Empty Without You – The intimate letters of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok by Rodger Streitmatter


I was reluctant to start reading the intimate letters of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok, because I knew from what I read around that there are few letters left with Eleanor’s true feelings that Lorena hasn’t destroyed yet and I found it odd to read some letters with mundane happenings.

The letters indeed contain daily issues, but they also contain electrifying intimate thoughts, feelings and beliefs of the two women.

Remember Eleanor was married and not to anyone but to the US President and it was 1933, how unbelievable that such a love existed and influenced the women rights movement and made Eleanor one of the most influential US first ladies.

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt Roosevelt was, by birth as well as by marriage, a patrician- descendant from one of the fifty-six men who signed the declaration of independence and married to a president of the United States, F.D. Roosevelt, her fifth cousin.

Lorena Hickok aka Hick came from a poor family and has been kicked out her home by her father and she found her love for press by 1918 when she started to report for the Minneapolis Tribune, when she has also met her first love, Ellie Morse, who came from one of the wealthiest families in the state and entered into a same sex relationship with her.

eleanor and hick

Hick came into Eleanor’s life in September 1928. Hick was covering FDR’s bid for governor of New York, but she purposefully avoided taking on assignments centered on Eleanor. The boundary-breaking reporter didn’t want to be confined to covering the lives of politicians’ wives. She knew that a story about the wife of the Democratic candidate for governor of New York would never make the front page. While she continued to cover FDR’s campaign and his tenure as governor, she deliberately avoided stories about Eleanor.

Eleanor and Lorena had a very profound friendship, because of the many things they both love and their two personalities alike: for example, from time to time they agreed to read a book simultaneously, so they could discuss them by letter or, when possible, in person.

Apparently, this friendship turned into so much more, after Eleanor found out that her husband, F.D.R. Roosevelt, cheated on her with his secretary, she remained in the marriage because of their children and because she didn’t want to ruin F.D.R’s raising political career, nor him acceding to the White House.

In the summer of 1933, Lorena Quit the Associated Press and became the federal government’s chief investigator of relief programs. Between the trips around the country, she slept on a daybed in a room adjoining Eleanor’s bedroom.


1933 was an important year for both women, as Eleanor started to be US first lady, she turned forty nine and Lorena forty.

Since 1924, Eleanor started fighting for the women rights and made queer friends like: Elizabeth and Ester or Nan and Marion, so the love between women was no alien concept to her. She was a professed believer in sexual freedom – including people acting on homosexual desires. In 1925, she wrote in her personal journal : ”No form of love is to be despised”


And after, during and before Eleanor’s stay at the white house (the most intense were written between 1933-1935), the two women exchanged explicit letters, including some graphic love gestures :

eleanor roosevelt letter to lorena hickok2

Lorena to Eleanor :

“A cigar may not always be a cigar, but the northeast corner of your mouth against my lips’ is always the northeast corner”

Eleanor to Lorena :

“One cannot hide things in this world, can one? How lucky you are not a man!”

“Sunday morning we worked until 11 a.m. but slept well. Tiny & I in her big double bed which was comfortable in the guest room, only I wished it was you.”

“Dear one, & so you think they gossip about us. Well they must at least think we stand separation rather well! I am always so much more optimistic than you are. I suppose because I care so little what ‘they’ say!”

“Darling, I feel very happy because every day brings you nearer. I love you deeply & tenderly & oh! I want you to have a happy life. To be sure I’m selfish enough to want it to be near me but then we wouldn’t either of us be happy otherwise, would we?”

“Dearest, I miss you & wish you were here I want to put my arms around you & feel yours around me. More love than I can express in a letter is flying on waves of thought to you.”

“You’ve made of me so much more of a person just to be worthy of you – Je t’aime et je t’adore.”

“I can’t tell you how very precious every minute with you seems both in retrospect and in prospect. I look at you as long as I write- the photograph has an expression I love, soft and a little whimsical, but then I adore every expression. Bless you darling. A world of love, ER

And will you be my valentine?”

“I miss you greatly dear. The nicest time of the day is when I write to you. You have a stormier time than I do, but I miss you as much, I think. I couldn’t bear to think of you crying yourself to sleep. Oh! How I wanted to put my arms around you in reality instead of spirit. I went and kissed your photograph instead and tears were in my eyes. Please keep most of your heart in Washington as long as I’m here for most of mine is with you! A world of love and good night my dear one, ER.”

“May the world be full of sunshine,
And our meetings frequent be
Hours of joy & quiet time,
Take us over life’s rough seas”

“Hick dearest, Of course you will forget the sad times at the end & eventually think only of the pleasant memories. Life is like that, with ends that have to be forgotten.”

They wrote each other over 3500 letters for 30 years and during those years at the beginning of their friendship, 1924-1935, only close friends and family knew Eleanor had a close friend in Lorena, but none want to believe they were actually lovers and spend their vacations together and as much time as possible, none read their private thoughts and feelings until 1978, when part of the letters were discovered by archivists. Only 300 are published in this book, and the public is able to see another side of Eleanor Roosevelt written by her own self in the intimate letters to Hick. She is human : laughs and cries, feels tender and vulnerable, judgmental and sarcastic, and recognizes how this friendship and this love has changed her and changed the first lady she wanted to be and she was, an icon.


Apparently, Hick had a relationship with another woman, too, called Marion.

“Dearest, Darling, you were low & I know that in some way I hurt you & I am sorry & I wish I had not but all I can say is, I really love you.”

Indeed, the First Lady and her gal pal were growing apart. It’s unclear exactly what prompted the above apology, but Eleanor wrote the letter the day after she and Hick had lunch together in New York City. Clearly, it wasn’t the greatest lunch of 1936 .

In 1940, though they continued to grow apart—especially as World War II unfolded, forcing Eleanor to spend more time on leadership and politics and less time on her personal life—Hick and Eleanor still wrote to one another and sent each other Christmas presents. Prinz, by the way, is Hick’s dog, who she loved like a child. Eleanor loved him enough to buy him a present, too. GAY!

If Hick and Eleanor were indeed broken up at this point, they sure are fulfilling the stereotype of lesbians hanging onto their exes. In 1942, Hick started seeing Marion Harron, a U.S. Tax Court judge ten years younger than her. Their letters continued, but much of the romance was gone and they really did start to sound like old friends.

Hick ended her relationship with Marion a few months after FDR died, but her relationship with Eleanor did not return to what it was. Hick’s ongoing health problems got worse, and she struggled financially as well. By the time of this letter, Hick was merely living on the money and clothing Eleanor sent to her. Eleanor eventually moved Hick into her cottage in Val-Kill. While there are other letters they exchanged leading up to Eleanor’s death in 1962, this feels like the right excerpt to end on. Even in the face of dark times for them both, Eleanor remained bright and hopeful in the way she wrote about their lives together. Never one to want to share her beloved Eleanor with the American public and press, Hick opted not to attend the former First Lady’s funeral. She said goodbye to their world of love privately.

 empty without you

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