The President of the United States has what many consider to be the toughest job in the nation. Tasked with the impossible feat of making everyone happy at all times while often performing highly unpopular actions, the President often goes through a transformation while in office that results in deep reflection later in life. Standing next to each President in modern times, is the first lady who in her own right, has evolved into a major presence with a voice of her own. This November will mark the end of the Obama administration and as they prepare to leave the White House, I firmly believe the first lady can look back without regret as having served the nation as one of the finest America has seen. She follows a long line of pioneering first women to have occupied the White House, adding a touch of grace and class to what used to be a strictly supplementary role. But many years before Michelle Obama, there was another first lady, who stands out as one of American’s greatest historical figures and whose legacy continues today, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962).
In the first of this three-volume biography, Blanche Wiesen Cook explores Roosevelt’s early life, highlighting the complex family tree and the success and tragedy that surrounded the famed family. As a niece to the legendary Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt(1858-1919), she was introduced to politics at a young age and following her marriage to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, she would remain a political and cultural icon for the rest of her life. Drawing on correspondence that survived throughout the years and the recollections given by those who knew her, Cook’s biography is an intimate account of a woman who never stopped in her effort to change America.
As the reader makes their way through the book, the information learned will be eye-opening and intriguing. The events that unfold in the book seem by today’s standards mind-boggling, but in Roosevelt’s time, America was far different place and as Eleanor’s life comes alive in this brilliant biography, we are transported back in time to when America was struggling with very grave social issues. But throughout all of this, we see the transformation of a young woman into a grown woman with power and a voice of her own as the most dynamic and controversial first lady of her time. An aviator, friend of Amelia Earhart, mother of six children, teacher, writer and pioneer of women’s and civil rights, she battled wars on many fronts refusing to give up her causes and surrender her beliefs.
The book ends as she finally makes it to the White House and becomes fully immersed in the Washington, D.C. political culture. Her friendship with Lorena Hickok begins to develop and it would continue for many years to come. FDR is also facing his own challenges but his toughest test from out of Berlin and Tokyo have yet to come. It is in the second part, a review of which is forthcoming, that Franklin and Eleanor continue their odyssey as the new and engaging first couple of the United States of America.