Review by Leslie Farin
What is “The First Ladies” About?
The Instant New York Times Bestseller!
A novel about the extraordinary partnership between First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune—an unlikely friendship that changed the world, from the New York Times bestselling authors of the Good Morning America Book Club pick The Personal Librarian.
This new book by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray is a wonderful novel of historical fiction. It details the unlikely friendship between First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and civil rights activist Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune. The friendship lasted many years, spanning the decades between the 1920s and 1940s. The story is told from the perspectives of both women in alternating chapters. Frequently, the same event is described in detail by each of the two women, which is very interesting. Both experience and/or observed the same event, yet the reactions and responses were different.
My review of “The First Ladies”
As a long-time fan of Eleanor Roosevelt, I knew a lot about her story and her contributions. She tirelessly and passionately fought for equal rights for all Americans. I was less familiar, however, with Dr. Bethune, the First Lady of the Struggle. The daughter of formerly enslaved parents, Bethune founded the ACNW (American Council of Negro Women) and a private school in Florida. She fearlessly fought for equal rights, even enduring death threats from white supremacists. Eventually, she obtained a “seat at the table” in President Roosevelt’s administration.
The two first met at an event organized by the First Lady’s mother-in-law, Sara Roosevelt. Mrs. Roosevelt noticed the other guests did not welcome Dr. Bethune graciously, and some in the room even refused to sit down to eat at the same table due to the color of her skin. This was a time of great racial tension in the U.S., a time when segregation and lynching were not unusual. Yet Dr. Bethune was on a mission and did not let the ignorance of others keep her from fighting for her beliefs. Her extraordinary efforts inspired the First Lady and the two became a formidable team over the years.
As a result of this relationship, Mrs. Roosevelt learned to see racism through the eyes of Dr. Bethune. Unfortunately, racism in the U.S. remains a major problem today. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a great deal of work to do. It’s important that those of us who do not experience persecution ourselves work to better understand the underlying issues and fight for equality for all. This story is inspiring and gives me hope for the future.
I highly recommend The First Ladies, as well as the previous novel by the same authors, THE PERSONAL LIBRARIAN.
Penguin Random House provided me with a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
Fun Facts and Quotes From the First Ladies
The remarkable accomplishments of both the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and the First Lady of the Struggle, Mary Beth Bethune, left an indelible mark on American history.
Eleanor Roosevelt: Fun Facts
Early Life: Eleanor Roosevelt was born on October 11, 1884, in New York City. Her parents were Anna Hall and Elliott Roosevelt, the younger brother of President Theodore Roosevelt.
Orphaned at a Young Age: Eleanor’s mother died when she was eight years old, and her father passed away two years later. She was then raised by her maternal grandmother.
Teddy Roosevelt’s Niece: Eleanor Roosevelt was the niece of President Theodore Roosevelt, making her the first lady to be related to a former president.
Marriage to Franklin D. Roosevelt: Eleanor married her distant cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt, who later became the 32nd President of the United States, in 1905. They had six children together.
Transformation of the First Lady’s Role: Eleanor Roosevelt transformed the role of the first lady during her husband’s presidency. She was an outspoken advocate for civil rights, women’s rights, and other social issues, and she traveled extensively to promote these causes.
Columnist and Writer: Eleanor wrote a daily newspaper column called “My Day” from 1936 to 1962. It provided her perspective on various topics and allowed her to connect with the public.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Eleanor Roosevelt played a significant role in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She chaired the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and worked tirelessly to ensure the rights and freedoms of all individuals.
UN Ambassador: After her husband’s death, Eleanor Roosevelt was appointed as the United States delegate to the United Nations. She continued her work in advocating for human rights on an international scale.
Longest-serving First Lady: Eleanor Roosevelt remains the longest-serving first lady in the history of the United States, holding the position for 12 years (1933-1945) during her husband’s four terms in office.
Personal Tragedies: Eleanor Roosevelt faced personal tragedies during her lifetime. Her husband Franklin D. Roosevelt passed away in 1945, and she lost several family members, including two of her sons.
Recognitions and Awards: Eleanor Roosevelt received numerous awards and honors during her lifetime, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which was presented to her by President Harry S. Truman in 1962.
Inspiring Quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt
“A woman is like a tea bag; you never know how strong it is until it’s in hot water.”
“Do one thing every day that scares you.”
“Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway.”
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for a newer and richer experience.”
“Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart”
“No matter how plain a woman may be, if truth and honesty are written across her face, she will be beautiful.”
