First Ladies Library Blog

Welcome to the National First Ladies Library blog. This replaces the “asked/answered” page and all information from it has been transferred to the blog. Here will be an ongoing public forum on the work of the NFLL and its collections, discussion on new and emerging scholarship and popular publications, news stories, and any other information or discoveries related to directly to the subject of First Ladies. The public is invited to engage here with questions on the subject.

Research, reading and writing on the subject of American First Ladies opens windows into so many fascinating aspects of not just national and international history and culture but contemporary issues as well.

Enjoy our blog and feel free to post your comments.

First Ladies at the Funerals of Other First Ladies

First Ladies Clinton, Carter, Reagan and Obama gather after the funeral services for Betty Ford in 2011.

Hillary Clinton, Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan and Michelle Obama together attended the California desert after t services for Betty Ford in 2011.

When the plans were announced for Nancy Reagan’s Friday, March 11, 2016 funeral and burial at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, five days after her death, came word that four of her five living fellow First Ladies would be in attendance: Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton and Rosalynn Carter. The only living First Lady who would not attend was Barbara Bush.

Mrs. Reagan’s funeral gathering continued a tradition unbroken for all of her predecessors who had served as First Ladies since 1933, beginning with Eleanor Roosevelt. However, a closer examination of the circumstances of each of these gatherings tells a more nuanced, somewhat haphazard history.

On only one known occasion before the funeral of Mrs. Roosevelt had a First Lady been honored by one of the small sorority of women who have been married to U.S. Presidents and who served in that unsalaried, unofficial yet publicly expected role of First Lady. Like Eleanor Roosevelt, that earlier First Lady was one held as the standard against which all her successors were judged, Dolley Madison.

Having retired to Washington, D.C. and living across the street from the White House, Mrs. Madison was honored at her July 16, 1849 funeral with the presence of her friend and fellow former First Lady Louisa Adams. Almost certainly also in attendance was the incumbent First Lady Peggy Taylor, who worshipped daily at St. John’s Church where the funeral was held, and whose husband, the incumbent President Zachary Taylor, also attended.

It was, however, the funeral of Eleanor Roosevelt that seems to have set in motion the modern tradition of First Ladies being honored by others who have had the challenge of interpreting a puzzling role in a way that manages to permit them to remain authentic, support the administration of their spouse and initiate effective, positive change for ignored demographics.

Eleanor Roosevelt

November 10, 1962, Hyde Park, New York

Three Presidents were among mourners at graveside services for Eleanor Roosevelt at Roosevelt esate in Hyde Park, New York. From left to right are Jacqueline Kennedy, President John F. Kennedy, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, former President Harry S. Truman, Bess Truman, and former President Dwight D. Eisenhower. (Corbis)

Three Presidents were among mourners at graveside services for Eleanor Roosevelt at Roosevelt esate in Hyde Park, New York. From left to right are Jacqueline Kennedy, President John F. Kennedy, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, former President Harry S. Truman, Bess Truman, and former President Dwight D. Eisenhower. (Corbis)

Eleanor Roosevelt, serving as First Lady for an unprecedented twelve years and using every means of media to initiate and continue a national dialogue during the dark days of the Great Depression and World War II, became a nation figure in her own right. Also, like Mrs. Madison, Mrs. Roosevelt remained active in national life after her time in the White House. In the case of the latter she became a leading and powerful voice within the liberal wing of the national Democratic Party and a passionate advocate for equal rights regardless of gender or color.

While it is easy to presume that those who attended her funeral did so due to her having achieved a near mythical status in the imagination of the nation, much as had Dolley Madison, it was less a matter of honoring the position of First Lady than it was of paying homage to Eleanor Roosevelt.  

As a presidential widow, Mrs. Roosevelt had forged alliances with the Democratic presidential successors to her husband. President Harry Truman named her a delegate to the United Nations and President John F. Kennedy made her chair of his Commission on the Status of Women.

She also had a close relationship with the Senate Majority Leader during the 1950s, Lyndon B. Johnson, who would become President of the United States just a year and two weeks after her death. Former President Dwight Eisenhower also attended; his presence might have seemed curious, given the fact that throughout his two terms as president, Mrs. Roosevelt was highly critical of many of his decisions. It might be supposed that the Republican President and former may have attended more as a matter of respect for the late Franklin D. Roosevelt, his commander-in-chief when Eisenhower was Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces during World War II. He had also been on friendly terms with Mrs. Roosevelt as widow, from 1945 to 1952.

Thus it was that Eleanor Roosevelt’s funeral and burial were attended by former President Truman, incumbent President Kennedy, and future President Johnson. As was the custom in that era, the wives of all three men – Bess Truman, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Lady Bird Johnson – accompanied their husbands. Mamie Eisenhower did not join her husband, not out of partisanship but because she was unwell at the time. Another fact seems to suggest that the presence of two of her successors (and one future successor) was not intended as a gathering to honor her as a First Lady but as a national figure.

Just a year earlier, Edith Wilson had died; her funeral and burial took place right in Washington, D.C. just a few miles from the White House. She had long been close to both Eleanor Roosevelt, who lived in New York City, and Mamie Eisenhower, who lived not far away, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. She had also been an enthusiastic supporter of the incumbent First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy. Mrs. Wilson also had a national reputation, spending nearly four decades as the keeper of her late husband’s legacy and as a popular representative of him within the Democratic Party. Nonetheless, none of the four living First Ladies at the time (Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy) attended her funeral.

Mamie Eisenhower

November 3, 1979, Abilene, Kansas

Pat Nixon and Rosalynn Carter gather for Mamie Eisenhower's 1979 funeral, with members of her family. W

Pat Nixon (lower left), Richard Nixon (partially obscured, center) Rosalynn Carter (white coat, at right), gather for Mamie Eisenhower’s 1979 funeral, with members of her family. 

Strictly adhering to a policy of not speaking out on controversial political and social issues during her eight years as First Lady, Mamie Eisenhower occupied a more sentimental but far less legendary place in the minds of Americans at the time of her death in 1979. The fact that former First Lady Pat Nixon attended her funeral seemed to be an act less of a successor honoring a predecessor than a highly personal decision. The two women had been extremely close during the two Eisenhower terms when Mrs. Eisenhower befriended the younger Mrs. Nixon who, as wife of Eisenhower’s Vice President, often assumed ceremonial duties on her behalf. Too, they were family, Mamie’s grandson having married Pat’s daughter. Even had these not been factors, it would have unusual for her to be there accompanying her husband, former president Richard Nixon since he had been, as stated Eisenhower’s Vice President for eight years.

It was, however, the presence at Mrs. Eisenhower’s funeral and burial of the incumbent First Lady, Rosalynn Carter, that is the overlooked but important factor in establishing the tradition of former and incumbent First Ladies attending the funeral of one of their own. Several factors suggest that Mrs. Carter made a conscious decision to honor Mrs. Eisenhower for her role as the nation’s First Lady. 

First, Mrs. Carter came on her own, without the President.  Second, she was from the oppositional political party, and her presence thus signaled a motive transcending partisanship. Third, Mrs. Carter had only met Mrs. Eisenhower on one occasion, so there was no long link between them.

Those who did not attend were Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who was overseas at the time on travel related to her professional life as a book publishing editor and had not been personally close to Mrs. Eisenhower. Inexplicable were the absences of Lady Bird Johnson, who had been especially close to Mamie Eisenhower, and Betty Ford, who had been relatively close. Understandable was the absence of Bess Truman, who was then 94 years old and in frail health.

Bess Truman

October 21, 1982, Independence, Missouri

Nancy Reagan, Betty Ford and Rosalynn Carter attend the 1982 funeral of Bess Truman.

Nancy Reagan, Betty Ford and Rosalynn Carter attend the 1982 funeral of Bess Truman.

Bess Truman’s funeral was arranged by her only child Margaret Truman. Although she made a point of stating she did not invited former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, the latter did come to uphold the tradition. Invited and attending were former First Lady Betty Ford and incumbent Nancy Reagan. Also invited by absent were Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, then in China on a work project, and Lady Bird Johnson, sequestered in Rochester, Minnesota at the Mayo Clinic for medical testing. 

Pat Nixon

June 26, 1993, Yorba Linda, California

Reverend Billy Graham and a grieving Richard Nixon arrive at memorial services for former First Lady Pat Nixon, at the Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California.

