First Lady Biography: Pat Nixon
THELMA CATHERINE "PAT" RYAN NIXON
16 March, 1912
*Although she was born as Thelma Catherine Ryan Nixon, she assumed the name of "Patricia," or "Pat" upon the death of her father; of Irish parentage, he had first called her "St. Patrick's babe in the morn," because she was born at night, just hours before St. Patrick's Day
William Ryan, Sr., born 1866, Ridgefield, Connecticut, sailor, miner, truck farmer; died May 1930, Artesia, California
Katherine "Kate" Halberstadt, born 1879, Essen County, near Frankfurt, Germany, Germany; married secondly to Will Ryan, 1909; died, 18 January, 1926, Artesia, California
Kate Halberstadt's first husband Matthew Bender Jr. was born in Chicago, Cook County IL in 1874 to parents Matthew Bender and Walgura Hoffman. He drowned in a flash flood in South Dakota. He is buried in the South Lead Cemetery in South Dakota. His son Matthew (mother was Kate) was raised by his Bender grandparents after that incident. Matthew and Walburga and family then moved to Los Angeles arou 1904-1905.
Irish, German; Pat Nixon's mother immigrated from the Ober Rosbach region of Germany; her father was Irish and his parents immigrated to the U.S. from County Mayo, Ireland, date unknown
Birth Order and Siblings:
One half-brother, one half-sister; [half-brother] Matthew Bender (1907 - ?); [half-sister] Neva Bender Ryan Renter (1909 - ?); William "Bill" Ryan, Jr. (1910-1997), Thomas Ryan (1911-1992)
5' 5 1/2" height, sandy blonde hair, hazel eyes
Father was Roman Catholic, mother affiliated with Christian Scientist, husband was Quaker, the faith in which she married, but Pat Nixon was not formally affiliated with a sect
Pioneer Boulevard Grammar School, 1918 - 1925, Artesia (now Cerritos), California, while in grammar school, Pat Ryan was an oration on the political merits of Progressive Party leader Robert LaFollette; Excelsior High School, 1925 - 1929,Norwalk, California, a member of the drama club, playing the leads in The Romantic Age and The Rise of Silas Lapham and the Filibuster Club debating team, also involved in student government, elected as secretary of the student body in her junior and senior years; Woodbury College, Orange County, California, summer 1929, Pat Ryan took a night course in shorthand; Fullerton Junior College, Fullerton, California, 1931 - 1932, performed in Broken Dishes as the lead; Columbia University New York, New York, summer 1933 - took a course in radiology; University of Southern California, 1934 -1937, education and student training classes, B.S. Merchandising, with a certificate to teach at the high school level which USC gave the equivalence of a Master's degree.
With superior grades, Pat Ryan Nixon skipped the second grade; she graduated cum laude from University of Southern California
*Pat Nixon was the first First Lady to earn a graduate degree
Occupation before Marriage:
Few, if any First Ladies worked as consistently before their marriage as did Pat Nixon. She was only one year old when her parents relocated to the dairy and farming community of Artesia, California (about 12 miles southwest of Los Angeles) and purchased a ten and a half acre "truck farm" where they grew produce that was then sold from the back of the Ryan family truck in larger nearby towns and cities. From an early age she joined the rest of her family in planting and harvesting peppers, beets, cauliflower, cabbage, tomatoes, corn, and barley. When her mother became debilitated with a liver ailment and cancer (1924-1925), Pat Ryan Nixon assumed the household chores of cooking, cleaning and laundering for her brothers and father, as well as the seasonal farm workers that were hired for the farm, in addition to her farming responsibilities. When her father began to fail because of his terminal tuberculosis (1929-1930), she continued with the household chores, farm chores and to meet his medical bills, also took a job at the farmers and dairymen Artesia First National Bank, rising early to clean the floors as a janitor, then returning after high school to work as a bookkeeper.
In 1932, Pat Ryan drove an elderly couple across the country, a return bus ticket to California being her recompense. At Seton Hospital for the Tubercular run by the Catholic Sisters of Charity, Pat Ryan worked in a capacity of jobs, including x-ray technician, pharmacy manager, typist, laboratory assistant, and lived with the nuns at the hospital (1932-1934).
