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The First Ladies by M. Benedict and V. Christopher Murray
Historical fiction

The First Ladies

by M. Benedict and V. Christopher Murray

Quick take

Two brilliant women—a First Lady and Civil Rights leader—become friends and agents of progress for a changing nation.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Feminist


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_FemaleFriendship

    Female friendships

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Real-life-characters

    Real-life characters


The daughter of formerly enslaved parents, Mary McLeod Bethune refuses to back down as white supremacists attempt to thwart her work. She marches on as an activist and an educator, and as her reputation grows she becomes a celebrity, revered by titans of business and recognized by U.S. Presidents. Eleanor Roosevelt herself is awestruck and eager to make her acquaintance. Initially drawn together because of their shared belief in women’s rights and the power of education, Mary and Eleanor become fast friends, confiding their secrets, hopes and dreams—and holding each other’s hands through tragedy and triumph.

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt is elected president, the two women begin to collaborate more closely, particularly as Eleanor moves toward her own agenda separate from FDR, a consequence of the devastating discovery of her husband’s secret love affair. Eleanor becomes a controversial First Lady for her outspokenness, particularly on civil rights. And when she receives threats because of her strong ties to Mary, it only fuels the women’s desire to fight together for justice and equality.

This is the story of two different, yet equally formidable, passionate, and committed women, and the way in which their singular friendship helped form the foundation for the modern civil rights movement.

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Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of The First Ladies.

Why I love it

Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray have a knack for compellingly introducing readers to undersung ambitious women in history. In their new novel which earns a worthy spot on the shelf next to The Personal Librarian, the talented pair continues to dip their magic-making pens in little-known women’s history by shining a light on the extraordinary friendship between First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, white, privileged, and a Democrat, and Mary McLeod Bethune, a Black Republican woman who was born of formerly enslaved parents. These vastly different women kept me up at night as I clamored for just one more intimate peek into their singular friendship.

The First Ladies opens in 1927 at a luncheon hosted by Eleanor Roosevelt for women leaders of national clubs and organizations. Mary McLeod Bethune, then the president of the National Association of Colored Women and the only Black woman attendee, is snubbed by the other guests. Shy Eleanor braves a conversation with Mary—a conversation that sparks a relationship that spans through the Great Depression and the gubernatorial and presidential terms of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Over the years, Eleanor and Mary forge an unshakeable bond, supporting each other through personal struggles with marital infidelity, illness, loss, and love. And together, the two push an ambitious agenda that helped to form the foundation for the civil rights movement.

This novel is a brilliant illustration of the strength of two trailblazing women who cross race and class and hold hands through tragedy and triumph. The First Ladies is a perfect mid-summer read.

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Member ratings (5,629)

  • Melissa M.

    Minneapolis, MN

    This authorship duo strikes again into the hearts of anti-racist women who long for friendship and a more equitable world. Mary & Eleanor’s tale had inspired and encouraged me. Another winning novel!

  • Jackie K.

    Atlanta, GA

    I so enjoyed this book!! I never knew about this friendship and the enormous impact it had and still has on the country. I found this book to be so interesting from beginning to end. Would recommend.

  • Kristen G.

    Long Beach, CA

    I never knew about their friendship until I read this book. A brilliant back and forth between friends learning to care and grow together set against the all too real struggles they faced with race.

  • Cheryl S.

    New Providence, NJ

    A exciting look into the relationship of two very special ladies and history itself! i really enjoyed this book. I am partial to historical fictional and this is one of the best I have read to date!!!

  • Debra L.

    Apex, NC

    This is an absolutely amazing novel, and I loved the inspiring story of Eleanor and Mary's friendship. These two women were courageous and stronger as they stood, Black and White hand-in-hand as one.