“The First Ladies,” by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray, is historical novel, the story of the enduring friendship between First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Civil Rights Activist Mary McLeod Bethune.
Mrs. Roosevelt and Dr. McLeod Bethune first met in 1927 when Eleanor invited Mary to a luncheon at her Upper East Side townhouse. The luncheon was designed to bring women leaders together. Eleanor and Mary were drawn together through their common interests in women’s rights and in their efforts to provide higher education to all. They became fast friends as they dined alone at the luncheon, as the other invitees refused to sit at the table with a Black woman.
Although Mrs. Roosevelt and Dr. McLeod Bethune were two very different women, they were both committed to providing equal opportunities for all. Their friendship provided the foundation for the modern civil rights movement. Being the wife of the president allowed Mrs. Roosevelt to keep the civil rights issues in the forefront, especially during campaign time. FDR was the first Democratic presidential candidate to garner the Black vote, which also was historical.
The chapters in this novel alternate between Mrs. Roosevelt and Dr. McLeod Bethune, providing two different points of view on the same issue or incident. You as a reader are given an inside view to their deep friendship as you hear how they confided in each other, learned their secrets, saw how they supported each other through tragedies and triumphs, and witnessed their deep conversations about racism.
“The First Ladies” is historically accurate and provides much insight into how these two women working together changed history. This was a very enlightening read.