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.

Lady Bird Johnson accepts turkeys in Texas for her family and for the Kennedys, in 1962.

Lady Bird Johnson accepts Thanksgiving turkeys at the LBJ Ranch in Texas for her family and for the Kennedys, in 1962. (Corbis)

Like the Eisenhowers and the Kennedys before them, the LBJs most enjoyed spending their Thanksgiving holiday weekend away from the White House at their private home, among nuclear and extended family members.

Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson at the wood fence of their beloved LBJ Ranch, November 1964. (LBJL)

Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson at the wood fence of their beloved LBJ Ranch, November 1964. (LBJL)

Home for Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson was a Texas ranch house, not far from Austin, in the rolling hill country near the Pedernales River. While the practical First Lady had sometimes questioned the wisdom of making the flight for just a four-day weekend every Thanksgiving, she needed little coaxing.

Not that she could have prevented her imperious husband, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, from exercising what he considered his prerogative of spending each of their White House Thanksgivings home on the ranch.

While certainly the holiday weekend in 1963, her first as First Lady, was the darkest one for Lady Bird Johnson, coming a mere seventy-two hours after the funeral and burial of President John F. Kennedy, whose assassination in Dallas, Texas had capitulated the LBJs into the White House.

A screen capture of LBJ's televised speech to the nation on Thanksgiving Day, 1963. (youtube.com)

A screen capture of LBJ’s televised speech to the nation on Thanksgiving Day, 1963. (youtube.com)

That day, rather than return to Texas, the Johnsons remained in the home where they’d lived during LBJ’s Senate and Vice Presidential years, since Mrs. Kennedy had not yet moved out. It was a quiet, sad day, the President delivering a televised address to the nation about the sorrow all were feeling that particular Thanksgiving.

As a First Lady of activity, Lady Bird Johnson was purposeful in achieving her public goals related to environmental protection and preservation, against a darkening tapestry of protests of her husband’s Vietnam War policies. As she began to approach the end portion of her time on the national stage, it was two Thanksgivings, her final ones as First Lady, which she recorded with particular poignancy.

In her diary, she recorded of Thanksgiving 1967 at the LBJ Ranch, shared with her husband, two daughter Luci and her husband Patrick Nugent, and daughter Lynda and her fiance Chuck Robb.

LBJ loved driving through Texas hill country with Lady Bird at his side in his convertible. Often, as he did on Thanksgiving 1967, he insisted on packing the car with as many people as possible - and taking the wheel  himself. (LBJL)

LBJ loved driving through Texas hill country with Lady Bird at his side in his convertible. Often, as he did on Thanksgiving 1967, he insisted on packing the car with as many people as possible – and taking the wheel himself. (LBJL)

It began, she wrote, with a sky that was “bright blue and gold,” enjoying coffee in bed as LBJ played with their grandson. They then drove around in LBJ’s convertible with the top down.

That evening, she sat down with nineteen others, relishing a “great big turkey, fat and golden…sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top, green beans, lima beans, and cranberry salad, crunchy with nuts and celery. And finally, mince pie.”

She then sat down for a bridge game before friends and staff who had been guests began leaving.

As daughter Lynda and her fiance Chuck Robb, both at far left look on, President Johnson gives approval of the Thanksgiving Day turkey. (LBJL)

As daughter Lynda and her fiance Chuck Robb, both at far left look on, President Johnson gives approval of the Thanksgiving Day turkey. (LBJL)

The six Johnson family members paused before retiring, and then sat down and began to tell one another stories.

Mrs. Johnson, however, remained silently observant, and recorded:

“…Lynda’s bright and sometimes brittle vignettes of the people she meets and the events of her life, and Luci’s bubbling flow occasionally interspersed with philosophical insights sage beyond her years. Then I realized that this is really Thanksgiving…and this is what I have to be thankful for. I am reasonably satisfied with the way both of these children have turned out…I truly like their two young men…and today has been perfect and full. I shall remember this evening, I hope they will. There was more to it than many I’ve crowded with excitement and big names and important events.”

Lynda Johnson married Marine Chuck Robb in the White House, December 1967. By the following Thanksgiving he was serving in the Vietnam War. (LBJL)

Lynda Johnson married Marine Chuck Robb in the White House, December 1967. By the following Thanksgiving he was serving in the Vietnam War. (LBJL)

A fundamental shift occurred by the following Thanksgiving. That year, both of Lady Bird Johnson’s sons-in-law were at the front in the Vietnam War. Early in the day, she and her husband went into nearby Fredericksburg, Texas to attend holiday services at her parish. She recalled her feelings:

Lady Bird Johnson and the President outside of her church, St. Barnabas (LBJL).

Lady Bird Johnson and the President outside of her church, St. Barnabas (LBJL).

“I was happy to walk into St. Barnabas for one of the last times in front of ranks and flanks of cameras, all the faces good-natured today, and greet a lot of familiar people and be a part of a service with which I am much more in tune than with the Catholic or Lutheran services, which I often attend these days with my very ecumenical husband.”

Thanksgiving 1968 was packed with people, even at the private home of the LBJs.

As usual, her husband insisted that not only she but some seven other people pack all into the same car – with him at the wheel.  At lunchtime, he turned up a radio and began teaching his little grandson a jig.

As was her way, however, Mrs. Johnson focused her attention for detail on the natural world that holiday, noting the changing leaf colors of the different types of trees, and the “crisp” yet “sunny” weather.

Lady Bird Johnson hosted a large crowd at the LBJ Ranch for Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1965. (LBJL)

Lady Bird Johnson hosted a large crowd at the LBJ Ranch for Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1965. (LBJL)

Some twenty guests sat down for Thanksgiving dinner at the LBJ ranch that year. She looked around the table at them all:

“…[E]very one of us…I am sure, was thinking of how much he had to be thankful for; a year of good health; the Vietnamese war at last maybe on the long slow way toward peace; the Tax Bill passed, and thereby a rein – though a light one – put on inflation; our dollar – so threatened just a few months ago – relatively stable once more. And, in the personal realm, Chuck and Pat still all right, though far away.”

“Today was one of those glorious golden days,” concluded Lady Bird Johnson with her gift for plain yet powerful words, “when just to be alive is enough.”

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Jackie Kennedy after Thanksgiving dinner, 1967. (carlanthonyonline.com)

Jackie Kennedy after Thanksgiving dinner, 1967. (carlanthonyonline.com)

If anything, the Thanksgiving proved to heighten the sense of family, of thanks, of loss and of life for Jacqueline Kennedy. This was certainly true of the holiday in 1960. That year, Thanksgiving fell on Thursday November 24 and came just sixteen days after the life-changing event of having her husband elected President of the United States.

Days after Thanksgiving 1960, her husband rolled Jacqueline Kennedy out of Georgetown Hospital in a wheelchair after she gave birth to their son. (carlanthonyonline.com)

Days after Thanksgiving 1960, her husband rolled Jacqueline Kennedy out of Georgetown Hospital in a wheelchair after she gave birth to their son. (carlanthonyonline.com)

Being pregnant with an expectation of delivery within days, Mrs. Kennedy had a small and quiet Thanksgiving dinner with her husband and their three-year old daughter Caroline.

The next day, the President-elect flew to his family’s winter estate home in Palm Beach, Florida. And shortly thereafter, he received word on the plane taking him there that Jacqueline Kennedy had been rushed to Georgetown University Hospital unexpectedly going into labor and giving birth to their son, John F. Kennedy, Jr.

Her first Thanksgiving as First Lady proved somewhat of a disappointment.

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, President John F. Kennedy and their daughter departing the White House to spend Thanksgiving 1961 with his extended family at their Hyannis, Massachusetts compound. Two years to the day that this picture was taken, he was assassinated. (AP)

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, President John F. Kennedy and their daughter departing the White House to spend Thanksgiving 1961 with his extended family at their Hyannis, Massachusetts compound. Two years to the day that this picture was taken, he was assassinated. (AP)

Jacqueline Kennedy had been looking forward to hosting an early first birthday party of her son in 1961.

As she was driven from the White House with the President and their daughter, however, there was no sign of the toddler First Son.

Having developed a bad cold, it turned out, she had decided to be cautious and not have him fly up with them, nor be exposed to the frigid temperatures of the family’s compound of houses in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.

Her consolation instead was to host a second birthday party for Charlie, her daughter’s welsh terrier dog.

Despite this being the family’s first Thanksgiving celebrated with their son as President, his parents had decided to leave their Hyannis home earlier than usual, opting instead for the warmer climate of Florida, celebrating at their Palm Beach estate.

Charlie, the Kennedy family dog, was curious about the Thanksgiving turkey traditionally presented to Presidents in 1963. Two years earlier, Jackie Kennedy hosted a birthday party for the dog over the Thanksgiving weekend. (JFKL)

Charlie, the Kennedy family dog, was curious about the Thanksgiving turkey traditionally presented to Presidents in 1963. Two years earlier, Jackie Kennedy hosted a birthday party for the dog over the Thanksgiving weekend. (JFKL)

“I miss all the noise and activity we used to have,” the senior Mrs. Kennedy told a reporter as if she were any other American grandmother.

