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Blanche Wiesen Cook
Blanche Wiesen Cook
Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume 1, 1884-1933
ISBN: 0003658759
Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume 1, 1884-1933
Ms. Cook discussed her recent book Eleanor Roosevelt and the research she conducted. She described Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as a politically active woman in a time when men were considered the only dominant forces for change.
Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume 1, 1884-1933
Program Air Date: April 11, 1993

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Blanche Wiesen Cook, author of “Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume One,” when you think of her, what's the first thing that comes to mind?
BLANCHE WIESEN COOK, AUTHOR, "ELEANOR ROOSEVELT: VOLUME ONE" When I think of Eleanor Roosevelt I think of power, women, politics and power. I think of decency and dignity, which was her life-long ambition for all people. She thought everybody should live in a situation that guaranteed decency and dignity. I've been thinking a lot about Hillary Clinton and Eleanor Roosevelt, and how Eleanor Roosevelt was so attacked for what she did. During that awful waiting period between the election and the inauguration, Eleanor Roosevelt interrupted, not interrupted but she attended the intermission between the second and third acts of "Simone Bocanegra" at the New York Metropolitan Opera House. She stood up and made a political speech and said that she had been really disturbed by how much homelessness and how much poverty there was right here in New York City and she spoke to the Metropolitan Opera audience and said, "When you see these terrible images, you just have to do something. All of us have to do something. We can't just go on and look at all of this poverty and all of this homelessness and not reach down into our own pockets and our own hearts and not do something in this most wonderful country. This situation should not exist." That sort of startled me when I first read that. I mean, imagine the First Lady doing that today. One can now today imagine it with Hillary Clinton, but it really is a ghost out of Christmas past.
LAMB: You met her when you were a student, I think, at Hunter College.
COOK: I did.
LAMB: How many times did you meet her?
COOK: Well, about five or six times. I was the president of the student council, of the student government, at Hunter.
LAMB: Where's that, by the way?
COOK: It's in New York City, 695 Park Avenue. Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt had donated what we call "Roosevelt House" to Hunter when Sara Delano Roosevelt died. It was a house that Eleanor Roosevelt hated and it was the house that her mother-in-law built a few years after they first got married, and every single door on ever single floor had sliding entrances into the mother-in-law's home, so she could appear anytime the day or night and they had no privacy. So when she died in 1940, they really wanted, Eleanor in particular, really wanted to get rid of that house. It was ironically in that house, which was then donated to Hunter for a student activities and interfaith center, that I met her. I just want to say one thing, Brian. When she walked in, the room changed. She really had that magical combination of energy and electricity that I think is what we mean by charisma. So we were all sort of waiting for her -- this was about 1960 -- and the room changed and everybody turned around and there she was. It was just energized. She was still then, in the last years of her life, what she had been for so many years.
LAMB: When was this picture taken?
COOK: The wedding dress, 1905. St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 1905.
LAMB: You talk about in the book that people reacted in her later years to the way she looked, some positively, some negatively. What was the negative?
COOK: Well, people really made fun of her and called her ugly and buck-toothed and scraggy. People really said the most awful things about her physical appearance. The fact is that as a young woman, as you can see when you look at the pictures in my book, she was really rather attractive. She was 6 feet tall, and her eyes were incredibly blue, a real cobalt blue that were just astounding, so that you really didn't notice her overbite as the first thing. But the press and the photographers were very mean to her, and she was rather consistently attacked in the press.
LAMB: When was this picture taken on the cover that we were looking at earlier?
COOK: That picture is about 1931, and that's a Junior League picture. She's taking that picture addressing a Junior League. She's looking actually at Lorena Hickok, and they were on a trip in California, at the Junior League in California.
LAMB: Lorena Hickok is written up a lot in your book. Do you have some new information in this book that came from her?
COOK: I think there is new information and I think there's a vastly different interpretation in this book. I mean, a lot of people have always portrayed Eleanor Roosevelt as really lonely and unhappy, without a private life of her own. I think the thing that is very controversial in my book is that I suggest that she had a very full life and a very full private life. I leave it up to the reader as to whether or not she had a full sexual affair with Lorena Hickok who, when she met her, was the highest paid reporter for the Associated Press. I say over and over again that we don't know what people do in the privacy of their own private lives. The doors are closed, the drapes are drawn and so on. But it does seem to me that the letters, and there are thousands of letters, which they wrote to each other reveal a very passionate friendship.
LAMB: Do you have both sides of that?
COOK: We have both sides of that correspondence, although Lorena Hickok really destroyed much more of her own papers, so that there are many more letters from Eleanor Roosevelt to Lorena Hickok than Lorena Hickok to Eleanor Roosevelt.
LAMB: I underlined on page 488 when you were talking just about this issue. Eleanor Roosevelt wrote, "Hick, darling, all day I've thought of you and another birthday. I will be with you, and yet tonight you sounded so far away and formal. Oh! I want to put my arms around you. I ache to hold you close. Your ring is a great comfort. I look at it and think she does love me, or I wouldn't be wearing it." At what point in her life did she write this to Lorena Hickok.
