First Ladies: Presidential Historians on the Lives of 45 Iconic American Women

First Ladies: Presidential Historians on the Lives of 45 Iconic American Women

Susan Swain

Language: English

Pages: 496

ISBN: 1610397177

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


A look inside the personal life of every first lady in American history, based on original interviews with major historians

C-SPAN’s yearlong history series, First Ladies: Influence and Image, featured interviews with more than fifty preeminent historians and biographers. In this informative book, these experts paint intimate portraits of all forty-five first ladies—their lives, ambitions, and unique partnerships with their presidential spouses. Susan Swain and the C-SPAN team elicit the details that made these women who they were: how Martha Washington intentionally set the standards followed by first ladies for the next century; how Edith Wilson was complicit in the cover-up when President Wilson became incapacitated after a stroke; and how Mamie Eisenhower used the new medium of television to reinforce her, and her husband’s, positive public images.

This book provides an up-close historical look at these fascinating women who survived the scrutiny of the White House, sometimes at great personal cost, while supporting their families and famous husbands—and sometimes changing history. Complete with illustrations and essential biographical details, it is an illuminating, entertaining, and ultimately inspiring read.

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Mantelpieces were preserved [in the White House renovation,] some doors. Not much of it was to be preserved, because it was cheaper to put pressed wood in, but Lorenzo Winslow, the architect, really was the hero, as far as saving the original things. He saved what he could. [When the house reopened,] people thought it was beautiful. National Geographic did a beautiful issue on it after Truman was out of office. The decorating was all done by a department store in New York [called] B. Altman.

was American, though he had European ties and Hollywood ties. He said, “I will create a wardrobe for you on the world stage,” and indeed, he did. BESCHLOSS: She wrote to him, saying, “I want Jack and myself to dress as if Jack were president of France.” In a way, that happened. It’s not something she ever would have said in public. PERRY: By and large, [the American public] loved it. Now, every now and again, she was a little too youthful, like when she’d show up in a bathing suit or be

wives’ stories, and their contributions to American history, are much less well-known. This is the reason why, for the better part of a year, from Presidents’ Day 2013 through February 2014, C-SPAN took on the task of adding greater dimension to the biographies of the first ladies with a special series called First Ladies: Influence and Image, which I was privileged to host. This book is an outgrowth of the television series and both are unique in offering this wonderful collection of insights

on women’s roles. MATHEWS: Toward the end of Louisa’s life, when she is corresponding with Sarah Grimke, there’s the sense that she seeks an equality of the mind for women, but not so that women can run for office; it’s not that kind of feminism. It’s not so that women can play the front role, it’s so that women can better fulfill their primary functions as mother, wife, and daughter. This is where her religion comes in again: God had created men and women equal in this way and in their minds,

for white settlers, and, of course, that clashed with Native American interests, and so at that battle Harrison was considered the victor. We’re not so certain about that, but he became important enough in that battle that it carried him into public office. MAYO: Meanwhile, Anna has ten children and is raising them on the American frontier in a series of out-of-the-way forts, making sure they all get an excellent education. Just the physical hardships were difficult and it was not an easy task

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