Book Review: Hissing Cousins by Marc Peyser and Timothy Dwyer

Hissing Cousins

Adams. Kennedy. Roosevelt. Bush. Clinton. All these names are political dynasties in United States history. Sometimes these family members have been treated like royalty. Marc Peyser and Timothy Dwyer in Hissing Cousins: the Untold Story of Eleanor Roosevelt and Alice Roosevelt Longworth examine the lives of these two women who led parallel yet different tracks in American politics.

Alice and Eleanor were first cousins born eight months apart and spent part of their unhappy childhoods together. Alice lost her mother shortly after her birth and her aunt looked after her. Her father never spoke about her mother with Alice leaving a void. After rejoining her father and his new family, Alice never felt comfortable with them. Eleanor adored her alcoholic father until he died leaving her an orphan to be raised by a remote grandmother.

As they grew up, Alice and Eleanor had different interests. First educated by tutors, Eleanor went to boarding school in England while Alice refused to attend private school. Alice’s father, Theodore, became active in Republican politics as New York governor, Vice-President, and President of the United States. Alice supported her father’s ambitions and loved living and creating havoc in the White House becoming Princess Alice in the media.

Eleanor spent three years in England before returning home and attending her coming out. She became close to her distant cousin Franklin marrying him in 1905. She settled in to become a wife and mother. She also began to be involved in social causes to alleviate poverty in New York.

This book is part of our Kauffman Collection, a selection of titles intended to enhance the Library’s collection with significant works in the humanities and other genres.

Alice, as the President’s daughter, lived the high life although she traveled to foreign countries as a goodwill ambassador on behalf of her father. She married Nicholas Longworth, a Congressman from Ohio who eventually became Speaker of the House. Alice lived primarily in Washington, D.C. for the rest of her life.

Alice and Eleanor lived public lives with their political spouses. Both had mothers-in-laws who dominated their marriages. Both women had unfaithful husbands. However, party affiliation defined both women earning their nicknames; Mrs. Republican (Alice) and Mrs. Democrat (Eleanor). They supported their husbands throughout their political careers. Alice and her family live in fear that Franklin would achieve greater accolades than Theodore and his clan. Franklin’s bout with polio caused him to drop out of sight to recover leaving the stage for others.

Eleanor became very involved in political causes helping Franklin win governor of New York. She wrote for publication especially after Franklin became President. She traveled the country reporting back about condition during the Great Depression and later from the battlefields of World War II.

Alice lost her husband in 1931 but kept an active social schedule in Washington. She campaigned against Franklin supporting his Republican opponents. She also wrote a newspaper column like her cousin. For family and social events Alice and Eleanor remained on friendly terms.

After Franklin’s death, Eleanor thought her public career would end. However, she helped establish the United Nations and pass the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Alice and Eleanor continued to support different political candidates and clashed over them. Eleanor died in 1962 and Alice in 1980. A lifetime of family and politics united Alice Longworth and Eleanor Roosevelt. They lived and made American history and are still remembered today.

About the Author

Judy Klamm is a reference librarian in Central Reference. She has written book reviews for Library Journal and various Presbyterian publications.

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