“My children have their own children and everyone is involved in different circles,” she explained further. “I suppose it’s that way all over America – the big families don’t all congregate anymore on big holidays and that’s a shame.”

The following year, the senior Kennedys were in Hyannis when the First Lady arrived early with her children, the President to follow the day before Thanksgiving.

President Kennedy and his family on Thanksgiving 1947 at their Hyannis home, where they traditionally celebrated the holiday. (JFKL)

President Kennedy and his family on Thanksgiving 1947 at their Hyannis home, where they traditionally celebrated the holiday. (JFKL)

By all accounts, it was relaxing for her, a chance to spend the four day weekend reading while the President held meetings with Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, a close friend to them both.

It is only in retrospect that this particular holiday would prove important to Jacqueline Kennedy.

That year the holiday fell on November 22.

She could not know it but that Thanksgiving marked a year to the day that she would have left with her husband.

He would be assassinated the following year, in Dallas, Texas, as she sat beside him.

Three days before Thanksgiving in 1963, Jacqueline Kennedy presided over the state funeral and burial of her assassinated husband, President Kennedy.

On Thanksgiving morning 1963, Jackie Kennedy knelt in prayer at the gravesite of her husband who'd been buried just three days earlier. (UPI)

On Thanksgiving morning 1963, Jackie Kennedy knelt in prayer at the gravesite of her husband who’d been buried just three days earlier. (UPI)

On the holiday, November 28, she agreed to interrupt the necessarily frenetic process of packing her family’s possessions in anticipation of having to move out of the White House.

She had originally planned to join Senator Edward Kennedy, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Jean Kennedy Smith and Pat Kennedy Lawford, and their spouses and children on the family plane, The Caroline, in heading home to Hyannis for the traditional gathering (Attorney General Robert Kennedy and his family decided to remain at their McLean, Virginia home to celebrate the holiday there).

However, at the last minute she felt the impulse to again visit her late husband’s gravesite, and arrived later, joined by her sister and brother-in-law Lee Radziwill and Stanislaus Radziwill. Landing at Otis Air Force Base, she was whisked off to the family compound.

The extended Kennedy family gathered at their Hyannis home for Thanksgiving, though seen here at Joseph P. Kennedy's September 1962 birthday.

The extended Kennedy family gathered at their Hyannis home for Thanksgiving, though seen here at Joseph P. Kennedy’s September 1962 birthday.

Rather than go to her own Irving Street home there, she proceeded directly to the main house of her in-laws and went immediately up to see her father-in-law who remained unable to speak after having suffered a stroke two years earlier.

A family friend said she spent the holiday in “deep grief but without hysteria.”

Yet that particular Thanksgiving in Hyannis, despite the freezing cold rain which further darkened the desolate mood in the widowed First Lady’s home, she steeled herself into granting a Life magazine interview with journalist Teddy White.

In Jacqueline Kennedy's interview with Teddy White for Life magazine she dubbed her husband's presidency as Camelot. This cover story is one published six months after that famous first interview.

In Jacqueline Kennedy’s interview with Teddy White for Life magazine she dubbed her husband’s presidency as Camelot. This cover story is one published six months after that famous first interview.

Despite her grief, Jackie felt an intense obligation to leave an emotional and lingering, if romanticized, view of her beloved husband.

She proved not so much to answer any of Teddy White’s questions as she was to insistently drive into his story for Life her emphatic interpretations on how not just the American nation but the world and history itself should best remember him.

It was in that interview that she first referenced the historical comparison between her husband’s brief Administration and a mythical kingdom, an analogy which she later regretted. Still, the public’s imagination was captured by what she dubbed as “Camelot.”

The day before the tenth anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination, Jackie Onassis exits her Fifth Avenue apartment, headed to her New Jersey home where she always spent Thanksgiving starting in the early 1970s.

Always beset by the camera, the day before the tenth anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination, Jackie Onassis exits her Fifth Avenue apartment, headed to her New Jersey home where she always spent Thanksgiving starting in the early 1970s.

In the three decades during which Jacqueline Kennedy survived her first husband, Thanksgiving weekend was a period mixed with emotions both solemn and happy.

For her, the holiday would never lose its tragic association with the JFK assassination and she would annually attend a memorial service in a Catholic church on the anniversary of his death, whether in New York near her Fifth Avenue apartment or one close to her New Jersey countryside home.

And yet, the period also marked the birthdays of her two children and these three Kennedys created a new tradition of celebrating over the four-day weekend at their New Jersey residence.

During her second marriage, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis began a new custom of spending Thanksgiving morning on a fox hunt at her New Jersey countryside home. (UPI)

During her second marriage, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis began a new custom of spending Thanksgiving morning on a fox hunt at her New Jersey countryside home. (UPI)

She also learned to develop a tradition which personally fortified her.

Each Thanksgiving morning, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis would dress in her formal riding habit, mount her horse and relish the heart-pounding foxhunts of the Essex County Hunt, flying through the bracing cold air on her large horse.

It was, many friends observed, a way of affirming life over death for a woman who had experienced tragedies and triumphs to such a great degree.

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Mamie Eisenhower looks on smilingly, beside her grandson, as the President carves a Thanksgiving turkey. (Wide World)

Mamie Eisenhower looks on smilingly, beside her grandson, as the President carves a Thanksgiving turkey. (Wide World)

While many aspects of her efforts as First Lady may now be forgotten, one bit of trivia managed to persist in presidential food lore for over half a century of Thanksgivings: Mamie Eisenhower is the First Lady with the most famous Pumpkin Pie recipe.

Mamie Eisenhower's Pumpkin Chiffon Pie recipe became ubiquitous in the 50s. (Knox Gelatin)

Mamie Eisenhower’s Pumpkin Chiffon Pie recipe became ubiquitous in the 50s. (Knox Gelatin)

With her first Thanksgiving as First Lady, in 1953, she directed her White House social secretary to respond to press inquires about her uniquely named “Pumpkin Chiffon Pie” by supplying the recipe. With that ubiquitous of postwar food additives, gelatin, as a primary ingredient, the pie was no “lo-cal” wonder but it did taste lighter than the usual pumpkin pie and it became a wild hit, the recipe printed in thousands of newspapers every Thanksgiving.

While the press was always quick to credit Mamie, food companies that used the pie recipe by making one of their products a prominent aspect, many refrained from using the name of the president’s wife in a magazine print advertisement.

For six of the eight Thanksgiving days of her tenure as First Lady, Mamie Eisenhower spent the holiday at their personal retreat, a small house dubbed “Mamie’s Cabin,” on the grounds of the Augusta National Golf Course, permitting the President to indulge his love of golf and establishing a Thanksgiving morning tradition of quail hunting.

They spent their first one of the presidency there, in 1953, with their son, his wife and grandchildren. Their arrival was the most notable aspect of their arrival, having taken their first flight on the newly-built, super-sonic Air Force One.

Mamie Eisenhower, President Eisenhower and General Montgomery sample turkey at Thanksgiving in Augusta, 1954.

Mamie Eisenhower, President Eisenhower and General Montgomery sample turkey at Thanksgiving in Augusta, 1954.

The following year they were joined by a special guest, Sir Bernard Montgomery, the British Marshal who had become a colleague and friend of Ike’s during World War II. They were also there in 1958.

Thanksgiving 1955, however, the First Lady remained vigilant in her rigorous protection of her husband, guarding the time he needed for rest and ensuring he stuck to his medically-ordained diet, having only recently returned to their Gettysburg, Pennsylvania farmhouse from Denver, Colorado where he had suffered a heart attack.

For Mamie Eisenhower, the annual holiday for which she was most personally thankful was the one she celebrated in the White House, in 1957.

Mamie Eisenhower became the first First Lady to accept the traditional gift of a turkey annually presented to the presidential family. (newstimes.com)

In 1957, Mamie Eisenhower became the first First Lady to accept the traditional gift of a turkey annually presented to the presidential family. (newstimes.com)

Only three days before Thanksgiving, President Eisenhower suffered a slight stroke. Again, the nation feared that the President’s health was in jeopardy.

But on Thanksgiving morning, as the First Lady’s limousine pulled up to National Presbyterian Church, she was followed by her husband, prompting the crowd to break into cheers and allaying fears that it had been anything but the mild stroke reported by the White House.

For their last two Thanksgivings as a presidential couple, the Eisenhowers celebrated the holiday in the White House.

In 1959, amid a national “Cranberry Crisis” set off by the Agriculture Secretary issuing a warning that some cranberries might be tainted with an insecticide, one of Mamie’s good friends, the famous movie actress Rosalind Russell who shared the holiday meal with the First Couple let it slip that the First Lady had cautiously decided to have apple sauce served instead of the traditional cranberry sauce.

The Eisenhower family at Thanksgiving following his 1952 election. (Corbis)

The Eisenhower family at Thanksgiving following his 1952 election. (Corbis)

In 1960, because her grandchildren were now regularly guarded by Secret Service agents, it was decided that they should celebrate the holiday at their own home in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, rather than join their beloved grandmother “Mimi,” in the White House.