Admitted to USC on a research scholarship that covered her $240 tuition and living expenses, Pat Ryan worked for a psychology professor, helping to grade student papers and doing research for a book on orientation he was writing. Requiring further income, she also worked as assistant in the office of the university's vice president, cafeteria waitress, librarian, preparing graduate survey questionnaires, testing beauty products in salons, movie extra and assistant buyer at Bullock's Wilshire Department Store. She worked an average of 40 hours a week, beyond her classes. (1934-1937)
Hired as a teacher at Whittier Union High School, she taught commercial classes in typing, bookkeeping, business principles, stenography and adult night classes in typing. She served as faculty advisor to the "Pep" Committee, which organized social outings for students, helped organize student rallies, attended all high school sports events and every PTA meeting, and served as director for school plays. She earned an annual salary of $1,800.00 and continued to work as a teacher a year after she married. (1937-1941)
21 June, 1940 at Mission Inn, Riverside, California to Richard Milhous Nixon (born 13 January 1913, Yorba Linda, California, lawyer, died 23 April, 1994, New York, New York); they had met while both were performing in a production of The Dark Tower staged by the Whittier Community Players, a local theater group; after a honeymoon to Laredo and Mexico City, Mexico, they settled in an apartment in Whittier.
Two daughters; Patricia "Tricia" Nixon Cox (born 21 February 1946); Julie Nixon Eisenhower (born 25 July 1948)
*On 22 December 1968, Julie Nixon married David Eisenhower, the grandson of President Dwight Eisenhower, under whom her father had served as Vice President from 1953 to 1961.
Occupation after Marriage:
With World War II, Nixon worked as an attorney in the Office of Emergency Management in Washington, D.C. while Pat Nixon worked as clerk for the Red Cross. Nixon volunteered for and was commissioned as a naval lieutenant (junior grade) and received his first active duty assignment to Ottumwa, Iowa, while Pat Nixon worked in a bank there. When Nixon was assigned to duty in the South Pacific, she moved to San Francisco, California, where she worked as an economist for the Office of Price Administration.
In 1946 Nixon won a seat in the U.S. Congress; four years later he was elected to the U.S. Senate and two years after that, in 1952 he was elected Vice President of the United States under Dwight D. Eisenhower and both were re-elected in 1956. Although she later declared that politics was not a life she would have chosen for herself, Pat Nixon had already taken an interest in politics. Although she had voted for Independent and Democratic candidates, she had not committed to a political party until she declared herself a Republican, in line with Nixon's affiliation. During his first campaign, she researched stacks of congressional records to familiarize herself with the record of his opponent, incumbent Jerry Voorhis; wrote and edited campaign literature, typed and printed, and then hand-distributed them. Throughout the nine national political campaigns of Nixon's career, Pat Nixon played a vital, albeit subtle role. She often attended or reviewed the speeches of his opponents and took shorthand transcriptions of their exact words. She never held back her criticism of his speeches. She could appear tireless in daily rounds of public appearances whether they were outdoor rallies or fundraising dinners or teas with Republican women, focusing on one individual after another with an animation that humanized the candidate. She even began to give informal speeches. She did not like the world of politics, however, particularly the level of viciousness it tended to draw and the intrusion it caused in her family's private life. On the other hand, she was steadfastly loyal to Nixon: when press reports of an alleged secret fund broke after his vice presidential nomination, it was Pat Nixon who advised him to ignore the advice to step aside and instead to fight the charges. He did so in a famous televised "Checkers Speech" (in reference to the name of the dog given as a gift to his daughters) with Pat Nixon on screen, and made reference to her fighting Irish spirit, her respectable "cloth" coat and the fact that she wasn't on his Senate payroll as many other such spouses were.
As the wife of the Vice President for eight years, Pat Nixon assumed numerous roles, besides raising her two young daughters through adolescence. She often substituted at events for First Lady Mamie Eisenhower. She accompanied her husband to 53 countries around the world, and while she couldn't avoid formal events she minimized luncheons and teas during her daily public schedule to instead visit hospitals, schools, orphanages, senior citizen homes, and even a leper colony in Panama. She was so effective a goodwill ambassador that President Eisenhower always sent the Nixons as a team to foreign nations. Pat Nixon continued to work behind the scenes as well, drafting the Vice President's public correspondence, organizing his schedule and editing his speeches. She also had strong political views; she personally mistrusted Senator Joseph McCarthy, for example, although she believed that his investigation into State Department employees who might be communist sympathizers was warranted. Although she viewed the vice presidency as a dead end political post, she also successfully urged Nixon to fight those Republicans who sought to remove him from the 1956 ticket. In an era of world travel and the increasing influence of television in the American culture, Pat Nixon helped to create the public role of "Second Lady" from being merely a Vice President's wife.