Reverend Billy Graham and a grieving Richard Nixon arrive at memorial services for former First Lady Pat Nixon, at the Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California.

Although Pat Nixon was living in New Jersey at the time of her death, her funeral and burial were conducted at the Nixon Presidential Library in her native southern California. The two former First Ladies who lived relatively close, Betty Ford and Nancy Reagan were in attendance, along with their husbands and the widowed President Nixon. The incumbent First Lady Hillary Clinton sent regrets due to previously scheduled events involving her young daughter. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis sent a letter to Mrs. Nixon shortly before her death, but did not attend the funeral, nor did the other living Democratic First Ladies, Rosalynn Carter and Lady Bird Johnson. Thus the guest list seemed to divide along partisan lines, which was unusual.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

May 23, 1994, New York, New York

Mourners leave the funeral mass of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, including the incumbent First Lady Hillary Clinton,

Mourners leave the funeral mass of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, including the incumbent First Lady Hillary Clinton, pictured in the far left corner.

Requesting of her children that her funeral guests be limited to those she considered herself personally close to, with as little official recognition as possible, the funeral mass of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was attended by incumbent First Lady Hillary Clinton and former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson. Mrs. Clinton would also join the close circle of friends and family at the Arlington National Cemetery burial.

Lady Bird Johnson

July 14, 2007, Austin, Texas

14 Jul 2007, Austin, Texas, USA --- (L-R) Former first lady Nancy Reagan, former first lady Rosalynn Carter, former president Jimmy Carter, first lady Laura Bush, former president Bill Clinton and former first lady and senator Hillary Clinton (D-New York) stand during the funeral services for Lady Bird Johnson at Riverbend Church in Austin. --- Image by © David Phillip/Pool/Corbis

A record number of five First Ladies attended the funeral of Lady Bird Johnson, along with two former presidents. (Corbis)

Lady Bird Johnson, an especially strong friend to other First Ladies was honored when the largest number of them appeared at her funeral in Austin, Texas: Nancy Reagan, Rosalynn Carter, Barbara Bush, Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton. The only one missing was Betty Ford, who was too frail, having undergone surgery relatively recently before and still in mourning for the loss of her husband seven months earlier.

Betty Ford

July 12, 2011, Palm Desert, California and Grand Rapids, Michigan

Four First Ladies and one President at Mrs. Ford's funeral in the desert: Rosalyn Carter, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush and Nancy Reagan.

Four First Ladies and one President at Mrs. Ford’s funeral in the desert: Rosalyn Carter, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush and Nancy Reagan.

Like Mrs. Johnson, Betty Ford had formed more than superficial bonds with the other First Ladies, and it was reflected in by the fact that all but one of the living First Ladies honored her by attending her funeral and burial. However, rather uniquely the two events were separated, the former held in Palm Desert, California, the latter in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Not all of the First Ladies gathered at one event: Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Rosalynn Carter and Nancy Reagan attended the funeral, while Barbara Bush  attended the burial. It is not clear why Laura Bush did not attend either event but her husband did attend the California funeral. Most uniquely, the fellow First Lady that Mrs. Ford was closest to personally, Mrs. Carter, delivered one of the eulogies.

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Presidential Daughters Attending State Dinners, Part 3

A state dinner underway in the State Dining Room. (WH)

A state dinner underway in the State Dining Room. (WH)

Prime Minister Trudeau also made reference to the presence of his own mother at the state dinner held in his honor by the Obamas, and pointed out that she had been at a 1977 state dinner where President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter had honored her and her husband Pierre Trudeau.

Amy Carter with her mother Rosalynn at the 1977 Inaugural Ball. She attended her first state dinner just one month later, at nine years old. (JCVPL)

Amy Carter with her mother Rosalynn at the 1977 Inaugural Ball. She attended her first state dinner just one month later, at nine years old. (JCVPL)

Whether or not the current Prime Minister was aware of the fact, that also attending that 1977 state dinner honoring his father was another First Daughter, in fact the youngest one ever known to appear as a guest and with an unusual degree of controversy.

One of the youngest children to ever live in the White House, Amy Carter was only 9 years old when her father was inaugurated President.

Just weeks into his administration, as her parents hosted the February 21, 1977 state dinner for Pierre Trudeau, guests were initially startled to see their small daughter quietly slip over to a table where a seat was reserved for her, and downright shocked when they watched her calmly pull out two books that she brought to the table. As the event got underway, guests kept glancing at the First Daughter.

Amy Carter is introduced to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher by her mother, just prior to the state dinner held in the British leader's honor. (JCPL)

Amy Carter is introduced to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher by her mother, just prior to the state dinner held in the British leader’s honor. (JCPL)

She did not look up at them, her head down as she became engrossed in reading Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, and The Story of the Gettysburg Address while the formal toasts by her father and Trudeau were exchanged.

Her appearance generated a bit of controversy. Some foreign guests considered it insulting to foreign countries to have a host presidential daughter ignore what their leader was saying. One U.S. Senator reportedly tried to encourage her to eat the spinach on her china plate, to no avail.

Columnist Art Buchwald penned a witty commentary on the incident:

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 4.59.24 AMScreen Shot 2016-03-17 at 4.59.52 AM

Amy Carter attended what seems to have been her last state dinner hosted by her parents, on December 17, 1979, for British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, but it is unclear whether she read any books during the course of dinner.

President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau at the state dinner. (WH)

President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau at the state dinner. (WH)

Most unique, however, in the most recent state dinner where First Daughters were in attendance was the public acknowledgement of the unique existences they live out.

As Prime Minister Trudeau stated about Malia and Sasha Obama:

“It’s also touching to meet Malia and Sasha, who are here at their first state dinner, and quite frankly the memories for me of being a kid and not being old enough to attend these kinds of events with my father almost makes we wish I had gone through my teenage years as a child of a world leader, but not quite. I admire you very much, both of you, for your extraordinary strength and your grace through what is a remarkable childhood and young adulthood that will give you extraordinary strength and wisdom beyond your years for the rest of your life. The one thing you have received from your extraordinary parents is the tools to be able to handle the challenges and the opportunities in front of you. So thank you very much for joining us tonight.”

 

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Presidential Daughters Attending State Dinners, Part 2

The President and Mrs. Obama descending the grand staircase for a state dinner. (WH)

The President and Mrs. Johnson descending the grand staircase for a state dinner. (LBJL)

President George Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush had made a conscious effort to invite each of their five children to a state dinner, for the memorable experience. In contrast were Ronald and Nancy Reagan. Their two children Ron and Patti were never invited to a state dinner, nor was the President’s adopted son from his first marriage, Michael.

Maureen Reagan (in black) with CBS reporter Lesley Stahl at a Washington dinner. (Getty)

Maureen Reagan (in black) with CBS reporter Lesley Stahl at a Washington dinner. (Getty)

His daughter by his first marriage, however, was in attendance for two. Maureen Reagan appeared as a guest at the November 16, 1988 state dinner for Margaret Thatcher and the June 11, 1985 one for  Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, hosted by her father and stepmother.

The likeliest reason for this was the simply that unlike the other three Reagan children who lived permanently in California, Maureen Reagan was working for weeks on end in Washington during her father’s second term, and lived at the White House when she was in town.

Maureen Reagan hugs her stepmother Nancy Reagan. They became closer during her lengthy stays at the White House. (Getty)

Maureen Reagan hugs her stepmother Nancy Reagan. They became closer during her lengthy stays at the White House. (Getty)

Those adult presidential children who did live “at home” with their parents in the White House certainly seemed to have the advantage on invites to the big suppers downstairs.

Susan Ford may well hold the record. Of the four Ford children, she lived longest and most permanently at the White House.

In 1976 alone, she scored invitations to the February 24, 1976 state dinner for U.S. Governors, the March 17, 1976 state dinner for the Irish Prime Minister, and the March 30, 1976 state dinner for the King of Jordan.

Susan Ford laughs with her father before serving as hostess for a state dinner on behalf of her mother, who was recuperating from surgery. (GFPL)

Susan Ford laughs with her father before serving as hostess for a state dinner on behalf of her mother, who was recuperating from surgery. (GFPL)

In contrast, her brother Jack Ford, who lived in the White House for the second longest time among his siblings, was invited that year only to the January 27, 1976 state dinner for the Israeli Prime Minister.

