Thursday, January 29, 2009

Scandalous Book Review: Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly


"I was born a slave - - was a child of slave parents - - therefore I came upon the earth free in God-like thought, but fettered in action."

Elizabeth Keckly


While looking through my huge pile of research books while preparing this month's series on Presidential scandals, I discovered that I had an advance reader's coppy of Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly that had been given to me by an old friend who has since passed away. Curiously I picked it up and began reading. While Lincoln has long been one of my favorite presidents, I didn't know a great deal about Mary Lincoln apart from the fact that like Lincoln, she was born in Kentucky, and her son had her committed to an asylum several years after Lincoln's death (dramatized in the play, The Last of Mrs. Lincoln).

What intrigued me about the book was that it was a dual biography of Mary Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckly, the freed slave who became Mrs. Lincoln's dressmaker and her closest friend. I had never heard of Elizabeth Keckly before reading this book, but her story now has been intrigued. Elizabeth Keckly was born in 1818, the same year as Mary Todd Lincoln, but the circumstances of her birth were far different from that of the future Mrs. President. Elizabeth's mother Aggy was owned by the Burwell family of Virginia. Her father was not George Hobbs, but Armistead Burwell, Aggy's owner. Elizabeth was aware of who her real father was, but like most slave owning families, her parentage was never spoken of. However, she learned to read and write, and was allowed to read books in the house, despite the fact that it was illegal for slaves to learn to read and write.

At the age of 14, Elizabeth was given 'on loan' to Armistead's son Robert Burwell and his wife Anna, to work as a house slave in Petersburg, VA (she had actually been promised to the youngest Burwell daughter Elizabeth). Elizabeth and Anna didn't exactly get along, leading Anna to ask for the assistance of a neighbor, William Bingham to subdue her, by beating her severely. Elizabeth's life became even worse, while the Burwell family ran a boarding school in Hillsborough, North Carolina. She was raped repeatedly by Alexander Kirkland, a neighbor of the Burwells, leaving her pregnant with her son George. Kirkland died at the age of 36. Elizabeth and her son George by this time had moved back to Virginia. Eventually Elizabeth ended up living with another Burwell daughter, Anna Garland in St. Louis.


It was in St. Louis that Elizabeth first began working as a seamstress, virtually supporting the entire Garland family solely by her wages. Living in St. Louis gave Elizabeth the opportunity to move freely among St. Louis's free black population. Determined to gain her freedom, Elizabeth repeatedly pestered Hugh Garland for the right to work for her freedom. Finally after two years, he told her that she could gain her freedom and her son's for the cost of $1,200. Elizabeth had now made connections as well among the well-to-do white population of St. Louis, while working as a dressmaker. It was also in St. Louis, that Elizabeth married James Keckly. However, she soon found out that Keckly had lied to her about being free. With the help of their patronage, Elizabeth was able to buy her freedom and that of her son's. She sent him to Wilberforce University in Ohio (named after William Wilberforce, the great English abolitionist), while she settled in Washington, DC.


It was in Washington, DC that Elizabeth Keckly and Mary Todd Lincoln were destined to meet. Through her St. Louis connections, Elizabeth was soon making dresses for some of the most influential women in Washington, including Mrs. Varina Davis, wife of Senator Jefferson Davis. Varina Davis was so taken with her, that when war was declared, she tried to convince Elizabeth to join her down South. However it was another woman, Mrs. Margaret McLean who made the introductions between Elizabeth and Mary Todd Lincoln on the day of the inauguration. Mary invited Elizabeth back the next day to interview for the position of her dressmaker. The last to be interviewed, Elizabeth impressed Mary and soon she was making dresses for Mrs. President.


Elizabeth Keckly was soon not just Mary's dressmaker but her confidante. Mary hadn't made many friends in Washington among the wives of the cabinet members or Congress. For the first time in her life she didn't have a ready made support system of friends and family. She didn't help matters by going on a major spending spree during Lincoln's first year in office which coincided with the first year of the Civil War. She was also suspected of being a secret Southern spy. Like many families in the border states, half of Mary's family fought for the Union, the other half for the Confederacy.


Mary was also known for being difficult to get along with. After years of living in a slave society, she had found it difficult to deal with white servants while living in Springfield. She also may been suffering from bipolar disorder along with her frequent migraines. Rosetta Wells wrote Keckly was "the only person in Washington who could get along with Mrs. Lincoln, when she became mad with anybody for talking about her and criticizing her husband." She was incredibly lonely, she had thought that she would be more of a help-mate to Lincoln but found herself shut out of the 'boy's club,' in a way that she hadn't been in Springfield.


Soon Elizabeth was taking care of Mary's two sons Willie and Tad, as well as combing the President's hair. During this time, Elizabeth also enjoyed semi-celebrity status within the black community, as well as being accepted by the black servants in the White House who were notorious for snubbing darker skinned blacks. She used her various connections to establish the Contraband Relief Association; a group designed to help the suffering and disadvantaged black people. Keckly petitioned and solicited for donations, and received frequent contributions from both the President and the First Lady. When Willie Lincoln died, Mary began to rely on Elizabeth more and more. Elizabeth had her own cross to bear, her son George had died in one of the first battles of the Civil War. Light enough to pass for white, he joined the army as a white man.


After the assassination, Mary Todd Lincoln seemed alone and friendless. The one person she could talk to was Elizabeth Keckly. Keckly accompanied Mary to Chicago and stayed with her for several months. Later on, she went to New York with Mary to try and help her to sell her clothes and jewelry. She even tried to raise money among the black community for Mrs. Lincoln but her efforts came to naught. The rift between the two women began when Elizabeth donated items that Mrs. Lincoln had given her after the president's assassination to Wilberforce University to help them rebuild a building after a devastating fire. But the final blow came when Elizabeth decided to publish her memoirs.


Elizabeth came to this decision for two reasons: after spending a year in New York trying to help Mrs. Lincoln, her business in Washington had suffered irreperable damage. And two, in a way, Elizabeth thought that she could help restore Mrs. Lincoln's reputation that had been damaged when it came out that she was forced to sell her jewels and clothing to raise money. Elizabeth wasn't the first former slave to write her memoirs, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman among others had written theirs. But Elizabeth was the only to have had a bird's eye view into the Lincoln White House. Nowadays, the public is used to every Tom, Dick and Karl Rove writing of their time in the White House, but this was a relatively new thing in the 19th century, and the idea that a former slave would write about working for her former employees well that beyond the pale. Of course, the publisher sensationalized the book in such a way, that it made it look like Elizabeth was cashing in on Lincoln's name and reputation.


Mary Todd Lincoln felt betrayed. Not only had Elizabeth disclosed personal conversations, but the book also published her private letters to Elizabeth. Dr. Fleischner writes in her book that, "Lizzy's intentions, like the spelling of her name, would thereafter be lost in history. At the age of fifty, she had violated Victorian codes not only of friendship and privacy, but of race, gender, and class. Not surprisingly, the newspapers that attacked Mary Lincoln in the fall, in the spring now leapt to her defense... The social threat represented by this black woman's agency also provoked other readers, and someone produced an ugly and viciously racist parody called "Behind the Seams; by a Nigger Woman who took work in from Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Davis and signed with an "X," the mark of "Betsey Kickley (nigger)," denoting its supposed author's illiteracy." Elizabeth always suspected that Robert Todd Lincoln helped to surpress the memoir.


The last years of Elizabeth's life were as hard as Mary Todd Lincoln's. She continued to sew and teach, but her white clientele stopped calling. Eventually she ended up having to sell her Lincoln memoribilia for the rock bottom price of $250. Eventually she obtained a faculty position at Wilberforce University as head of the Department of Sewing and Domestic Science. In her 80's, she was back in DC, living in a home for colored destitute women where she died in 1907.


Jennifer Fleischer writes in Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly, "Perhaps the most poignant illustration of the different fates of these two women is found in their final resting places. While Mary Lincoln lies buried in Springfield in a vault with her husband and sons, Elizabeth Keckly's remains have disappeared. In the 1960s, a developer paved over the Harmony Cemetery in Washington where Lizzy was buried, and when the graves were moved to a new cemetery, her unclaimed remains were placed in an unmarked grave—like those of her mother, slave father, and son."


After her death, Elizabeth suffered the further indignity of having not only her memoirs questioned, but whether or not she existed at all. In 1935, a journalist named David Rankin Barbee, stated that not only had Elizabeth Keckly not written her autobiography, but that she never existed at all. Barbee claimed that the abolitionist writer Jane Swisshelm was the true author and had written it to advance her abolitionist cause. Many people who read the article challenged his claim, and came forward citing personal and/or secondary acquaintance. In an effort to 'clarify' his erroneous statements, Barbee backtracked and said that it "was not that no such person as Elizabeth Keckly existed, but that "no such person as Elizabeth Keckley wrote the celebrated Lincoln book." Good save!


Thank god for Jennifer Fleischer for writing this book and rescuing Elizabeth Keckly from obscurity. One of the most remarkable thing about this book is not only the sympathy that Fleischer shows for Mary Todd Lincoln but also the respect that she shows Elizabeth Keckly. The book is not only a dual biography but it is also a social history about the relationship between whites and their slaves, but also the minefield that Elizabeth Keckly had to constantly walk between the white and black worlds.

At times, I wished for a little less about Mary Todd Lincoln and more about Elizabeth Keckly. Probably because so much as been written, both sympathetic and non-sympathetic, about her. This book is a wonderful addition to any fan of Lincoln, or anyone who is interested in the history of women. I would love to see HBO do a film about Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckly, particularly since this year in Lincoln's 200th birthday.