After Nixon barely lost the 1960 election (see below) and ran unsuccessfully for the Governorship of California in 1962, against Pat Nixon's personal wishes and political advice, the Nixons moved to New York City. There he practiced law, and Pat Nixon sometimes volunteered as an administrative assistant in his office.
Presidential Campaign and Inauguration:
Vice President Nixon's 1960 race for the presidency drew upon Pat Nixon's public recognition. An entire ad campaign was built around the slogan of "Pat For First Lady," a message carried on buttons, bumper stickers and antenna, all marketed to the demographic of housewives - like Pat Nixon - who were heavily courted by the Republican Party during the 1950's. She also publicly advocated that women should become more involved in the political process as volunteers for their parties. The press briefly attempted to create a "race" for First Lady between her and the Democratic candidate's wife Jacqueline Kennedy based on their clothing costs and styles.
The razor-thin loss for her husband and the disputed win by Kennedy permanently dimmed Pat Nixon's view of politics. Thus she was less eager when Nixon ran again in 1968. Her responses to the media were more rote and controlled as a means of protecting her privacy. Her role in the President's re-election campaign was more enthused as she made thousands of appearances on her own by jet plane, often flying from one corner of the nation to the other in a day. She addressed controversial and substantive questions when the press posed them to her.
In 1972, Pat Nixon became the first Republican First Lady to address the national convention that was nominating her husband for the presidency. Her efforts in the 1972 campaign became something of a formula copied by future candidates' spouses.
Pat Nixon did not alter either any elements of the 1969 or the 1973 Inaugurations of her husband. Reflecting the sense of liberation for women at the time, however, she broke what was at least a 108 year custom when she appeared at both swearing-in ceremonies without wearing a hat.
20 January 1969 - 9 August, 1974
If the public expects a First Lady to reflect the "average" American woman, Pat Nixon faced a challenge when she assumed the post in 1969 - a time when the role of women in American society was being dramatically redefined in both perception and reality. Pat Nixon became the first incumbent First Lady to endorse the Equal Rights Amendment. She was the first to disclose publicly her pro-choice view on abortion in reaction to questions on the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision. Before she even began unrelentingly to lobby her husband to name a woman to the Supreme Court, she called for such an appointment publicly. She even became the first First Lady to appear publicly in pants and model them for a national magazine, reflecting the radical change in women's attire that critics derided as masculine. Still, Pat Nixon valued her identity as a middle-class homemaker, supportive wife and devoted mother and was often depicted as the quintessential traditionalist in relief to the popular persona of the "liberated woman."
Recalling her own first contact with the Franklin Roosevelts, Pat Nixon understood how the average citizen and "common man" appreciated a gesture of support for them or their local efforts. She made a conscious effort to emphasize the value of the individual American, an effort that the media often overlooked because of larger, national priorities or derided in an age when previously-held values were being questioned. Her most tangible and immediate response to the individual was through management of her own correspondence. She instructed her correspondence director to send her several hundred of the letters sent weekly by the public to the First Lady, and she spent up to five hours a day either dictating or hand-writing her responses. If a person wrote her requesting federal assistance of some kind, she not only directed the letter to the proper agency but responded through her own office staff, making it function much as a congressional office did in meeting the needs of its constituency.
On February 18, 1969, she announced that she would encourage a "national recruitment program" to enlist thousands of volunteers to carry out a wide variety of community services. Her initial domestic solo mission was to inspect ten "Vest Pockets of Volunteerism" programs that addressed pressing social problems that fell outside of purview of legislation. Touring what she called the "small, splendid efforts" in local towns and villages brought national press attention to the programs. Often the First Lady and her staff scanned newspapers for such efforts and sent unsolicited commendations letters, which were usually printed in local newspapers. She also honored such organizations that had formed to respond to a local problem with a White House reception. Pat Nixon became closely aligned with the partially-federally-funded National Center for Voluntary Action, attending their annual award ceremonies, conferring with its leaders at the Washington headquarters and joining a briefing on the center's objectives. She advocated passage of the Domestic Services Volunteer Act of 1970, although she did not testify before Congress on its behalf.