COOK: In 1933. This is very shortly after Eleanor Roosevelt entered the White House as First Lady, and Lorena Hickok was really her great confidant and champion. Eleanor Roosevelt had two friendships where the people were there for her alone. Eleanor Roosevelt always said what a woman wants most in life is somebody who is there for you alone, who puts you first, who puts your needs, your feelings and so on first. The first of those friendships was Earl Miller, who was her bodyguard. I think the relationship between Eleanor Roosevelt and Earl Miller was just completely ignored and dismissed as a mother-son thing.
LAMB: You say in the book that a lot is written about his hand on her knee and you point out that this is her hand on his knee. What's the meaning of that?
COOK: Well, you know, we sort of look at pictures in this case because all of the documents have been destroyed. My own field is international relations, and I know that when the documents disappear and the documents are destroyed, chances are that there's a very interesting story. This is one case where there are no letters between Eleanor Roosevelt and Earl Miller -- no letters at all. I was very lucky to find letters from Earl Miller to other friends over time, and that gave me a very real sense of who he was. And then I was very lucky to find a lot of letters in which Eleanor Roosevelt talks about where she is going to be, who she is going to be with, what she's going to do. Very often she is, for a very long time, with Earl Miller. Lorena Hickok sort of eclipses that friendship for a period of about six years, but afterwards -- this is in Volume Two of my biography -- Earl Miller is really back and much more important again in Eleanor Roosevelt's life. That friendship is a very enduring, abiding friendship.

There were two moments when I began to rethink that friendship. For a long time I too accepted, oh, well, it's just a mother and son thing. A very handsome state trooper. He built her a tennis court. He taught her to dive. He taught her to shoot from the hip and to be a really good shot. He's really a hunk as you can see. At one point I decided we had to look closer at that -- it was not just his gorgeous legs which you're pointing at -- when I thought, well, why not? We need a new historical category, why not? The two things that made me really think that is that, one, I discovered he was really political. And once I discovered he was really political and he cared about the same issues that she cared about and he was as passionate about the same concerns that moved her, I realized this was not just a gorgeous hunk and the lady. This was a substantial friendship. Then I just did some simple arithmetic. This mother-son thing sort of falls apart when you discover that Eleanor Roosevelt was 42 and Earl Miller was 34 when they first became very great friends. Some of us think, well, you know, that's just perfect. What's the big deal, right?
LAMB: Let me come back to Earl Miller and Lorena Hickok. This book was first in the book stores when?
COOK: April 1992.
LAMB: What about the paperback version?
COOK: It has just come out. Actually, today I think is its birthday or yesterday, March 9th.
LAMB: When this is being taped. It won't be aired for a while and it sometimes confuses the viewer. “Volume One” was what year span?
COOK: It goes up to 1933. From 1884 when Eleanor Roosevelt is born and then it goes up to 1933 and really ends when the Roosevelts enter the White House. “Volume Two” really picks up in that period. There's a chapter on Eleanor Roosevelt really preparing for the White House, which is really about her creed which is very interesting. Then it goes to the end of her life.
LAMB: How old was she when she died?
COOK: Seventy-eight. She died on the 7th of November, 1962.
LAMB: When was the last time that you saw her?
COOK: I saw her in May of 1962.
LAMB: When did you start working on the first volume?
COOK: I didn't start working on the first volume until 1981. I was not really interested in Eleanor Roosevelt. As I said earlier, my own field is international relations, and I had just finished a book called “The Declassified Eisenhower”, which also took me 10 years. I finished that and wrote in my journal, "I've now spent most of my vital youth with one dead general." I went around looking for something else to do. I discovered how important Eleanor Roosevelt was when this really sort of lookist interpretation of her friendship with Lorena Hickok was published, this sort of mean-spirited book that said these two sort of unattractive women were so miserable and lonely that they became friends -- they got it on. But they didn't really get it on because they were miserable and lonely and Eleanor Roosevelt was a saint and a mermaid and so it was just a horrible book. I wrote a very nasty review of that book, and then people said, "Well, why don't you write a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt." I thought, well, why? I mean, she's not really a hero.

Then I went to look at her papers, and I discovered that we just didn't know, really, very much about her. In fact, nobody had ever looked at her wonderful feminist writings in the 1920s. She was a hero. She was a terrific organizer. In 1924, just to give you one example, she was head of the Women's Democratic Platform Committee, and as head of that committee in 1924, she called for full employment, national health care for all Americans, America's entrance into the League of Nations and the World Court, which the U.S. did not join. That, by the way, that campaign resulted in her vast FBI file. John Edgar Hoover kept the biggest FBI file. The biggest single individual file is Eleanor Roosevelt's file. It's an FBI file that goes on for 3,000 pages.
LAMB: You say in the back in your notes that it was released through the Freedom of Information Act. What year?
COOK: It was, again, sort of a process over time beginning about 1981, 1982, and from 1981 to about 1986.
LAMB: Did you do it?
COOK: I did it. Other people did it. Joe Lash got his FBI file. A lot of people were trying to get Eleanor Roosevelt's FBI file.