Sources and other information:

Jennifer Fleischner (2003). Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly The Remarkable Story of the Friendship between a First Lady and a Former Slave. Broadway Books
Behind the Scenes by Elizabeth Keckly


Fiction:
An Unlikely Friendship: A Novel of Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckley, Ann Rinaldi

Performers:

Laura Keyes: Laura performs a one-woman show about Mary Todd Lincoln

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Dusky Sally: The Controversy over Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings

“The man whom it delighteth the people to honor, keeps, and for many years past kept, as his concubine, one of his own slaves. Her name is SALLY.”

James Callendar in 1802

It is the political scandal of all political scandals (yes, bigger even than a certain beret wearing intern). The third president of the United States, the author of the Declaration of Independence, and the founder of the University of Virginia had jungle fever! The intimation that Thomas Jefferson had a long standing sexual relationship with one of his slaves has divided historians ever since James Callendar wrote about it during the election of 1802. Even today, despite DNA evidence linking Sally Hemings’ descendants to Jefferson, there are still people who refuse to believe the story.

Fawn Brodie deserves a certain amount of credit for reviving the story with her biography of Thomas Jefferson that was published in 1974. Before this the rumors had been dismissed as just ugly campaign propaganda. One of Sally Hemingses sons Madison Hemings gave an interview to a reporter for the Pike County Reporter in Ohio in 1873 in which he stated that his mother, was in his words, Thomas Jefferson’s concubine. Critics and non-believers state that it would have been impossible for Jefferson to have slept with Sally Hemings given his feelings about blacks, he considered them to be inferior in everyway. And although he hated the idea of slavery, the only slaves that he freed upon his death were his two youngest sons by Sally, Eston and Madison, Sally’s nephew, Burton Corbett, who had worked as his valet, and two other nephews of Hemings. He also petitioned the courts to allow Eston and Madison Hemings to continue to live in Virginia despite a law that freed slaves had to leave the state.

They also site Maria Cosway, the wife of painter Richard Cosway, whom Jefferson had met during his stay in France when he was minister to the Court of Louis XIV. While Jefferson may have been infatuated with Cosway, their initial acquaintance lasted all of two weeks, and he didn’t see her again for another year. When they did meet again, Jefferson quickly realized that he was just one of many among Cosway’s admirers. Their relationship seems to have been platonic. Surely if Jefferson didn’t sleep with her, why would he sleep with a slave?

Sally Hemings wasn’t just any slave. She was the half-sister of Jefferson’s late wife Martha Wayles Jefferson. Sally’s mother Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Hemings was the daughter of a British sea captain and a slave on Francis Eppes plantation. The sea captain had wanted to buy the mother of his child but Eppes refused to sell her. It appears that after the death of the third wife of John Wayles, Martha’s father, he took Betty as his concubine. Betty gave birth to at least eight children of which Sally was the last.

Sally was a quadroon meaning that she was one-quarter white. The few descriptions that we have of her describe her as ‘looking white’ with long straight silky hair. There are also some descriptions of her resembling Jefferson’s late wife. Get the picture? It doesn’t take a psychologist to figure out that by sleeping with Sally, it is possible that Jefferson considered it a way to be close to his beloved wife. All his life, Jefferson was uncomfortable when it came to strong and independent women. Who could be more dependent than one of his slaves?

And there would have been nothing unusual or strange if Jefferson had decided to sleep with one of his slaves. It was a common feature of plantation life, slaves had no legal rights. More than one wife of a plantation owner was confronted with slaves that resembled the master’s family. Foreign visitors to southern plantations often remarked on seeing slaves that were either practically white or whiter than they were. It was the eight hundred pound gorilla in the room. Everyone knew but nobody talked about it. In Jefferson’s case, visitors to Monticello were often taken aback by being served by slaves that looked a great deal like the future President of the United States. What fun dinner parties those must have been!

Jefferson had also promised Martha that he would never remarry. So what was a healthy middle-aged man to do? One who still had needs? Jefferson had already lived longer than his father. Jefferson was a devotee of a Swiss medical theorist named Samuel Auguste David Tissot, who believed that regular sexual relations were the key to good health for a man. There are no other rumors of Jefferson being involved with anyone other than Sally Hemings during this time. It is possible to believe, but not likely, that Jefferson was celibate for the rest of his life.

So if one accepts that Jefferson and Sally Hemings had some sort of relationship that involved sex, when did it start? Madison Hemings believed that his mother became pregnant when she was in France, and that was the reason that she didn’t stay behind when Jefferson returned to America, even though she was considered free since slavery was illegal in France (although not in the French colonies). Jon Kukla argues that the relationship didn’t start until Jefferson resigned as Secretary of State in 1793. Her first child, a daughter named Harriet, was born in 1795. Over the next fourteen years, Sally gave birth to six children, Beverly (born in 1798), a daughter born in 1799, Harriet Hemings (born in 1801), James Madison Hemings (born in 1805), and Thomas Eston Hemings (born in 1808). All the dates of conception coincide with times that Jefferson was at Monticello. Although there is no evidence that Sally lived in the big house at Monticello, there is evidence that she had living quarters in a masonry of rooms that were conveniently located and easily accessible to Jefferson’s bedroom.

Was it a love relationship? There is no way definitively to say yes or no. How could love exist between a man and the woman that he owned? It is clear that Jefferson treated not only Sally and her children well (for slaves), but also the rest of the Hemings family who lived at Monticello. None of them worked in the fields, they either worked in the house, or they were taught trades. Sally’s brother James was trained as a chef while they were in Paris, and others of her relatives were taught carpentry and wood-work. Sally also named all her children after people that were important to Jefferson, including James Madison and Thomas Randolph.

Both Beverly and Harriet Hemings left Monticello when they were twenty-one. No attempt was made to find them. In fact, Edmund Bacon, Jefferson’s overseer, stated that when Harriet left, Jefferson instructed him to give her fifty-dollars and paid her stage fare to Philadelphia. They both slipped into the white world which was easy for them since they were one-eighth black. According to Virginia law, since they were 1/8 black, they were legally white, although also legally slaves. Which makes no sense, but sometimes the law never does. Only one of Sally’s children, Madison Hemings, didn’t pass for white. The only person not freed by Jefferson’s will was Sally herself. However, Jefferson’s daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph allowed Sally to live with her sons in Charlottesville where she died in 1835. After Jefferson's death, Sally collected mementoes of Jefferson, including pairs of his glasses, an inkwell, and shoe buckles, which she passed on to Madison and Eston.



In 1802, James Callendar, a disgruntled journalist, and former supporter of Jefferson was the first person to put the rumors in print. Some historians have dismissed Callendar because he was bitter that Jefferson did not appoint him Postmaster General during his administration, but who better to know where the bodies were buried so to speak than a former associate? Martha Jefferson Randolph apparently pleaded with her father to get rid of Sally and her children but he refused.

In 1998, the scientific journal Nature published an article stating that from the DNA evidence collected, it seemed probable that Thomas Jefferson was the father of Eston Hemings. The study was conducted by Dr. Eugene Foster, a retired medical professor, who began investigating the possibility of a genetic link between living descendents of Thomas Jefferson and those of Sally Hemings. He compared the blood from five descendents of Field Jefferson, Thomas's paternal uncle, with the blood of the descendants of Sally Hemings, Thomas Woodson, and the Carrs. The DNA was extracted from the blood samples at the University of Virginia, then sent to Oxford, England where it was tested by three different laboratories. What the DNA evidence came up with was that male descendents of Eston Hemings (who changed his name to Jefferson when he passed for white) had the same Y chromosome as Field Jefferson who was the brother of Peter Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson's father. Jeffersonians cried foul, stating that the DNA tests were faulty, that other suspects were not considered. The DNA evidence had cleared the Carr brothers, Peter and Samuel, who were often thought to be possible fathers. The Jeffersonians claimed that Thomas Jefferson's brother Randolph and his sons had not been considered. However it appears that Randolph's sons would have been too young to father children with Hemings and Randolph himself was an infrequent and reluctant visitor to Monticello.

No one has yet tested the DNA from descendents of Randolph Jefferson but that still wouldn't prove definitively that Thomas Jefferson was not the father of Sally Hemings' children because Randolph would share the same DNA chromosome as Jefferson. The Jeffersonians seem to reject the idea that Jefferson could have been as human as some of the other plantation owners in the South. If Jefferson was the father of Sally's children, it doesn't take away from his accomplishments as President, statesman, and inventor. It just makes him a living, breathing, human being, who had a secret relationship. He wouldn't be the first or the last politician to do so. Even Strom Thurmond, the great segregationist, fathered a black child (seriously was anyone suprised when that little newstory appeared? I was surprised that there was only one).

What of the lies that the white Jefferson family told over the years to explain the existence of at least six children who resembled Thomas Jefferson? Well that is where the stories about the Carr brothers come in. Anyone in the family but Jefferson had to be the culprit. And if it was one of them, it doesn't negate the fact that the descendants of Sally Hemings are related to Thomas Jefferson and as such should be acknowledged and accorded the dignity and respect of other relatives.

The notion that Jefferson and Sally Hemings brings up uncomfortable questions about race, slavery, and the notion of interracial relationships which some people still object to. Despite the public's appetite for political scandal and reading about the sex lives of famous people, when it comes to our founding fathers, we get a bit squeamish. We don't want to know or to talk about them, just the way people are uncomfortable talking about Abraham Lincoln, and whether he was gay or not. The Europeans are much more civilized when it comes to the sexual peccadilloes of their leaders. In France, no one cared when it came out that Francois Mitterand had a whole other family.


Thomas Jefferson, the man, was a bundle of contradictions, a slaveholder with egalitarian principles. There is a reason Joseph Ellis named his biography of Jefferson, American Sphinx. In his relationship with Maria Cosway, he wrote her a letter in which he examined his feelings as a dialogue between his head and his heart. We may never know for sure what the truth is about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings (it wasn't like Gilbert Stuart was under the bed with a paint brush), but it will continue to be a hot button for years to come. And some people will never be convinced, not even if Jefferson came down from Mount Rushmore and told them himself.

