Flagstaff, AZ – In 1932, Eleanor Roosevelt was working hard to get Franklin elected president. She was hoping for an early endorsement from Arizona. She wrote her friend Isabella Greenway, who was on the verge of being elected Arizona's first congresswoman. But Isabella advised soft-pedaling. Her instincts were sound. FDR carried Arizona, but the delegates emerged from community efforts not a hard push from the national organization.
By then, Eleanor and Isabella had been friends for a quarter century. Their letters, collected in A Volume of Friendship, illustrate deep trust and affection, which became the foundation for their political networking.
The two became confidants as teenagers in New York. Judging from early letters, their attraction was instant, and they expressed it exuberantly, signing letters in the language of lovers: "Much, much love, Isabella, I love you always," Eleanor wrote, and "I long to see you." But editors Kristi Miller and Robert McGinnis caution against reading physical intimacy into the language. There's no evidence for it. Rather, the editors note, "The correspondence is rich in examples of the emotional support, understanding, and appreciation that women have traditionally given each other."
The letters are full of news about their kids, friends, and families. Eleanor and Isabella turned to each other for solace during troubled times and there was plenty of trouble. Eleanor was devastated by the infant death of her third child; she was stalwart in the face of Franklin's polio; and, she endured the private humiliation of his infidelities. And Greenway? Her first husband a Rough Rider, Bob Ferguson, got tuberculosis when they were newlyweds. They moved west for the air, lived four years in a tent, and she nursed him until he died.
Then she married mining tycoon, John Greenway. It was as Mrs. Greenway that she began the philanthropic and political work that would make her famous. Isabella founded the "The Arizona Hut," employing disabled World War I vets as carpenters. When the stock market crashed, she invigorated the economy by hiring vets to build Tucson's historic resort, The Arizona Inn.
Eleanor and Isabella were born to a ruling class in America. But it was from that class that the pioneers who first cracked the glass ceiling of American politics emerged. A Volume of Friendship illuminates the road they built to empowerment through love and friendship.