EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


January 16, 2009

Eleanor Roosevelt and the weight of her world

WASHINGTON (AP) — By any measure, it was a big scoop. Hours after becoming first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt opened up to Associated Press reporter Lorena A. Hickok about the weight the nation had placed on the shoulders of her husband and herself.

"One has a feeling of going in blindly, because we're in a tremendous stream, and none of us knows where we're going to land," Roosevelt said.

Hickok's story landed on front pages dominated by the towering developments surrounding the inauguration of a new president in the midst of a bank crisis and the Great Depression.

Hickok was taking on a weight of her own.

The night before, Roosevelt had read at least parts of her husband's inaugural speech to Hickok as the two women had dinner alone in a Mayflower Hotel room.

"It did not even occur to me at the time, but I could have slipped out to a telephone after she read the inaugural address to me and could have given the AP the gist of it, with a few quotations," Hickok wrote years later. "If I had, it would have been a scoop — the biggest scoop of my career."

Instead, the AP waited with the rest of the nation to hear FDR's famous words: "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."

Roosevelt and Hickok had an intimate, tumultuous relationship that ultimately compromised the AP reporter's journalism and drove her from a career that had made her the highest paid woman in the business. Hickok had covered Roosevelt in New York, where her husband was governor, befriended her there and followed her professionally to the White House.

The story she wrote on March 4, 1933, became something of a coda for a woman who found her loyalties terribly divided.

"My suffering, my sense of guilt, came later," she said, recalling the evening of the missed scoop. "But while I did not realize it at the time and remained with the AP several months longer, that night Lorena Hickok ceased to be a newspaper reporter."

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