Presidential elections are never particularly amicable, but some have considered this year’s contest to be one of the most acrimonious in our nation’s history. With the end of all of the madness just around the corner, there are those who will just be happy to see it over.
Amid the tiresome mud-slinging and salacious accusations, you could almost forget that the election of Hillary Clinton could, in fact, produce a set of circumstances unlike anything in the history of our nation. Clinton would be our first female president, this is obvious, but she would also be the first chief executive whose spouse is a former president. Former president Bill Clinton would, in turn, become America’s First…Man? Spouse? Dude?
No matter what we might call him, Bill would be stepping into a position that has become something more than ceremonial. Presidential spouses have been powerful advocates for a variety of causes. Laura Bush’s push for literacy and Michelle Obama’s call for better school lunches are but recent examples, for they are all heirs to the legacy of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
As the longest-serving First Lady in American history, and the spouse of a wartime president, Roosevelt had both the time and opportunity to transform the role she played in the White House from that of mere figurehead to a champion for change at home and abroad. Roosevelt’s active and influential role in and out of the White House inspired not only the First Ladies who followed, but everyday women who strove for a life outside of the home.
The War Years and After, 1939-1962
Blanche Wiesen Cook
The third and final volume of Blanche Wiesen Cook’s masterful Roosevelt biography is now available. These were tumultuous but productive years for Roosevelt, who championed causes like racial equality and economic reform despite the resistance of her government and sometimes even her husband. There’s no question that Cook’s biography belongs in the library of every serious student of Roosevelt’s life and work.
Roosevelt herself was an accomplished writer, and her autobiography might be a good place to start when it comes to her life and work. This single volume is a first-hand account of an extraordinary life spent in public service. While any memoir may lack the objectivity that an outside observer could provide, the opportunity to read Roosevelt’s story in her own words is invaluable and shouldn’t be missed.
The Love Affair That Shaped a First Lady
Most memoirists probably engage in a little bit of self-censorship, and Roosevelt wouldn’t have been the first to do so. As much as she gave to the public, she kept many aspects of her life private. One of the most controversial of them is the nature of her relationship with journalist and close friend Lorena “Hick” Hickock. There are those who believe that the women carried on a passionate affair, among them Susan Quinn. Quinn believes their partnership was the inspiration and fuel for Roosevelt’s lifelong crusade for civil rights.
It Is Today That We Must Create the World of the Future
Regardless of where she got it from, the fact that Roosevelt supported the civil rights movement isn’t up for debate. In 1963, she put her vision for a more just tomorrow to paper in Tomorrow is Now, a plea for the United States to move forward and become a true land of freedom. Over forty years have passed since that plea, but racial equality remains a contentious issue in the United States. In a year that has seen furious debate on police violence and racial injustice, Tomorrow is Now is as relevant as ever.
The First Lady knew that society’s big issues like racism and war couldn’t be changed unless one changed them from within. As an older woman, she sat down to share what she had learned about working with others, managing one’s time, and other important challenges. Her book, You Learn By Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life, is full of timeless advice of value to anyone, no matter what their walk in life.