In his speech, Prime Minister Trudeau made reference to remarks made by an American President on June 10, 1946 to the Canadian legislature, after which his predecessor Mackenzie King hosted a state dinner for Harry and Bess Truman – and their daughter.

Margaret Truman was later invited by her parents to attend a January 1952 state dinner for the visiting British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

By then the First Daughter no longer made the White House her primary residence and as then living full-time in New York, pursing a professional theatrical career. Part of the reason she was asked to attend, however, was to serve as a companion to her English counterpart: Sarah Churchill was then pursing a professional acting career.

Margaret Truman at state dinner for British Prime Minister Winston Churchill also seen here with his daughter Sarah. (Getty)

Margaret Truman at state dinner for British Prime Minister Winston Churchill also seen here with his daughter Sarah. (Getty)

Like Margaret Truman, Susan Ford, Lynda Bird Johnson, and Chelsea Clinton made foreign visits with their parents and were thus included in the list of guests at the formal state dinners that foreign leaders hosted for the U.S. President.

Strictly speaking a state dinner is an official event hosted by a U.S. President honoring an incumbent head of state of a sovereign nation, but it is a term that has long been used in reference to any formal dinner entertaining, even if it was to honor an American official.

First Daughters assumed the highest visibility, of course, when they served as hostesses, substituting for their absent mothers or serving them as a social aide, a sort of second hostess.

Margaret Wilson. (NFLL)

Margaret Wilson. (NFLL)

In the 20th century, this included the prominent presence of Susan Ford, Anna Roosevelt Dall Halstead and Margaret Wilson, during periods when they were each in residence. In the 19th century it was more common, some six daughters and two daughters-in-law assuming that role, and about five First Sons, who lived in the White House and worked as their father’s private secretaries, came as guests.

Chelsea Clinton served as host of the Millennium state dinner along with her parents. (Getty)

Chelsea Clinton served as host of the Millennium state dinner along with her parents. (Getty)

Other First Daughters assumed unique roles at these dinners. For example, Chelsea Clinton served as a co-hostess with her mother, alongside her father, at the large tented Millennium State Dinner, held on December 31, 1999, and stood with them at the foot of the Grand Staircase to receive incoming dinner guests.

Tricia Nixon, Julie Nixon Eisenhower and David Eisenhower hosted a state dinner for Prince Charles and Princess Anne of England. (RNPL)

Tricia Nixon, Julie Nixon Eisenhower and David Eisenhower hosted a state dinner for Prince Charles and Princess Anne of England. (RNPL)

During an official visit to the U.S. by England’s Prince Charles and his sister Princess Anne, it was not the President and Mrs. Nixon who served as hosts for a dinner held in their honor, but rather their daughters Tricia Nixon and Julie Nixon Eisenhower, and son-in-law, David Eisenhower.

During the official visit to the United States by German Prince Henry in 1903,  First Lady Edith Roosevelt gladly acquiesced the center of attention to her popular stepdaughter Alice Roosevelt, who relished publicity.

Alice Roosevelt speaks with her father, her stepmother between them, at the ship dedication. (LC)

Alice Roosevelt speaks with her father, her stepmother between them, at the ship dedication. (LC)

The First Daughter was given the honor of christening the Prince’s yacht, Meteor, in a ceremony heavily covered by the global media of the day, and earning her the nickname of “Princess Alice.”

Unfortunately for her, President Theodore Roosevelt decided to host that evening’s White House state dinner for the Prince as a stag event, meaning only men were invited. “Princess Alice,” alas, did not get to preside alongside Prince Henry.

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Presidential Daughters Attending State Dinners, Part 1

Malia Obama, far left, followed by her sister Sasha and mother, First Lady Michelle Obama as formal guests at the state dinner for the Canadian Prime Minister.

Malia Obama (left foreground), followed by her sister Sasha and mother, First Lady Michelle Obama, and behind them Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as formal guests at the state dinner for the Canadian Prime Minister. (amazingstoriesaroundtheworld.blogspot.com)

Over the last seven years, the White House press corps has become accustomed to being able to closely observe the First Daughters Malia Obama, 17, and Sasha Obama, 14, only during their rare appearances.

The President and his daughters during the 2015 ceremony accepting a Thanksgiving turkey.

The President and his daughters during the 2015 ceremony accepting a Thanksgiving turkey.

The two presidential daughters have been front and center at larger public events like their father’s two presidential inaugurations, the annual children’s festival that is the Easter Egg Roll on the White House South Lawn and ceremonies like the annual acceptance (and pardon) of a Thanksgiving turkey on the North Portico.

Malia Obama at the Canadian state dinner.

Malia Obama at the Canadian state dinner.

The media and, through them, the American public were thus startled to see the two young women dressed in formal gowns and attending a White House state dinner as official guests, on Thursday, March 10, 2016.

The reason for this comparatively rare form of presidential entertaining, under the direction of the First Lady, was to honor another world leader’s child, Justin Trudeau, who followed his father’s path and went on to win his nation’s election as Prime Minister of Canada.

Sasha Obama speaks with Canadian native, actor Ryan Reynolds as her sister Malia gives a thumbs-up sign in her direction.

Sasha Obama speaks with Canadian native, actor Ryan Reynolds as her sister Malia gives a thumbs-up sign in her direction.

It was a school night to be sure, both girls being students at the local private institution Sidwell Friends School, but it was literally a matter of seconds for the Obama sisters to arrive on time for the event – and return home, upstairs to their rooms.

In fact, it was merely a matter of taking the elevator down from the family living quarters on the second floor to the state rooms on the first floor, and then back again.

They made a bit of entertainment news too. Among the guests were the Hollywood actors Ryan Reynolds, a native of Canada, and his wife Blake Lively, and Sasha Obama was snapped gleefully interacting with him while her older sister gave her a thumbs up on the sidelines.

The tweet questioning the cost of the First Daughter's state dinner gown. (Twitter)

The tweet questioning the cost of the First Daughter’s state dinner gown. (Twitter)

As might be expected, their appearance did not go without media commentary intended to generate a provocative public response. After San Francisco news anchor Kristen Sze of ABC posted a Tweet suggesting that the alleged cost of Sasha Obama’s gown was nearly twenty-thousand dollars, was too costly for a teenager to be wearing, she was inundated with critical opposition to the point of removing her original comment.

The First Lady and her daughters.

It seemed consistent with the only aspect of the Obama daughters that the national media could use as news: their clothes.

Starting with their father’s first Inauguration in 2009, what they were photographed wearing proved to be enough material to generate popular online articles, second only to similar coverage about their mother.

History proves, however, that the appearance of Malia Obama and Sasha Obama as White House state dinner guests is part of a long tradition.

First Daughter Jenna Bush with her future husband Henry Hager at a 2005 state dinner. (Getty)

First Daughter Jenna Bush with her future husband Henry Hager at a 2005 state dinner. (Getty)

In the case of the sisterly duo immediately preceding the Obama daughters, the twins Jenna Bush and Barbara Bush lived much as they did in terms of practically an absolute blackout on media coverage about them.

Thus, when the college grad twins each appeared at a state dinner hosted by their parents, there was great speculation about the true nature of their relationships with the men they chose to escort them.

Most recently was the May 7, 2007 state dinner for Queen Elizabeth hosted by their parents, which Barbara Bush attended.

Barbara Bush at the 2007 state dinner where her choice of an escort (far left) led to press speculation about the nature of their relationship. (Washington Post)

Barbara Bush at the 2007 state dinner where her choice of an escort (far left) led to press speculation about the nature of their relationship. (Washington Post)

In the next morning’s news, there was considerable speculation about the nature of her relationship with her escort, an old boyfriend and whether their joint appearance was intended to signal an imminent White House wedding. It wasn’t.

There was good reason for this. At the November 2, 2005 state dinner for British Prince Charles, Jenna Bush appeared with John Hager, who did end up becoming her husband.

Doro Bush with her father President George Bush: they were especially close. (GBPL)

Doro Bush with her father President George Bush: they were especially close. (GBPL)

Along with former First Lady Nancy Reagan, not only was the president’s daughter a guest, but so was the president’s sister, Doro Bush. She, of course, had also been a presidents daughter, the only one of George Bush. I was also the third time she attended a state dinner. Previously she had been to the state dinner honoring the King of Morocco, on September 26, 1991 as a First Daughter.