Towards the end of her tenure, Mrs. Eisenhower decided to spend Thanksgiving in Washington, to permit Secret Service agents a chance to spend at least part of the holiday with their own families, and she always wanted the agents guarding her grandchildren in Pennsylvania afforded the same opportunity.

The most meaningful, however, may have been their first Thanksgiving of his presidency, also spent in Augusta.

Three days after the Kennedy assassination,  Mamie Eisenhower and family had Thanksgiving dinner at Lamie's Tavern in New Hampshire. (Hampton Library, New Hampshire)

Three days after the Kennedy assassination, Mamie Eisenhower and family had Thanksgiving dinner at Lamie’s Tavern in New Hampshire. (Hampton Library, New Hampshire)

In his radio address to the nation on Thanksgiving Day, President Eisenhower did something nearly none of his predecessors had: he made mention of his wife, referencing her simply by her first name.

In doing so, he explained on their mutual behalf why that particular Thanksgiving of November 26, 1953 was especially valued by them and what his, admittedly idealistic vision of what the nation he led might hope for on future celebrations of the holiday:

America, of course, has countless things for which to be thankful on this November 26th. But I think the most important is this: for the first Thanksgiving in the last four, we sit down to our traditional Thanksgiving feast without the fear of the casualty list hanging over us. We don’t, longer, have to worry about the killing in Korea.

Now, my wife and I are just exactly like many thousands of other families in America tonight. We have home our son. But what is far more important than that is that our grandchildren have home their daddy; our Barbie has her husband home.

We are very, very thankful, and I am certain that I speak for thousands and thousands of other families in America, when I say: may we never again have to have our loved ones go off to war.

 

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The most recent one dozen First Ladies, from Bess Truman to Michelle Obama, all signed this one index card, five doing so with names other than their given names at birth.

The most recent one dozen First Ladies, from Bess Truman to Michelle Obama, all signed this one index card, five doing so with names other than their given names at birth.

This NFLL Blog article is adapted from a recent response to a public inquiry asking for a definitive list of the “correct” names of all of the First Ladies.

All one might state definitively about the “correct” names of First Ladies is that there are recorded names each was given at the time of their birth, in the case of earlier ones, the documentation was in the form of a church baptism. From that point on, it seems that the “real name” of a First Lady is as subjective as their own whims.

Mary Lincoln never used her maiden name "Todd" although she is now almost universally referred to with it.. (LC)

Mary Lincoln never used her maiden name “Todd” although she is now almost universally referred to with it.. (LC)

As one begins to examine the written record left by these women and how they wished to identify themselves and be identified, there are more curiosities than not involving the subject.

As she signed herself simply, "Mary Lincoln."

As she signed herself simply, “Mary Lincoln.”

For example, over the last century, the wife of Abraham Lincoln has almost universally been referred to as “Mary Todd Lincoln,” even though she never used her maiden name in any signed letters or documents. Neither did she use the middle name attributed to her in several sources: “Anne.”

Similarly, although christened with the middle name of “Rebecca,” Harriet Lane always went simply by Harriet Lane, Rosalynn Eleanor Smith Carter goes only by “Rosalynn Carter,” “Elizabeth Ann Bloomer Ford” always signed and referred to herself simply as “Betty Ford,” and Grace Coolidge dropped her middle name of “Anna.”

Florence “Mabel” Kling Harding dropped her middle name – yet used her maiden name in full. Of course, with her willful attempt to entirely keep secret from the public her common-law first husband, she never used his name of “DeWolfe.”

Eleanor Roosevelt on Fifth Avenue at Christmastime, 1940. (FDRL)

Eleanor Roosevelt on Fifth Avenue at Christmastime, 1940. (FDRL)

Laura Bush never uses her middle name of “Lane” or maiden name of “Welch,” nor does Michelle Obama use hers of “LaVaughn” and “Robinson.”

Born as Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, this famous First Lady dropped her first name and only used her middle name. Of course, she kept using her last name by marrying her distant cousin of the same name.

The woman known as Lady Bird Johnson always signed herself in business as Claudia Taylor Johnson. (Life)

The woman known as Lady Bird Johnson always signed herself in business as Claudia Taylor Johnson. (Life)

Although born as “Claudia Alta,” Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson dropped both her first and middle name and used the nickname of “Lady Bird” given to her as a baby by a nursemaid; still, on all legal documents she signed as Claudia.

In the same vein, the woman known to her friends, family and the world at large only as “Pat Nixon” never legally changed her birth first and middle name of Thelma Catherine – she just stopped using it and all others followed suit.

She did this to honor her late father, a man proud of his Irish heritage who had called his daughter Thelma his “St. Patrick’s Day babe in the morning,” since she was born on March 16th, just hours before St. Patrick’s Day.

Frances "F.C." Cleveland. (NY Historical Association)

Frances “F.C.” Cleveland. (NY Historical Association)

In a very few early examples of signatures and letters of the bride of President Cleveland, she identified herself with a “C,” as in “Frances C.F. Cleveland,” the “C” standing for her middle name of “Clara.” She then went simply to “Frances Folsom Cleveland.” After marrying for a second time, she identified herself as “Frances. F.C. Preston.”

Mrs. Kennedy, of course, went through a series of similar name changes, first signing herself as “Jacqueline Lee Bouvier,” while her newspaper column byline read simply “Jacqueline Bouvier.”

After her marriage, she often signed herself as “Jacqueline Lee Kennedy,” then dropped the “Lee.” While never known to refer to or sign herself as “Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy,” there are some documents which show her as “Jacqueline B. Kennedy.”

After her second marriage, she went through various stages of name identity: Jacqueline Onassis, Jacqueline Bouvier Onassis and then finally, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

A rare autographed photograph of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

A rare autographed photograph of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

As an editor, however, she often used the nickname she’d once detested and went for the simpler: “Jackie Onassis.”

Towards the end of her life, when she began complying with the many requests for her autograph which the public wrote her, she used not her real name at the time but the one which evoked the fond memories of her White House years and signed as “Jacqueline Kennedy.”

Nancy Reagan will occasionally use Nancy Davis Reagan – her middle name being that of her adoptive father.  She never uses her birth name of “Anne Frances” and never her birth maiden name of “Robbins.”

Mrs. Clinton was uniformly referenced as “Hillary Rodham” when she was the First Lady of Arkansas. She extended this to “Hillary Rodham Clinton” during her eight year tenure as First Lady.

Ironically, upon achieving political status on her own through elected office as a United States Senator and then appointed as Secretary of State, she dropped her maiden name and went simply as “Hillary Clinton.”

Although she used her maiden name on correspondence, when she went on a 1995 speaking tour and had to sign tens of thousands of books, the First Lady dropped "Rodham" for the faster autograph of just "Hillary Clinton."

Although she used her maiden name on correspondence, when she went on a 1995 speaking tour and had to sign tens of thousands of books, the First Lady dropped “Rodham” for the faster autograph of just “Hillary Clinton.”

She has never been known to use the middle name she was christened with: “Diane.”

Then there is the case of Mrs. John Quincy Adams. She always signed herself as “Louisa C. Adams,” never using her maiden name of “Johnson” but also never spelling out her given middle name of Catherine.

It seems that presidential spouses in the post-Civil War era began using the initial of their maiden names.

Rutherford Hayes's wife was the first to begin regularly signing her name with the initial of her maiden name.

Rutherford Hayes’s wife was the first to begin regularly signing her name with the initial of her maiden name.

Mrs. Hayes went by “Lucy W.,” Mrs. Garfield signed herself as “Lucretia R.,” Mrs. Harrison signed as “Caroline S.,” Mrs. McKinley as “Ida S.,” the first Mrs. Wilson as “Ellen A.” (but she did not use her middle name of Louise”) and Mrs. Taft as “Helen H.”

Mrs. Arthur usually skipped her first name entirely, but used the initials of her first, middle and maiden name, signing herself as “E.L.H. Arthur.”

Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt fluctuated between using her middle and maiden name, or just her maiden name, going as either “Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt,” or just “Edith Carow Roosevelt.”

Lou Hoover almost always used either her maiden name’s initial or in full, as “Lou H. Hoover,” or “Lou Henry Hoover.”

Bess Truman's signature usually included the initial of her maide name, a custom that began in the late 19th century when she was born.

Bess Truman’s signature usually included the initial of her maide name, a custom that began in the late 19th century when she was born.

Bess Truman usually signed with the “W.” of her maiden name of Wallace but on occasion did not.

Mamie Eisenhower signed photographs using her full maiden name.

Mamie Eisenhower signed photographs using her full maiden name.

Mrs. Eisenhower was born with the first name of “Mamie” and the middle name of “Geneva,” after Lake Geneva.

Paradoxically, although considered a highly traditional wife, she almost never signed anything without identifying herself as “Mamie Doud Eisenhower,” or if there was limited space to sign her name “Mamie D. Eisenhower.”

Despite some recent claims that “White” was Edith Bolling Wilson’s middle name, no documentation suggests this, nor did she ever use it in her signatures.