LAMB: Was there anything that you found in the FBI file that would embarrass her?
COOK: Well, you know, that's a really interesting question. I think everything in her FBI file would make her very proud. John Edgar Hoover was a maniac when it came to race. He was really a terrible bigot. I divided it up into subjects; the largest subject file is everything Eleanor Roosevelt ever said against lynching, everything she said against segregation. Everything she said on behalf of racial justice is the largest part of the file with Hoover's really insulting remarks about "this old hen" and "here's the old cow doing it again" and so on. Incredibly insulting remarks along the margins. In her file there are some sleuthing activities. I mean, he kept a daily watch on her. Among the sleuthing activities, they wind up in a hotel room with her young and great friend Joseph Lash and assume they're having an affair, which I think is silly. Joseph Lash once told me that they were in that room and they were great friends, and they did, you know, hold each other, but there was no affair there. I mean, it's just a kind of -- I mean John Edgar Hoover, as we now know, was really a very strange guy who was obsessed with people's activities and really tried to destroy the liberal and progressive movement and the anti-racist movement in this country. His goal was to vilify someone as important as Eleanor Roosevelt. It's really quite an amazing file.
LAMB: What about “Volume Two.” When is that going to come out?
COOK: I hope to finish it within the year.
LAMB: Will it be the same size? This is a rather large book.
COOK: I don't know. I actually think there should be three volumes. It might even be bigger because it really does cover more of her life, which is to say her political life really explodes after 1933, so there's a very large section on the Holocaust, which really is, I think, going to be very important, because FDR really never wanted to do anything to make it easy for Jewish refugees or refugees from Hitler's Europe to get into the United States. Eleanor Roosevelt really tried to get people in and to save lives, and so you have a very interesting point-counterpoint. What did we know? When did we know it? I mean, there are these bitter questions that have lingered ever since World War II and the Holocaust. The fact is that Eleanor Roosevelt knew what was going on in Europe virtually every day as early as August 1933. She and Carrie Chapman Catt, the great suffrage leader, organized a Christian women's protest against the atrocities against Jewish people in Hitler's Europe as early as August 1933. There are still historians who say, "Well we didn't know anything, and nothing could be done because the facts weren't available." My book is really going to blow that out of the water.
LAMB: Where do you live?
COOK: I live in New York.
LAMB: Where do you work on a full-time basis? Or is this full-time?
COOK: It has been full-time for the last few years. I teach at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which is a wonderful place to teach. Most of my students are police officers and FBI agents and uniformed services.
LAMB: Are you a lawyer?
COOK: No, no. I do War, Peace and Imperialism and a course called Violence and Social Change. Then I teach Women's Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University.
LAMB: Where's home originally for you?
COOK: New York.
LAMB: Born in New York City?
COOK: Born in New York City.
LAMB: How has the publication of this book changed your life?
COOK: It gets me on to wonderful programs like yours.
LAMB: I mean other than that. Have you become an expert in Eleanor Roosevelt as far as the outside world is concerned? Do you travel a lot talking about her?
COOK: I do talk about her.
LAMB: Are you controversial?
COOK: I think that everything Eleanor Roosevelt ever said is still controversial. None of the issues about war and peace and race and class and the future -- is it going to be a future of hate or is it going to be a future of dignity and decency? -- none of those issues have gone away. The Klan is rising. We are re-segregating. I think the good news was, in my opinion, on the 3rd of November, 1992, 62 percent of the American people turned their backs on a politics of hate. But that politics of hate really targeted. I mean, it targeted women, it targeted gays, it targeted poor people. We're looking right in the face of social Darwinism run amok. That frightened America, so I'm very pleased that 62 percent of the American people voted against that, and those are all the issues Eleanor Roosevelt represented.
LAMB: Is this work then for you a political work?
COOK: It didn't start out a political work, but I think that if you are a political person, everything is a political act. I think every word we speak is a political act. Every choice we make, every decision not to speak is a political act.
LAMB: Who are the people that would stand up on the other side and say to you, "This is a bunch of stuff. You're making this woman into something that she isn't." Have you had any of that?
COOK: I think that one of things that's been very interesting, and I'm sort of sad about it, is that many members of the family are outraged that I suggest that Eleanor Roosevelt had a passionate life. While they say that they like the politics of the book, they really are very upset and offended at the thought that Eleanor Roosevelt had a private life. I find that very strange, and, indeed, my introduction to that in which I say women are not supposed to be political, women are not supposed to be powerful, women are not supposed to be independently passionate. That has been the stereotype of women and what has kept women down and out and behind the scenes. But if you look at a real woman's real life -- and increasingly in these 20 years of feminist biography and women's studies, we are looking at real lives -- you see that what inspirits women is very much what inspirits men. Where do we get our energy from? What is energy? Who makes it possible? What relations make is possible for us to do the work that we do?
LAMB: How many children did she have?
COOK: She had six children, and one died very young.
LAMB: How many of the five are still alive?
COOK: None.
LAMB: Who was the last one to die?
COOK: Elliott.
LAMB: How many of those did you talk to?
COOK: I talked to four of the children.
