Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Women Who Changed the World

"The Women Behind the Power" panel provided an exciting start to my two days at the 2017 LA Times Festival of Books.  After the presentations and comments that began at 10:30 am on Saturday, April 22, I was sure that I'd already heard the best panel of the weekend.

These biographies all focused on women--

  • Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of FDR -- Eleanor Roosevelt: The War Years and After, third and final volume of ER's biography by Blanche Wiesen Cook,
  • Lorena Hickok, one of the top female reporters in the US who gave up her career to serve Eleanor Roosevelt -- Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair That Shaped a First Lady by Susan Quinn,
  • Joan Kroc, wife of the McDonald's mogul Ray Kroc, an abusive alcoholic, who stayed in the marriage to donate $3 billion to worthy causes, including the fight against alcoholism -- Ray and Joan: The Man Who Made the McDonald's Fortune and the Woman Who Gave It All Away by Lisa Napoli, and
  • Anna Murray, first wife of Frederick Douglass, and other women who supported him in his education and his work as social reformer and abolitionist -- Women in the World of Douglass by Leigh Fought.

"I've spent most of my youth with one dead general," said Cook, explaining why she was happy to turn to the life of Eleanor Roosevelt.  

Eleanor's father died at age 34 of his alcoholism, when she was ten years old.  Her mother had died when she was eight years old.  She was raised by family members (her uncle was Teddy Roosevelt).

Quinn voiced many favorite quotations by Eleanor, using her upper-class tone and intonation:

ER to people everywhere: "Tell me, what do you want?  What do you need?"

"Courage can be as contagious as fear."

"Everything that happens to anybody anywhere happens to everybody everywhere" (quoting Wendell Wilkie).

"We need free public education for everybody."

Of FDR and ER, Cook said "She was his conscience, and he was her barometer."

Susan Quinn explained how at first Lorena Hickok didn't want to cover Eleanor; she wanted to do top political reporting, focusing on FDR.

She'd started life in a little railroad town in South Dakota, and her mother died when she was 13.

Eventually, however, she bonded with Eleanor and "helped her to shape her first ladyhood."

Lisa Napoli was fascinating on the life of Joan Kroc.

Leigh Fought documented the women who made Frederick Douglass the  man he was.

In short: 

Reader, I bought them all.

avatar for Bill Boyarsky

Bill Boyarsky

Boyarsky, author of “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times,” is a political correspondent for Truthdig, blogs for LA Observed and is a columnist for the Jewish Journal. His other books include “Los Angeles: City of Dreams” and “Big Daddy: Jesse Unruh and the Art of Power Politics.”

avatar for Blanche Wiesen Cook

Blanche Wiesen Cook

Cook is a distinguished professor of history at John Jay College and Graduate Center, City University of New York. In addition to her biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, her other books include "The Declassified Eisenhower" and "Crystal Eastman on Women and Revolution.” She was featured on air in Ken Burns's recent documentary, “The Roosevelts.”
avatar for Leigh Fought

Leigh Fought

Fought is the author of "Women in the World of Frederick Douglass" and a professor history at Le Moyne College, Syracuse, New York. She was formerly an editor of the first volume of Frederick Douglass's correspondence, and her previous works include "Southern Womanhood and Slavery: A Biography of Louisa McCord" and "Mystic, Connecticut: From Pequot Village to Tourist Town."
avatar for Lisa Napoli

Lisa Napoli

Napoli, a veteran journalist (NY Times, MSNBC, public radio's Marketplace), has lived in Los Angeles for over a dozen years. Her first book, "Radio Shangri-La,” is about media influence and disenchantment in and around the Kingdom of Bhutan. She leads an award-winning volunteer cooking group on Skid Row at the Downtown Women's Center and her newest book is “Ray & Joan: The Man Who Made the McDonald's Fortune and the Woman Who Gave It All... Read More →
avatar for Susan Quinn

Susan Quinn

Quinn is the author of "Furious Improvisation: How the WPA and a Cast of Thousands Made High Art Out of Desperate Times,” "Marie Curie: A Life” and her latest, “Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair That Shaped a First Lady,” among other books. Her work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, the Atlantic, and other publications. She is the former chair of PEN New England and lives outside Boston, Massachusetts.

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