President George Bush and Queen Margrethe of Denmark at the state dinner he hosted in her honor. (Getty)

President George Bush and Queen Margrethe of Denmark at the state dinner he hosted in her honor. (Getty)

The first time she was invited along with a First Son, her brother Marvin, attending a February 20, 1991 state dinner honoring the Queen of Denmark.

Doro Bush’s presence there that night actually helped her father make a deft strategic move.

With his having just recently ordered U.S. military forces into Kuwait to battle Iraq, setting the Gulf War into motion, the President was besieged by reporters who had access to him before and after the meal.

Not wanting to discuss a military action then underway, he spotted Doro among the circulating guests, beckoning her to him. Then the President deftly slipped away, leaving her with the reporters fir an admittedly rare opportunity to interact with her. And he was able to avoid the questions at the time a military action was underway.

 

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The recently widowed Jacqueline Kennedy arrives with her daughter Caroline from the White House to their new temporary Washington home, December 6, 1963. (AP)

The recently widowed Jacqueline Kennedy arrives with her daughter Caroline from the White House to their new temporary Washington home, December 6, 1963. (AP)

Overlapping the years that her predecessors Harriet Lane and Julia Grant were living in Washington, the widowed Lucretia Garfield spent many years during the winter social season in Washington, having retained ownership of the home she and her husband had purchased there when he was first elected to Congress.

The widowed Lucretia Garfield, who returned to live in Washington during the winter social seasons. (NFLL)

The widowed Lucretia Garfield, who returned to live in Washington during the winter social seasons. (NFLL)

She had not done so, however, immediately after the assassination of her husband. Following the funeral of the late President James Garfield his widow and their five children returned to their rambling farmhouse in Mentor, Ohio. It was not until about a decade later that she apparently felt comfortable enough to return to the city she had last lived in when her husband was alive.

Mrs. Garfield lived in the Washington home at 13th and I Streets that the family had owned since her husband's congressional years. (Garfield National Historic Site/NPS)

Mrs. Garfield lived in the Washington home at 13th and I Streets that the family had owned since her husband’s congressional years. (Garfield National Historic Site/NPS)

Mrs. Garfield was also a frequent guest of her successors Frances Cleveland and Ida McKinley, sometimes sharing honors with Harriet Lane and Julia Grant. Still, it may be speculated that she was never entirely happy being back in Washington.

Less than ten years after she had initially returned there in the wintertime, Mrs. Garfield had a winter home built for herself in Pasadena, California and it was there that she lived out the larger part of each year remaining until her death in 1918.

Not until the 1970s did another presidential widow decide to leave the retirement home she had shared with her husband and move back to Washington, D.C.

Following the death of former President Dwight Eisenhower in 1969, his widow Mamie Eisenhower initially visited her son in Belgium for several months, where he was serving as U.S. Ambassador. She then spent the winter months in Palm Springs, California.

The Wardman Park where Mrs. Eisenhower lived for a time as a widow, (jbg.com)

The Wardman Park where Mrs. Eisenhower lived for a time as a widow, (jbg.com)

When it came time to finally facing her life alone in the Gettysburg, Pennsylvania home she’d shared with her husband, however, Mamie Eisenhower decided to instead move for long periods of time into a private suite in a building of exclusive residences at the Sheraton-Park, which was connected by a long solarium to a building that functioned as a traditional hotel.

President Nixon escorts his wife Pat and former First Lady Mamie Eisenhower. (Life)

President Nixon escorts his wife Pat and former First Lady Mamie Eisenhower. (Life)

It was the same building she had lived in during World War II, while her husband was Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces.

At other times, she actually returned for long stays at her more famous former Washington home, the White House.

With her grandson David being married to the daughter of President Nixon, Mamie Eisenhower became something of an “honorary grandmother” to the First Family and shared their holidays and weekends, always occupying the Queen’s Suite on the second floor of the executive mansion.

Of the eight women whose husbands died while they were president, only two of them moved from the White House to live in another location in Washington, both intending to make the capital their permanent home – yet neither of them deciding to stay on there longer than a year.

The Willard Hotel, where Florence Harding took a suite. (LC)

The Willard Hotel, where Florence Harding took a suite. (LC)

Following the funeral of her husband, who had died suddenly in August of 1923,  Florence Harding immediately returned to the White House where she began the task of packing all of their possessions and the late president’s personal papers.

She then proceeded directly to Washington estate of her confidante Evalyn Walsh McLean on Wisconsin Avenue, a vast property that was dubbed “Friendship.”

It was there, through the waning weeks of summer, that Mrs. Harding began culling papers she deemed to be contradictory to the best presentation of the Harding legacy. “We must be loyal to Warren’s memory,” she told an aide who helped her with the daily burning of private papers. She then returned for a period of several months to her hometown of Marion, Ohio with the remaining papers which were then organized and stored.

In the new year of 1924, Florence Harding returned to live in Washington, D.C., leasing n a suite at the Willard Hotel, not far from the White House.

The widowed Florence Harding returned to Washington, taking a suite at the Willard Hotel. (NFLL)

The widowed Florence Harding returned to Washington, taking a suite at the Willard Hotel. (NFLL)

The presidential widow attended a congressional tribute to her husband in February but soon had to endure the shocking revelations emerging from the daily congressional investigations then being conducted, looking into scandals caused by former Harding Administration officials who had been close friends to her and the late president.

It was not these embarrassing and infuriating realizations, however, which had her leaving the capital city in July of that year.

When the homeopathic physician she had come to believe was the only person who could keep her alive, Charles Sawyer, was forced to resign his position as Brigadier-General of the Army Medical Corps, a job she had secured for him three years earlier, he returned to Marion, where he ran a sanitarium. Believing she had no other choice, Florence Harding reluctantly left Washington at his insistence. Sawyer died two months later, Mrs., Harding two months after that, in November of 1924.

Jacqueline Kennedy exiting the private Georgetown home on N Street that she purchased by lived in for only four months in 1964. (Pinterest)

Jacqueline Kennedy exiting the private Georgetown home on N Street that she purchased by lived in for only four months in 1964. (Pinterest)

Following the horrific trauma of having her husband assassination in the car seat right beside her, Jacqueline Kennedy steeled herself to nonetheless manage the packing of all of her family’s items from the White House family quarters while friends hastily sought some immediate housing solution for her and her two young children.

One of the Democratic Party’s leading figures and a former ambassador, Averell Harriman arranged to vacate the home where he and his wife Marie lived, in the Georgetown section of the city, to permit Mrs. Kennedy occupancy of it, while she searched for a permanent home.

Although she did purchase one several blocks away and relocated there, before the summer of 1964 had begun it was already clear to her that trying to continue living in the same area of the city where she and the late president had resided in a series of homes before his 1960 election would be a constant reminder of their years together.

Jacqueline Kennedy with her visiting sister Lee Radziwill, Secret Service agent and decorator Billy Baldwin leaving her home, where photographers remained on duty across the street at all hours. (Corbis)

Jacqueline Kennedy with her visiting sister Lee Radziwill, Secret Service agent and decorator Billy Baldwin leaving her home, where photographers remained on duty across the street at all hours. (Corbis)

Even the larger context of remaining in the city would be problematic she realized, her home becoming the object of curiosity to tourists, dozens of whom who would for hours outside the house waiting for a glimpse of her or her children.

She abandoned Washington, and in the later fall of 1964 moved to New York City, where she would remain for thirty years, until her death in 1994. While family events and then professional work as an editor would take her back to Washington on occasion, she usually left before the night fell.

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During her tenure as both a U.S. Senator and Secretary of State, former First Lady Hillary Clinton called her Embassy Row house in Washington home. (AFP)

During her tenure as both a U.S. Senator and Secretary of State, former First Lady Hillary Clinton called her Embassy Row house in Washington home. (AFP)

A record number of former First Ladies decided that they preferred living in the city where they had once held sway as the nation’s most famous woman. Whether they continued to live there or returned after the presidency with their husbands, or as widows, a total of twelve former First Ladies would chose to make Washington, D.C. their home.

