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Book Review

by Jo Freeman

A Volume of Friendship: The Letters of Eleanor Roosevelt and Isabella Greenway 1904-1953
Edited by Kristie Miller and Robert H. McGinnis
Preface by Blanche Wiesen Cook
Published by the Arizona Historical Society; ©2009, 325 pp

Long after her death in 1962, readers remain fascinated by Eleanor Roosevelt — her life, her comments, her views. Isabella Greenway is barely known outside of Arizona — the state she represented in Congress from 1933 to 1937 — but her fifty-year friendship with ER was longer than that of any other of ER's many acquaintances.

Both came from privileged backgrounds, meeting in New York as debutantes and staying in close contact until Isabella’s death in 1953. They both married in 1905; the couples spent part of their honeymoons together in Europe. Isabella was two years younger but in her 67 years she had the more challenging life, which Miller detailed in her 2004 biography.

Isabella married three times, was widowed twice and had three children. ER was married once, widowed once, and had six children, one of whom died in infancy. Isabella moved to New Mexico with her older first husband in 1910 after he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Expected to die in a few years, the family lived in a tent with their two children for four years before building a home. A year after Bob Ferguson died in 1922 Isabella married his best friend, John Greenway. A little over two years later her second husband died on an operating table in New York.

Living in the wilds of New Mexico Isabella had to nurse her husband and home school her kids. ER also had to nurse her husband after he contracted polio in 1921, but she had a broader support system and more ready access to medical assistance. Nonetheless, her life, like Isabellas, was punctuated repeatedly by illnesses, accidents and death.

Indeed, if these letters have a major theme, that is it. These privileged women and their families spent much of their lives especially their early adulthood — coping with physical ailments. Presumably they had the best medical care money could buy, but to judge by their letters, major portions of their lives were spent coping with suffering, their own and that of their families and close friends. Tubercolosis, whooping cough, polio and infections consumed a lot of their time and thoughts.

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