Mary McLeod Bethune: Fun Facts
Early Life and Education: Mary McLeod Bethune was born on July 10, 1875, in South Carolina. She was the fifteenth of seventeen children in her family and was the first to be born free after the Emancipation Proclamation. Despite facing poverty and racial discrimination, she was determined to pursue an education.
Founding of Bethune-Cookman University: In 1904, Mary McLeod Bethune founded the Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls in Daytona Beach, Florida. The school eventually merged with Cookman Institute for Men, and today it is known as Bethune-Cookman University.
Advisor to Presidents: Bethune was a close advisor to multiple U.S. presidents. She was appointed by President Calvin Coolidge as a special advisor on minority affairs and later advised Presidents Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Harry S. Truman on issues related to African Americans and education.
National Council of Negro Women: In 1935, Bethune founded the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), a coalition of black women’s organizations. She served as its first president until 1949 and worked to improve the lives of African American women and their communities.
Civil Rights Activism: Mary McLeod Bethune was an active advocate for civil rights. She fought against racial segregation, voting discrimination, and unequal opportunities for African Americans. She was a member of the NAACP and worked with other civil rights leaders of her time.
Presidential Advisor on Minority Affairs: In 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Bethune as the special advisor on minority affairs, making her the first African American woman to hold a high-level government position. She used her influence to advance civil rights causes and improve the living conditions of African Americans.
Women’s Rights: Bethune was also a strong advocate for women’s rights. She believed that gender equality was essential for the progress of both African Americans and women. She actively worked to promote women’s rights within the NCNW and fought for equal opportunities for women in education and employment.
Legacy: Mary McLeod Bethune’s contributions to education, civil rights, and women’s rights are widely recognized. She is remembered as a trailblazer and a pioneer for African American women in leadership positions. Her home in Daytona Beach, Florida, is now a national historic site, and her legacy continues to inspire generations of activists and leaders.
Inspiring Quotes from Mary McLeod Bethune
“Invest in the human soul. Who knows, it might be a diamond in the rough.”
“The drums of Africa still beat in my heart. They will not let me rest while there is a single Negro boy or girl without a chance to prove his worth.”
“Cease to be a drudge. Seek to be an artist.”
“The true worth of a race must be measured by the character of its womanhood.”
“If we have the courage and tenacity of our forebears, who stood firmly like a rock against the lash of slavery, we shall find a way to do for our day what they did for theirs.”
“Without faith, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible.”
About the Authors of “The First Ladies”
Marie Benedict, a lawyer with more than ten years’ experience as a litigator at two of the country’s premier law firms found her calling unearthing the hidden historical stories of women. She works to excavate the most important, complex, and fascinating women of history and bring them to present-day readers. This way, we can better understand the scope of their contributions as well as the insights they bring to modern-day issues.
Her new, thematically connected series of historical novels started with The Other Einstein. In this novel, she tells the tale of Albert Einstein’s first wife, a physicist herself, describing the role she might have played in his theories. The next novel in this series is the USA Today bestselling Carnegie’s Maid, released in January 2018.
The next book was the New York Times bestseller and Barnes & Noble Book Club Pick The Only Woman in the Room. This novel is the story of the brilliant inventor Hedy Lamarr, published in January 2019. In January 2020, Lady Clementine released the story of the incredible Clementine Churchill, which became another bestseller.
The Instant NYTimes and USAToday bestselling The Mystery of Mrs. Christie, published in December 2020 followed. The book, Her Hidden Genius followed, which is about British scientist Rosalind Franklin who discovered the structure of DNA but whose research Crick and Watson used without her permission to win the Nobel Prize.
In January of 2023, she released the bestselling The Mitford Affair which explores the role that the beautiful, brilliant, eccentric Mitford sisters played in the rise of World War II, both for and against the Nazis. In June of 2023, she published her co-written novel with Victoria Christopher Murray, entitled The First Ladies.
Using Heather Terrell as her pen name, Marie also published the historical novels The Chrysalis, The Map Thief, and Brigid of Kildare. Marie’s novels are translated into twenty-nine languages. Learn more about Marie Benedict HERE.
Victoria Christopher Murray
Victoria Christopher Murray, a native of Queens, NY, earned a B.A. in Communication Disorders from Hampton University and an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business. She spent ten years in Corporate America before launching her entrepreneurial venture, a Financial Services Agency for Aegon, USA. Here, she managed the number one division for nine consecutive years.
Victoria trailblazed the literary scene penning more than 30 novels, co-writing with other authors, and ghostwriting for top talent across the country. No one else wrote novels filled with drama with God in the center at the time, so she became known as a Christian Fiction writer.
Victoria lives in Washington, D.C, and is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Learn more about Victoria Christopher Murray HERE.