The Washington residence of former President Bill Clinton and former First Lady-Senator-Secretary-of-State Hillary Clinton. (Washington Post)

The Washington residence of former President Bill Clinton and former First Lady-Senator-Secretary-of-State Hillary Clinton. (Washington Post)

One outgoing presidential couple were unique in their life right after the White House, with the former President going directly to their home in New York while the former First Lady moved into their new Washington home.

In 2001, Hillary Clinton began her term as U.S. Senator from New York and lived in a house she and her husband had recently purchased for the purpose of serving as her home base during the week. Even while traveling the world as Secretary of State from 2009 until 2013 it was her residence in the capital city. It remains so.

During the Victorian Age, there was a time when it seemed there was always at least one former First Lady assuming the “Queen Mother” type role, living in Washington and always an honored guest at the White House.

Widowed Julia Tyler. (VA Historical Society)

Widowed Julia Tyler. (VA Historical Society)

Widowed in 1862 during the Civil War when former president John Tyler died as a member of the Confederate Congress, Julia Tyler arrived back in Washington ten years later, resuming residency in the city where she had first met her husband and become his bride.

In January of 1872, she rented a narrow clapboard townhouse on what was then called Fayette Street, later simply renamed to the numerical 35th Street, in the Georgetown section.

Thirty-fifth Street in Georgetown, along which Julia Tyler rented a home in the 1870s. (willow.com)

Thirty-fifth Street in Georgetown, along which Julia Tyler rented a home in the 1870s. (willow.com)

Having converted to Catholicism, she was adamant about enrolling her youngest daughter, Julie, in the Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School for Girls.

Mrs. Tyler’s home was located within walking distance of the school, thus permitting her daughter to live with her.

Two months after returning to the capital, her visit there with successor Julia Grant received considerable publicity for her donation of her portrait to its collection and for display there.

Self-titling herself as “Mrs. Ex-President Tyler,” she would go on to help receive guests in a place of honor at receptions hosted by some of her successors including Lucy Hayes, Molly Arthur McElroy and Rose Cleveland, and maintained a correspondence with Lucretia Garfield.

Harriet Lane Johnston's Washington home on I and 17th streets. (first ladies.org)

Harriet Lane Johnston’s Washington home on I and 17th streets. (first ladies.org)

There was a similar pattern to the Washington life of another former First Lady, although she had never been married to the President she served as hostess for; he was James Buchanan, her uncle.

Harriet Lane Johnston, 1898, (Smithsonian)

Harriet Lane Johnston, 1898, (Smithsonian)

Seeking to move beyond his death and those of two children and husband, Harriet Lane Johnston sold the late president’s estate and her Baltimore home.

Harriet Lane then created a new life for herself by purchasing a Washington home in 1892, which became her primary residence for the rest of her life.

She was an honored guest at White House dinners and receptions hosted by the Clevelands, Harrisons, McKinleys and Roosevelts.

The widowed Mrs. Grant's first of two homes in Washington. (Google Maps)

The widowed Mrs. Grant’s first of two homes in Washington. (Google Maps)

When her daughter separated from her British husband and then permanently returned to the United States, Julia Grant went to live with her in Washington.

Elderly Julia Grant. (Pinterest)

Elderly Julia Grant. (Pinterest)

After a brief lease residency at 2018 R Street, NW, the former First Lady and her daughter bought a marble-front mansion at 2111 Massachusetts Avenue that had belonged to Senator George F. Edmunds, of Vermont.

With her independent wealth, Mrs. Grant was able to indulge her love of entertaining, hosting an open reception every Tuesday afternoon during the winter social season months.

She died in her Washington home in 1902.

 

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Former President and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, the only presidential couple to date that remained in Washington, D.C. after moving out of the White House. (Library of Congress)

Former President and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, the only presidential couple to date that remained in Washington, D.C. after moving out of the White House. (Library of Congress)

(This article is adapted from a response written to a media inquiry)

A moving truck outside the new S Street home of former President and Mrs. Wilson, the day they left the White House. (AP)

A moving truck outside the new S Street home of former President and Mrs. Wilson, the day they left the White House. (AP)

Within range of microphones last week, President Obama let it slip out that it was likely he and the First Lady would remain as residents of Washington, D.C. once his Administration ends in January of 2017. He suggested that they were likely to do so in order to permit their youngest daughter Sasha to complete her high school education at the same school, rather than remove her from familiar surroundings and friends to be transferred to a school in their home city of Chicago.

It would not be the first time since a former President and First Lady have chosen to remain in the capital city right after moving out of the White House, but it would be only the second time.

The only other instance of this occurring was nearly a century ago when, upon turning the presidency over to Warren Harding, Woodrow Wilson and First Lady Edith Wilson went directly to the private home they had only recently purchased on S Street.

March 15, 1946, Eleanor Roosevelt (l) and Edith Wilson (r), at a Washington dinner honoring Mrs. Roosevelt at a US Delegate to the General Assembly of the United Nations Organization, hosted by the Women's Joint Congressional Committee. (Corbis)

March 15, 1946, Eleanor Roosevelt (l) and Edith Wilson (r), at a Washington dinner honoring Mrs. Roosevelt at a US Delegate to the General Assembly of the United Nations Organization, hosted by the Women’s Joint Congressional Committee. (Corbis)

The former president only lived there for three more years, dying in February of 1924.

Edith Wilson, however, would live on there by herself for almost four more decades.

She received European royalty and presidential families there, maintaining the public rooms as a shrine to her beloved husband. Mrs. Wilson was often at the White House under both Democratic and Republican administrations.

She died in her home in December of 1961, but not before entertaining Jackie Kennedy there for lunch several months earlier.

For almost three years, however, there were two former Presidents and two former First Ladies living in Washington, D.C. at the same time. Just months after Woodrow Wilson and Edith Wilson retired from the presidency and moved to S Street, his immediate predecessor William Howard Taft and Nellie Taft relocated to Washington to live in aWyoming Avenue home within walking distance of him.

That summer of 1921, incumbent President Warren Harding appointed Taft to the one position he had always coveted, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

On her way home to Washington from a Mexican trip, Nellie Taft checks a list with a customs officer. April 5, 1936. (AP)

On her way home to Washington from a Mexican trip, Nellie Taft checks a list with a customs officer. April 5, 1936. (AP)

Soon he and Nellie Taft were frequently back at the White House joining the Hardings and then the Coolidges.

After Taft’s death in 1930, Nellie Taft continued to live on at Wyoming Avenue.

Although she was respected as the widow of both a president and chief justice at numerous events and ceremonies with successors such as Lou Hoover and Eleanor Roosevelt,

The Taft house in Washington. (Washington Post)

The Taft house in Washington. (Washington Post)

Mrs. Taft lived a busy life in Washington largely outside of public notice. She rode streetcars to take in lectures, theater, films and concerts up until her death at home in the capital in 1944.

She and her husband became the fist of only two couples to be buried across the Potomac in Arlington National Cemetery.

A rare photo of former President John Quincy Adams. (LC)

A rare photo of former President John Quincy Adams. (LC)

The other President and First Lady who went right from the White House to a private home in Washington were John Quincy and Louisa Adams.

In March of 1829, they proceeded to a rented home on Meridian Hill but after their long summer and early autumn back in New England, the former president returned to the capital intending to have a purpose for being there.

A silhouette of Louisa Adams. (ebay)

A silhouette of Louisa Adams. (ebay)

In 1830 he ran and won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, and began this new phase of his career in the following year.

Louisa Adams had been disgusted with politics and had even threatened to not live permanently in Washington because of the stress she believed his new position would create in their household.

By then, the former President and First Lady were living in a townhouse on the east street that faced Lafayette Square, directly across from the White House. A bit more history was made  in 1838 when their new neighbor moved into the house right next store.

It was another legendary White House resident, Dolley Madison.

The corner building was the Washington home of the widowed Dolley Madison while former President and Mrs. John Quincy Adams resided in the row house next to her.  (streetsofwashington.com)

The corner building was the Washington home of the widowed Dolley Madison while former President and Mrs. John Quincy Adams resided in the row house next to her. (streetsofwashington.com)

Following the 1836 death of her husband, the former First Lady settled into the townhouse on the northeast corner of Lafayette Square. “She is a woman of placid, equable temperament,” wrote former President Adams.