Sources:

Mr. Jefferson’s Women - Jon Kukla, Alfred A. Knopf, 2007
The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family – Annette Gordon-Reed, W.W. Norton & Company, 2008
Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History – Fawn Brodie, Norton, 1974



Fiction:



Sally Hemings - Barbara Chase-Riboud, 1979 (to be republished by Chicago Review Press, 2009)

Magazine Articles:

"Anatomy of a Mystery" Maura Singleton, University of Virginia Magazine, 2007 (an even handed look at both the pros and the cons concerning the controversy)

"Thomas Jefferson's Unknown Grandchildren," Fawn Brodie, American Heritage Magazine


"Did Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson Love Each Other?" Annette Gordon-Reed, American Heritage Magazine, Fall 2008


Websites:
The Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society: An organization one of whose aims is to debunk the theory that TJ and Sally Hemings had children.
Monticello - Jefferson's home in Virginia


Movies:

Jefferson in Paris: Merchant-Ivory films, 1995, starring Nick Nolte as Thomas Jefferson, and Thandie Newton as Sally Hemings.

Sally Hemings: An American Scandal , a CBS television miniseries (Air dates: 2/13/00 and 2/16/00; Writer: Tina Andrews Director: Charles Haid; With Carmen Ejogo as Hemings, and Sam Neil as Thomas Jefferson)

Documentaries:

American Experience: Thomas Jefferson
Frontline: Jefferson's Blood

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Butterfly Award



Thanks to Kris Waldherr for passing on this award to me, and I'm very happy to pass it on some deserving blogs.

Here are the “rules” of the Butterfly Award:

1. Put the logo on your blog.

2. Add a link to the person who awarded you.

3. Award up to ten other blogs.

4. Add links to those blogs on yours.

5. Leave a message for your awardees on their blogs

What a great way to network with other bloggers.

I am happy to pass this award on to:

History Undressed

Raucous Royals

Tudor History

Reading the Past

Kwana Writes

Edwardian Promenade

Margaret Evans Porter

The Virtual Dime Museum

Catherine Delors

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Mob Moll: Judith Campbell Exner, JFK and the Mafia


The Exner Files: Judith Campbell Exner, JFK and the Mob

A beautiful woman is introduced to a handsome, charismatic Senator running for President by an Academy Award winning movie star. They fall into an affair. Meanwhile, the beautiful woman is also introduced to the head of the Chicago mob by the same man. The beautiful woman carries messages and arranges meetings between the now President of the United States and the Chicago mobster. Sounds like the plot of a thriller, or a conspiracy theorists wet dream doesn’t it? However in this case, it happens to be true. Allegedly.

This much can be proved.

Fact #1: Judith Campbell as she was known then was introduced to John F. Kennedy in Las Vegas by Frank Sinatra.

Fact #2: Several months later, Judith was introduced to ‘Sam Flood’ in Miami by Frank Sinatra. Later on she learned that he was actually Sam Giancana, the head of the Chicago mob.

Fact #3: Judith and JFK carried on an affair for almost three years, meeting in hotel rooms, the Georgetown house he shared with Jackie, and even the White House (in her autobiography, Judith gives the phone numbers of both Evelyn Lincoln, JFK’s secretary as well as the phone number of the Georgetown house.

Fact #4: While she was seeing JFK, Judith was also seeing Sam Giancana, platonically she claims until the relationship with JFK was over.

Fact #5: J. Edgar Hoover had lunch with JFK in March of 1962, where he allegedly handed him the FBI report detailing Judith’s relationship with Giancana.

The whole story came to light in 1975 during the Senate Select Committee to study Governmental Operations to Respect to Intelligence Activities (aka the Church Committee) in its report on CIA assassination attempts. The report stated that a ‘close friend’ of JFK had also been a friend of mobsters Sam Giancana as well as Johnny Roselli, an associate of Giancana. It was the first time that JFK’s rampant infidelities had been revealed to the public. When Exner’s name was finally revealed, she gave a press conference claiming that while she had had a personal relationship with JFK, she denied that she had any knowledge of mob activities.

How did an ordinary woman find herself involved not only with the leader of the free world but also one of the most notorious gangsters in mob history? Nothing in Judith Campbell’s background seemed to suggest that she had a penchant for taking a walk on the wild side. She was born Judith Immoor on January 11, 1934 on the East Coast but she grew up in tony Pacific Palisades in California. Her father was an architect, and her family was well off if not quite wealthy. When Judith was 14, her mother was in a serious car accident, which traumatized Judith so much that she dropped out of high school and was privately tutored.

At the age of 16, Judith met William Campbell, a minor contract player through her sister Jackie who had started a movie career under the name of Susan Morrow. They married when Judith turned 18 in 1952, but the marriage was over by 1958. Judith claimed in her autobiography that Campbell cheated on her repeatedly, which he denies. Whatever the case, Judith was footloose and fancy free and indulging in the single life that she felt that she had been denied by marrying so young. With an inheritance from her grandmother and her alimony, Judith was free to spend her days getting ready for her nights out on the town.

In 1959 she began a brief romance with Frank Sinatra that ended when he tried to get her to participate in a threesome. Still, she accepted his invitation to come to Las Vegas to see him at the Sands hotel, where he was filming Oceans 11 and performing at night with the Rat Pack consisting of Dean Martin, Sammy Davis jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford, brother-in-law of JFK (he was married to JFK’s sister Patricia). It was there that she met JFK in February of 1960. Judith claimed not to know who he was or that he was running for President of the United States. Apparently spending three hours a day getting ready didn’t leave much time for reading newspapers of newsmagazines. Although there were other people at the table, Judith wrote that JFK spent all his time focused on her. “It was as if every nerve and muscle in his whole body was poised at attention. As I was to learn, Jack Kennedy was the world’s greatest listener.”

Soon they were trysting whenever JFK had a spare moment. In the meantime, Frank Sinatra introduced Judith to Giancana while she was attending his show in Miami. Soon when she wasn’t traipsing across the country to see JFK, she was spending time with Giancana in Chicago. Despite the fact that he was a mafia kingpin and was blatantly racist, Judith liked the way that Giancana treated her, and the fact that he didn’t press her into a sexual relationship. Judith and JFK’s relationship petered out sometime in June of 1962. Judith claimed that after awhile, the relationship no longer felt right. She felt that JFK had become too demanding, wanting her to fly to be with him at a moment’s notice, and that she was expected to service him during sex.

After her relationship with JFK was over, Judith and Giancana drifted into a sexual relationship that ended when she turned down his marriage proposal. By 1963, the relationship was over. Still the FBI continued to hound her because of her associations with Giancana and Johnny Roselli. Judith began dating Eddie Fisher and a pitcher for the Angels. She suffered health problems from the injections she had received from Dr. Max Jacobson, also known as ‘Dr. Feelgood.’ Jacobson was notorious in the 60’s for giving celebrities shots filled with not just vitamins but also amphetamines. In 1965, Judith gave birth prematurely to a son who she later gave up for adoption. She never revealed the name of the father.

In her autobiography, Exner also managed to include photographic evidence of plane tickets, tickets to JFK’s inauguration and other pieces of evidence to bolster her claim that she and JFK had an affair. However, in 1988, she changed her tune and in an article in People magazine written by Kitty Kelley, Exner claimed for the first time that she was ferrying information and money back and forth between Kennedy and Giancana. In fact she claimed that the only reason that she spent time with Giancana at all was because JFK had asked her to. Later she claimed that Robert F. Kennedy knew that she was carrying money and information back and forth between JFK and Giancana.

Exner claimed that she lied to the Church Committee and in her autobiography because she was afraid for her life. Both Giancana and Johnny Roselli had been killed, their murderers never found. Now that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and it was terminal, Exner felt she needed to come clean. She repeated her story in a 1997 article written by Liz Smith for Vanity Fair, and also to Seymour Hersh for his book The Dark Side of Camelot. She also claimed that she had become pregnant by JFK and had an abortion in early 1963.

But was she telling the truth or just trying to embellish her story for money? After her story was revealed, Judith was called everything from a party girl, to a call girl in various biographies of JFK. What better way to bolster her reputation than to claim that her real reason for hanging out with mobsters was because she was a go-between for the President of the United States? Sounds much better than just being a woman who fell for inappropriate men, who liked to walk a little bit on the wild side doesn’t it? Her story also dovetailed neatly with the conspiracy theorists who believe that the mob was involved with JFK’s death. The revelations that the CIA had hired Roselli and Giancana to help assassinate Castro also lent credence to her story.

The plot to Assassinate Castro
In the 1960's, the CIA contacted Johnny Roselli, Sam Giancana and Salvatore Trafficante to help them assassinate Castro. Why the Mafia? Well Castro's rise to power had destroyed the Mafia's hold on the Casino's which they had controlled during the previous regime. They had lost millions of dollars when the Casino's were confiscated when Castro took over. Also, most of them still had contacts with disgruntled anti-Castro associates who would be happy to help them with the job. The CIA offered Giancana and Roselli a $100,000 to do the job, which they refused, happy to do it for free. Unfortunately, the Three Stooges could have done a better job. Despite the resources of both the Mafia and the CIA, they were never able to get the job done, despite repeated attempts. Everything was tried from poisoning his food to his cigars. In the meantime, Giancana used the services of the CIA, to have comedian Dan Rowan's dressing room and hotel bugged in Las Vegas to see if Rowan was having an affair with his girlfriend, singer Phyllis McGuire. The man sent to the job ended up arrested which almost blew the whole operation sky high. The revelations of the CIA plot to kill Castro was revealed in the 'Family Jewel' papers that were released. Roselli had actually tried to use the information to keep from being deported but the CIA didn't care. The attempts continued while Johnson was President. The question still remains whether JFK or RFK knew of the plot.


