle with his future wife, Trudy Pratt. There were tensions among all these people, others came and went, but ER sought emotional and political support, advice, and counsel from her steady confidantes, and they’re central in this biography.

Cook writes that “ER believed union rights, civil rights, and human rights would help create a peaceful world defined by economic security, housing, health, and freedom for all humanity.” She was passionately committed to these goals. Her 1940 book, The Moral Basis of Democracy, articulated the philosophy behind much of her activism. As war raged in Europe, ER called on fellow citizens to decide what democracy means, “to clarify in our minds the standards by which we live.” Equality was the basis of democracy, she argued, both political and economic. Within this framework ER addressed racial discrimination and the plight of war refugees. Cook skillfully shows how she educated the public, helped individuals and groups, and influenced her husband’s administration.

In the summer of 1940 alone, ER helped establish both the Committee for the Care of European Children and the Emergency Rescue Committee. Together with the journalist Varian Fry, she worked to save the lives of more than 2,000 Europeans. At the same time she pushed FDR and the State Department to do more not only for those being attacked in Europe by Hitler and Mussolini, but also for the Chinese suffering under Japanese occupation and, starting in 1942, for the Japanese Americans being sent to internment camps. Many of her efforts, however, were not successful. When the steamship SS St. Louis cruised the East Coast with 926 refugees, the US refused them entry. “To date,” writes Cook, “not one word about the St. Louis has been found in ER’s writings.” Her husband placed certain topics off limits for strategic and political reasons, and she complied.

From ER’s perspective, Cook effectively shines a light on the anti-Semitism of the US State Department. The strong resistance and obstruction that ER met with were experienced by others in the administration. When Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau’s efforts to rescue Jewish refugees were thwarted, he initiated a review of the State Department. Finally, in 1944, he took FDR his report, “On the Acquiescence of This Government in the Murder of the Jews.” According to Cook, the report detailed the complicity of people like Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long, a friend of FDR’s who was, in ER’s word a “fascist.” Long left the department, and an independent War Refugee Board was established, but rescue efforts were slow, and few doors were opened in the United States. ER later wrote “We let our consciences realize too late the need of standing up against something that we knew was wrong. We have therefore had to avenge it—but we did nothing to prevent it.” She carried this lesson to the United Nations.

In addition to helping refugees, civil rights was a second key part of ER’s social justice platform. She believed that racism must be eliminated, and that “[i]f democracy is to survive, it must be because it meets the needs of the people.” Cook details ER’s work on many issues with African American leaders including Walter White of the NAACP; A. Phillip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; Mary McLeod Bethune, director of Negro Affairs at the National Youth Administration; and Pauli Murray, the civil rights activist and lawyer. ER focused on ending the wage differences and deplorable conditions in defense plants faced by black and women workers. She fought for an end to racial segregation in housing and employment, and lobbied for the full integration of black and white women in the military. Cook documents several cases in which ER and her allies were successful in shifting policies, as well as helping individuals. The combat missions of the all-black Tuskegee Airmen and improvements in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), for example, are attributed in part to her support for their corps. She was unsuccessful, however, in other cases, such as the fight to save Odell Waller, a Virginia sharecropper sentenced to death for killing his white landlord in self-defense. Although the case drew national attention and repeated interventions by ER, and eventually ended up in the Supreme Court, Waller was executed in 1942.

With her own four sons on active duty in the war, ER brought comfort to hundreds of thousands of US troops. In 1942, FDR asked her to go to England and Cook describes her task: “to use her personal warmth and diplomatic magic to fortify the Anglo-American alliance, encourage troop morale, and keep the United Nations together.” While often in disagreement with Prime Minister Winston Churchill, she successfully toured bombed-out sections of London, met with women’ s military organizations, visited factories, and talked with the troops. In 1943 she traveled from Hawaii to New Zealand, Australia, and seventeen Pacific Islands, visiting hospitals and recreation centers. In 1944, FDR asked her to go to the Caribbean and South America to visit military bases and diplomatic installations. She wrote columns for the public and reports for government officials about her travels, and of course maintained regular contact with the president.

When FDR excluded her from the war discussions, including from his trips to Teheran and Yalta for meetings with foreign leaders, she felt sidelined and angry. Yet, Cook argues, FDR’s 1944 message to Congress guaranteeing education, training, job security, and health care for returning veterans in what became known as the GI Bill reflected ER’s positions. The bill renewed her faith, and she was hopeful as plans for the United Nations moved forward.

Cook writes that ER was often lonely. She experienced periods of depression and longed for the kinds of loving relationships that she had experienced neither in her childhood nor her marriage. As Cook writes, Eleanor and Franklin had a strong partnership: supportive, respectful, affectionate. Yet their complex relationship also led to strong disagreements and even emotional damage. ER could not be uncritical of her husband—in fact, she came to feel she was the only person who would disagree with him and remind him of the values they had fought for together during the New Deal. While FDR sometimes felt frustrated with her, on a rare occasion in 1943, he gave a New Year’s toast “To the person who makes it possible for the president to carry on,” and raised a glass to his wife.

Cook covers the last seventeen years of ER’s life, after FDR’s death in 1945, in an epilogue. Yet, ER accomplished much in this period, from helping to create the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights to chairing President Kennedy’s Commission on the Status of Women. Cook’s discussion of ER’s focus on race and refugees during the war makes an important contribution to our understanding of US history and Roosevelt herself, but this is not the full biography that those looking for more insight on ER’s late-life positions on education, workers’ rights, women’s rights, and politics may be looking for. Because of her evolving role in advancing women’s rights, this period in her life is of particular importance to historians of women.

ER brought a unique energy, self-discipline, skills, compassion, and love to those last years that deserve their own in-depth historical analysis. Cook has taken us through one more phase of this amazing woman’s life, illuminating her basic humanity, her many activities, her relationships, policies, and emotions. But the story isn’t over. The final volume of Eleanor Roosevelt’s biography is still to come.

Brigid O’Farrell is an independent scholar affiliated with the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project at George Washington University. Her research and writing focus on women’s labor history and sex segregation in blue-collar employment. Her most recent book is She Was One of Us: Eleanor Roosevelt and the American Worker (2010).

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