Pat Nixon also used her role to make tangible the Administration's domestic agenda by "going into the field" and inspecting public works projects that illustrated issues that the President was simultaneously addressing. When Nixon attended a Chicago environmental meeting, she spent the day visiting a land reclamation center, an example of thermal pollution, and several conservation projects in that city. While in Denver to meet with law enforcement officials, she was there to visit a rehabilitation center for juvenile delinquents. Pat Nixon also sponsored a program known as "Legacy of the Parks," which turned federally developed, protected and maintained lands over for community recreation; she transferred some 50,000 acres of such federal lands over to state and local control. She had personally pushed to establish new recreational areas in or near big cities for those who could not afford to visit distant national parks.
In line with the Administration's public health and education initiatives, Pat Nixon was a member of the President's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped, and honorary chair of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare's "Right to Read" program. Finally, she also initiated efforts in her own community, of Washington, D.C. such as the "Evenings in the Park," a series of local summer concerts for inner-city youths, hosting one program on the White House lawn, and attending another on the Washington Monument grounds, amid a large number of anti-war and "Black Power" protesters at a simultaneous rally there. Pat Nixon also visited several local day camps for underprivileged children that the private sector supported, and took groups of the children on afternoon voyages on the presidential yacht. For groups of local, disadvantaged children she hosted the first annual Halloween parties in the mansion.
She carried her theme of honoring the "common man" with several efforts to make the White House itself more accessible to those with special needs who had previously been ignored. In the spring and the autumn, Pat Nixon made the gardens and grounds of the Executive Mansion accessible to the public for the first time in nearly a century, hosting seasonal tours there. For the working-class families unable to tour the mansion during the daytime hours, she opened the White House at the holiday season for evening "Candlelight Tours" to see the annual decorations. For visually, hearing and physically impaired people, she created special tours that gave them full access to the rooms and the history of the White House, also making it handicapped-accessible. For those tourists and visitors who did not speak or write English, Pat Nixon had brochures written, published and made available in a variety of languages, explaining the history of each of the White House rooms which they could carry with them as they walked through. To relieve the burden of those summer visitors who often had to wait in line for hours to get into the White House, she had a recorded history of the mansion placed at intervals along the fence in boxes. For those shuffling through the long ground floor lobby, there were illustrated panels and display cases placed along and against the walls.
She made all the arrangements to have the White House lit by floodlights at night, as Washington's other monuments were - so those driving by on Pennsylvania Avenue or flying into or out of the nearby National Airport could glimpse it clearly. She invited hundreds of average American families to nondenominational Sunday services in the East Room, mixing with Cabinet, Congressional and other Washington officials. As hostess, she instituted a "Evenings at the White House" series of performances by artists in varied American traditions--from opera to bluegrass to Broadway musical. For the White House itself, and thus for the American people, Pat Nixon also decided to accelerate the collection process of fine antiques as well as historically associative pieces, adding some 600 paintings and antiques to the White House Collection. It was the single greatest collecting during any Administration.
As recently discovered by the NFLL from a private collector, on 11 Oct 1971 Mrs. Nixon was the first incumbent First Lady to toss out a baseball for a major league team, being at game two of the 1971 World Series. She made the ceremonial 'first pitch' at Baltimore Memorial Stadium.
Pat Nixon held the record as the most world-traveled First Lady until Hillary Clinton and was given the unique diplomatic status of "Personal Representative of the President." She made an important January 1972 trip on her own to Africa, visiting Liberia, Ghana and The Ivory Coast, not only touring those nations and meeting a cross-section of their societies as a goodwill ambassador, but also addressing their congresses and meeting with those nations' leaders to discuss U.S. policy on Rhodesia and human rights issues in South Africa. In June 1970, Pat Nixon decided within a few short hours to fly to Peru and lead a major international humanitarian effort. She flew along with some ten tons of donated food, clothing and medical supplies gathered by volunteers and relief organizations that she had solicited for the Peruvian people, reeling from a devastating earthquake that took 80,000 lives and left another 80,000 homeless. The Peruvian Government gave Pat. Nixon the highest decoration their country can bestow, and the oldest decoration in the Americas - The Grand Cross of the Order of the Sun; she became the first North American woman to receive this award. One Lima newspaper declared that she had radically improved previously strained U.S.-Peruvian relations with the trip. In 1974 she made a triumphant visit to Venezuela to attend that nation's new president's inauguration; it was particularly gratifying in light of the fact that some twenty years earlier she and her husband, then Vice President, had been dangerously attacked by anti-American protestors in their car.