However there are also a few holes. Why would JFK personally meet with mobsters when he must have known that they were being bugged and spied on by the FBI? He had minions to do stuff like that, to keep his hands clean. His brother, the attorney general, Robert F. Kennedy, was publicly waging a war against the mob. And why would JFK trust a woman he hardly knew, a woman that he was sleeping with, to not only ferry money and important documents, but to also accept payoffs for him from defense contractors in California?(another Exner embellishment). Exner claimed that JFK didn’t trust the CIA, and that he felt that no one would suspect a woman.

The one potential witness, a man named Martin Underwood, who initially claimed that he had followed Exner on the train to Chicago in April of 1960 to make sure that she delivered the money to Giancana, recanted his statement. Seymour Hersh in The Dark Side of Camelot even claimed that JFK was blackmailed into giving a defense contract for a new plane. They threatened to expose his relationship with Exner. Critics of her story claim that Exner is an unreliable witness, that she had a history of depression, she’d been addicted to alcohol and amphetamines, and she’d been hounded and harassed by the FBI. Instead she invented a role for herself out of John le CarrĂ© thriller.

Judith Campbell Exner died at the age of 65 on September 24, 1999, still insisting that she played a bigger role in history. She has her detractors and her defenders on either side. Historians will probably never know the truth unless some new evidence pops up that bolsters her claims. However, she will be remembered as one of the first people to pop the bubble that was the Camelot myth about JFK.



Power and Beauty– starring Natasha Henstridge as Judith Campbell Exner, Kevin
Anderson as JFK, Peter Friedman as Sam Giancana. 2002, Produced by
Showtime. Three years after her death, Showtime produced a movie based on
Exner’s story. Despite the salacious material, the movie was incredibly
dull. The biggest problem is that Exner’s role in the story is basically
passive. Occasionally she stands up for herself, when Giancana pays her
bill for her in Miami soon after they meet, and Judith insists on paying him
back. Henstridge isn’t a good enough actress to make the viewer either
sympathize or care about Exner and the voice-over narration is distracting.


Sources include:

My story: Judith Campbell Exner and Ovid Demetrias
The Dark Side of Camelot, Seymour Hersh.
Mafia Moll: The Judith Campbell Exner Story by Sam Sloan

Friday, January 23, 2009

Scandalous Women nominated for Lady Blog Award

I just found out that Scandalous Women has been nominated for a Lady Blog Award in the Pop Culture/Entertainment Category.

http://www.culture11.com/article/36557

Please click on the link and vote for me! You have until January 26th to vote.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Petticoat Affair – the Scandalous Story of Margaret ‘Peggy’ Eaton and Andrew Jackson’s White House

Monica Lewinsky wasn’t the first woman to almost take down a Presidency. In many ways, Washington DC is a small town where gossip spreads like wildfire. In 1830’s Washington, Margaret O’Neale Timberlake Eaton almost took down the Presidency of Andrew Jackson all because the women of Washington society would not accept her It came to be known as the ‘Petticoat Affair’ and it caused the resignation of Jackson’s entire cabinet, changed the direction of John C. Calhoun’s political career, and led to the rise of Martin van Buren as a serious candidate for the office of President.



Margaret’s behavior had excited Washington gossip for years. Born in 1799, Margaret had grown up around the politicians that frequented her family’s boarding house. As a small child, they had dangled her from their knees, as a pretty and vivacious teenager she had flirted with them, practicing her feminine wiles. She would listen to the lively talk of the men at the dinner table and in the tavern, eventually she began to join in, voicing her own opinions.



At the age of fifteen, she had almost eloped with Major Francis Smith Belton, an attempt that was foiled when she accidentally knocked a plant off the roof while escaping. A year later she was spied by John Timberlake who contrived to make her acquaintance. Within a month they were married. Although a year ago, when she was fifteen, her father had considered her too young to get married, a year later perhaps he realized that it was probably a good idea to have her safely married. The newly wedded couple moved into a townhouse near her parents, and Timberlake set up a store. But soon the store floundered, and without a pension from the government, Timberlake felt he had no choice but to go back to sea. By this time, the couple had two little girls. By all accounts, Margaret was a devoted and loving wife while her husband was still at home but that didn’t stop tongues wagging, implying that Margaret was doing more than pouring drinks at the tavern.



While Timberlake was at sea, Margaret was escorted around town by John Henry Eaton. Gossip started that the two of them were lovers. Margaret had known Eaton for years, like Jackson; he had often stayed at Franklin House, the boarding house that her parents ran. He was also a good friend of John Timberlake, had tried to help him with his petition for a pension from the Navy. As a matter of fact, Timberlake had left a letter stating that if anything happened to him, he wanted Eaton to take care of Margaret and their two daughters.



Margaret also continued to work at her parents’ boarding house, as well as serving in the tavern. Although Margaret was distraught to find out that her husband had committed suicide, and hadn’t died of a pulmonary embolism as first reported, he had been gone for several years, and Margaret had gotten used to living without him. After less than a year of mourning, Margaret married Senator John Henry Eaton of Tennessee, a good friend of Andrew Jackson, and the future Secretary of State in Jackson’s cabinet. Eaton’s friends in the Senate tried to convince him to wait to marry Margaret, convinced that she would ruin his career, but Eaton didn’t care. Andrew Jackson had given his approval for the two to marry. Of course, Jackson was grieving for his beloved wife Rachel’s death just before Christmas and probably wasn’t thinking clearly. On New Year’s Day 1829, Margaret and Eaton were married.



Immediately tongues started flapping. There were rumors that Margaret and Eaton had to marry because she was pregnant. Margaret Bayard Smith, a leading member of Washington Society, called Margaret ‘a lady whose reputation, her previous connection to him, both before and after her husband’s death, has totally destroyed.’ And that was being kind! When Margaret and Eaton returned from their honeymoon, they paid a call on Floride Calhoun, the wife of Vice President John C. Calhoun, as protocol dictated. After the Eaton’s left, Floride confided to her husband that she had decided not to return the call which amounted to a resounding snub. Floride’s reasoning was that as she hadn’t planned on spending a great deal of time in the capitol, she would leave it to those who knew better what the correct judgment was, regarding Margaret Eaton. In other words, let others worry about it. But where Floride Calhoun went, others were sure to follow. Although Margaret continued paying her calls, none of the women made the same gesture. She was frozen out.



19th Century manners and morals

In the 19th century, a cottage industry blossomed around the idea of manners and morals. For the first time, women could read etiquette manuals that told them what to do and when to do it. Everything from the correct period of mourning, to the proper way to pay social calls was included in these books. Add to them the bourgeoning list of books on household management like Mrs. Beeton’s book in England, and Catherine Beecher’s in the United States. Women were constantly worried about putting a foot wrong, not just for their social standing but for that of their husband and family. Society was ruled by women, and there are no harsher critics when it comes to a woman who steps out of bounds which Margaret Eaton found to her detriment.





What had Margaret done that made her unacceptable to the cabinet wives and the women of Washington society? She had violated the rules of mourning which stated that women wore black for the first year, and then they were allowed to wear white. They didn’t remarry after less than a year of mourning. Well for one thing, she was the daughter of a tavern keeper, and she’d grown up in a boarding house. She was also forward and outspoken, violating every rule of 19th century behavior, where women were supposed to be demure, soft-spoken, pious and feminine. Their natural sphere was considered to be the home, where they were to raise their children to moral and good citizens. If they had any opinions of their own, it was their husband’s opinions. They certainly didn’t spend their time talking politics with men. When Jackson went to Tennessee to negotiate with the Chickasaw Indians, Margaret had her piano brought out to the porch to play for the guests. She also ended up smoking the peace pipe with them. Stories like this spread through Washington like wildfire, further damaging her reputation. And Margaret didn’t just sit back and let the men defend her, she confronted her accusers personally. Jackson’s support of Margaret didn’t help either. Jackson was considered by many in Washington to be a backwoods rube with a violent temper and crude manners.



The matter should have ended there but for Andrew Jackson. Jackson was known for his gallantry towards women. He considered them the weaker sex that needed to be protected at all costs. Margaret’s snubbing by the women in Washington as well as the malicious gossip reminded the President of the way his beloved wife Rachel had been treated during the 1828 Presidential campaign which had been vicious. Like Margaret, Rachel had been beautiful and vivacious. Jackson blamed the negative campaign for causing Rachel’s death from a heart attack. Jackson also prized loyalty above all other virtues. Orphaned at the age of 14, Jackson took any opposition as being disloyal. Eaton had stood by his side and supported and him and as far as Jackson was concerned deserved his loyalty and his cabinet appointment as Secretary of War. Anyone who thought otherwise was disloyal and that included his niece and nephew.



Rachel Robards Jackson (1767-1828) met Andrew Jackson when her parents rented out a cabin to Andrew Jackson and his friend John Overton. She was married at 17 to Lewis Robards, a jealous and vindictive man, who constantly accused Rachel of being unfaithful to him. Rachel finally left him and moved to Natchez, escorted there by Andrew Jackson. When Robards filed for divorce, Rachel and Jackson thought that they were free to marry. What they didn’t know was that Robards hadn’t filed the appropriate paperwork. They didn’t find out until they had been living in sin for two years. They hastily remarried but the fact that they had inadvertently committed bigamy was used against Jackson through out his public life. Jackson was devoted to her, calling her his ‘beloved Rachel,’ and fighting several duels defending her honor. The Jacksons had no children of their own, but they adopted one of her nephews, as well as an Indian baby who had been orphaned. During the campaign of 1828, the press attacked Rachel Jackson unmercifully, accusing her of bigamy and adultery. Jackson tried to keep the attacks as much from Rachel as possible, but she heard enough to be anguished by it. She died of a heart attack in December of 1828, never getting to see her husband sworn in as President.




