Hissing Cousins: The Untold Story of Eleanor Roosevelt and Alice Roosevelt Longworth

Hissing Cousins

This double biography of two famous first cousins, both belonging to the famous Roosevelt clan, brings the early 20th century to life in both Washington DC and New York and gives us a fascinating peak into two strong women’s lives, both of whom married or were born into politics.

Eleanor Roosevelt and her first cousin Alice were born just eight months apart. Alice came from the Republican Oyster Bay branch of the family and Eleanor from the Democratic Hyde Park (NYC) branch. Not only did they differ in political and social outlooks, but they even pronounced their last name differently. Alice’s family said Rose—evelt. And Eleanor’s pronounced the same name as Ruse-evelt.

As children the cousins were extremely close, playing with each other, meeting at their grandmother’s and aunts’ houses, riding horses and going to the beach together. However, a series of family tragedies separated them. Both girls lost a parent at a young age. 

As teens, they were polar opposites. Eleanor’s non-Roosevelt grandmother dressed her in children’s clothes while Alice wore the most modern and fashionable gowns. Alice was the popular party girl, while Eleanor hung out in corners, a typical wallflower.

But it was Alice that brought Eleanor and another cousin, Franklin, together. Seeing Eleanor in the shadows at a dance, she encourage Franklin to go and talk to her. Eleanor, at age 14, soon had her first beau, the man she later married.

Meanwhile Alice moved into the White House when her dad, Teddy Roosevelt became president. The press fell in love with her. They tagged her Princess Alice and even her father employed her often as a goodwill ambassador to foreign governments including those of Russia and England.

Alice had a “simple coming out party” in the White House. She drove around in fast cars, associated with racy types, and even climbed on the White House roof to smoke, but she always took her "ambassador" work seriously.

Around this time, Eleanor was sent to boarding school in England, a plan that her now dead mother had made for her. Here Eleanor blossomed. The head teacher took her under her wing inviting her to seminars with faculty and also toured Europe with the young girl. Eleanor learned to speak in groups and met many intelligent and cultured people. During this period, she also developed a life-long interest in social justice issues.

In their twenties both women got married and started families. Both began attending conventions and stumping for their husbands. If these women had been born in the 20th or 21st centuries, they would most likely have become politicians themselves. This fascinating social history about two strong women who made the White House their home will enthrall you. There's also plenty of squabbling and memorable quotes they said about each other as their political philosophies widened to keep you entertained.