From this house, Mrs. Madison would hold court, especially on New Year’s Day when not only whoever was the incumbent President and First Lady, but members of the diplomatic corps, Cabinet, Supreme Court, House and Senate would pay a customary call on her.

Elderly Dolley Madison and niece Anna Payne who lived with her in Washington. (NPG)

Elderly Dolley Madison and niece Anna Payne who lived with her in Washington. (NPG)

In a sense, Dolley Madison became “Queen Mother” of the nation, a role she could not have fulfilled from anywhere but the capital city.

It was a common sight in the city to see the two former First Ladies function as a social duo, great friends attending card parties and congressional speeches together.

Dolley Madison was able to comfort Louisa Adams when John Quincy Adams died in February of 1848, but she followed him seventeen months later. Louisa Adams continued to live in Washington until her death four years later.

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Remembering Nancy Reagan

Nancy Reagan enjoys the solitude of her hammock at the Reagan Ranch. (RRPL)

Nancy Reagan enjoys the solitude of her hammock at the Reagan Ranch. (RRPL)

With the news this weekend that former First Lady Nancy Reagan has died, the National First Ladies’ Library offers a tribute to a woman who offered her enthusiastic support for its creation, development and realization. When the NFLL Founder and President Mary Regula first contacted Mrs. Reagan, she decided to lend her name to the organization and became an honorary chairman, helping to establish the institution and later donating personal items for its personal collection.

Her life would find the woman born by the name of Ann Frances Robbins living across the span of the nation. There are many different perspectives to remember her life, but perhaps one of the least considered is how well she knew the country, as a resident of different regions – long before she began campaigning by bus, car, train and plane in the three presidential races her husband made, in 1976, 1980 and 1984.

She was born on July 5, 1921 in Flushing, New York, in the New York City borough of Queens. With her mother Edie Luckett pursing a professional career out on the road and divorcing her birth father Kenneth Robbins, their only child would be moving south.

Young Nancy, as she was nicknamed  spent her earliest years being raised by her maternal aunt and her husband in Bethesda, Maryland. Enrolled at the Quaker school Sidwell Friends, she made her first visit to the White House as a child during the presidency of Calvin Coolidge, when she attended the annual Easter Egg Roll.

Upon her mother’s 1929 remarriage to neurosurgeon Loyal Davis, she moved to his high-rise apartment overlooking Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. Becoming active in the Windy City’s young social life, Nancy Davis was an excellent student at the Girls’ Latin School.

She would then move back east again, to attend college at Smith College, in Northhampton, Massachusetts. There she majored in drama and took part in many of the theater department productions, be they drama or comedy. It was soon down to New York City, where she broke into show business as a stage actress.

Given the opportunity to make a screen test, however, Nancy Davis soon headed to Los Angeles, California. Except for her eight years as the American First Lady, when she lived in Washington, D.C., she would remain a lifelong resident of the Golden State.

Before her 1952 wedding to Ronald Reagan, while working as a film actress under contract at MGM, she would have several different residences around the city, from Hollywood to Westwood. Through marriage and motherhood, Nancy Reagan would live for the longest period in the Pacific Palisades section of Los Angeles until she and her husband left for the White House. During the presidency they resided in the penthouse suite of a Century City hotel, as well as enjoying their ranch near Santa Barbara. After the presidency, the Reagans bought a home in the Bel Air section. There the former President died in 2004 and there the former First Lady died the other day.

Nancy Reagan had the longest-living mother among First Ladies and is herself now the second-longest living, surviving some twenty days longer than Lady Bird Johnson, who died in 2005. With the passing of Mrs. Reagan, there are now five living First Ladies: Rosalynn Carter, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama.

Nancy Reagan with husband and friends on the South Lawn, July 4th 1981. (RRPL)

Nancy Reagan with husband and friends on the South Lawn, July 4th 1981. (RRPL)

The Reagans at the 1983 annual White House Easter Egg Roll, by then a tradition over a century old. (RRPL)

The Reagans at the 1983 annual White House Easter Egg Roll, by then a tradition over a century old. (RRPL)

Nancy Reagan meets the press during a 1980 campaign trip. (lehnews.wordpress.com)

Nancy Reagan meets the press during a 1980 campaign trip. (lehnews.wordpress.com)

Nancy Reagan with her husband making a joint 1984 campaign appearance. (Reagan Presidential Library)

Nancy Reagan with her husband making a joint 1984 campaign appearance. (Reagan Presidential Library)

Nancy Reagan arriving for the London wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana in July, 1981. (RRPL)

Nancy Reagan arriving for the London wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana in July, 1981. (RRPL)

First Lady Nancy Davis Reagan in 1982.

Known for her stylish taste in clothing, First Lady Nancy Davis Reagan is seen in a black velvet gown in 1982.

Nancy Reagan with her parents, Loyal and Edie Davis.

Nancy Reagan with her parents, Loyal and Edie Davis. While Davis was technically her stepfather, Nancy considered him her only real father.

Nancy Reagan and Don Regan. (RRPL)

Nancy Reagan with the President’s Chief of Staff Don Regan. When the two later had a falling out, Regan would soon after resign under pressure.  (RRPL)

President and Nancy Reagan looking at the Great Wall in China, April 29, 1984.

President and Nancy Reagan looking at the Great Wall in China, April 29, 1984.

The future First Lady Nancy Davis (Reagan) posing for a Hollywood publicity still. (RRPL)

The future First Lady Nancy Davis (Reagan) posing for a Hollywood publicity still. (RRPL)

Nancy Davis outside her Hollywood bungalow apartment. (RRPL)

Nancy Davis outside her Hollywood bungalow apartment. (RRPL)

Nancy Reagan speaks at a White House Conference on Drug Abuse and Families, 1982. (Reagan Library)

Nancy Reagan speaks at a White House Conference on Drug Abuse and Families, 1982. (Reagan Library)

Nancy Reagan, Betty Ford and Rosalynn Carter attending the 1982 funeral of Bess Truman. (UPI)

Nancy Reagan, Betty Ford and Rosalynn Carter attending the 1982 funeral of Bess Truman. (UPI)

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Nancy Reagan visiting her elderly mother Edie Davis, who lived to be 100 years old. The two were very close.

Nancy Reagan on the podium, her husband on the screen behind her.

Nancy Reagan on the podium, her husband on the screen behind her.

Nancy Reagan campaigns with her husband in North Carolina in 1980.

Nancy Reagan campaigns with her husband in North Carolina in 1980.

Former President Reagan celebrated his birthday in 1996 with Nancy Reagan. (The Reagan Library)

Former President Reagan celebrated his birthday in 1996 with Nancy Reagan. (The Reagan Library)

US President Barack Obama (R) speaks with former US first lady Nancy Reagan (L) after signing the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington, DC, June 2, 2009. (Getty)

US President Barack Obama (R) speaks with former US first lady Nancy Reagan (L) after signing the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington, DC, June 2, 2009. (Getty)

Nancy Reagan in a World War II theatrical review at Smith College known as the Factory Follies (AP)

Nancy Reagan in a World War II theatrical review at Smith College known as the Factory Follies (AP)

540f81652b9cc_-_01-tcx-reagan-family-at-rancho-del-cielo-1112-promo_xl-71933816-lg

The Reagans with their children Michael, Ron, Patti, their spouses and grandchildren.

Maryland resident Anne Francis Robbins, later to become Chicagoan Nancy Davis Reagan.

Maryland resident Anne Francis Robbins, later to become Chicagoan Nancy Davis Reagan.

 

 

 

 

 

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Twentieth Century First Ladies & Liquor in the White House

 

Ellen Wison and Edith Wilson, the two wives of Woodrow Wilson in a composite image.

Ellen Wison and Edith Wilson, the two wives of Woodrow Wilson in a composite image.

With the dawn of the 20th century, lines were more sharply drawn between “drys,” who were those who supported the growing movement that called for a national ban on the production and sale of alcoholic beverages, and “wets,” who opposed it.

Edith Roosevelt herself refrained from drinking alcohol, the pain of witnessing her father’s own addiction to it having permanently affected her. However, once Prohibition of alcohol was finally enacted by a constitutional amendment, Edith Roosevelt, by then a former First Lady, resented government determination of what she considered a personal choice and defiantly served cocktails to guests at her home Sagamore Hill.