LAMB: You say the family is upset by some of the book.
COOK: Well, there are grandchildren.
LAMB: Who's left?
COOK: Grandchildren.
LAMB: How do you know that? Do they talk to you?
COOK: Some of them have talked to me. Actually, some of the grandchildren and some of the great-grandchildren like the book. The young people seem to like the book and accept that it is possible for Eleanor Roosevelt to have had a passionate life even though they have an image of her, as we all have had, of a very austere and cold and unhappy woman. This book is in many ways about self-esteem. I mean, how do you conquer real unhappiness? How do you conquer real sadness? I think that it's very important to know that Eleanor Roosevelt was the daughter of a great alcoholic. Her father, who was Elliott Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt's brother, died at the age of 34 of alcoholism. Eleanor Roosevelt was 10 when he died. Her mother died when she was eight and was a very abused and unhappy woman. So Eleanor Roosevelt always had a tremendous empathy with people in want and people in need and people on the margin, and that's a very important part of her life to understand.
LAMB: Is this her father?
COOK: Yes, that's her father and that's her mother.
LAMB: About how old was he there?
COOK: He was about 29 or 30.
LAMB: I interrupted. You were saying that it's hard for people to understand -- do you remember what the train of thought was? I was afraid I was going to lose these pictures and I wanted the audience to see the two of them. He was an alcoholic, died when he was 34, and she died at what age?
COOK: At 29.
LAMB: What happened to Eleanor Roosevelt then?
COOK: She was brought up by her grandmother and her uncles and aunts, many of whom were also alcoholic. Then she said the favorite years, the best years of her life was when she went off to England to school at Allenswood where she met a liberal spirit who really encouraged Eleanor Roosevelt to grow and develop and be herself. That was her liberation. In fact, she said the happiest day of her life was the day she made the first team in field hockey. I think that's really interesting because one of the other myths about Eleanor Roosevelt is she was not athletic, she was not competitive. To discover that the happiest day of her life was the day she made the first team in field hockey, which is a very sweaty sport after all, really impressed me. I mean, it's not golf or even tennis, right? So I thought that was really interesting. I thought it was really interesting, too, that when she was in the White House she wrote to a friend, "I intend to earn as much money this year as Franklin earns as president." She was going to earn that money as a broadcaster, as a journalist -- and she did. Seventy-five thousand 1933 dollars, which in terms of today's inflation, it's really the salary of a CEO -- about $350,000.
LAMB: With him as president she was making money?
COOK: Yes. We would consider that a great conflict of interest today, wouldn't we?
LAMB: What exactly was she doing to make the money?
COOK: She had a radio program. She actually did some tacky advertisements. People made fun of Gerry Ferraro when she did that advertisement. Eleanor Roosevelt was always attacked for doing advertisements.
LAMB: She did them while FDR was president?
COOK: She stopped after being attacked, but she did some that first year, and she did, as I said, radio broadcasting, a lot of radio broadcasting.
LAMB: Go back to the beginning. Let's just go through the basics quickly. She was born in what city?
COOK: She was born in New York.
LAMB: She lived in that city for how long?
COOK: Her mother was from a little town in Tivoli right north of Hyde Park, and that's where she grew up. She lived there until she went to school in England -- Tivoli and New York City.
LAMB: Did she go to college?
COOK: She didn't go to college. She went to this school for three years which was run by a woman named Marie Souvestre, which was kind of like a finishing school pre-collegiate academy for sort of the royalty and ruling class of the fin de siŠcle. All kinds of folks went there. The Strachey sisters went there and the Singer sisters, Singer Sewing Machine, went there. All the James daughters went there. It was a very special place.
LAMB: When did she meet her husband?
COOK: He was her fifth cousin once removed, and she met him first when they were children when she was about 2. There's a story that he carried her on his back and played around Hyde Park when her parents brought the children together. Ironically, her father Elliott was FDR's godfather.
LAMB: Her father Elliott was FDR's godfather. When did they get serious about getting married?
COOK: They met in 1903 and they had a sort of secret romance. I think, by the way, one of really wonderful parts of this book is the love story that is a love story between Eleanor Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Their courtship letters are as ardent as anything that Eleanor ever wrote. The really sad thing is that Eleanor Roosevelt destroyed all of FDR's courtship letters when she discovered his affair with Lucy Mercer in 1918, and that's a very sad loss to history.
LAMB: What did you think of him?
COOK: He's certainly a very attractive and affable fellow, but I have to say because of his Southern strategy during the 1930s and his really weird position on Germany and during the Holocaust, I really don't like him very much.
LAMB: What did you think of his relationship to a mistress? Tell us how that happened.
COOK: That's a little bit complicated. I actually thought that his affair with Lucy Mercer was really his adolescent rebellion. FDR was a mother's boy who was very good and he plunged into an early marriage at the age of 21, and he was a very devoted son and a very devoted husband. Then he had this affair, while Eleanor Roosevelt was off doing good works and taking the children to Campobello, with her friend and social secretary Lucy Mercer.
LAMB: This is his mother, though, in this picture.