Edith Wilson (artinamerica.com)

Edith Wilson (artinamerica.com)

As far as Edith Wilson’s first married name of Galt, neither she nor any of the First Ladies whose marriages to Presidents were their second ones retroactively use their first married name: Martha Washington never used Dandridge, Martha Jefferson never used Skelton, Dolley Madison never used Todd, Rachel Jackson never used Robards, Caroline Fillmore never used Carmichael, Edith Wilson never used Galt, Florence Harding never used DeWolfe, and Betty Ford never used Warren.

One last observation: it isn’t until one begins to encounter the First Ladies born in the Revolutionary Era that one sees these women using their full first names in any signed form other than legal documents.

Thus the first five First Ladies signed themselves with the more anonymous “M. Washington,” “A. Adams,” “D. P. Madison” and “E. Monroe” (the signature often billed as being from her pen is actually not – it is the signature of a same-named woman married to President Monroe’s nephew).

The elderly Dolley Madison. (Heritage Auctions)

The elderly Dolley Madison. (Heritage Auctions)

Starting with the first First Lady born in the 19th century – Julia Gardiner Tyler (as she always called herself, by the way) – her chronological line of successors begin to consistently use their first names.

As to the famously-named legendary First Lady Dolley Madison, there are layers of stories which require sifting before one arrives at a real answer about her real name.

Some years ago, a public auction catalog of historical manuscripts listed a letter for sale which had been written by an elderly Dolley Madison to a young woman. In it, she stated clearly that she had been named for the young woman’s mother, and that woman’s name was “Dorothea.”

As is true with much about her, even Dolley Madison's name is steeped in legend.. (Metropolitan Musuem of Art)

As is true with much about her, even Dolley Madison’s name is steeped in legend.. (Metropolitan Musuem of Art)

The former First Lady’s seeming afterthought of a remark in the closing portion of the letter has ended up resolving a question which has riddled her biographers since practically the time her story was being recorded.

Was she born and christened as “Dolley” or as “Dorothea,” which some 19th century writers suggested?

A century later, 20th century chroniclers assumed that the name “Dolley” sounded too childish for such a distinguished individual and simply made up to whole “Dorothea” name matter.

In her own handwriting, however, “Dolley” attested to originally being “Dorothea.” Even though she signed the letter with neither name, but rather as “D.P. Madison.”

Using neither Dolley nor Dorothea, the famous First Lady simply signed as D.P. Madison.

Using neither Dolley nor Dorothea, the famous First Lady simply signed as D.P. Madison.

 

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Lady Bird Johnson with two wounded servicemen, returned from the war in Vietnam, at a Fort Davis National Monument dedication ceremony in 1966. (LBJL)

Lady Bird Johnson with two wounded servicemen, returned from the war in Vietnam, at a Fort Davis National Monument dedication ceremony in 1966. (LBJL)

In her later years, former First Lady Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson would recall that the subtle way in which the Vietnam War grew to consume her husband and his presidency, it being slow and steady, yet in fits and starts, the response to a military action by communist North Vietnamese into South Vietnam, the initiation of a new strategy to prevent growing strength by the north

Mrs. Johnson greets a wounded Vietnam War servicemen at a special Christmas party she hosted for him and his comrades, 1967.

Mrs. Johnson greets a wounded Vietnam War servicemen in the Blue Room at a special Christmas party she hosted for him and his comrades, 1967.

“I couldn’t handle the war in Vietnam,” she said in 1988, “I wasn’t big enough.” Unlike all the foreign conflicts the U.S. had previously entered, the Vietnam War was one which evolved, without a formal declaration of war passed by Congress.

What Mrs. Johnson most of all recalled about the war were the mounting numbers, by the tens of thousands, of young Americans drafted to fight.

At a certain point, she never again had a day when she was unaware of the men either being sent to Vietnam or returning from there, dead, wounded or fully surviving.

One midnight, arriving back in Washington’s Union Station after an evening in New York, she noticed dozens of floral arrangements being unloaded.

Instinctively, she knew these were being sent to cover the freshly-dug graves of men killed in Vietnam.

After that, she said, “It was hard to think of anything else.”

Throughout the latter years of the Johnson Administration, there were an ever-increasing number of Vietnam vets in attendance at holiday and other receptions, oftentimes carried in on stretchers or rolled in on wheelchairs.

The meaning of being a veteran of this particular and controversial military action was never far from the consciousness of this First Lady: among them were counted her two sons-in-law.

In Vietnam, not far from the battle zone, Pat Nixon greeted wounded combat soldiers in a medic facility.

In Vietnam, not far from the battle zone, Pat Nixon greeted wounded combat soldiers in a medic facility.

While neither of Pat Nixon’s sons-in-law saw active duty in South Vietnam, the First Lady herself came close to witnessing it herself. Joining the President on a dangerous visit to the embattled nation, she was the first First Lady to enter an active combat zone since Eleanor Roosevelt.

During her time there, Mrs. Nixon spent nearly all of it focused on the troops – both those on break from the field and those being cared for in medic hospital units. American involvement in the Vietnamese conflict was ended by President Nixon in January of 1973.

The Nixons at their large POW dinner.

The Nixons at their large POW dinner.

From that time until his resignation nineteen months later, there was little direct interaction which the First Lady then had with veterans of the war, save for the notable exception of a unique White House state dinner she and the President hosted in a tent on the South Lawn for returned Prisoners of War, or POWS.

Barbara Bush with US troops in Saudi Arabia, (GBPL)

Barbara Bush with US troops in Saudi Arabia, (GBPL)

During the Vietnam War in her role as First Lady of California, Nancy Reagan undertook various efforts on behalf of those who had served in Vietnam but returned home wounded and disabled.

When she agreed to write a syndicated newspaper column, she turned over the proceeds to the National League pf Families of American POW-MIA.

In more recent years, First Ladies have continued to give focus on members of the armed services and veterans.

During the Gulf War, Barbara Bush joined her husband in visiting troops at their bases in the Middle East, once sharing a Thanksgiving with them.

Hillary Clinton greets troops at Tuzla air base, Bosnia, March 25, 1996.

Hillary Clinton greets troops at Tuzla air base, Bosnia, March 25, 1996.

As First Lady Hillary Clinton became a strong advocate for the first full investigation into the damage caused to many veterans by the chemical “Agent Orange,” and prompted congressional action on their behalf.

Laura Bush at a ceremony following the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Laura Bush at a ceremony following the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Although public accessibility to the White House became limited after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S., Laura Bush made tours and events like the Easter Egg Roll especially available to the families of active military fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan; she also made frequent trips to Walter Reed Hospital’s rehabilitative center.

Few First Ladies have so overtly committed to the well- being of active and retired members of the U.S. military and their families than has Michelle Obama.

Michelle Obama ande Jill Biden abut to speak at one of the first Joining Forces events.

Michelle Obama ande Jill Biden abut to speak at one of the first Joining Forces events.

Since she became First Lady, she has focused primarily on two public campaigns, “Get Moving!” which involves nutrition and exercise, and also “Joining Forces.”

Mrs. Obama jointly undertook the creation of “Joining Forces,” from a 2008 campaign promise she made during the primaries and with Second Lady Jill Biden, she has helped establish its developing of numerous programs providing support to military families with health care, housing, employment and socialization.

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Eleanor Roosevelt inspects a downed U.S. plane in Guadalcanal during World War II. (FDRL)

Eleanor Roosevelt inspects a downed U.S. plane in Guadalcanal during World War II. (FDRL)

As her husband delivered his famous declaration of war to Congress on December 7, 1941 committing the U.S. to World War II, Eleanor Roosevelt was seated beside Edith Wilson, a symbol of World War I.

Eleanor Roosevelt speaks to sailors and Navy personnel at a naval base in Brazil. (FDRL)

Eleanor Roosevelt speaks to sailors and Navy personnel at a naval base in Brazil. (FDRL)

Unlike her predecessor, however, Mrs. Roosevelt, viewed herself as having a rigorous duty to the soldiers, sailors, pilots and marines who would fight on to victory in 1945

Initially, Mrs. Roosevelt toured many military training camps, a continuance of her “eyes and ears” role of inspecting federal facilities and reporting back to the President whose disability prevented him from extensive travel.

Eleanor Roosevelt eats dinner with U.S. Army servicemen based in the Virgin Islands.

Eleanor Roosevelt eats dinner with U.S. Army servicemen based in the Virgin Islands.(FDRL)

As she had with women, the unemployed and minorities, she soon became a strong advocate for the rights of servicemen.

She put her earnings into war bonds, donated to war charities, and reprimanded a general when she learned that top brass took the best seats at USO shows while enlisted men were forced to sit in the back.

She had the President’s condolence letter to families who lost a member in combat to be more expressively warm, and had the Navy Secretary begin to include hometown news in the overseas broadcasts made for enlisted men.

Yet, she lamented, “I do not seem to be doing anything useful.”

Eleanor Roosevelt's visits to US servicemen during World War II were seen as a substantive act.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s visits to US servicemen during World War II were seen as a substantive act.

This compulsion to look after the needs of the enlisted men is what led Eleanor Roosevelt to undertake yet another unprecedented act as First Lady. In October of 1942, she made the first in a series of overseas troops to meet with U.S. serviceman, to Great Britain.

