It’s always a risky game to speculate on where the line between reality and a reporter’s speculations may lay, but a recent bit of theorizing has certainly caught the national eye. Reporting not so much on the indelible bond between Hillary Clinton and her longtime adviser Huma Abedin (no news there), Richard Turley of Orbmagazine instead writes about the possibility that Madame Secretary has not quite apprehended the perils of counting chickens before their gestation and is already parceling out White House real estate, most conspicuously to the aforementioned Ms. Abedin. Reports Turley:
It is expected that Hillary, in emulation of her hero Eleanor Roosevelt, will install Huma in the second-floor bedroom occupied during the FDR administration by Lorena Hickok, the journalist who was Mrs. Roosevelt’s soul mate and intimate companion. To relax from her duties as First Lady, Eleanor took automobile trips of several weeks’ duration with Hickok and without the Secret Service, something that would be impossible today.
Interesting stuff—and it might even be true. Certainly, Clinton has previously reported herself as channeling Mrs. Roosevelt’s thoughts. For Hillary to channel Eleanor’s actions hardly seems a reach.
The History of Roosevelt’s Housemates
But the Hickok room assignment (intriguing as it was—and is) was only a small portion of the Roosevelt family’s ability to turn friends and advisers into permanent houseguests, if perhaps not quite family.
The trend started not with Hickok, but with Franklin Roosevelt’s earliest significant political advisor, the gnomish, unsightly, and unsanitary former newsman, Louis McHenry Howe. Howe eventually resided in the White House’s fabled Lincoln Bedroom, but that was just his final stop aboard the Roosevelt express. As Howe’s own long-time aide, Lila Stiles, explained, “[Howe] didn’t see that living in Washington would be so much. After all, he lived there eight years when he was with Roosevelt in the Navy Department. And as for living in the White House, well, he had always lived with the Roosevelts whether in New York, Hyde Park, or Albany, and he didn’t take much room anyway.”
Next to take advantage of Franklin’s hospitality was his personal secretary, Marguerite “Missy” LeHand. Some may debate how close their relationship was. Suffice it to say it was close enough for FDR to provide for her in his will to the extent of half his estate. It was also close in terms of physical proximity. Like Howe, Missy too occupied the White House after previously residing with the Roosevelt family. Of Missy’s arrangements in Albany’s executive mansion, Franklin and Eleanor’s son, Elliott, wrote:
Mother [Eleanor] allocated a back bedroom as her own. Around the corner and down the hall on the second floor, Father had the imposing master bedroom with big windows on two sides, next to Missy’s. These two rooms were joined by a little door with clear glass panels, curtained on her side. Mother thought that this was a perfectly suitable arrangement in view of the role Missy played in Father’s life.
It was not unusual to enter his sunny corner room and find Missy with him in her nightgown. There was no attempt to conceal their relationship. . . .
I would go in at the start of the day, and the three of us would talk with no embarrassment between us. It was no mystery. Mother had not shared life with Father for more than twenty years. . . .
I am certain that she had no fear of sin in their relationship, in spite of her Catholic background.
Whatever the full extent of the FDR-LeHand relationship may have been, she occasionally dated other men, among them Franklin’s perhaps most influential adviser, Harry Hopkins. Perhaps not surprisingly, at this point, it will be noted that Hopkins too would eventually occupy White House quarters. For three-and-a-half years, Hopkins resided in Abraham Lincoln’s former second-floor office (where Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation). His young daughter Diana and her poodle Suzy lived on the floor above. Father and daughter continued at the White House for some time even after the widower Hopkins remarried in summer 1942. That war-time housing shortage was indeed murder.
So if history must indeed repeat itself (and on, at least, one level “sure-thing” Hillary must feverishly hope it does not), we might not just see Huma Abedin residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but also Sydney Blumenthal, Cheryl Mills, John Podesta, etc. etc. etc.
Forget the “West Wing” and get to work building a “North Wing” or “South Wing” —company’s coming!