The University Record, April 12, 1993

Biographer of Eleanor Roosevelt compares her with Hillary Clinton

By Deborah Gilbert
News and Information Services

There are some striking parallels between Eleanor Roosevelt, who entered the White House in 1933, and Hillary Rodham Clinton, who moved in 60 years later.

“Each was attacked and mocked in the press, but refused to be silent,” said Blanche Wiesen Cook, author of the controversial but highly regarded new biography, Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume I, 1884–1933.

The difference, Cook added, is that Clinton, a nationally-recognized lawyer steeped in politics, came to the position well-prepared. “She also has a husband who boldly said that the nation is ‘getting two leaders for the price of one.’

“Franklin Roosevelt, on the other hand, although he wanted and trusted his wife’s opinions and vision, never publicly credited her role in his decisions.”

Cook compared the two women and their times March 30 at the Michigan League, where she presented the Center for the Education of Women’s annual Elizabeth Mullin Welch Lecture.

In a compassionate and lively overview of her subject, Cook noted that Roosevelt was a vocal feminist in the 1920s. “So she was filled with dread before the inauguration in 1933, because Washington was such a small, ungenerous town. She feared she would have to give up her roles as educator and journalist, as her predecessor, Lou Henry Hoover, had done.”

Roosevelt, however, continued her activist role. Her first public act after the inauguration was to tour the slums of Washington, which led her to launch a public housing campaign. While attending an opera, she mounted the stage at intermission to urge the audience to donate money for people suffering during the Great Depression.

In the following years, she crusaded vigorously for a series of domestic social, educational and economic reforms; worked quietly to protect Jewish refugees during World War II; and, after FDR’s death, embarked on a quest for human rights—“a New Deal for humanity.”

Roosevelt’s private life, according to Cook, was equally passionate. She had a long-standing intimate relationship with Lorena Hickok, “the highest paid reporter at the Associated Press at that time,” which is well-documented in years of letters.

Cook also said that Roosevelt probably had a relationship with her bodyguard, Earl Miller, who, she said, was “tall, handsome, brazen and politically passionate.

“Although their correspondence is lost, we know it existed because it is referred to in the letters to Hickok, and there are dozens of photos and films of them together on vacations.

“Also,” Cook added with a grin, “an old friend of Miller’s who was in her 90s characterized their relationship for me by saying, ‘I think Eleanor gave Earl a touch of class and Earl gave Eleanor a little entertainment.’”

Writing Roosevelt’s biography, Cook said, “was a wonderful journey. All my interests converged—international relations, how to make the world a better place, and how to live a full life. Roosevelt created herself over and over again.”