Nellie Taft had always enjoyed a full range of alcoholic beverages without any negative result, starting with drinking beer in the popular gathering halls near the breweries of her native Cincinnati.

Nellie Taft defied critics to serve her strong champagne punch to White House guests. (LC)

Nellie Taft defied critics to serve her strong champagne punch to White House guests. (LC)

As First Lady, she willfully ignored the lobbying of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union beseeching her to refrain from serving any liquor in the nation’s house. Instead, she let it be known that she took especial pride in her champagne punch, a concoction with ingredients that included cointreau and other flavored alcoholic beverages.

When former President William Howard Taft was appointed Chief Justice of the United States, she quite openly violated the law by enjoying alcohol when she was able to find a home where it was served, despite her husband’s protests.

There is no evidence that either of the two wives of Woodrow Wilson the former Ellen Axson and Edith Bolling Galt favored Prohibition. For many previous decades the new national law had been strongly advocated by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union [WCTU], an organization with a massive membership.

During the 1912 election, when it was reported that Ellen Wilson approved of women being able to smoke cigarettes, she personally handed out copies of her written denial of this inaccuracy to reporters, declaring that she disliked smoking by both genders. Cigarette smoking by both men and women was one of the “sins” against which the WCTU also campaigned.

Although Edith Wilson was the incumbent First Lady at the time the 18th Amendment was passed, it was during this same period that the President was in a state of partial recovery from a devastating stroke. Her focus was entirely on efforts to keep the apparatus of the presidency functioning from his sickroom. The Wilsons did no entertaining at this time, save for a brief welcome to the King and Queen of Belgium at which tea was served. As far as their personal use, there is no indication that they imbibed in alcoholic beverages, Although it was still not uncommon for doctors at the time to prescribe a shot of whiskey as a stimulant in some instances, there is no indication of this as an ongoing treatment in the President’s medical record.

President Warren Harding and First Lady Florence Harding.

President Warren Harding and First Lady Florence Harding.

Edith Wilson long outlived her husband who died in 1924, three years after his presidency ended. Although Prohibition remained the law, the widowed Mrs. Wilson openly served alcohol to her guests at her private home in Washington. It is unclear whether her pronounced preference for the Virginia Gentleman brand of whiskey was due to its name conjuring up memories of her late husband, a native of that state, or the quality of the liquor.

Florence Harding upheld Prohibition as the law of the land while entertaining guests at the White House lawn parties, receptions and dinners.  When the President gathered with cronies to play poker in the privacy of his oval study, however, they drank scotch and other whiskey drinks taken from his private reserve and, so many suggested, from gifts of bottled alcohol that, perhaps unknown to him, had been confiscated by his Department of Justice enforcers.

Eleanor Roosevelt at a banquet. She served liquor to guests but did not drink herself. (carlanthonyonline)

Eleanor Roosevelt at a banquet. She served liquor to guests but did not drink herself. (carlanthonyonline)

During these gatherings, the First Lady was never seen drinking any alcohol herself but rather assumed the role of bartender, mixing whiskey drinks as orders were called out to her by the President, according to the wife of House Speaker Nicholas Longworth who was in attendance with her husband.

Both Grace Coolidge and Lou Hoover strictly adhered to the strictest interpretations of Prohibition, neither imbibing in private themselves nor serving any such beverages to White House guests.

Eleanor Roosevelt, who’s father had suffered from, and died of complications due to severe alcoholism, did not especially celebrate the overturning of Prohibition in the early months of her husband’s Administration. She generally did not partake of alcoholic beverages but permitted these being served to guests.

Bess Truman with a champagne bottle intended to christen a plane. (National Archives)

Bess Truman with a champagne bottle intended to christen a plane. (National Archives)

In contrast, Bess Truman was famous with the staff for enjoying an after-work cocktail with the President in the family quarters, insisting that there be no stinting on the bourbon in her favorite drink, an “old-fashioned.”

The next First Lady, Mamie Eisenhower, was plagued not by alcoholism but the false story that she did.

In the decade preceding her White House tenure, while separated from her husband during his World War II military leadership, she found herself limited to a small circle of other military wives, many of whom did drink heavily.

Mamie Eisenhower at a public banquet with Nelson Rockefeller and Bob Hope. (easy)

Mamie Eisenhower at a public banquet with Nelson Rockefeller and Bob Hope. (easy)

At one point of particular stress during the war, she may have drank too much for her brother-in-law Milton Eisenhower warned her that onlookers might draw assumptions about her from the company she kept.

Conscious of how anything she said or did could reflect poorly on her husband, she ensured that she did nothing that could lead others to this conclusion. Nevertheless, rumors persisted during her husband’s presidency, finally mitigated when it was disclosed that she suffered from alcoholism.

Jacqueline Kennedy in widow's black at a spring 1964 memorial service for her late husband. (NBC Archival Footage)

Jacqueline Kennedy in widow’s black at a spring 1964 memorial service for her late husband. (NBC Archival Footage)

In the darkest days and nights that followed her husband’s assassination and burial, Jacqueline Kennedy found she was able to numb some of her overwhelming grief by occasionally using alcohol. This is documented by the recorded sound of drinks being imbibed as she was being tape-recorded by historian Arthur Schlesinger for what proved to be her oral history recollections of her late husband. This audio record, made in early 1964, was publicly released in the autumn of 2011.

However, in his own recollections from 1996, Schlesinger recalled the somberness of the process and how Mrs. Kennedy had to rely on several highballs during at least one of their several recording sessions. Others close to the widow, both protective and sympathetic, would also share these recollections. After that period, there is no further evidence or record of the need for such beverages.

Pat Nixon listens to her husband deliver his resignation speech. (Fox News)

Pat Nixon listens to her husband deliver his resignation speech. (Fox News)

During the increasingly anxious weeks of the summer of 1974, as the Watergate scandal grew to the point where President Nixon was forced to resign, the First Lady maintained a grueling schedule of appearances at public events. Despite this, a book chronicling the period and published shortly thereafter printed that reliable sources claimed the First Lady had come to depend on alcohol to endure the severe depression and worry that would have understandably affected members of the presidential family. The former President, as well as many aides and others who saw and worked with Mrs. Nixon during this time completely denied the story as an outright fabrication.

Betty Ford at the recovery center which bore her name. (Betty Ford - Hazelden)

Betty Ford at the recovery center which bore her name. (Betty Ford – Hazelden)

It was her immediate successor, Betty Ford, who helped to revolutionize what came to be known as the “recovery movement.” A year after she had left the White House, when the former First Lady entered a narcotic treatment program at Long Beach Naval Hospital, not far from her new home in Rancho Mirage, California, she also issued a simple statement stating that she had become addicted to both prescription pain medication and alcohol.

In her subsequent memoirs, Mrs. Ford stated that while she did not permit herself to become strongly reliant on either narcotic in the White House because she had enormous responsibility not only as First Lady but during the course of her husband’s 1976 re-election campaign.

As White House hostess, Rosalynn Carter had decided with the President to not serve hard liquor to guests, as an economic measure. (JCPL)

As White House hostess, Rosalynn Carter had decided with the President to not serve hard liquor to guests, as an economic measure. (JCPL)

Subsequently, she co-founded a drug and alcohol recovery center near her home, in Palm Springs, California which bore her name.”The Betty Ford Center” became world famous as did her activism on the issues of alcoholism, particularly as it related to problems unique to women.

Rosalynn Carter created controversy not because she used alcohol but because she limited the range of drinks that would be served to guests.

Echoing the 19th century decisions of Sarah Polk and Lucy Hayes. She did this not as a morale decision, but rather as a cost-cutting matter. Beer, wine and champagne continued to be served to guests.

Still, she was soon after dubbed with the sobriquet of “Rose Rosalynn” with many columnists critical of her decision.

In more recent times, First Ladies living in an era have benefitted from both a more understanding societal perspective of both the deeper emotional reasons people might abuse alcohol and the physiological impact of overindulgence on alcoholic beverages.