The first year of Jackson’s presidency seemed to be devoted solely to defending Mrs. Eaton’s good name. Jackson’s nephew by marriage, Andrew Jackson Donelson and his wife Emily, although they had been friendly with Margaret and Eaton early on, decided to bow to society’s dictate that Mrs. Eaton was ‘not one of us.’ This was particularly galling to Margaret because Jackson’s wife, Rachel, had been friendly towards her when they met while Rachel was visiting Washington. While there were some who weren’t afraid to buck the tide, the majority of Washingtonians had declared Mrs. Eaton persona non grata. Even Andrew Jackson’s minister had gotten involved.



Martin van Buren (1782-1861)

The first President to actually be born in the United States (he was born after the revolution) the dapper Secretary of State and former Governor of New York was the consummate politician. He took advantage of Vice President Calhoun’s absence from the capital to schmooze with Jackson, furthering his political career. They took long horseback rides daily where they talked about politics and the ostracism of Margaret Eaton. Along with Postmaster General William Barry, he took up Margaret Eaton’s cause. He took had spent time with the lady and found her company congenial, but his championship of Margaret and Eaton was also political. When Jackson fell out with his Vice President, John C. Calhoun, van Buren was ready to take his place as Jackson’s potential successor.




While Congress was out of session, the problem of Margaret’s snubbing by Washington society could be contained. The refusal of society women to return Margaret’s visits was a private matter and could be kept discreet. However it was noticed that at the inauguration receptions that the wives of Jackson’s cabinet and women in Washington society as a whole had avoided Margaret. There was a protocol to party-giving in Washington in the 19th century. It was the custom for first the President to have a dinner for his cabinet, and then the Vice President on down. When Jackson gave his first dinner, it was a rushed affair as guests sped through the evening so that they didn’t have to spend anymore time socializing with the Eatons.



Soon the Eaton affair became about more than just the refusal of the cabinet wives and the women of Washington society snubbing her. The President was convinced that anti-Jacksonian members of Congress were spreading the rumors about Margaret Eaton. At first he thought it came from the supporters of Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky. However, he soon suspected his own Vice President and members of his own cabinet were responsible. He confronted the three members, Samuel Ingham in the Treasury department, Secretary of the Navy, John Branch, and Attorney General John M. Berrien. He threatened to fire them. However they convinced him that they were not the ones responsible but they couldn’t force their wives to accept Margaret. Jackson was willing to concede that he couldn’t force them to socialize with Margaret, but the crisis was not over it was just dormant.



Jackson began to realize that he and his Vice President had fundamental differences. While they both advocated state’s rights, Calhoun believed that the states should be able to nullify any federal law they felt was unjust. Jackson felt that would weaken the Union, if a state could pick and choose which federal laws they liked. He also learned that Calhoun had not supported and defended him the way he had thought when Jackson went into Spanish Florida against the Seminoles and had killed two British officers. He began to suspect his Vice President of plotting against him. After all it was Calhoun’s wife Floride who had been the first to refuse to visit Margaret, after the Eaton’s had paid a call on them. Things couldn't go on the way they were much longer. Jackson's friends in Tennessee who had tried to get him to remove Eaton from his cabinet were slowly being pushed aside.



At first it was decided that perhaps it might be best for Margaret to stay in Tennessee but she refused. Matters came to a head when Martin van Buren decided to resign his cabinet post as Secretary of State, claiming that it was for the good of the nation. Soon John Henry Eaton resigned his post as Secretary of War. Finally Jackson, since the his cabinet was no longer the harmonious unit it once was, asked his Secretary of the Treasury, the Attorney General, and Secretary of the Navy to all resign, which they did reluctantly. Calhoun resigned as Vice President to run for the Senate. However the resignations just convinced the gossips that Margaret Eaton controlled Jackson and the Cabinet.



Andrew Jackson never quite understood that politics and society in Washington was the same thing. He believed that they should be separate. He never quite understood that the women of Washington felt that they were protecting against an attack on the morality of the time. Margaret was just too forward, too brash, to be accepted by the women at that time in Washington. If Jackson had only understood that, and not believed that it was a conspiracy against him, the whole affair could have been avoided. But his stubbornness and his demands for absolute loyalty almost brought down the government, and made people question his judgment.



Calhoun had the last word when he successfully blocked van Buren’s appointment as Minister to England, but his career as a potential Presidential candidate was over. When Andrew Jackson ran again for President in 1832, Martin van Buren was his Vice-President, eventually succeeding him as President. After losing his bid to return to the Senate due to the whole ‘Petticoat Affair’ Eaton was appointed Governor of the Florida territory and then Minister to Spain. He returned to Washington in 1840, where he ran his law practice. Ironically, Margaret was now accepted by Washington society. They lived quietly until Eaton’s death in 1856.



Soon Margaret was making waves again. In 1859, she married an Italian dancing master named Antonio Buchignani who was only nineteen. She had been convinced by her own mother that marrying him would be good for the sake of her four grandchildren who she was raising after the death of their parents. For a few years the marriage seemed stable, Margaret was smart enough to get him to sign a pre-nuptial agreement that kept her fortune in her hands. Antonio worked at the Library of Congress during the war, but in 1866, he demanded that they move to New York at that Margaret give him $20,000 to start a business. The business failed and Antonio told Margaret that unless she signed over her entire fortune to him, he would leave her and go back to Europe. Foolishly she agreed only to discover that he left her anyway, running off with her seventeen year old granddaughter Emily.



Emily and her lover managed to run through all of Margaret’s money leaving her dependent on one of her grandson’s, John Randolph, who cared for her for the remaining years of her life. Margaret finally passed away in 1879 at the age of eighty. She is buried beside her husband in Franklin, Tennessee. It was a sad end for a woman who had caused so much controversy during her lifetime.





The Gorgeous Hussy – MGM, 1936, starring Joan Crawford as Margaret O’Neale, Robert Taylor as ‘Bow’ Timberlake, Franchot Tone as John Eaton, Melvyn Douglas as John Randolph and Lionel Barrymore as Andrew Jackson. Based on a novel by Samuel Hopkins Adams. This movie bears very little resemblance from the plot description on Wikipedia to events in the life of Margaret Eaton. In this film Margaret falls in love with John Randolph who rejects her because she’s too young, so she marries ‘Bow’ Timberlake who conveniently dies while onboard the Consititution. Rachel Jackson asks Margaret to take care of Jackson in Washington which she does, becoming his hostess, which causes the political wives and hostesses to snub her. She and Randolph reunite and make plans to marry but Margaret realizes that the Washington wives will never accept her. So she agress to marry Eaton who has long been in love with her, hoping that it will make her respectable. Randolph fights a duel in her honor and dies. Margaret begs Jackson to send her and Eaton abroad to Spain. Unfortunately its only available on VHS.






Sources include:



The Petticoat Affair - John F. Marszalek, Simon & Schuster, 1997

Wild Rose: The True Story of a Civil War Spy – Ann Blackburn, Random House, 2006

A Treasury of Foolishly Forgotten Americans: Pirates, Skinflints, Patriots, and Other Colorful Characters Stuck in the Footnotes of History Michael Farquhar, Penguin, 2008



Monday, January 12, 2009

Wild Rose - The Life of Confederate Spy Rose O'Neal Greenhow

Rose O'Neale Greenhow with her youngest daughter and namesake, "Little" Rose, at the Old Capitol Prison, Washington, D.C., 1862. Taken by Matthew Brady
In July 1861, a young woman named Bettie Duval, managed to deliver vital information about Union troop movements to General Pierre Beauregard of the Confederate army, stationed near a little town called Manassas in Virginia. She kept the small piece of paper hidden in a small black silk bag tucked in the heavy coil of her dark hair. Where had she gotten the information from? Rose O’Neal Greenhow, a Washington matron, Southern sympathizer, and confederate spy. When Rose heard of the Confederate victory at the first Battle of Bull Run, she always believed that it was her information that made the difference.

What led this widow to take the risk of spying for the Confederacy, and who was Rose O’Neal Greenhow?


Rose O'Neale Greenhow's family owned a small plantation in Montgomery County, in Maryland. Her father John O’Neale was a slave owner, and a drunk. She was born either in 1813 or 1814, her birth was not recorded, and no one is sure exactly when she was born. She was one of five daughters, the middle child, and the one most like her father. She was high-spirited with dark eyes, and a will of iron. Although a man of modest wealth, Rose’s father struggled to feed his wife and five daughters. Lack of money didn’t stop him from tying one on at the local tavern. His favorite hobbies were horse racing, fox hunting, cockfighting and liquor, not necessarily in that order. When Rose was four years old, her father was found dead by the side of the road, after spending the afternoon and night drinking in a tavern. His favorite slave Jacob, who he took with him on outings found him lying in a ditch. Jacob went to find help and a slave named Esther allegedly told him to ‘finish’ him off. Jacob was tried and convicted of killing his master in a drunken rage. Rose’s mother was given $400 compensation for losing her slave to the gallows.

Her mother tried to keep the family together and to save the farm, but after a few years, everything was auctioned off to pay off John O’Neale’s remaining debts. Rose and her sister Ellen were sent to live with the aunt and uncle who ran a boarding house in DC, called Hill’s Boarding House in Washington, DC in 1828 when the girls were both teenagers.

Washington, DC in the 19th Century
The nation’s capitol was nothing like the city we know today. It was squalid, for most of the 19th century it was filled with unpaved sidewalks, with cows and pigs wandering freely through the streets. Because the sidewalks weren't paved dust and mud were everywhere. Gaslight didn’t arrive until 1848. It was so hot during the summer that diplomats who were posted to Washington were given hazard pay. Europeans who came to visit were appalled at what they found. Typhoid and diphtheria ran rampant. Slavery was allowed in the district, although there were a number of freed blacks who also lived in Washington. Unless a congressman or Senator was wealthy enough to have his family with him, most of them lived in boarding houses while Congress was in session.