While she met with many of England’s servicemen and those women serving in various capacities for the war effort, she met with Americans who were part of a parachute battalion, a photo reconnaissance unit, and a tanks corps, as well as segregated African-American troops in Liverpool barracks.

Mrs. Roosevelt speaks with sailors in Pearl Harbor. (FDRL)

Mrs. Roosevelt speaks with sailors in Pearl Harbor. (FDRL)

She spoke on the BBC and delivered a speech in a cold shipyard to some fifteen thousand workers.

When she learned that there was a lack of durable socks to keep servicemen warm against the cold weather, she wrote General Eisenhower who immediately assured her he would remedy the situation.

Eleanor Roosevelt undertook a second overseas trip to see the troops in 1943, traveling in an uncomfortable military plane christened “Our Eleanor,” as she voyaged to New Zealand, Australia and nearly all of the small South Pacific islands where Americans were stationed. As men prepared to head into open combat, she insisted on walking through the jungle to wish each truckload of them good luck.

Eleanor Roosevelt visits the grave of an American serviceman in Guadalcanal. (pacificwrecks.org)

Eleanor Roosevelt visits the grave of an American serviceman in Guadalcanal. (pacificwrecks.org)

Admiral William Halsey who at first had protested against her tour in an active military zone, later recalled that “she went into every ward, stopped at every bed, and spoke to every patient: What was his name? How did he feel? Was there anything he needed? Could she take a message home for him? She walked for miles, and she saw patients who were grievously and gruesomely wounded. But I marveled at their expressions as she leaned over them. It was a sight I will never forget.”

She was also determined to see Guadalcanal island where Americans had defeated the Japanese in perhaps the bloodiest battle of the war. Admiral Halsey concluded that, “She alone had accomplished more good than any other person, or any group of civilians, who had passed through my area.”

Before the Administration’s sudden end, with the April 1945 death of her husband, Eleanor Roosevelt would make a third overseas trip, to bases in the Caribbean basin.

Eleanor Roosevelt visiting hospitalized U.S. serviceman during World War II. (FDRL)

Eleanor Roosevelt visiting hospitalized U.S. serviceman during World War II. (FDRL)

It was estimated that she had personally seen some four hundred thousand men, approximately ten percent of the U.S. Armed Forces.

For the seventeen more years that she lived, wherever she went throughout the world, whenever a veteran of World War II approached the former First Lady it was with warmth and respect not as the widow of their former commander-in-chief but as a maternal figure beloved to them in her own right,

Bess Truman continued her volunteer work schedule and public support of the USO as a Senate wife during World War II into her years as First Lady during the Korean War

Bess Truman continued her volunteer work schedule and public support of the USO as a Senate wife during World War II into her years as First Lady during the Korean War

Bess Truman’s tenure as First Lady saw the end of World War I and the beginning of the U.S. involvement in the Korean War.

Since most of her time as First Lady was spent living in the Blair House, the presidential guest house, while the White House was being renovated, she hosted endless days of afternoon receptions for the wounded and disabled veterans of World War II and those men returning from Korea.

She was also a regular, consistent volunteer at a local Washington U.S.O. unit, ignoring her official status and performing as just one of the regular volunteer workers,

Mamie Eisenhower with Korean War servicemen and women, enjoying some cake. (Corbis)

Mamie Eisenhower with Korean War servicemen and women, enjoying some cake. (Corbis)

Mamie Eisenhower knew the sacrifices faced by families with active servicemen in wartime, both her husband and son serving in World War II and her son then serving in Korea.

She resumed the annual White House garden parties for  veterans, sometimes with Edith Wilson present, and also sponsored many USO and other charitable activities on their behalf.

She also supported an effort for active military to have their bloody type recorded in order to aide their comrades who might have been in sudden, desperate need of infusions.

 

 

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First Ladies & Veterans: World War One, Part 2

Florence Harding was chosen to place a wreath on the flag-draped coffin of the "Unknown Soldier," while it lay in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda and before it was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. (LC)

Florence Harding was chosen to place a memorial ribbon on the flag-draped coffin of the “Unknown Soldier,” while it lay in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda and before it was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. (LC)

Woodrow Wilson had won his second term as President in 1916 on the slogan of “He Kept Us Out of War,” a reference to the worsening conflict on European battlefields which many believed would inevitably draw the United States to the side of Britain, France and Italy against Germany.

Edith Wilson joins her husband and Assistant Navy Secretary Franklin Roosevelt in review of Second Division, U.S. Marines on August 12, 1919.

Edith Wilson joins her husband and Assistant Navy Secretary Franklin Roosevelt in review of Second Division, U.S. Marines on August 12, 1919.

In April of 1917, just over one month after being inaugurated for his second term, Wilson committed his nation to its second foreign war. It was also the first war which relied not on volunteers but conscripted servicemen by a “draft.”

During World War I, Edith Wilson led numerous Red Cross charity drives and also volunteered at the Union Station canteen where many soldiers and sailors passed through before being shipped off to the European front.

At the White House she also used her own sewing machine to produce pajamas, sock and other necessary protection for servicemen.

She even issued a carefully worded public information statement about the need for parents to warn their sons going off to war against the threat of venereal disease.

Several former First Ladies also did their part during World War I.

Woodrow and Edith Wilson with wounded veterans of World War I. (WWPL)

Woodrow and Edith Wilson with wounded veterans of World War I. (WWPL)

Frances Cleveland undertook a national speaking tour, stirring citizens into voluntary patriotic duty. She was president of the Needlework Guild, a national organization which produced tens of thousands of necessary protective clothing items for servicemen exposed to the elements.

Edith Roosevelt was also a member and served as a local guild president. While Nellie Taft’s son Charlie was lucky to return alive after serving, Edith Roosevelt’s son Quentin died during active service as an airman in France.

Edith Wilson tours a French battlefield. (WWPL)

Edith Wilson tours a French battlefield. (WWPL)

Edith Wilson accompanied President Wilson to Europe once the war was ended for the signing of the Versailles Treaty, visiting England, Italy, France and Belgium. There, Mrs. Wilson was exposed to the harsh, muddy conditions of the trenches where the fighting men had lived and battled, and were still stationed, although now they were technically veterans since the war was over.

Florence Harding, with a carrier pigeon.

Florence Harding, with a carrier pigeon.

Of the presidential spouses who addressed various needs of U.S. war veterans as part of their official agenda, none was perhaps more important than Florence Harding.

Although her public agenda as First Lady also involved animal welfare and women’s civic equality, she was best remembered for undertaking action in a variety of ways on behalf of U.S. wounded and disabled veterans.

As a Senate wife, she had been visiting the returning wounded and disabled veterans who were being treated at Walter Reed Hospital and her experiences there led her to become a strong advocate for the federal government ensuring the well-being of those who had put their lives on the line in World War I.

Mrs. Harding called these veterans “my boys,” and continued to make frequent visits once her husband was elected President, bringing gifts for those who had no family in the region, reading to those who had been blinded, and taking dictation for those who were unable to write their own letters.

Florence Harding loyally visits wounded World War I vets at Walter Reed Hospital in 1921.

Florence Harding loyally visits wounded World War I vets at Walter Reed Hospital in 1921.

It was Florence Harding who established the annual White House veterans garden party, holding one each of her three years of incumbency.

Florence Harding who successfully influenced President Harding to name their friend, Colonel Charles Forbes as the first director of the newly-formed U.S. Veterans Bureau. Unfortunately, Forbes proved to be a callous and devious criminal who took kickbacks for veteran hospital building  contracts, and the resale of usable military surplus which claimed were “damaged.”

Florence Harding considered Forbes to have committed the deepest of all betrayals, not only to her and the President personally but to “my boys,” as she had begun to call all World War I veterans.

The First Lady, however, was alert to the growing malfeasance at the Veterans Bureau.

Florence Harding at one of the garden parties she hosted for disabled World War I veterans. Behind her with arms crossed is Charles Forbes, first director of the Veterans Bureau in which she took an active interest. (National Archives)

Florence Harding at one of the garden parties she hosted for disabled World War I veterans. Behind her with arms crossed is Charles Forbes, first director of the Veterans Bureau in which she took an active interest. (National Archives)

She had developed a wide network not only of informants among bureau workers, but also regularly received letters from those in hospitals reporting on the system’s failings to deliver the care they were promised. She also encouraged veterans’ families to write her about individual problems involving their relatives who were in veteran hospital care and interceded on their behalf on numerous occasions, even making spot inspection tours herself.

Because of her publicly known devotion to the vets of World War I, Florence Harding was given the honor of placing a memorial sash ribbon the flag-draped coffin of the Unknown Soldier, to soon after be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Although she was not as politically involved in veteran affairs as Florence Harding had been, Grace Coolidge had the unique experience of having worked as a teacher of deaf children and had a particular comfort level with those who were disabled.

As a Red Cross volunteer, she particularly appreciated the struggle of veterans who had lost their sight or hearing and enjoyed reading to those who had been blinded.

Grace Coolidge reading to blinded World War I veterans as a Red Cross volunteer.

Grace Coolidge reading to blinded World War I veterans as a Red Cross volunteer.

She continued Florence Harding’s spring garden parties for veterans and made special visits to area veteran hospitals on what was originally called “Armistice Day” before being renamed Veterans Day.

