DID KEN BURNS “IN” ELEANOR ROOSEVELT?
Ken Burns’ documentary, “The Roosevelts,” introduced Lorena Hickok to the American PBS-watching public. Burns acknowledged her friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt, but ignored their romantic relationship. When questioned about this, Burns said that there was “no evidence whatsoever” for a lesbian relationship. See quotes from ER’s letters below, which contradict this statement.
Burns also claimed that “none of the historians and experts believe it, “which is manifestly untrue. Blanche Weisen Cook, the foremost living historian of the life of Eleanor Roosevelt, has explicitly supported the reality of ER’s lesbian love. Other respected authorities concur. Burnsinterviewed Cook for his TV series, but never asked her about this aspect of Mrs. Roosevelt’s life. Why, when he went into detail about FDR’s sexual affairs? Why did he consider FDR’s affairs “intimate,” while a discussion of ER’s lesbian affair would be “tabloid?” Inherent in Burns’ attitude is an unconscious homophobia and an assumption that “outing’” Eleanor Roosevelt would besmirch her reputation.
This has provoked a lively internet discussion. See below:
HISTORICAL FACTS ABOUT LORENA HICKOK & ELEANOR ROOSEVELT
1. Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the greatest American woman of the 20th century.
As First Lady, she worked ceaselessly to support the African-American struggle for civil rights, women’s rights to be treated equally, and the struggle of all Americans to live life freely and decently. After FDR died, ER was appointed to the United Nations. She chaired the committee that wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and was responsible for getting it passed by the U.N. General Assembly.
2. ER wrote 2336 letters to Hick over 30 years. Some quotes from these letters:
- “I can’t kiss you, so I kiss your picture good night and good morning.”
- “I would give a good deal to put my arms around you and to feel yours around me.
I love you deeply and tenderly.”
“Oh dear one, it is all the little things, the tones in your voice, the feel of your hair, gestures, these are the things I think about and long for.”
3. Hick was the most famous woman journalist of her day – 1920’s- 30’s. She was the first woman to get a by-line on the front page of the NY Times (1928, story about the shipwreck of the Vestris)
4. Hick helped shape ER’s public persona:
- Gave ER the idea for press conferences for women reporters only
(ER was first First Lady to hold a press conference).
- Gave ER the idea for a daily column – ER wrote one every day for over 30 years: “My Day”
- Edited and rewrote ER’s articles until ER had learned enough to do it on her own.
5. Hick lived in the White House, on and off, beginning in 1933. Initially she slept on a bed in ER’s dressing room. Later, she had a room across the hall.
6. Hick is one of the foremost chroniclers of the Depression. Hick traveled throughout the U.S. as Chief Investigator of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. Her vivid, impassioned reports helped shape FDR’s actions to alleviate people’s suffering. Contemporary scholars consider her reports, which have been published in book form, to be a valuable source of information on that time.
7. Hick was known as “First Friend.” She was such a constant companion of the First Lady, that the press nicknamed her “First Friend.” Hick loathed the nickname. She wanted to somehow retain her journalistic anonymity. But the truth was, she had to stop being a reporter because her intimate relationship with ER made it impossible to claim any objectivity about current events.