Book Review Thursday: Hissing Cousins


I’ve read some excellent books about Presidents Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt of late.   However, little if anything was written about the subjects of this book, Alice Roosevelt Longworth and Eleanor Roosevelt, and their rivalry in those books.  Given that I’ve never read any books about either of these fascinating women, I anxiously awaited my place in line at the library to check this one out.

I suppose if someone had already read extensively about these two women, there is probably little new information.  After reading the book’s description, I thought this sounds “juicy” – I was not disappointed.  When I say “juicy” I don’t mean anything tawdry or un-toward.  It’s just that the contrasts between these two first cousin Roosevelt women were so striking that it made for a fascinating read.

Co-authors Marc Peyser and Timothy Dwyer did a great job of chronicling the lives of these two fascinating, albeit strikingly different personalities.  They both adored their father and uncle, Theodore Roosevelt.  Eleanor, basically orphaned at a young age when her mother died and her alcoholic father Elliot had issues of his own to deal with (eventually drinking himself to death), was a sort of awkward “ugly duckling”, while cousin Alice proved to be a handful for Theodore and her stepmother (Alice’s mother died shortly after her birth).

The girls were friends and playmates in their younger days and saw one another often.  Alice flamboyantly immersed herself in politics after getting a taste of life in the White House and Washington, D.C., while Eleanor married her distant cousin Franklin.  A good portion of their well-publicized rivalry was pure politics – Alice a Republican and Eleanor a Democrat.

Eventually Eleanor gained the confidence to step out on her own, but she and Alice shared one thing in common – both of their husbands had “roving eyes”.  Alice’s husband Nick Longworth, an Ohio Congressman, was a well-known philanderer.  Franklin’s now well-publicized proclivities and his relationship with young Lucy Mercer were painful for Eleanor to deal with, yet when she finally confronted him and stood up for herself, she may have begun to out-distance Alice.

Eleanor was, and still is, considered an admirable First Lady.  Eleanor’s newspaper column was a huge success, while Alice’s efforts in that arena fell flat.  Yet, Alice always seemed to be in the thick of things in the world of politics, and not just with Republican administrations.  She managed through the years to ingratiate herself and get invited to numerous Democratic White House events.

Even though Alice had a sharp tongue and would often criticize or say something not-so-nice about her cousin Eleanor, the two cousins respected and, I suppose, loved one another.   After all, they were family.  Alice had honed a spot-on imitation of Eleanor and was often asked to give a performance at parties.  Eleanor eventually worked up the nerve to strike back in her own way during the 1924 New York gubernatorial campaign when Alice’s brother Theodore, Jr. was running for governor.

I found this a fascinating and well-written account of these two women who made their mark in the world.  If you’ve never read much about one or the other of these women, pick up a copy at the library and enjoy.

If you’re interested in the other books I mentioned about Presidents Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, here are the links for the reviews:  River of Doubt, Before the Trumpet, The Roosevelts: An Intimate Portrait.

Rating:  ★★★★★

Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!

© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2015.


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