Lorena Hickok, Eleanor Roosevelt's devoted friend, mentor, lover, and pioneering journalist, was born in East Troy, Wisconsin, to Addison Hickok, a buttermaker, and Anna Wiate Hickok, a dressmaker. Violence and instability characterized her early life. Her father beat Lorena and her sisters, had trouble keeping a job and forced the family to move as he sought work, thus interrupting Hickok's education as she traveled from school district to school district.
She left home at fourteen to work as a maid, until her mother's cousin Ella Ellis asked Hickok to live with her. Under Ellis's guidance, Hickok finished high school and, in 1912, enrolled in Lawrence College in Appleton, Wisconsin. Ridiculed by her classmates, Hickok never adjusted to college and flunked out after one year. The Battle Creek Evening News hired her to cover train arrivals and departures and to write personal interest stories.
Hickok's role model, the novelist Edna Ferber, began her career as a Milwaukee reporter, so Hickok joined the staff of the Milwaukee Sentinel as its society editor, "the only position available to most women on newspapers." Bored by society assignments, Hickok convinced her editor to assign her to the city desk, where she quickly made a name for herself as a skilled interviewer.
She transferred to the Minneapolis Tribune in 1917, only to move to New York City to pursue her hopes of covering World War I. Hickok had trouble adjusting to such a large city, was fired after a month, and returned to Minneapolis to rejoin the Tribune as a rewriter and enroll at the University of Minnesota.
Her college education ended when she left the university after the dean tried to force her to live in the women's dormitory. Thomas J. Dillon, the Tribune's managing editor, recognized Hickok's talents, tutored her, and offered her assignments rarely given to women, including politics and sports.
In 1928, the Associated Press hired Hickok to write feature stories for its wire service. Quickly making a name for herself by covering politics and dramatic stories like the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, Hickok surpassed her male colleagues and won the coveted right to have her name appear as a by-line atop her articles.
Hickok met Eleanor Roosevelt in 1932 when the reporter convinced her editors to assign her to cover Eleanor during the 1932 presidential campaign. The two women quickly trusted one another, with Eleanor speaking honestly about politics and social issues and confiding her fears about her life should her husband win the election.
In 1933, Hickok left the Associated Press because she could no longer be objective when covering the Roosevelts. Eleanor recommended that Harry Hopkins hire the reporter to investigate conditions average Americans confronted for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA). For three years, Hickok visited thirty-two states and provided detailed, salty reports on New Deal policy, living conditions, and politics.
In the early years of the New Deal, the two women vacationed together and Hickok accompanied Eleanor on her official visit to Puerto Rico. When Hickok became executive secretary of the Women's Division of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in 1940, ER invited her to live at the White House.
Hickok's diabetes worsened in early 1945. In 1947, Eleanor helped Hickok secure a job with the New York State Democratic Committee. Hickok's health continued to decline, and in 1954, a frail and partially blind Hickok moved to Hyde Park to be closer to Eleanor.
The two women collaborated on Women of Courage, a portrait of women political leaders, and Eleanor tried to stabilize Hickok's finances. Hickok wrote Reluctant First Lady, a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, and six children's biographies before her death.