COOK: That's his mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt. Their children ranged in age from 3 to 10 while this affair was going on, and she knew nothing about it. She was really devastated. She was devastated in part because she really thought that her marriage would be unlike her parent's marriage and that it would be perfect. She was very romantic about her marriage, so she was totally devastated.
LAMB: How did she find out about it?
COOK: When he came home from Europe. He was assistant secretary of the Navy. After reviewing the Naval stores in 1918 during that great flu epidemic of 1918, they got a wire. She and Sara Delano Roosevelt, his mother, got a wire to meet the ship with an ambulance because FDR had double pneumonia and was really reeling from this flu epidemic. That night she unpacked his bags and there, presumably tied in that proverbial red ribbon, were all of these love letters from Lucy Mercer. She offered him a divorce. He said he would not see her again, that he would break it off. They didn't get divorced, and their lifelong friendship and partnership is, again, one of the wonders of the 20th century.

They really did forge a healing partnership and friendship. But then very much he went his way and she went her way, not unlike the Edwardian courts of their contemporaries. We really know a lot about the way Edwardians of the ruling classes lived in those years, and that's pretty much how they lived. In 1923 -- and I think this is really an important key to understanding what happens later as Eleanor Roosevelt really decides she can have a life of her own and she can have passion in her life, however one wants to define that -- in 1923 after Lucy Mercer is largely history, until she comes back later, FDR picks up with a woman named Missy LeHand who is his secretary during the campaign of 1920. He is nominated Democratic vice presidential candidate in 1920, and Missy LeHand is his secretary. From that point on, and he has polio at this time, she really is his primary companion, his primary friend when they go off to warm waters off the Florida coast where Eleanor Roosevelt really can't stand the life and doesn't want to be there. Missy LeHand is very much a fixture during the gubernatorial years. She lives in the executive mansion. During the White House years she lives in the White House.

In 1923 after she arrives, and Eleanor Roosevelt always treats her as a junior wife, Eleanor Roosevelt writes an extraordinary article called "The Women of Tibet" in which she says, "It has been brought to my attention that the women of Tibet have many husbands, which seems to me a very good thing since so many husbands have so many wives." That really is the context for Earl Miller and for Eleanor Roosevelt's later liberation which does include other people and other emotional enthusiasms.
LAMB: The major political jobs that FDR had in his life?
COOK: Assistant Secretary of the Navy.
LAMB: What years, do you remember?
COOK: When Wilson was elected president, 1912, to 1918 when Harding was elected president.
LAMB: So he was there for a whole eight years.
COOK: He was there for the whole eight years.
LAMB: Lived in Washington?
COOK: Lived in Washington. Washington was a very haunted town for Eleanor Roosevelt. That's the town in which her uncle Theodore Roosevelt was president and she first discovered politics, she first discovered her own love for politics. She really liked to do political things, and that's the town where she felt her Aunt Edith, Theodore Roosevelt's wife, had become absolutely a shadow, a veil. The White House, she felt, had destroyed her personality. So she really worried about becoming First Lady. Washington was the town where people really knew about FDR's affair with Lucy Mercer. Everybody knew but Eleanor Roosevelt. Her gossipy cousin, the famous Alice Roosevelt Longworth, had actually had FDR and Lucy Mercer to dinner parties in very public ways during the height of their affair. When Eleanor Roosevelt found out about it and found out about how many people really knew, she was devastated. Washington was just not her favorite place.
LAMB: Alice Roosevelt Longworth was married to Nicholas Longworth.
COOK: The speaker [of the House].
LAMB: His building is named the Longworth Building. He was a Republican speaker of the House. What kind of a guy was he?
COOK: Well, he's a fascinating guy. He was a great violinist, a bon vivant, a great drunk, and Alice Roosevelt Longworth hated him. The rumors are . . .
LAMB: Married to him but hated him?
COOK: Married to him but hated him. He had many, many affairs. Was just a very "in your face" act-up kind of womanizer and was never sober. She hated him so much, evidently, she burned his Stradivarius violin even though she needed the money when he died.
LAMB: The president, Theodore Roosevelt, offered, you say, the opportunity for Eleanor Roosevelt to get married in the White House?
COOK: Right.
LAMB: She said no for what reason?
COOK: She really didn't want to get married in the White House. She really wanted to get married among her mother's people. Her godmother hosted her wedding party, and that's what she wanted. She was very committed to getting married among her mother's people.
LAMB: You tell a story about the difference in the way that Theodore Roosevelt gave her away and the way that he dealt with his own daughter, Alice, when she got married. Would you recount that?
COOK: When Eleanor Roosevelt got married he was very garrulous and took over the show. It became Theodore Roosevelt's show. As I said, it was St. Patrick's Day and it was really quite a circus. He arrived, he had a few minutes, he dashed in. He walked her down the aisle. All of the guests left Eleanor Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt and went off and listened to TR, the president, sort of take off and carry on, and Eleanor Roosevelt was really in the background of her own wedding. When Alice Roosevelt got married, she said she didn't want any bridesmaids. She would be the star of the show. There were no bridesmaids, and instead of being his usual raucous self, when he was asked, "Who gives this woman in marriage?" or whatever the question actually is, he said in almost an inaudible whisper, "I do." Her stepmother, who she hated and who hated her, at her own wedding when she went over to thank her for this sumptuous White House wedding, she said, "Well, think nothing of it. I'm so glad to see you go. You've been nothing but trouble."