Rose and her sister were introduced into what passed for Washington society through the connections they made while living at the boarding house. Washington Society chiefly consisted of the families who had lived in Georgetown since the beginning as well as the wives of the members of Congress. Their days were filled with making social calls or spending their time in the visitors’ gallery watching the debates on the Senate floor, which was a popular past-time. These were the days when great orators such as Daniel Webster, Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun took the floor. Women swooned over their favorite orators (unlike today when it is hard to stay awake watching Senate debates on CSPAN).Rose’s older sister Susanna married James Peter who was related to George Washington’s Widow Martha Custis Washington, and her sister Ellen, married a nephew of Dolley Madison, James Madison Cutts. These marriages also helped to bring Rose more and more into Washington society. The next step for Rose was to make a good marriage.

Robert Greenhow, one of the most eligible bachelors in Washington, DC. Greenhow was both a lawyer and a physician, but he grew bored with the practice of medicine. At heart he was a historian and a scholar. He came from a fine Virginia family who was close to President Jefferson. Greenhow was cultured; he’d lived abroad, spoke several languages, and was working for the State Department as a translator and librarian. He was also prone to melancholy and suffered from illness. Like Rose, he had lost a parent at an early age, when his mother was killed in a fire at the theater in Richmond. It was a benefit for the infant Edgar Allan Poe whose mother, a popular actress, had recently died. Rose and Robert were married in 1835. While Rose was gregarious and social, Robert was more comfortable with his books and maps, but they shared an interest in learning and the South. While Robert was not terribly ambitious, Rose was ambitious enough for the both of them. They socialized two or three times a week, and Rose learned to throw glittering dinner parties. Rose was conscious of who the important people to know were and who weren’t. She patterned herself after her idol, former first lady Dolley Madison.

John C. Calhoun
Rose and Ellen met many members of Congress while living with their Aunt and Uncle. Rose became particularly fond of John C. Calhoun from South Carolina. He was a father figure for Rose over the years and she often sought his advice. Vice President under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, he resigned from the Vice Presidency to run for the Senate. He was part of the "Great Triumvirate", or the "Immortal Trio", along with his colleagues Daniel Webster and Henry Clay.
A strong advocate for states rights, he believed that states should be able to nullify any federal law that they disliked. He and Rose became very close, and Rose nursed him during his final illness before his death in 1850 a few days after the Senate voted to keep slavery out of California. Rose's thoughts about slavery and the South were formed by her time spent with Calhoun. She once wrote about him, "I am a Southern woman, born with revolutionary blood in my veins, and my first crude ideas on State and Federal matters received consistency and shape from the best and wisest man of this century."


Over the next two decades came triumph and tragedy. Rose gave birth to eight children, four of whom died. Robert continued his work at the State Department. He was involved with the mapping of the Oregon Territory, and was sent to Mexico on an intelligence gathering mission. But his career was almost derailed by a backstabbing colleague, who altered a translation that Robert had prepared. In 1849, their second son, Morgan died plunging both parents into a depression, and later on that year, Rose lost their next child, a daughter, soon after her birth.

They decided to make a fresh start out in San Francisco where Robert found a job, thanks to Rose, as an associate law clerk with the California Land Commission. But tragedy had followed them out west. While Rose was back east giving birth to their last child, another daughter named Rose, Robert met with what turned out to be a fatal accident. As he was walking from his office, he slipped off the planked road and fell six feet, disabling his left leg. An infection must have set in because six weeks after the accident, Robert Greenhow was dead at the age of 53.

The next few years were lonely ones for Rose. Her oldest daughter Florence married, and Gertrude and Leila were away at boarding school. Only little Rose was home with her mother. When James Buchanan was elected President of the United States, Rose once again was close to the seat of power. Her niece Adie had also just married Stephen Douglas, the US Senator who had debated Lincoln and run against him for a Senate seat from Illinois. Although the family received a settlement after her husband’s death, the money ran out and Rose had to improvise. She moved to smaller and smaller residences. The charming widow wore black clothing that just emphasized her dramatic coloring that she made herself. She even had several beaus including Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts who was quite smitten with her. Rose threw dinner parties, entertaining both Northerners and Southerners but the prospect of war was now very real. When Lincoln was elected as President, the world that Rose had known was now at an end.

With the Southern states seceding from the Union, Rose was eager to help any way that she could. She was recruited by Captain Thomas Jordan who was a quartermaster in the US Army before resigning his post to join the Confederacy. He taught the basic cryptography which she diligently practiced. Although she was no longer in the inner circle, Rose still had connections in Washington which she used to get information to send to the Confederate army stationed in Virginia under Beauregard.

Rose, not being a trained spy, was a little careless. She kept copies of information that she had sent, and didn’t completely destroy information that she had received. Her neighbors became suspicious of her and one of them reported her to Thomas Scott, who was the new assistant secretary of war. Thomas Scott, who had known Pinkerton when he was a vice president of the Pennsylvania railroad, had put him on the case. Allan Pinkerton was sent to spy on her and was caught after he followed a Union officer from her home. It was pouring rain and Pinkerton followed the man in his stocking feet, having removed his shoes to stand on the shoulders of his fellow spies. He was in Washington under an assumed name, Major E.J. Allen, working on counterintelligence. He had set up a network of informants in the South who were sympathetic to ending the Civil War.
Allan Pinkerton (1819-1884)
The founder of the Pinkerton Detective Agency whose emblem was an open eye and the motto 'we never sleep' was a Scottish immigrant from Glasgow, who emigrated to the US at the age of 23 in 1842. He settled in Illinois where he was appointed the first detective in Chicago in 1849. By the time of the Civil War, Pinkerton's agency had solved a series of train robberies which brought him to the attention of Abraham
Lincoln. Pinkerton developed several investigative techniques that are still used today, including "shadowing" and undercover work. Pinkerton served as head of what eventually became the Secret Service in 1861–62 and foiled an alleged assasination plot while guarding Lincoln on his way to his inauguration. He also wrote several popular detective novels based on his exploits. He died in 1884, after slipping on the sidewalk. The Pinkerton Agency continued to be involved in some of the biggest cases in history including Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid as well as pursuing the Napoleon of Crime, Adam Worth.

Rose was arrested in August 1861 just as she was preparing to flee to Richmond. She had been alerted by a friend that she was being watched by The Pinkertons. The detectives kept her under house arrest. They ransacked the house searching for evidence. Although they found a large number of documents, including the ones that Rose had sewn into her dress. They missed others that Rose was able to destroy. She found herself a prisoner in her own home, watched constantly, even at night; she had to sleep with her door open. Anyone who tried to visit her was arrested. Soon other prisoners were brought to her house to join her. Rose made things difficult for her guards as well as herself. She complained that her rights were being trampled on, that the food was inedible, that she had no privacy. Lincoln had suspended habeas corpus shortly after the war started. Although she was under arrest, Rose still managed to get information to her string of informants. Unfortunately some of her messages didn’t go through and were added to the pile of evidence against her.

After several months under house arrest, Rose and her daughter were moved to her former childhood home, Hill boarding house, which had been turned into a Union prison. If Rose had thought she was mistreated before, it was nothing compared to the indignities she felt she had to suffer. Although there were other women prisoners, Rose wasn’t inclined to socialize with them because she felt that they were beneath her socially. She also complained about having to share the prison with Negro prisoners. Their prison cell was filled with vermin, Rose would use candlelight to burn the vermin off the wall. She tucked clothes underneath the mattress to make it more comfortable for her little daughter. Somehow she even managed to smuggle in a pistol even though she had no ammunition. She wrote a letter to Secretary of State Seward which ended up being reprinted in both the Richmond papers and The New York Times.

After almost eight months in prison, Rose was finally brought in front of a commission to determine what to do with her. Rose was feisty and defiant to General Dix and the other members of the commission. Without counsel, she demanded to know what evidence they had against her, and complained that her rights were being trampled on. When they presented their evidence, including a letter Rose wrote that gave details of the Union Army’s movements; Rose brazened it out, giving them no satisfaction. Although her actions were treasonable, Lincoln was reluctant to have her stand trial. Treason was a hanging offense but Lincoln had no stomach for hanging a woman, nor did he want to make her a martyr for the Southern cause. Something had to be done though, Rose was considered too dangerous. Rose was given a choice, either swear allegiance to the Union or be deported to the Confederacy. Rose agreed to be deported to the South.

On May 31, 1862, after almost ten months in prison, four months on house arrest, and five months in the Capitol prison, Rose was escorted out of the city that had been her home for more than thirty years. Did she feel a pang as the wagon passed through the streets of the city where she had met her husband, given birth to her children, buried them, the avenues where she had strolled with her beaus, and her sisters? Rose would never see the city again.

Before Rose’s was allowed to set foot on Confederate soil, she had to sign a statement as a condition of her parole that she would never set foot in the North again while the war continued. At lunch, Rose cheekily raised her glass and toasted Jefferson Davis. Rose was hailed as a heroine, a true daughter of Dixie who defied the North. After her arrival, Rose was sent by Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, to Europe to drum up support for the South’s cause. Despite the fact that she suffered greatly from seasickness, Rose was eager to go. She went to France to plead with Emperor Napoleon III and to England where there was sympathy for the Southern cause. Although privately people were sympathetic to the South's cause, Rose could get no one in either Parliament or Napoleon III to publicly come out in support to the South or to recognize the Confederate States. However, she did make the acquaintance of the historian Thomas Carlyle who had written extensively on the slavery question, coming down on the Southern side. They had many long talks during Rose's stay in London.

