Some stories beg to be told; some books beg to be written.
For me, the surprising and deeply moving story of the long and intimate friendship of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok was one of those stories--and Loving Eleanor was a book I had to write. Of all the many responses I've had when I've discussed the book (forthcoming Feb 1) with readers, the question I most often hear is some variation of "Why didn't we know this already?"
The most important reason is the most obvious one: it was a profoundly intimate friendship and private, and the over 3300 letters that document its 30-year span, and the changes in it, were secret. Most of Lorena's letters to Eleanor were destroyed, probably by ER's children, after her death. However, Hick had possession of ER's letters (and some of her own).
In 1962, after Eleanor's death, Hick (then in her 70s), realized that she had to find a way to keep the letters safe. I think she felt that the most important threat came from the Roosevelt children, who would not have wanted evidence of the disturbingly romantic nature of their mother's friendship with another woman to become public knowledge. They might have destroyed the letters; the letters that ER wrote to her longtime friend, Earl Miller, have quietly disappeared. Hick may have felt another threat from Joseph Lash, who considered himself the "official" biographer of the Roosevelt family. If Lash acquired the letters, he would likely solidify his relationship with the Roosevelt sons by destroying them. And of course, publishing them herself was not an option at the time, as you can guess.
Hick chose the best and most prudent course. A curator at the FDR Presidential Museum urged her to leave her collection to the library. She took his advice, stipulating that the letters be sealed for ten years after her death. She trusted the professional librarians and archivists there to keep the letters safe, and they did--although it should also be said that they had no idea what was in them. Hick died in 1968; the letters were opened to the public, without any announcement, in 1978.
There's much more to this story. Watch this space for another installment. In the meantime, you can read an excerpt from the novel and view my Pinterest photo collection on the book's website.
Reading note: The reason that fiction is more interesting than any other form of literature, to those who really like to study people, is that in fiction the author can really tell the truth without humiliating [her]self.--Eleanor Roosevelt