The Untold Story of Eleanor Roosevelt and Alice Roosevelt Longworth
STORY: Diane Dean
Politics, personalities, politicians, and families are like the old saying, “You can’t tell the players without a score card.” So Carolyn Ingham started the Bookworm Book Club discussion with a family genealogy tree. The convoluted, intertwined relationships in the book, “Hissing Cousins” took us from the beginnings of “kissing cousins” to the adult lives of Alice Roosevelt Longworth and Eleanor Roosevelt. As we sorted out the relatives, we learned about their similarities and differences. This dual biography, read during this political season, brings to light some of the behind-the-scenes scenarios of our political world.
Alice was the child of Teddy Roosevelt and her mother died in childbirth, the same day as her grandmother. Teddy headed out west for four years, basically abandoning his daughter. Eleanor’s mother died when she was eight and within a year her brother and father also died. Both girls looked to Auntie Bye for any loving upbringing.
They could not have been more different. Alice was a socialite, confident, beautiful, glib, and a Republican. Eleanor was self-effacing, compassionate, and dedicated to helping others. Her social justice efforts brought her into a limelight she originally shied away from. As the wife of Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt and her occupancy of the White House, where Alice had been the darling daughter under her father’s Republican presidency, brought out the green-eyed monster in Alice.
Their relationships with their husbands were not the picture of bliss. Both women had lovers outside of their marriage, as did their husbands. The discovery of Franklin’s mistress, Lucy Mercer Rutherford, may have been the impetus for Eleanor to become ELEANOR.
At the time of their deaths, both Nicolas Longworth and Franklin D. Roosevelt were with their mistresses, not their wives. Many friends of Eleanor’s who were lesbians generated questions about her relationship with Lorena Hickock, who traveled with her extensively. Alice had a child at age 40 fathered by her lover.
Eleanor and Alice had roles as power players in an era where Eleanor did not even have the right to vote until she was 36 years old.
Carolyn provided a quiz on the similarities the main characters had, such as marrying famous men who cheated on them, acknowledging they were terrible mothers, having an overbearing mother-in-law, and being born in 1884. The book club attendees wondered if the time period of the late 1800s and first third of the 20th century was unique and very unusual or just different from our current lifetimes.
The cousins’ rivalry was apparent as each wrote a newspaper column for an opposing paper. Their fame was pictured on the cover of Time magazine, Alice in 1927 and Eleanor in 1933, 1939, and 1952.
About the Authors
The authors of the book, Marc Peyser and Timothy Dwyer, offer an engaging portrait of high society and politics and sprinkle the names of celebrities and famous people of the time throughout the book. Of the leading ladies they said, “One of them whispered behind the scenes and one of them spoke to audiences around the world, but they both made their voices heard—and count.”