The story of how a brilliant writer-turned-activist, granddaughter of a mulatto slave, and the first lady of the United States, whose ancestry gave her membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution, forged an enduring friendship.
Bell-Scott allows these women to speak for themselves, a light touch that works with two heavyweights. The format has its limitations: During most of the years of their friendship, Roosevelt’s life was marked by a series of international delegations that don’t quite make for riveting reading, and Murray did her most important intellectual and political work after Roosevelt’s death. But the fact that Mrs. Roosevelt is here more foil than subject hardly detracts from this distinguished work.
Bell-Scott’s work succeeds in connecting Murray and Roosevelt to larger historical processes while focusing on the details of their individual lives. But her method does have its costs. The Firebrand and the First Lady is at times a too-straightforward narrative of what these women did, what they wrote to each other, and the factual circumstances that surrounded their many letters and meetings.