LAMB: Did people know all this back then?
COOK: I suspect people didn't know it all back then. People didn't know how much tension there was within the families, although it was in the press when Eleanor Roosevelt's father was declared insane by his brother Theodore Roosevelt. It was four-inch headlines in the International Tribune and in the Herald Tribune in New York. It was all over the newspapers. So that class, that sort of ruling Knickerbocker class knew about it.
LAMB: FDR was here for the eight years as Assistant Secretary of the Navy during the Wilson administration. Then what?
COOK: Then he went back to New York to pick up the pieces during that 12 year period of Republican rule. He was a lawyer, became a businessman, invested in stuff to make money -- made some money, didn't make some money. Really worked hard to get his political life in high gear and worked very hard to recover from polio, which he contracted in 1921.
LAMB: He lived the rest of his life in braces?
COOK: The rest of his life in braces and wheelchair. He could really never walk again.
LAMB: When was he governor of the state of New York?
COOK: The first time was about 1928-30, 1930-32. In those days, the governorship was a two-year deal.
LAMB: You write about a low point in her life when she was depressed.
COOK: The low point in her life is the period from 1918 to about 1920 when she discovers the Lucy Mercer affair and she really has no work of her own and they're still in Washington. By 1920, what happens is she comes back to New York and she meets with these wonderful political activist women, particularly a woman named Esther Lape, who nobody has written about but is one of the great heroes of American reform politics. Actually, as the American Foundation, Esther Lape campaigned for socialized medicine, for a national health care program, from 1935 until her death at the age of 100 in 1981. When Eisenhower signed that bill that would become later Medicaid and Medicare, he gave the pen that he signed it with to Esther Lape, and Esther Lape held the pen up in front of the press and said, "Now this bill represents a puny little eggshell, a puny little bone in the vertebrae of what I had in mind by way of a national health care program."

As I said, nobody has written about her, but she's really very interesting. That's Esther Lape that you're pointing to, the picture below is Esther Lape and Elizabeth Read, who was a great international lawyer and who was Eleanor Roosevelt's financial adviser and lawyer. She wrote a great textbook of international law that was used at Harvard and Yale and law schools all over the country during the 1930s. Very interesting women. They really helped to liberate Eleanor Roosevelt. She became very involved in the League of Women Voters. She became very involved in Democratic women's politics. She kind of returned to that memory of what it was like to be an independent woman that she had acquired at school at Allenswood. These were women who lived in Greenwich Village. They were independent women. Some of them were lesbian women. But they were free-spirited women and they meant a lot to Eleanor Roosevelt.
LAMB: You dedicate this book for Clare M. Coss, "Every day in each season, a life of politics and art." Who is she?
COOK: She's my partner, and we've been together for 24 years come the full moon in June. She's a playwright and political activist and poet and psychotherapist. A wonderful woman.
LAMB: How many books have you written?
COOK: I edited 360 books in the Garland Library of War and Peace. Then I wrote the introductions for about 10 or 15 of those books. I've written book books -- “The Declassified Eisenhower”, a book called “Crystal Eastman on Women and Revolution” and this Eleanor Roosevelt biography.
LAMB: How did this book sell?
COOK: It sold really very well. It was a best seller on the New York Times best seller list for about three months.
LAMB: Can you give us any indication of when you say "well" how many actual copies it sold?
COOK: About 100,000.
LAMB: Paperback, how do you expect that to do?
COOK: It's just came out, and it's already in a second printing. People really like this book. I think it's an important book for women and men who want to imagine a more political and more decent future. It's a book also about self-esteem, about how you can look at history in the face and say, "Well, I'm going to change my life. I'm going to make things better. I'm going to make things better not only for everybody who I identify with who needs to have things better, but I'm going to change my own life so that I'm going to be happy. I'm going to live fully." I think Eleanor Roosevelt's goal was to live fully. She wrote a wonderful book at the age of 76 in 1960. It's called You Learn by Living, in which she defines her own life as an adventurer and she says, "I have lived my life as an adventurer, and my goal was to taste things as fully and as deeply as I could and to learn from every experience because there is not a single experience that you can't learn something from." That's really a kind of important thing for all of us.
LAMB: A couple of smaller points. You say you want to thank Phyllis Wright, "who helped me make the transition from fountain pen to word processor." What's that about?
COOK: I wrote everything I've written, until Eleanor Roosevelt, literally long-hand by fountain pen. One day I lost my fountain pen, and I could not find another decent fountain pen. Phyllis Wright has this wonderful store where I live in East Hampton -- actually her store is in South Hampton -- called East End Computers. She is a wonderful woman. I walked in there, and I said, "All right, it's time for me to change my life. I can't find a fountain pen in this town." She really not only taught me how to do it and helped me to do it, but every time I had a problem and I couldn't get my document up, I would call Phyllis Wright. She gave me her home phone number so I could call her day or night, and for that period of transition that drives writers crazy, Phyllis Wright was very important to my life -- and so was her son.
