Although she is most well-known for her relationship with
Eleanor Roosevelt, Lorena Hickok had a formidable career as a journalist and an
inspiring life journey all on her own separate from the First Lady.
Lorena Hickok, courtesy of the Bettman Archive.
Born on this day in East Troy, Wisconsin, Lorena was
appropriately nicknamed “Hick” by those in her rural hometown. She grew up in a
very unhappy and abusive household with her mother working as a dressmaker and
her father as a dairy farmer, professions that kept the family poor. After her
mother died when she was fourteen, Lorena left home for good; however, without
the economic support of her family, Lorena’s education was
sporadic. Her Aunt Ella was able to help her finish out high school, but her
attempts at college were inevitably a failure. With little choices, Lorena
found herself working as a journalist at the Battle Creek Evening News, and what started out as simply a way to get a
paycheck soon became her life’s purpose. During a time when women journalists
were almost always regulated to the sphere of “society” and celebrity gossip
pages, it was Minneapolis Tribune
editor Thomas J. Dillon who saw something special in Lorena and finally allowed
her access to political stories. Years of being on the journalism beat
eventually moved Lorena to New York City, where she was assigned by the
Associated Press in 1932 to cover the new Democratic presidential candidate,
Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Lorena picture on one of her first investigative assignments for the Minneapolis Tribune. This would be the beginning of her lifelong career as a journalist.
After Lorena interviewed Eleanor Roosevelt as a part of her
coverage of her husband’s first presidential campaign, the two hit it off. Days
later, Lorena received a message from her editor that simply read, “Don’t get
too close to your sources.” And the rest is history. The Franklin D. Roosevelt
Library discovered over 18 boxes of love letters exchanged between Lorena
Eleanor in 1978, amounting to over 4,000 letters in total! Although historians
have tried for decades to discourse away the obvious romantic and sexual content
of the letters, the language speaks for itself; you can read excerpts from
Lorena and Eleanor’s letter over at Brain Pickings, or you can read the full letters in the book Empty Without You.
Lorena Hickok and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt attending a concert together in 1935.
As World War II began to unfold, the romantic relationship
between Lorena and Eleanor began to simmer down; however, Lorena and Eleanor
did remain close friends throughout their lifetimes, and Lorena continued to
work closely with the White House. In 1933, she traveled with the Federal
Emergency Relief Administration to document the life of average Americans
during the height of the Great Depression. She later helped publicize the 1939
New York World’s Fair as well as co-write a feminist anthology titled Ladies of Courage. After a lifetime of
writing and reporting, Lorena passed away in 1968 at the age of 75. Today she
is not only remembered as Eleanor Roosevelt’s girlfriend but as a pioneer for
women journalists everywhere.