Although the most famous illicit love rumor associated with the White House may have been JFK and Marilyn Monroe, there was another that people are still talking about today.
Lorena Hickok, popularly known as “Hick,” was the friend and confidant of Eleanor Roosevelt. It appears they had a passionate romantic relationship that evolved into a life-long friendship. It should be noted that Roosevelt was far from naive about lesbianism. Biographer Blanche Wiesen Cook, the author of Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume One 1884-1933, wrote that after 1920, many of Eleanor Roosevelt’s closest friends were lesbians. She has said Roosevelt both honored their relationships and their privacy.
Roosevelt and Hickok began their decades-long relationship in 1933, before FDR’s presidential inauguration, while Hickok, a journalist, was assigned to cover the Roosevelts. While there has been lots of speculation about their relationship, it is known that during its peak, Roosevelt wrote letters of ten to fifteen page letters daily to Hickok, more than 300 letters were exchanged in their lives. The letters indicate a romantic attachment that was physical; in several of Roosevelt’s letters she wrote of “longing to kiss and hold” Hickok in her arms.
Hickok stayed in the White House as a permanent house guest, occupying a room near Roosevelt’s own.
However, both women were aware of the secrecy the nature of their relationship demanded. And, Hickok , as a successful journalist, undoubtedly understood the risk Roosevelt was taking. As a result, documentation has been heavily censored. While they lived, photographs of family dinners were cropped to remove Hick’s image. When she was included in a photograph, she was not identified.
In those days of low, slow media, the immediate risk to Roosevelt’s reputation (and her husband’s presidency) may have been less than the possibility of tarnishing her historical image.
After Roosevelt’s death, Hickok herself edited and retyped much of their correspondence. She burned some of Roosevelt’s letters and many of her own. Additionally, Hickok’s sister burned more letters after Hickok’s death, reportedly saying, “This is nobody’s business”.
You can read more about this famous couple in The Life of Lorena Hickok, E.R.’s Friend by Doris Faber, and Empty Without You: The Intimate Letters of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok by Roger Streitmatter.