The First Ladies [Book Review] #HistoricalFiction #USHistory @BerkleyPub #CivilRights

Told from two perspectives, The First Ladies is the compelling fictionalized biography of two difference makers, collaborators, and friends.

The First Ladies by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray

he First Ladies by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray (cover) Image: a white woman and black woman walk arm in arm across a lawn under cherry blossoms toward the Washington memorial

Genre/Categories/Setting: Historical Fiction, Fictionalized Biography, U.S. History, Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Friendship, Politics, Leadership, Partnership, Washington D.C. and South Carolina and Florida

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

My Summary of The First Ladies:

Thanks #NetGalley @BerkleyPub #BerkelyWritesStrongWomen #BerkleyBuddyReads for a complimentary e ARC of #TheFirstLadies upon my request. All opinions are my own.

The First Ladies is told from two perspectives and is the story of extraordinary partnership and friendship between Eleanor Roosevelt and Mary McLeod Bethune, The First Lady of the Struggle. Most of us are aware of Eleanor Roosevelt’s contributions as First Lady of the United States; however, many other readers might not be aware of Mary Bethune’s contributions. Mary is the daughter of formerly enslaved parents, founder of the American Council of Negro Women, founder of a private school (later a university) for African American students in Florida, and a fearless and passionate Civil Rights activist. As she embarked on her life’s work, she refused to back away from the threats posed by white supremacists. Her activism and her work in education attracted the attention of Eleanor Roosevelt. Together they were a formidable team for change and equal rights.

My Thoughts:


I love the writing collaboration here! Marie Benedict is a reliable historical fiction author and Victoria Christopher Murray brings an “own voices” authenticity. In the afterward, they discuss working together and how it challenged and grew their friendship. They coauthored one book before this one, The Personal Librarian. I’m eager to see what they do next.

Friendship and Partnership

A significant highlight of the story for me is the friendship and inspirational partnership of Eleanor and Mary. At a time when a black woman and white woman can not sit down for tea together in a public venue, Eleanor and Mary meet in public. Their public interactions normalize integration and promote equality. I love how Eleanor is able to listen to Mary, use her influence, and strategize ways to offer assistance in Mary’s fight for equal rights. In this process, Mary is honest (in the kindest ways) with Eleanor and helps her see personal shortcomings and blind spots. Their friendship/partnership is inspiring and serves as a role model for our own interracial relationships.

Civil Rights

Bethune is persistent, brilliant, and relentless in the way she advocates for Roosevelt’s New Deal to include ALL Americans. She earns a “seat at the table” as an advisor to President Roosevelt, and is pragmatic in her political beliefs (i.e. which party can deliver). This fictionalized biography is an important reminder that the fight for Civil Rights in the United States began before the 1960s. Rosa Parks stands on the shoulders of activists like Mary McLeod Bethune.

“We must take whatever steps are necessary–through the New Deal or our own private funding–to make sure that Negro youths receive the same educational and employment opportunities as all our children.”

The First Ladies


I love when books talk to each other! Right after reading The First Ladies, I picked up Women of the Post (review coming soon), and was delighted to notice Mary McLeod Bethune referenced and acknowledged for her hard won efforts on behalf of black men and women in the military. I was excited to know all about Bethune and her accomplishments having just finished The First Ladies.

Recommending The First Ladies

I read and adore historical fiction so that I can hear untold stories about inspirational women of the past. If you don’t already know of Mary McLeod Bethune, you will appreciate this compelling story, and if you admire Eleanor Roosevelt, you will enjoy knowing more of her contributions. I enthusiastically recommend The First Ladies for fans of well-told historical fiction and for those who enjoy stories of real life difference makers. Book clubs will find a lot of discussion possibilities here.

Content Considerations: racism and prejudice, reference to lynchings

Also by the author team: The Personal Librarian.

My Rating:  4.5  Stars

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Meet the Authors of The First Ladies, Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray

Marie Benedict is a lawyer with more than ten years’ experience as a litigator at two of the country’s premier law firms, who found her calling unearthing the hidden historical stories of women. Her mission is to excavate from the past the most important, complex and fascinating women of history and bring them into the light of present-day where we can finally perceive the breadth of their contributions as well as the insights they bring to modern day issues. She embarked on a new, thematically connected series of historical novels with THE OTHER EINSTEIN, which tells the tale of Albert Einstein’s first wife, a physicist herself, and the role she might have played in his theories. The next novel in this series is the USA Today bestselling CARNEGIE’S MAID — which released in January of 2018 — and the book that followed is the New York Times bestseller and Barnes & Noble Book Club Pick THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE ROOM, the story of the brilliant inventor Hedy Lamarr, which published in January of 2019. In January of 2020, LADY CLEMENTINE, the story of the incredible Clementine Churchill, was released, and became an international bestseller. Her next novel, the Instant NYTimes and USAToday bestselling THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE, was published on December 29, 2020, and her first co-written book, THE PERSONAL LIBRARIAN, with the talented Victoria Christopher Murray, will be released on June 29, 2021. Writing as Heather Terrell, Marie also published the historical novels The Chrysalis, The Map Thief, and Brigid of Kildare.

Author of The First Ladies and The Personal Librarian, Victoria Christopher Murray

Victoria Christopher Murray is the author of nine Essence bestselling novels, including The Ex Files; Too Little, Too Late; and Lady Jasmine. Winner of the African American Literary Award for Fiction and Author of the Year (Female).

She has received numerous awards including the Golden Pen Award for Best Inspirational Fiction and the Phyllis Wheatley Trailblazer Award for being a pioneer in African American Fiction. Since 2007, Victoria has won nine African American Literary Awards for best novel, best Christian fiction and Author of the Year — Female. After four nominations, Victoria finally won an NAACP Image Award in Outstanding Literary Work for her social commentary novel, Stand Your Ground.

Victoria splits her time between Los Angeles and Washington DC.


Do you love a fictionalized biography?

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  1. Really like the sound of this one. Also like the sound of Ladies of the Post but it’s not available here at the moment.

  2. Wonderful review, Carol. This sounds very interesting. I believe I have seen some things about Mary McLeod Bethune, as well as her home when I visited Daytona Florida. I loved The Personal Librarian, and hope to find this one to read or listen to.

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