Hickok, Lorena A. (1893–1968)

views updated

Hickok, Lorena A. (1893–1968)

American journalist. Born in East Troy, Wisconsin, on March 7, 1893; died in Rhinebeck, New York, on May 1, 1968; eldest of three daughters of Addison J. Hickok (a buttermaker) and Anna (Waite) Hickok; briefly attended Lawrence College, Appleton, Wisconsin, and the University of Minnesota; never married; no children.

Lorena A. Hickok was born in East Troy, Wisconsin, on March 7, 1893. Surviving an abusive father and a lonely childhood, Lorena Hickok went to work as a housekeeper at the age of 13, following the death of her mother. At 15, she settled in Battle Creek, Michigan, where, with the encouragement of her mother's cousin, "Aunt" Ella C. Ellis , and a concerned English teacher, she completed high school. In 1913, after two brief attempts at college, Lorena began her journalistic career at the Battle CreekEvening News. She soon moved on to the Milwaukee Sentinel, where she started as a society reporter, but eventually earned a byline writing stories about visiting celebrities. In 1917, she moved to Minneapolis and took a position with the Minneapolis Tribune. Mentored by managing editor Thomas J. Dillon, she worked her way up from reporter to Sunday editor to star reporter. She later credited "Old Man" Dillon with teaching her the newspaper business, "how to drink, and how to live."

In 1926, Hickok was diagnosed with diabetes and left Minneapolis. After a period of convalescence in San Francisco, she moved to New York, taking a job with the Daily Mirror. She was there just a year before transferring to the Associated Press. During the presidential campaign of 1932, she was assigned to cover Eleanor Roosevelt , in whom she found a kindred spirit. By the time of the inauguration in 1933, the two women had become extremely close friends. They made several trips together, and when separated, kept up a lively and loving correspondence. In reporting about the first lady, Hickok, more than any other journalist, presented Eleanor Roosevelt as a caring, powerful friend of the economically depressed. She also advised Roosevelt on how best to publicize the New Deal. By the spring of 1933, however, Hickok realized that her friendship with the first lady impaired the objectivity she needed as a reporter, and she left the Associated Press.

For the next three years, Hickok served as an investigative reporter for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, traveling around the country evaluating the effectiveness of New Deal programs and reporting on the attitudes and conditions of ordinary citizens mired down by the Depression. Eighty of her reports (in the form of letters to agency director Harry Hopkins) were published posthumously in 1981 as One Third of a Nation: Lorena Hickok Reports on the Great Depression. The confidential nature of the letter format offers an exceptionally candid view of the Depression, including a glimpse of the dishonest practices of those who profited during the country's economic crisis.

Beginning in 1937, Hickok spent three years in New York, working as a publicist for the New York World's Fair and spending weekends at her cottage on Long Island. In 1940, she returned to Washington to replace Molly Dewson as executive director of the Women's Division of the Democratic Party. Living in the White House, Hickok saw Eleanor Roosevelt again on a regular basis and also formed friendships with Howard Haycraft and Helen Gahagan Douglas , among others. Hickok's continuing battle with diabetes forced her to leave her job in March 1945, after which she did not seek regular employment, although she did work for the Women's Division of the State Democratic Committee of New York for another five years before failing eyesight forced her to retire. She continued to write, however, producing books on history, and biographies of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, Helen Keller , and Anne Sullivan Macy . Her book Ladies of Courage (1954), co-authored with Eleanor Roosevelt, also provides a valuable survey of some of the era's prominent women. After Roosevelt's death in 1962, Hickok's own health began to deteriorate rapidly, although she survived her beloved friend by six years, dying on May 1, 1968, following the amputation of a leg.


Faber, Doris. The Life of Lorena Hickok, 1980.

Sicherman, Barbara, and Carol Hurd Green, eds. Notable American Women: The Modern Period. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1980.


Lorena Hickok's papers are located at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

More From encyclopedia.com