Pat Nixon also made news on those foreign trips she took along with the President. In Yugoslavia, she remarked that both its parliament and the U.S. Congress should have more women members among their representatives. She encouraged women to run for office and even stated that she would support a qualified woman candidate regardless of her political party affiliation. Famously, she toured the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China with the President during his historic 1972 trips to those communist nations and became a living symbol of the U.S. government. For example, while Nixon was in closed-door meetings most of the time with officials in China, the international media followed Pat Nixon in her bright red coat as she met with workers, students, dancers, farmers and others living everyday lives. Joining the President in his 1969 trip to South Vietnam, she became the first First Lady to visit a combat zone, flying just 18 miles from Saigon in an open helicopter and accompanied by Secret Service agents draped with bandoleers.
The Vietnam War dominated the first part of the Administration and Americans who either supported or opposed U.S. involvement in Vietnam shadowed many of Pat Nixon’s public appearances. Pat Nixon stated that the actual servicemen who were in Vietnam or who had returned home from the war knew the situation better than anyone else at home; the statement seemed to underline the conflict many Americans felt about the Vietnam War, supporting the concept and the actual troops, if not the devastation of war itself. Vigorously supporting her husband's running of the war and defense of freedom there and saying she would give her own life for the effort, she voiced her support of amnesty for those men who had left the U.S. to avoid the draft. She was also "appalled" at the killing of four antiwar protestors at Kent State University by Ohio National Guardsmen.
While she continued to feel a deep ambivalence about the cost of politics to her personal life, Pat Nixon enthusiastically supported the President's run for a second term in 1972 because she hoped to see congressional action on his welfare reform, environmental and health care reform proposals. She regularly read and marked the Congressional Record, Administration issue papers, studies and reports. Pat Nixon attended the first Nixon Cabinet meeting and at least one domestic briefing given to presidential advisors. In private, she could often offer devastating and pointed critical advice to the President; she did not seek to unravel or resolve a specific political issue but rather to offer a strategic approach to problems he faced. She did not believe, for example, that it had been a wise decision to have the Vice President Spiro Agnew so bluntly attack the national media.
Pat Nixon first learned about the criminal actions that came to be cumulatively known as the Watergate scandal and soon come to engulf the Administration only from the media. She and her daughter had been specifically left uniformed by the President and his advisors of the details of their actions and decisions as they were in the midst of it all. When the First Lady first comprehended the potential damage that the secret tape recordings made by the President could create, she offered the unsolicited advice that he destroy them while they were still legally considered private property - advice he did not follow. While she fully believed her husband was innocent and telling the truth to the American people, she became deeply disturbed by how isolated he became within a small circle of advisors. She had never had a good working relationship with his Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman, and his aide, John Ehrlichman, who had both, at times, sought to overrule decisions of Pat Nixon and her staff; she was relieved when they both resigned in the spring of 1973. When the threat of impeachment became real in late July of 1974, Pat Nixon advised her husband not to resign because of the blanket criminal indictment that might ensue, suggesting instead that he fight each individual article of impeachment. Once he decided to resign, however, she began packing their possessions and making the immediate arrangements for their return to California. He resigned on August 9, 1974.
The immediate years following Nixon's resignation and his and Pat Nixon's return to their San Clemente, California estate "La Casa Pacifica" were difficult. Pat Nixon helped to maintain the former president through a series of traumas, ranging from legal wrangling resulting from his resignation to physical disability. In late 1974, he nearly died from phlebitis and other complications resulting from it, and then suffered through a depression.
In July 1976, Pat Nixon suffered a stroke, resulting in the temporary loss of speech and use of her left side. Through a rigorous physical therapy routine, she was able to rehabilitate full use of her motor and speaking skills, but her strength would remain uncertain. She most enjoyed the years following 1980 when she and the former president relocated to the East Coast where they were able to spend time with their children and grandchildren. Pat Nixon only rarely permitted the use of her name for various projects, including a San Clemente historical celebration, a fundraising effort to renovate and re-interpret the Smithsonian Institution's First Lady's exhibit, and a Carter Center conference on women and the U.S. Constitution. As a former First Lady, she only appeared at three public events, the dedication of Pat Nixon School (1975) in the Los Angeles area, named for her; the dedication of the Richard Nixon Birthplace and Museum (1990) in Yorba Linda, California and the dedication of the Ronald Reagan Library and Museum (1991). She accompanied her husband back to China during his first of several return visits to that nation, but never joined him on the four trips he made back to the White House.
22 June, 1993
Park Ridge, New Jersey
Richard Nixon Birthplace and Museum
Yorba Linda, California