During World War I, Lou Hoover had focused her energies on food conservation drives when her husband was named U.S. Food Administrator and also helped manage a herculean humanitarian task of preventing mass death by starvation of the Belgian people. As First Lady, she continued the garden parties.

During the Depression’s controversial “Bonus Army” march on Washington, thousands of impoverished veterans converged on the capital to demand early pension payments, and would soon clash with federal troops ordered to clear their tent encampments, a directive that was incorrectly believed to be at the direct orders of the President.

Shortly after becoming First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt went to the Bonus Army encampment to speak with veterans.

Shortly after becoming First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt went to the Bonus Army encampment to speak with veterans.

 

Mrs. Hoover kept clear of the violence but did make the anonymous effort of sending sandwiches and coffee from the White House.

In contrast was Eleanor Roosevelt. During World War I, she had also worked at the Union Station canteen and gave particular focus to the needs of sailors, with her husband then serving as President Wilson’s undersecretary of the navy.

In the first days of her tenure in 1933, she actually went into the Bonus Army’s encampments to meet with the disgruntled World War I veterans.

Although she did not bring word of any release of pension funds to them, she joined in their old war songs and expressed her hope that economic relief policies her husband was then initiating would soon help the vets as well as all Americans then suffering from unemployment and housing displacement.

The First Lady’s visit proved to boost their morale. “Hoover sent the army,” was the slogan after her visit, “but Roosevelt sent his wife.”

Eleanor Roosevelt was cheered by World War I vets after visiting their encampment.

Eleanor Roosevelt was cheered by World War I vets after visiting their encampment.

 

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As seen in this painting rendered after the fact, Martha Washington was a visible presence during the legendary suffering of American Revolutionary troops during the winter at Valley Forge. (NFLL)

As seen in this painting rendered after the fact, Martha Washington was a visible presence during the legendary suffering of American Revolutionary troops during the winter at Valley Forge. (NFLL)

Americans have been marking Veterans Day to commemorate the wartime sacrifices made by members of the U.S. Armed Forces ever since the first anniversary of the November 11, 1918 end of World War I ended, what was once called “Armistice Day.”

First Ladies, however, have been focusing their attention on not just war veterans and active members of the military, whether serving in wartime or not, since the inception of the U.S. Presidency. During the first century of the presidency, a number of First Ladies had a general interest with those who served in the American Revolution, War of 1812, Mexican War, Civil War and Spanish-American War. Two of them had an especially strong bond with veterans.

An inset of a larger late 19th century canvas depicts Martha Washington's devotion to an American Revolutionary veteran.

An inset of a larger late 19th century canvas depicts Martha Washington’s devotion to an American Revolutionary veteran.

In fact, the very title of “First Lady” may owe something to the attachment formed between American Revolutionary soldiers and the wife of the first president, dating back to the time he led colonial American troops in the war for independence from England.

All through the American Revolution, Martha Washington determined to live in camp with her husband during his winter military campaigns as he led the Continental Army into battling the British “redcoat” troops sent across the Atlantic to prevent the colonists from becoming an independent nation.

Her most famous winter was the legendary one at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where soldiers were exposed to the bitter winter snow, ice and frigid temperatures without enough clothing to protect them or enough food to eat.

Martha Washington made the rounds of the sick tents, doing what she could to keep the men alive with rudimentary medicinal foods and broths, and spending her time organizing clothing drives among village women.

Martha Washington implored other women to aid the Continental Army any way they could. (LC)

Martha Washington implored other women to aid the Continental Army any way they could. (LC)

When a wealthy group of Philadelphia women came to call on her one day, they found her dressed in simple clothes, as if a servant, working at making clothing and encouraging them to follow suit.

Her devotion to the Continental Army won her their respect and admiration and they soon began to call her “Lady Washington,” as if she were an American version of a British noblewoman.

The unofficial title was the one that would be used by the general public after her husband was unanimously made President in 1789. Referring to a presidential spouse as “Lady,” rather than “Mrs.” seemed to especially designate their unique status even among other powerful women and the custom seems to be the derivation of the title “First Lady” still in use today.

Along the route Martha Washington journeyed from her home in Virginia to the first capital city of New York, she was saluted and cheered by Revolutionary veterans, often with an “All hail Lady Washington!”

A Victorian lithograph shows Martha Washington joining her husband during his regular round checking up on his troops.

A Victorian lithograph shows Martha Washington joining her husband during his regular round checking up on his troops. (LC)

Once established in the series of presidential mansions she would occupy with the President, Martha Washington let it be known that any Revolutionary War veteran who was indigent, physically ill or in any other way suffering were always welcome to see her. While largely anecdotal, the claim that was repeatedly made was that the First Lady would strive to personally aide the veteran or turn to someone with greater resources who could help them.

During the John Adams Administration when there was fear the fledgling nation might engage itself in war with France, local militia groups began organizing in preparation. Abigail Adams, a strident advocate seeking to influence her husband in declaring such a war, became especially concerned with the potential military that would meet an enemy nation.

During one of her lengthy stagecoach journeys from the then-capital city of Philadelphia to her home in Quincy, Massachusetts, Mrs. Adams stopped in New Jersey to formally review a militia group that had formed there and named itself the “Lady Adams Rangers” in her honor.

In the end, President Adams resisted the exhortations of his wife and others and kept the U.S. out of war, but his First Lady’s troop review was the first known ceremonial role assumed by a presidential spouse on behalf of servicemen.

At one of her receptions, First Lady Dolley Madison was presented with the flag of a captured ship during the War of 1812.

At one of her receptions, First Lady Dolley Madison was presented with the flag of a captured ship during the War of 1812.

Honored to attend one of First Lady Dolley Madison’s famous open house “Wednesday crushes” receptions, a sailor, who had been on a ship along the American eastern seaboard which battled the British during the War of 1812

Sarah Polk was First Lady during the Mexican War and on one occasion, when a private serving with the U.S. Army traveled from the fighting on the Rio Grande to Washington, D.C. and appeared at a reception she was hosting, she stopped all the chatter and socializing, calling the attention of her guests so all could listen as the man gave a first-hand account of the fighting.

Although by the time her husband, future President and General Zachary Taylor was leading troops into battle during the Mexican War, Peggy Taylor was no longer living in camp with him as she had done during his entire military career, she remained especially concerned with the well-being of those stationed near their permanent home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Peggy Taylor waving to her husband and his troops as they leave fort for battle.

Peggy Taylor waving to her husband and his troops as they leave fort for battle.

In all the forts where her husband had been stationed, Peggy Taylor did her best to ensure all the officers and soldiers with whom she shared the primitive living spaces and rough conditions. Now, in Baton Rouge, she also oversaw the planting and harvesting of a large vegetable garden so fresh produce was available to them and also looked after their spiritual sustenance, working to establish a nearby Episcopalian chapel.

So little is known about the remote Mrs. Taylor’s tenure as First Lady that it is unclear whether she made herself available to those Mexican War veterans who came to see her husband in the White House; her history of concern for them, however, would suggest she well might have.

President Lincoln reviews troops with Mrs. Lincoln and son Tad in front of the White House.

President Lincoln reviews troops with Mrs. Lincoln and son Tad in front of the White House.

Despite having brothers, brothers-in-law and half-brothers who fought in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, Mary Lincoln devoted her loyalties to the Union Army, led by her husband President Abraham Lincoln.

During her tenure, Mrs. Lincoln was surrounded by soldiers, dozens of them stationed in the White House itself. She was a regular visitor to the Union Army hospitals in the region, and also frequently sent them gifts of food, such as oranges to prevent scurvy and hampers of wine which were not used for White House entertaining.

Campbell's Military Hospital where Mary Lincoln sent wine and citrus fruit for Christmas.

Campbell’s Military Hospital where Mary Lincoln sent wine and citrus fruit for Christmas.

While Mary Lincoln’s tragic widowhood, following her husband’s assassination, is well-chronicled what remains unknown is to what degree she interacted with Union Army Civil War veterans.

Perhaps no First Lady in the first century of the presidency was as devoted as Martha Washington had been to veterans as was Lucy Hayes.

She herself had been on battlefields of the Civil War, there to join her husband, General Rutherford Hayes and worked as a nurse in a field hospital. Becoming a strong maternal figure to all the young men under his command, she was soon dubbed “Mother Lucy.”

A painting showing Lucy Hayes working as a nurse to Union soldiers injured during a Civil War battle.

A painting showing Lucy Hayes working as a nurse to Union soldiers injured during a Civil War battle. (Hayes Presidential Center)

Civil War veterans and their families were an especial focus for Mrs. Hayes while her husband was serving as governor of Ohio and she helped to establish a home for those left orphaned by the war. In the White House, Lucy Hayes continued to focus not only on veterans aid organizations but individual veterans who might be ill or unemployed and who desperately needed some support.

One day, she was even found sitting on the floor sewing and repairing some articles of clothing for an aging vet who otherwise had no kind of help.