LAMB: I suppose you're going to tell us that you now have a laptop computer that you take with you.
COOK: Yes. Now I'm all plugged in. Now I have a computer everywhere and a laptop that I take everywhere. I still have a fountain pen. Someone bought me one, but the fountain pen era is over.
LAMB: "I also want to thank Lyla Hoffman for asking those most difficult questions." What was that about?
COOK: Lyla Hoffman is a wonderful activist who lives out where I live on the beach, and we would take walks on the beach. She's a wonderful woman who founded the Council on Inter-Racial Books for Children, and she would just ask me these really amazing questions and I'd have to go home and really think about them and refine my answers because they were really the penetrating deep hard questions.
LAMB: Near the end of the book you tell a story about Lorena Hickok, and for those who just tuned in late, again, who was she?
COOK: She was Eleanor Roosevelt's great friend, the highest paid Associated Press reporter when Eleanor Roosevelt first met her.
LAMB: Met her where?
COOK: She met her because Lorena Hickok was assigned to interview Eleanor Roosevelt. That first interview she wasn't really interested in women's stuff. She was really a hard nosed "I do news" reporter and she did the Lindbergh case and she was previously assigned to the governor, and so to interview the First Lady was like, why do I want to interview the First Lady? But she was very taken with Eleanor Roosevelt, and, indeed, she wrote that she always wanted to get closer to Eleanor Roosevelt, but Eleanor Roosevelt always kept her at arm's length and her arms were very long. Finally she was assigned to just write some really good essays, keep her eye on the First Lady-elect, and Lorena Hickok did that.
LAMB: But they got to be, as you say here, very close.
COOK: Intimate friends.
LAMB: Possible intimate personal friends with a personal relationship. How did that happen?
COOK: I think they fell in love is how that happened. The first interview, this was the first time a reporter was assigned to do a story about the First Lady on Inauguration Day. Things were so busy and so harried and Eleanor Roosevelt was being interrupted so much that they finally sort of went into one of the back rooms of Eleanor Roosevelt's own bedroom sitting room, which, by the way, was the Lincoln bedroom, and went into the bathroom and she did this interview. Then she had to leave the next day. I think one of the sad stories of social history is that Lorena Hickok who was really a pro -- and I really spent a lot of time developing her life and her character because she was very important to Eleanor Roosevelt. She is the one who recommended that Eleanor Roosevelt have press conferences for women journalists only. She's the one who said, "Why are you writing all these 10, 20 page letters to me? The whole country wants to know how you spend your day." That became the origins of Eleanor Roosevelt's widely syndicated column "My Day."

So Lorena Hickok had a great impact on Eleanor Roosevelt's life, really enabling her to become yet a more public person. But in her own life she quit the Associated Press because Eleanor Roosevelt had two children who were getting divorced the first year that they were in the White House, and there was a lot of scandal going on. Rather than report the stories that she knew, and rather than have a kind of divided allegiance and divided loyalty, Lorena Hickok quit her job and got other work, which Eleanor Roosevelt helped her to get in the various New Deal agencies. But she was really never fulfilled or happy after she quit her work. It's something that many women do for their great loves, but it's always a disaster to do it. I suppose I could say some men do it, too, but I don't know too many men who do it. Usually it's women who do it.
LAMB: How long did they have a relationship?
COOK: I think their intimate friendship lasted for about six years, and their friendship lasted until Eleanor Roosevelt died in 1962.
LAMB: Lorena Hickok died when?
COOK: Lorena Hickok died in 1972.
LAMB: Did you have much time with her at any point?
LAMB: Never met her?
COOK: No, I never met her.
LAMB: The relationship, then, with Earl Miller. How did that start and at what point?
COOK: As I said earlier, Eleanor Roosevelt was 42. She was First Lady of New York State and she refused to have Secret Service with her. She refused to have chauffeurs, and so FDR assigned Earl Miller, who was a New York State trooper and a very interesting man. He was a Navy boxer and an athletic organizer, a circus acrobat. He, too, like Eleanor Roosevelt, was orphaned by the time he was 10, so they had a whole world of tragic childhood in common, and when FDR assigned Earl Miller to be Eleanor Roosevelt's bodyguard, their friendship began and over time it just continued.
LAMB: Did FDR know about it?
COOK: I think he knew about it.
LAMB: The intimacy of the two?
COOK: Again, we have to remember the context here. FDR was involved with other people as well. Missy LeHand lived in the executive mansion, was the official hostess when Eleanor Roosevelt wasn't there. My sense of it is -- and again I leave all of this up to the reader because all I do is state the facts as I have them out of letters and so on -- but my sense of it is that there are no secrets between Eleanor Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt. That is to say, there are no secrets from Eleanor Roosevelt to Franklin Roosevelt. Later, we know that when FDR dies, he's with Lucy Mercer again. Eleanor Roosevelt did not know that.
LAMB: They were in Warm Springs, Georgia?