After placing her daughter Little Rose in the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Paris, Rose decided to return to the States. She had tried her darndest to either win support or to find a way to end the way with the Confederate States remaining a seperate country to no avail. In her first two months abroad, she wrote her memoir, My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolition Rule at Washington, which sold well in Britain. She also found time for romance, keeping company with Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Granville.

Rose drowned off the coast of North Carolina on October 1, 1864 when the ship she was returning, The Condor, ran aground on a fallen freighter. Although the captain advised that everyone stay on board, Rose was frightened of being captured by the Yankees again. She was on her way to shore when the rowboat was overturned by a large wave. Her body was found washed up on shore a few days later. She had been weighed down by the gold sewn into her clothing. When Rose's body was found, searchers found a copy of her book "Imprisonment" hidden on her person. There was a note inside the book, which was meant for her daughter, Little Rose. The note read: 'London, Nov 1st 1863 You have shared the hardships and indignity of my prison life, my darling; And suffered all that evil which a vulgar despotism could inflict. Let the memory of that period never pass from your mind; Else you may be inclined to forget how merciful Providence has been in seizing us from such a people. Rose O'n Greenhow.'
She was given a full military burial, wrapped in the Confederate flag, buried in Oakdale Cemetary, near Wilmington, North Carolina. Her grave bears the inscription 'Mrs. Rose O'Neal Greenhow. A Bearer of Dispatches to the Confederate Government." Every year on the anniversary of her death, a ceremony is held to honor her contributions to the Confederate Cause.

A TV movie, called The Rose and the Jackal was made about Rose O’Neale Greenhow and her arrest by Allan Pinkerton starring Christopher Reeve as Pinkerton and Madelyn Osborne as Rose O’Neale Greenhow which suggests that they were romantically involved or that Pinkerton fell in love with her. Filled with bad Southern accents, the movie should be commended solely for reviving interest in Rose O’Neale Greenhow’s remarkable life. Unfortunately it is only available on VHS.

Rose O'Neale Greenhow was a strong, independent, Southern woman unafraid to speak her mind, in an era, when women were seen as nothing more than decorative. When her beloved South seceded from the Union, she didn't hesitate on taking on the dangerous task of spying for the Confederates. Using her Southern charm she was able to wheedle out information to help the Confederate cause as well as recruiting others to the cause. She was considered one of the most dangerous women in the country. Although her spying career was brief, and there is doubt amongst historians, of how much valuable information she was able to pass on, Rose did make a difference at the Battle of Bull Run.


Sources include:
Wild Rose: The True Story of a Civil War Spy – Ann Blackburn, Random House, 2006
A Treasury of Foolishly Forgotten Americans: Pirates, Skinflints, Patriots, and Other Colorful Characters Stuck in the Footnotes of History Michael Farquhar, Penguin, 2008
Website:

Friday, January 2, 2009

FDR and his Women


One day in early 1918, a change took place in the marriage of FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt. Roosevelt, who was Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President Woodrow Wilson, had just returned from a tour of Europe, inspecting the navy overseas during the Great War. Exhausted and suffering from pneumonia, it was left to Eleanor as the dutiful wife to unpack his belongings. What she found set her into shock. Love letters between her husband and Lucy Mercer, a young woman that she had hired to be her social secretary. Eleanor had long suspected that something was going on between her handsome, vibrant husband, and her vivacious secretary, in fact she had fired Lucy, ostensibly because she no longer needed Lucy’s services during wartime. But now to see the evidence in black and white cut Eleanor to the quick.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) had long worried that she would never be able to hold onto her husband. As a child, her mother Anna Hall Roosevelt had constantly pointed out her lack of good looks, calling her ‘Granny’ to her face, telling her that she needed to develop exquisite manners since she would never be a beauty. Even her maternal aunt, the unfortunately nicknamed Pussie couldn’t help pointing out her lack of chin, and her protruding teeth. As she got older she grew to the ungainly height of five foot ten. The only person to show her unconditional love was her father, Elliott Roosevelt, the handsome and alcoholic younger brother of Teddy Roosevelt. Her father’s love was inconsistent. Once he left her outside the Knickerbocker Club for four hours while he went inside and drank himself into a stupor. By the age of ten, Eleanor had lost both her mother and younger brother to diphtheria, and her father to alcoholism.

She was sent to live with her grandmother Hall, who took her in, but showed her no affection. At the age of fifteen, Eleanor was finally sent off to school in England, to keep her safe from her alcoholic uncles. For the first time, Eleanor knew what it was like to be popular and respected. At the age of nineteen, she made the acquaintance of her distant cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, two years her senior, a junior at Harvard. He was handsome and popular and wonders of wonders; he fell in love with her. Eleanor couldn’t believe her good luck. Franklin was entranced with the tall willowy young woman who was unlike the other debutantes in New York. She brought him along one day while she was doing charity work, introducing him to the poverty and grime of the immigrants on the lower East Side. She believed him and thought that he was going to do great things. Another attraction was undoubtedly the fact that her uncle was Teddy Roosevelt. Franklin worshipped his distant cousin, and hoped to emulate his political career. They were married in 1905 and Eleanor was soon occupied making babies. In the first ten years of her marriage, she gave birth to six children, five of whom survived.

Soon the cracks began to show in the marriage. Franklin was gregarious, the life of the party. He loved to flirt, drink cocktails, and listen to a good gossip. He was used to being adored, as the only child of Sara Delano and James Roosevelt. Eleanor was more serious, she hated small talk and wasn’t very good at it. She was also uncomfortable around people who drank, having lived with several alcoholics. After her marriage, she was forced to give up her charity work by her mother-in-law. And the idea of sex was not her cup of tea, she found it something that women needed to endure, not a pleasure. While she craved intimacy with a partner, Franklin seemed to content to skate along the surface of life. He hated conflict and would avoid it as much as possible.

The Mother-in-Law from Hell:

FDR, let’s face it, was a mama’s boy, and Sara's adoration of her son would have long term consequences in his life. For his entire existence, FDR needed to have pretty women around who adored him. Sara Delano Roosevelt was not about to release her hold on her son just because he had the misfortune to decide to get married. When FDR was born, doctors warned Sara not to have any more children. In consequence, FDR became her whole world. She even followed him to college, taking an apartment near the Harvard campus. When FDR announced his intentions to wed Eleanor, Sara insisted that the engagement remain a secret for at least a year, hoping that the romance would die out and her darling boy would be all hers once again. When it turned out that FDR was serious, Sara took over. After their marriage, Sara bought two adjoining brownstones in the city and cut connecting doors between the two houses, so that she could pop in on Eleanor at any time. Eleanor had hoped that Sara would replace the mother that she never had. The Roosevelt children soon learned that their grandmother was a complete pushover, and would run to her whenever they were denied by their parents. Eleanor and her mother-in-law continued to butt heads throughout the Roosevelt marriage. When FDR came down with polio, Eleanor seized her chance. While Sara wanted FDR to give up his dream of politics, Eleanor encouraged him. When Sara finally died in 1941, Eleanor wrote one of her children that she felt nothing.

Enter Lucy Page Mercer (1891-1948). Like Eleanor and Franklin, Lucy came from an old family with roots deep in Maryland history. Her father Carroll Mercer was descended from the founders of the state, but by the time Lucy and her older sister Violetta were born, Carroll and
the girls’ mother Minnie had run through both family fortunes. Minnie left her husband and took the girls to New York, where she tried a career as an interior decorator. After a few years, they returned to Washington, DC. While Violetta trained to be a nurse, Lucy found a job that suited her perfectly, social secretary to the wife of the youngest assistant secretary of the navy in history, FDR.

Eleanor was overwhelmed by the sheer number of social calls that she was required to undertake when she and Franklin arrived in Washington in 1913. The wives of all cabinet members, congressman, and senators had to be visited. If Eleanor was lucky, she could just leave her card, but if the wife was home, she had to make small talk for at least fifteen minutes. Once or twice a week, she was also required to be ‘at home’ for social calls. Invitations poured in to the Roosevelt home in Washington, almost drowning Eleanor in cardstock. Within a few days of her arrival, Lucy had organized things thoroughly. She even took over paying the bills. Franklin met her one day as she was arriving and he was leaving. He was immediately taken with the lovely young woman. Like Eleanor, she was tall, with light brown hair and blue eyes but unlike Eleanor, she was vivacious and full of fun. Soon Lucy was filling in as the extra woman at dinner parties at the Roosevelt home.

While Eleanor was at the family summer home in Campobello, off the coast of Maine, FDR was often stuck in Washington, as was Lucy. No one knows just when it started, but by 1916, Lucy and FDR were in love. They were aided in their attempts to see each other by none other than Eleanor’s first cousin, Alice Roosevelt Longworth. Unhappy in her own marriage, and irritated by Eleanor’s prudishness, she was quite willing to help things along. Before long, even Eleanor sensed that something was going on between the beautiful young Lucy and her husband. After she finally fired Lucy, FDR managed to get her a job in the Navy department as the country geared up for war.

Matters came to a head when Eleanor found the love letters from Lucy in FDR’s luggage. She offered to give him a divorce, after FDR told her that he wanted to marry Lucy. It was Sara Roosevelt who nipped the love story in the bud. It was unthinkable for a Roosevelt to get a divorce. If FDR persisted, Sara would see that he was cut off without a penny. Although Eleanor had a small inheritance, and FDR’s father had left him a three million dollar trust, Sara controlled the purse strings. During his years in Washington, FDR had been living beyond his means. Although his salary as assistant secretary of the navy plus his yearly money from his trust plus Eleanor’s money would have been enough for most upper middle class families, FDR was not used to such things as a budget. Sara paid for the children’s private schools, nannies, FDR’s private clubs, and the medical bills. Even at the age of thirty-six, FDR was still tied to his mother’s purse strings.