Among those Civil War veterans who regularly joined the frequent reunions of the Union Army division led by Hayes was future President William McKinley, who was often joined by his wife Ida. As a teenager during the Civil War, Ida McKinley had aided her mother who was the Canton, Ohio leader of the women’s voluntary organization which provided supplies to local divisions at the front.

Ida McKinley and the President at Camp Meade, Pennsylvania to visit with troops.

Ida McKinley and the President at Camp Meade, Pennsylvania to visit with troops.

She also organized a massive welcoming in Canton for the tens of thousands of Ohio Union Army veterans who gathered there in 1880 for a large reunion.

It was during her husband’s presidency that Ida McKinley became a wartime First Lady herself.

Following the President’s declaration of war with Spain in 1898, his First Lady insisted on joining him as he visited the large training camps in Virginia, and Pennsylvania, despite the fact that her compromised immune system would make her especially vulnerable there to infections and viruses.

Mrs. McKinley inspected a Spanish-American warship in 1899.

Mrs. McKinley inspected a Spanish-American warship in 1899.

On occasion, Mrs. McKinley interceded on behalf of friends and family members who either wanted in or out of military service.

She also headed up a fundraising theater event intended to raise funds for a memorial to those sailors killed on the Maine, which had explored in Havana Harbor and prompted her husband to declare the Spanish-American War.

Following the assassination of her husband in September of 1901, Ida McKinley retreated to her home in Canton, Ohio. Although she received very few members of the public who were unknown to her, she let it be known that not only Civil War but Spanish-American War veterans were always encouraged to pay a call on the presidential widow.

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The White House. (George W. Bush Presidential Library)

The White House. (George W. Bush Presidential Library)

There were more First Ladies who never saw a ghost, had a premonition, or attended a seance than there were who did.

Nellie Simmons Meier, the famous palm reader whom Eleanor Roosevelt consulted. (Indiana Historical Society)

Nellie Simmons Meier, the famous palm reader whom Eleanor Roosevelt consulted. (Indiana Historical Society)

When it came to actively seeking advice for their own life or intending to determine the best course of their future decisions, any number of them were provoked enough to pursue a curious, even amused consultation with various tellers of fate.

Eleanor Roosevelt was known to have consulted the famous Indianapolis palm-reader Nellie Meier.

Having no interest whatsoever in consulting an astrologer, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis instead “threw” rune stones  and consulted the I Ching, a numerical-based ancient Chinese text which guided choices of those consulting it. She found the latter to be far more complex and thus likely to offer more specificity than could be found in the generic daily zodiac columns of newspapers. She liked the former because of its ancient Celtic origins, which she related to the ancestry of President Kennedy and her own maternal forebears.

Jackie Kennedy Onassis had no use for astrologers, preferring the more exotic I Ching and rune stones.

Jackie Kennedy Onassis had no use for astrologers, preferring the more exotic I Ching and rune stones.

Mamie Eisenhower had her tea leaves read while living in Manila, excited at the prediction that her husband would go on to greatness.

And those are just the First Ladies we know about.

The most popular and easiest form of this is of course, astrology. For decades most American newspapers carried a daily column offering advice for each of the twelve signs of the zodiac. In earlier days, there were astrological magazines which provided forecasts for a full month.

Monthly zodiacal magazines of the 19th century.

Monthly zodiacal magazines of the 19th century.

Some First Ladies, such as Ida McKinley for example, subscribed to such publications.

Most First Ladies do not appear to have done much with the advice other than muse about its relevance to how they were living their real lives. It is difficult to determine just which women did live by their horoscopes and which took it less seriously because any such reliance was never leaked to the public.

There were, however,  two presidential spouses who famously adhered strictly to the messages of the zodiac provided to them by their personal astrologers. It was not long before the reliance on astrology by these two First Ladies was revealed to the press, because both of their astrologers went fully public.

What made the accounts of their horoscope consultations all the more relevant and intriguing was that both Florence Harding and Nancy Reagan used it as a tool in their impulse to not only protect their husbands but attempt to guide their presidencies in a successful manner.

Florence Harding standing beside the front porch of the Harding home in Marion, Ohio.

Florence Harding standing beside the front porch of the Harding home in Marion, Ohio.

Perhaps no First Lady was more expert on the full gamut of the occult and believed more thoroughly in the mysterious powers of the supernatural world than did Florence Harding.

Later Marion families detailed that she’d absorbed many of the old European beliefs about evil spirits and curses in her contact with many of the German immigrant families who rented farmlands owned by her father in the region, who kept hex signs on their barns. In 1980, the Harding Home caretaker Herbert Gary claimed that she’d even once attended a spiritualist camp in Indiana. Her 1920 campaign secretary Kathleen Lawler recalled how superstitious she was about otherwise seemingly minor details. Even in the White House, she became agitated if a maid placed a pair of shoes on a bed, which she believed could provoke bad luck.

In her later years, Mrs. Harding’s niece Louisa recalled how her aunt would gaze up at the night sky, able to identify the constellations and that she repeatedly told her the only aspect of life which could be relied upon as true were “the stars,” meaning the messages meant to be divined from the formations. Florence Harding’s grasping the occult as a foundational aspect of existence, however, was entirely rational in the context of the great psychological abuse she endured and an uncertain lifespan resulting from a potentially deadly kidney condition.

President Warren Harding and First Lady Florence Harding.

President Warren Harding and First Lady Florence Harding.

A later generation of those striving to idealize Warren Harding sought to justify his shortcomings either by using her occult interests to caricature her as an emotionally unstable burden on him and attacking those attempting to prove she was not.  Others went to great lengths to obliterate evidence or deny its veracity. A caretaker charged with preserving their personal objects, for example, later bragged about his disposing of her tarot cards found in the attic. A professor mad that her diary had been discovered which included occult references that contradicted his agenda asserted that it was a fake – until he was confronted with samples of her handwritten entries from it.

The irony is that in their lifetime neither Warren or Florence Harding were ashamed by her integrating astrology into their lives.

For his part, Harding never denigrated his wife’s beliefs nor attempted to prevent her seeking guidance in them, even when public exposure of it may have threatened his 1920 presidential election.

Among the numerous astrologers Florence Harding relied upon during her life none was to play as large and public a role as Marcia Chaumprey.

When Mrs. Harding was later First Lady, “Madame Marcia” would also use a crystal ball and go into clairvoyance trances in order to warn about Administration officials she sensed were involved in malfeasance but her primary service was to interpret the zodiac for her.

Evalyn McLean and Florence Harding at a luncheon in 1920.

Evalyn McLean and Florence Harding at a luncheon in 1920.

It was early in the 1920 presidential primary season that Florence Harding was first brought to Marcia’s house by her closest confidant, the millionairess owner of the “cursed” Hope Diamond, Evalyn Walsh McLean.

She then returned with three fellow wives of U.S. Senators, veiled for anonymity, and presented the birth place, time and date details of her husband, seeking to determine the viability of him making a run for the Republican presidential nomination.

Marcia determined that Harding would be nominated and win the general election, but at the cost of his life. The prediction did become a factor in Harding remaining through the primaries, through the power of suggestion, but it was not the sole determinant in his continuing on.

It was Florence Harding who first tipped off the national press corps about having consulted an astrologer, telling them at the Republican National Convention in 1920 that, “If my husband is elected I can see but one word hanging over  his head. Tragedy! Tragedy!”

Astrologer Madame Marcia Chaumprey and her client First Lady Florence Harding.

Astrologer Madame Marcia Chaumprey and her client First Lady Florence Harding.

Upon returning to her Ohio home, Florence Harding remained in touch with Marcia by letter, using the assigned code name of “Jupiter.” Somewhere along the line, there was a leak about the astrologer in the national press, and one of Mrs. Harding’s letters signed “Jupiter” was printed.

Rather than deny it, however, Florence Harding embraced it, confirming her faith in astrology but making amused rather than insulted reference to the leak about the consultation. A wise reaction, it ended any controversy before it began.

Once Florence Harding was in the White House, she would send her Secret Service agent Harry Barker to retrieve Marcia from her home, but had the woman enter through a west wing entrance where apparently the visitor’s book was not kept as strictly as the one maintained by the Chief Usher of guests entering through the main, North Portico entrance.

A l1938 Liberty magazine illustration showing Madame Marcia working on the Harding zodiac chart.

A l1938 Liberty magazine illustration showing Madame Marcia working on the Harding zodiac chart.

The irony for Marcia was that the previous First Lady had also consulted her. When Edith Galt had first consulted Mrs. Chaumprey in 1914, she foretold of her somehow becoming a member of a presidential family and living in the White House.

Edith Wilson and Florence Harding, two successive First Ladies who were both clients of Madame Marcia.

Edith Wilson and Florence Harding, two successive First Ladies who were both clients of Madame Marcia.

Mrs. Galt declared that if her prediction proved true that Marcia would be invited to the White House for further consultations and be permitted through the public entrance.

Once the widow was wooed and married the widowed President Woodrow Wilson, however, she made Marcia slip in discreetly through the south entrance.

As predicted, Warren Harding did die during his presidency. On the first night his flag-draped coffin laid in state in the White House East Room, Florence Harding asked her companion Evalyn McLean to descend the grand staircase so she could “speak” with her late husband.