COOK: They were in Warm Springs when he died on April 12, 1945. When she found that out, when she found out that her daughter had had a great deal to do with arranging dinner parties for Lucy Mercer at the White House when Eleanor Roosevelt was off doing wartime inspection tours and other kinds of important work during the war, that Lucy Mercer was in the White House, she was really very angry.
LAMB: Any parallels between FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt and the current president and his wife?
COOK: I think they're a lot of parallels, actually. I think the parallel is in their vision, which is a vision of hope. One thing I want to say about our current preoccupation about people's private lives, we now use our preoccupation with people's private lives to ignore policy issues, and I think that is a great tragedy because our country is really in need of focusing on policy issues. People are talking about the "character thing" as if somebody's affair might diminish one's character. I think bombing Guatemala City is a character thing. Bombing Grenada is a character thing. If two adult people have a relationship that they are working very hard to work out with respect, and I think the key word is respect for each other -- that, by the way, is a series of pictures on my left of Eleanor Roosevelt and her children. She's playing with her children, wrestling with her daughter, taking her son off to his first trip to Europe looking really quite ecstatic. Those are really wonderful pictures of Eleanor at play, which is what until recently we've never seen.
LAMB: Where did you get the pictures?
COOK: Hyde Park. They were right there for anybody to use before.
LAMB: These have never been published?
COOK: No. I don't know why that nobody has. To the best of my knowledge they haven't been published before. People didn't like to show us an Eleanor at play. I'm not sure why.
LAMB: Where is Hyde Park in relationship to Manhattan, downtown New York City?
COOK: It's about an hour and a half on the train north right up the Hudson River.
LAMB: You spent a lot of time, you say, at that library. How much of the material you found here is in that library?
COOK: Almost all of it.
LAMB: What do the librarians there think of this book?
COOK: They haven't really talked to me very much. They're polite.
LAMB: Is that normal that they didn't talk to you about it?
COOK: Some of them like it. Some of them think it's a really good book and some of them think it's controversial and they're all very helpful.
LAMB: What was your reaction when you read a couple of months ago that Mrs. Clinton said in a speech that she talked to Eleanor Roosevelt?
COOK: Oh, I thought that was great. She asked for advice.
LAMB: This was an imaginary conversation.
COOK: Yes, this was a wonderful event. It was a fund-raising event for a wonderful statue that is being put up in Riverside Park in New York City for Eleanor Roosevelt, and Hillary Clinton came and spoke at this really terrific event called First Ladies of Song, and she spoke about how she talked all the time to Eleanor Roosevelt for advice. I think that's a wise thing to do because Eleanor Roosevelt was really very attacked and really very embattled, much as Hillary Clinton is, not only because she's a First Lady with ideas and with guts and with brains, but because she cares about policy issues that we are very embattled about, like health care, like housing, like race relations, like education for all people. It's sort of amazing that we enter the foothills of the 21st century still embattled on these very simple issues, but we are.

Eleanor Roosevelt, in 1940, when she was most attacked for her support of Jewish refugees, for her support of an integrated armed forces when we had a totally segregated armed forces, was viciously shredded in the media by cartoonists and columnists. She wrote to her friend Fanny Hurst, the great novelist, "I know that all of these attacks against me are hurting my friends," because Fanny Hurst had written to her saying, "What is going on here?" Eleanor Roosevelt wrote to her saying, "I know that all of these attacks against me are hurting my friends, but in these terrible times when so much needs to be said and done, I intend to go right on saying what needs to be said and done and I intend to provide lots of ammunition for attack in the future."

I think that's something that Hillary Clinton really needs to hear because she's going to be attacked whatever she does and whatever she doesn't do. That's the nature of it. I think our politics has been brutal and it remains brutal, although I think in these really mean-spirited Reagan-Bush-Buchanan-Robertson years, they have gotten even more brutal and even more ugly. We just have to be out there and do what we have to do and do what we have to say.
LAMB: What's the best thing about “Volume Two”?
COOK: The best thing about “Volume Two”?
LAMB: Yes. What do you think that people will write about?
COOK: I think they'll write about Eleanor Roosevelt's vision because she actually had a vision for a global community. Here we are with Europe gone to smash, with Yugoslavia renewing ancient tribal wars, and Eleanor Roosevelt had a vision for a global world view that included not only the Northern hemisphere but the Southern hemisphere in which everybody should have security, food, work. There should be full employment, there should be real work for people, there should be stability. The declaration of human rights is a great thing, and Eleanor Roosevelt's vision is astounding and timely.
LAMB: Anything to make the kids mad this time around in the second volume?
COOK: Oh, there's going to be a lot. There's going to be a lot. She continued to have a very passionate private life. Again, I'm going to leave it all up to the reader, but Eleanor Roosevelt was a woman of great passionate politics and great passionate friendships. If people don't like that, they're going to have trouble with it.
LAMB: This is what the book looks like, its “Volume One” of Eleanor Roosevelt in a two-part series. Blanche Wiesen Cook, thank you very much for joining us.
COOK: Thank you very much.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1993. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.