A divorce would also be the end of FDR’s ambitions for the presidency. It wasn’t until 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected, that the country had a divorced president. In New York at the time, the only cause for divorce was adultery. FDR would have to admit that he had cheated on his wife. Divorce still carried a stigma in upper class circles. FDR was not ready to give up his ambition to be President of the United States.

Eleanor had two conditions for continuing the marriage: Franklin must agree to never see Lucy Mercer again, and they would never again share a bedroom as husband and wife. FDR agreed. He told Lucy that it was Eleanor who wouldn’t give him a divorce, absolving himself of the responsibility of choosing ambition over love. Eleanor later stated that while she could forgive FDR for the affair, she could never forget and that she had stopped loving him from the moment she found out.

A year after the end of their relationship, Lucy married Winthrop Rutherfurd, a wealthy New Yorker, almost thirty years her senior. Handsome, and from a different era, Rutherfurd was a widower with six children, the youngest only two years old. In the 1890’s he had courted Consuelo Vanderbilt, who wanted to marry him until her ambitious mother Alva put a stop to it. A Rutherfurd was no match for the likes of the Duke of Marlborough. Rutherfurd finally married for the first time at the age of forty. Although she didn’t love Winthrop, she felt that he and the children needed her, and his fortune meant that she and her mother would no longer have to worry about money. She eventually had a daughter of her own named Barbara. For twenty years, she devoted herself to being a good wife to Winty, and a step-mother to his five children who adored her and never considered anything less than their mother.

When the relationship between Lucy Mercer and FDR was finally revealed after their deaths, it was thought that they didn’t meet again until 1941 but recently it has come to light that FDR and Lucy were still in contact in the late 1920’s and that FDR arranged a ticket for Lucy for his first inauguration as President. Lucy would call the White House pretending to be Mrs. Paul Johnson. They also continued to see each other whenever Lucy was in Washington, visiting her sister Violetta's family. They devised different ruses, 'accidental' meetings on country roads in Virginia, or FDR would pick Lucy up at Violetta's house.

It wasn't until 1941 that they actually met up at the White House while Eleanor was away which was quite often as the First Lady pursued her own interests and her own friends. Over the next four years, Lucy and her daughter Barbara made numerous visits to the White House while Eleanor was away. Lucy used her influence to get plum assignments in the armed forces for her step-sons. Even J. Edgar Hoover knew about FDR's relationship with Lucy. The only one in the dark was Eleanor. The truth came out at FDR's death. Eleanor discovered that Lucy had been with him at Warm Springs and that her daughter Anna had helped them meet. Even at her husband's death, she felt angered and betrayed. Eventually as the years passed, she became more philosophical about Lucy's role in her husband's life. Possibly she realized that Lucy's company had brought Franklin comfort and peace when he most needed it. While Franklin admired Eleanor and loved her in his way, the wife he had married had become a stateswoman in her own right, and was no longer just his wife. Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd died of leukemia in 1948, three years after the man she loved. By her bedside was a picture of FDR.


Missy LeHand (1898-1944) the 'Unofficial Wife':
Marguerite 'Missy' LeHand came into FDR’s life just before he came down with polio. Irish Catholic, from a working class neighborhood, Missy was young and bubbly, when she went to work as his secretary. She had attended secretarial school after graduating from high school becoming a secretary at the Democratic Party's national headquarters and eventually Roosevelt's secretary in 1920. From the beginning she was devoted to him. While Eleanor became more and more involved in her own life, Missy spent considerable time with FDR down at Warm Springs in Georgia, and his boat. There is speculation that Missy was also his mistress. When FDR and Eleanor moved into the Governor's mansion in Albany, Missy's room had a connecting door to Franklin's, and she was often seen coming in and out at all hours in her nightgown. She also had a room on the floor above his at the White House. As well as her secretarial duties, she also took care of the bills, and acted as his hostess whenever Eleanor had other plans. She was feminine, loved to dress up and wear high heels, just the type of woman FDR found attractive. While Eleanor hectored and pushed him about social issues, Missy spent her time cutting amusing articles and cartoons out of the newspaper for him. She catered and soothed his ego. Although friends tried to fix her up with eligible men, as far as she was concerned none of them measured up to 'FD' as she called him. She did have a brief romance with William Bullit, the handsome ambassador to Russia, but it didn't last. Roosevelt rewrote his will to leave half of the income from his estate (which was eventually probated at more than $3 million) for Missy's care after she suffered a stroke and half to Eleanor. This was in recognition of her years of service as his secretary. According to author Doris Kearns Goodwin in her book "No Ordinary Time" Roosevelt said it was the least he could do. The will stated that upon Missy's death the income would go to Eleanor, with the principal eventually divided equally among his children. Missy suffered a stroke during Roosevelt's third term and never fully recovered. She died in 1944 after devoting more than twenty years of her life to FDR.

Eleanor, Earl Miller and Lorena Hickok:

When FDR was elected Governor of the State of New York, New York State police sergeant Earl Miller was assigned to be her bodyguard. A strapping handsome man of thirty-two, Miller was an orphan like Eleanor. Prior to that, Miller had been Governor Al Smith's personal bodyguard. Miller was also an athlete and had been the Navy's middleweight boxing champion as well as a member of the U.S. Olympic squad at the Antwerp games in 1920. Eleanor was forty-four when she met Miller, thirty-two, in 1929. Miller became her friend as well as official escort. He taught her different sports, such as diving and riding, and coached her tennis game. There is some speculation that the relationship was a romance rather than a friendship. Miller however denied that there was ever a romantic relationship. It true that during his tenure as her bodyguard, he helped Eleanor to open up more, to go horseback riding, hiking, and to learn to dive. They had a very affectionate friendship which shocked Eleanor’s friends who thought that he was too familiar for a bodyguard. They were often seen holding hands, or walking with their arms around each other. People suspected that they were lovers. However, when the Roosevelts moved to the White House, Miller did not follow. Eleanor had already transferred her affections to Lorena Hickok (1893-1968), who she met when Hick as she came to be known came to interview her.

Born in Wisconsin, Hick escaped an abusive father to forge a career as a reporter eventually for the Associated Press. She gave all that career up to be with Eleanor, eventually moving into the White House during FDR's first term in office. She went on a few fact-finding missions with Harry Hopkins but most of her time was devoted to Eleanor. While Hick was definitely a lesbian, there has been much speculation about Eleanor especially since a cache of 2,336 letters between the two was discovered in the 1970's by Doris Faber who had gone to Hyde Park to do research on a young adult biography about Eleanor Roosevelt. The letters seem to indicate that much more went on between the two then just a loving friendship. A key passage from just one early twelve-page handwritten missive to Lorena from Eleanor is indicative: 'Goodnight, dear one. I want to put my arms around you and kiss you at the corner of your mouth. And in a little more than a week now — I shall!' Eleanor had become acquainted with two lesbian couples during her work with the Democratic party and her work at the Todhunter School. But it appears that Eleanor craved affection and intimacy whether it came from a man or a woman, it didn't really matter. There was a hole in her left by her parents death that one person couldn't fulfill. And she was still tied to FDR although they led increasingly seperate lives. However, by FDR's second term, Eleanor's affection had changed. As she became more and more independent, criss-crossing the country as FDR's eyes and legs, checking on the progress of New Deal initiatives, writing her daily column, she needed Hick less and less. Eventually Hick found another love, although she and Eleanor stayed in touch until Eleanor's death. Before her death in 1968, Hick destroyed most of the letters between the two women, so historians can only guess at the truth.

Eleanor had other close relationships over the years, men like Joseph Lash, who later wrote an acclaimed biography about her. After Franklin's death, she was busier than ever, becoming a delegate to the new United Nations, writing another two biographies, endorsing products on television. She also became involved in the civil rights movement, taking on the Klu Klux Klan when she fulfilled a speaking engagement down South. Not a particularly forceful or attentive mother, she was a much better grandmother to her grandchildren who adored her. She died at the of 78 in 1962, after being diagnosed with tuberculosis of the bone marrow, and is buried at Hyde Park alongside her husband Franklin, united in death.

The truth about FDR, and Lucy Mercer wasn't revealed until the 1960's after all three participants had passed away. It was dramatized in the ABC Miniseries, Eleanor & Franklin starring Jane Alexander and Edward Herrmann (who were both perfectly cast). Since then the nature of FDR's relationship with Lucy, Missy LeHand, and with his distant cousin Daisy Stuckley have occupied historians for years as well as Eleanor's with Lorena Hickok. Even FDR's children have written about the relationships and their interpretation of events.

What to make of FDR? A man who sacrificed love for ambition? In many ways he's like so many other politicians, able to compartmentalize his life. What would the world have been like if FDR hadn't been there to guide the nation through the Great Depression and World War II? The rupture in her marriage, in a way, freed Eleanor Roosevelt to become the woman that she did. No longer did she worry about losing her husband, that shoe had already dropped and she managed to survive and thrive. FDR and Eleanor forged a political partnership that wasn't seen again until Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter or Bill and Hillary Clinton. She gave him a social conscience, and he gave her a forum.

Eleanor remarked later in life, that if the two of them had just sat down, after the discovery of his affair with Lucy Mercer, and really talked, they might have been able to salvage their marriage. But both were too good at concealing their real feelings. She also changed her feelings about the affair, realizing that for men, physical unfaithfulness doesn't carry the same weight that it does with women. "He might have been happier with a wife who was uncritical," she also admitted. "That, I was never able to be, and he had to find it in other people."


Sources and further reading:
Franklin & Lucy: Joseph E. Persico, Random House, 2008
Eleanor and Franklin. New York: Joseph Lash, W.W. Norton (1971)

Eleanor and Franklin and Eleanor and Franklin, the White House Years (DVD)