Thus, as far as the public record and other anecdotal sources concur, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama

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The portrait of Lucy Hayes presented to the White House by the Women's Christian Temperance Union. (The White House Collection)

The portrait of Lucy Hayes presented to the White House by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. (The White House Collection)

From the earliest days of the nineteenth century, the White House was the social center of the capital city. By and large, however, it was only members of the legislature and judiciary who relocated to Washington from their home states during the periods Congress was in session. This meant that the early First Ladies usually had guest lists that were largely male and for them, they made alcoholic beverages readily available.

Charles Adams. (Massachusetts Historial Society)

Charles Adams. (Massachusetts Historial Society)

With alcoholism killing her brother and son Charles, Abigail Adams was especially sensitive the devastating effects of heavy drinking, “He was no man’s enemy,” she said of the latter, “but his own.”

Payne Todd. (wikipedia)

Payne Todd. (wikipedia)

The aimless and ultimately wasted life of Dolley Madison’s son Payne Todd was also due to excessive drinking. Still, both women were able to draw a line between their personal dislike of heavy alcohol consumption and what they viewed as their duty as hostess in the president’s home.

One finds few examples of nineteenth century First Ladies being especially fond of liquor themselves or of serving it. One exception was the young Julia Tyler, who insisted on large quantities of champagne being made available to guests at her final grand ball, and of intoxicating eggnog for her one holiday season as First Lady, in 1844.

Julia Tyler. (findagrave)

Julia Tyler. (findagrave)

Apart from liquor purchase receipts during the Tyler Administration, it was only by the praise of the religious press heaped upon her immediate successor, Sarah Polk, and the sharp contrast they drew between her and Mrs. Tyler that one discerns the latter’s tastes.

As a strict Methodist, Sarah Polk did not attend horse races or play cards because gambling was involved, and did not drink, smoke, or dance. Some of the perception about her as a severe person may be attributed to the credit that religious leaders were eager to pin on her, finding in the First Lady an important role model. In fact, some of her restrictions may have had more to do with her perceptions of the dignity of the presidency and less about her personal choices.

Sarah and James Polk. (wikipedia)

Sarah and James Polk. (wikipedia)

Mrs. Polk is known to have discouraged the Marine Band from playing lighthearted music because it encouraged dancing, which she considered it undignified for the White House. While she did maintain a strict policy of having no hard liquor served to guests, records indicate that she permitted a wide variety of wines to be served at formal dinners.

Jane Pierce has been cast similarly. Like Mrs. Polk, she was extremely orthodox in her personal life when it came to alcohol consumption, having pledged to her intolerantly strict father, while a young woman, that she would not drink. Yet she was not actively vehement against others doing so.

There were also more personal reasons for her refraining.

Jane Pierce. (NFLL)

Jane Pierce. (NFLL)

Drinking would have only worsened her chronic depression, occasional pleurisy and tuberculosis. Also, there was the sensitive matter of President Pierce’s earlier addiction to heavy drinking, which would rise again at the end of his life. Still, she did not order that White House guests should be denied the chance to consume alcohol if they wished.

Among the many untrue charges leveled against Mary Lincoln was one claim that she became riotously drunk with the Russian Ambassador during a cruise on the presidential yacht. There was not even circumstantial evidence to suggest this was true, let alone any record of any such party on the vessel.

Like most of the tales told and printed about her during the acrimonious Civi War years this claim, printed in one anti-Lincoln newspaper, was almost certainly motivated by political opposition to her husband.

By the post-Civil War era, legitimate concerns about the laxity in American society and the resultant physical abuse of women caused by heavy drinking led to the formation of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. The organization, consisting of regional divisions of women all in concert with efforts to eradicate alcohol consumption and, eventually, cigar and cigarette smoking and immodest clothing for women.

Mary Lincoln (LC)

Mary Lincoln (LC)

The organization, like many others, looked to the First Lady as the leading example for women across the country and naturally made the women the focus of their lobbying efforts. With the overall prohibition movement becoming a powerful force in politics by the late 19th century, and First Ladies usually granted requests from the organization to be received at the White House.

Nevertheless, most First Ladies both served and drank alcoholic beverages, usually light wines with dinner, champagne or whiskey punch.

Julia Grant, for example, had an especially strong punch made of champagne, brandy and rum served at her White House receptions and larger events, with an array of fine wines served at dinners. She also enjoyed these.

While there was no public outcry about the First Lady drinking, she was always extremely sensitive about printed stories claiming that her husband had a weakness for alcohol and that its effects on him were visible and extreme. She would vehemently deny these stories, having her letters printed in newspapers that might have suggested this about her late husband.

Lucretia Garfield. (NFLL)

Lucretia Garfield. (NFLL)

Lucretia Garfield was angered when a temperance leader called on her shortly after she entered the White House and implored her vigorously to continue the policy of Lucy Hayes. Mrs. Garfield reordered her frustration at what she considered an impertinent plea. She had liquor served at the White House to guests, ignoring the WCTU, even after the White House accepted the gift made by the organization of a larger-than-life portrait of Lucy Hayes which depicted a water fountain in its background.

Shortly after she began her tenure as First Lady, Ida McKinley entertained a large group of her and the President’s young adult relatives at a dinner and reception. When one of them spoke to the press and reported that the new First Lady had not permitted any alcoholic beverages to be served to them, the story made headlines.

William and Ida McKinley at a dinner party hosted by their friend Mark Hanna and his wife. (Ohio Historical Society)

William and Ida McKinley and two of her nieces at a dinner party hosted by their friend Mark Hanna and his wife. (Ohio Historical Society)

Soon enough, the WCTU was hailing Ida McKinley as one of their new heroines, predicting that she would usher in a new era of temperance. As time shortly proved, they were sorely mistaken. Mrs. McKinley permitted all types of liquor to be served in the White House to both her private guests and those invited to formal events. She herself enjoyed drinking no more than a regular glass of claret or red wine, but she resisted the efforts of friends who were temperance advocates from initiating a “dry” policy.

The only two First Ladies known to have been “teetotalers” were Lucy Hayes and Frances Cleveland, but neither formally allied themselves with the WCTU, likely out of fear that such a commitment might alienate their husbands’ political supporters.

In the case of Lucy Hayes, the President involved himself in negotiating the situation. Having been elected, in part, with support from the Prohibition Party, Rutherford Hayes was sensitive to the growing temperance movement. Since she had come of age, Mrs. Hayes had never drank any liquor, a commitment she made seriously but privately.

Rutherford and Lucy Hayes. (LC)

Rutherford and Lucy Hayes. (LC)

Once installed in the White House, she had no notion of enacting a ban. However, following the drunkenness of a Russian prince who was being entertained at a formal dinner, the President instructed the staff that instead of real rum being used in dessert at the next dinner function that rum flavoring be substituted. Otherwise no alcoholic beverages were made available and one quip at the time cracked that at the Hayes White House, “water flowed like wine.”

Still, the WCTU saw a heroine in Mrs. Hayes, as the titular head of the national household, and had albums containing signatures and remarks, heaping praise on the First Lady for what they assumed was her policy.

Despite the flattery, the First Lady refused to even honorarily accept membership in the organization. Yet she was the one who would be lampooned in verse and cartoon as “Lemonade Lucy.”

A cartoon showing a smiling Lucy Hayes in a water decanter and a frowning one in a wine bottle.(Hayes Center)

A cartoon showing a smiling Lucy Hayes in a water decanter and a frowning one in a wine bottle.(Hayes Center)

Like Jane Pierce and Lucy Hayes, Frances Cleveland had made a family pledge as a young girl to never drink alcohol. She never sought to influence her husband, known for his love of beer, to follow her lead, nor did she determine to restrict alcohol from being served at the White House.

For herself, when a waiter would come to her place at the dinner table, she simply kept her wine glasses turned upside down. Instead, she had an especial predilection for a popular mineral water of the era, Apollonairis.

If the WCTU believed they finally had an inherent in the White House, they were disappointed by Frances Cleveland on another account.

Frances Folsom Cleveland. (LC)

Frances Folsom Cleveland. (LC)

At one of their annual conventions, they issued a proclamation calling on the youthful First Lady to set a moral example for the nation’s young women who looked up to her as a role model in everything from her posture to her hairstyle.

At her first public appearance, at a formal evening function after the organization had issued its demand of her, the First Lady made clear her reaction to the group attempting to dictate what she wore.

As she descended to the White House state floor, Mrs. Cleveland was wearing a low-cut and sleeveless gown.

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