President Harding's coffin in the East Room was ordered open by Florence Harding, so she could then talk to him.

President Harding’s coffin in the East Room was ordered open by Florence Harding, so she could then talk to him.

There followed what many believe is the most ghoulish of scenes to have taken place in White House history. Both women were draped in black-veil, and Florence had the flag removed and the coffin opened so she could begin her monologue with the corpse, looking down onto his face, painted by a mortician.

In taped interviews she conducted with her ghostwriter, Evalyn recalled many humanizing tales of her beloved friends and attested to Florence Harding’s strict adherence to astrology. In two 1938 Liberty Magazine articles, Madame Marcia also went public with her rather exaggerated version of it all, “When An Astrologer Ruled the White House.”

It was another half-century before another First Lady’s reliance on astrology was thrust into media headlines and became the topic of public debate. In 1988, a year before the Reagan presidency ended, the President’s former Chief of Staff Don Regan published his memoirs, For the Record.

Nancy Reagan and Don Regan. (RRPL)

Nancy Reagan and Don Regan. (RRPL)

Disgruntled at Nancy Reagan’s effort to have him fired, he went public with the fact that, “the president’s schedule – and therefore his life and the most important business of the American nation was largely under the control of the first lady’s astrologer.”

time magazine cover joan quigley astrologyThe global media went wild, headlines, crying that decisions made by the executive branch of the United States were dictated by readings of the zodiac.

A year after Regan’s revelations, Nancy Reagan published her book, the 1990 My Turn, and addressed the astrology issue.

In it, she wrote that, “While astrology was a factor in determining Ronnie’s schedule, it was never the only one, and no political decision was ever based on it.”

Quigley with horoscope charts. (AP)

Quigley with horoscope charts. (AP)

She had been prompted to enlist the professional services of San Francisco astrologer Joan Quigley upon the recommendation of their mutual friend Merv Griffin.

The trauma which followed the assassination attempt on her husband created a need for some sense of control in the protection of her husband. Using astrology to determine which days seemed dangerous and which seemed safe for the President to make public appearances or travel seemed to be an extra level of caution.

“I’m scared every time he leaves the house,” she confessed to Quigley.

“If it makes you feel better, go ahead and do it,” President Reagan assured his wife when she asked if minded her seeking astrological advice, warning only that she be sure it did not publicly leak.

Quigley's book.

Quigley’s book.

A year after Mrs. Reagan’s book came out, however, Joan Quigley published her version of things in the memoir What Does Joan Say?: My Seven Years as White House Astrologer to Nancy and Ronald Reagan, which was the line the President allegedly often asked his wife when it came to determining matters which the astrologer claimed went well beyond public appearances and travel dates.

“I was responsible for timing all press conferences,” Quigley wrote, “most speeches, the State of the Union addresses, the takeoffs and landings of Air Force One. I picked the time of Ronald Reagan’s debate with Carter and the two debates with Walter Mondale; all extended trips abroad as well as the shorter trips and one-day excursions.”

Quigley advised the First Lady by phone.

Quigley advised the First Lady by phone.

She had also advised on the timing of Reagan’s cancer surgery, and even offered her opinion that he must shift his Cold War rhetoric in dealing with the new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

“Ronnie’s ‘evil empire’ attitude has to go,” Quigley claimed she told the First Lady. “Gorbachev’s Aquarian planet is in such harmony with Ronnie’s, you’ll see … They’ll share a vision…”

The Reagans with Carroll Righter in Hollywood.

The Reagans with Carroll Righter in Hollywood.

The First Lady paid Quigley for her services, through the help of a third party and most of their consultations were conducted over the phone.

The astrologer only came to the White House once, to attend a 1985 state dinner. It was the only time Reagan ever met his wife’s astrologer, but both he and Nancy had long before consulted and befriended Carroll Righter, the famous “astrologer to the stars” and a daily horoscope columnist.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Elderly Dolley Madison and her niece Anna Payne. (NPG)

Elderly Dolley Madison and her niece Anna Payne. (NPG)

Among the earliest documentation of a presidential spouse making reference to any of the beliefs that are commonly bunched together under the umbrella description of “occult,” is an August 1, 1833 letter written by former First Lady Dolley Madison to her niece Mary Cutts.

It certainly offers a different perspective from those mentioned in this series of four articles.

The younger woman had recently been to see a fortuneteller and reported back to her aunt the details of what was predicted for her future life:

“May your fortune, dearest Mary, be even better than the sybil’s predictions. There is one secret, however, she did not tell you, and that is the power we all have in forming our own destinies.”

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The White House and its South Lawn. (carlanthonyonline.com)

The White House and its South Lawn. (carlanthonyonline.com)

Although Mary Lincoln believed in the power of Ouija boards to foretell the future, and consulted astrological magazines as well, she held no faith in the power of dreams to predict imminent events.

In fact, when President Lincoln often turned solemn and fearful when he awoke from dreams with dark conclusions, she laughingly dismissed it as ridiculous.

Not so six of her fellow First Ladies, three of whom also left the White House as presidential widows, two of whom had premonitions about their husbands being in danger, and one that had extra-sensory experiences related to the potential death of a president other than her own husband.

Former President John Tyler died in Richmond, Virginia Exchange Hotel as foretold in a dream by his wife, Julia. A quarter of a century she died there too.

Former President John Tyler died in Richmond, Virginia’s Exchange Hotel as foretold in a dream by his wife, Julia. A quarter of a century later, she died there too.

Julia Gardiner Tyler was no stranger to the supernatural world. As a former First Lady she sponsored an evening of “levitation, magnetic powers, and the conjuring up of spirits from the great beyond.”

She watched in fascination as a slave seamstress levitated a table. “Instead of being terrified, I was very glad I witnessed what is, without a doubt the magnetic influence of the body – and not supernatural agency.”

It was in the power of premonitory dreaming, however, that Mrs. Tyler herself possessed.

As a widow, Julia Tyler always wore a cameo portrait of the late President at her neck,

As a widow, Julia Tyler always wore a cameo portrait of the late President at her neck, (Appleton’s Biographical Dictionary)

One night, while at the James River plantation she shared with her husband and their seven children, she was terrified of a dream she had of him, by now a former president, serving in the Confederate House of Representatives. She imagined him in his room in Richmond’s Exchange Hotel, unable to breathe, holding his necktie.

She told several people about this and decided she had to get to him, to see that he was alright. She made the trip to Richmond, relieved that he was well. She returned home.

Two days later, John Tyler died exactly as she had dreamed he would.

Some twenty-seven years later, Julia Tyler was visiting Richmond and rented a suite at the Exchange Hotel.  She died there too, that very night.

Primary source documents in the hand of First Lady Peggy Taylor seems to have been largely obliterated.

Practically the only primary source remnant from the public life of First Lady Peggy Taylor is this sole copy of her calling card. (Smithsonian)

Practically the only primary source remnant from the public life of First Lady Peggy Taylor is this sole copy of her calling card. (Smithsonian)

Despite the fact that she led a full but secluded life on the second floor of the White House during her husband’s presidency, there remain no notes or letters, barely an autograph.

There is one direct quote attributed to her, however, recalled for the record by a loyal family friend some years after the former First Lady’s death, which she uttered when her husband, Zachary Taylor, the heralded general of the Mexican War, was nominated for the presidency: “It is a plot to deprive me of his company, and to shorten his life.”

Just who was behind what she believed was some kind of conspiracy to kill him, she never said.

Peggy Taylor became hysterical at the deathbed scene of her husband, President Zachary Taylor.

Peggy Taylor became hysterical at the deathbed scene of her husband, President Zachary Taylor.

Sixteen months into his presidency, however, her prediction proved correct. President Taylor died of a sudden stomach disorder in July of 1850.

Peggy Taylor was so hysterical at his deathbed by how quickly his spirit seemed to leave his suddenly inanimate body that she refused to at first believe this.

His corpse was placed on to stay preserved until the burial could take place, but three times Mrs. Taylor asked that he be taken off the ice so she could be certain he really was dead.

From their earliest days together, Julia Dent not only believed that her husband Ulysses S. Grant would go on to enjoy a triumphant life of success and public acclaim: she also believed the audible yet invisible voice which assured her of this during their most dire days of struggle.

Early in their marriage, Julia Grant claimed that an invisible voice assured her that Ulysses was destined for greatness, a premonition in which she never lost faith.

Early in their marriage, Julia Grant claimed that an invisible voice assured her that Ulysses was destined for greatness, a premonition in which she never lost faith. (LC)

Faith in this premonitory voice would not only save her husband’s life but change the course of history.

Just six days after her husband, by then the Union Army leader, had signed the peace treaty ending the Civil War, Julia Grant refused the invitation of the President and Mrs. Lincoln to join them on one of their many nights at the theater. The reason went deeper than the rivalry between the two women.

Earlier that day, Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant was seated in the back of her carriage, negotiating the muddy streets of Washington when a man riding his horse in the opposite direction neared and looked into her vehicle, staring at her with a menacing glance. It left her spooked and unsettled.

As if she were some sort of good luck charm, Julia Grant had made the effort to live in camp with her husband.

From the time he took charge of the Union Army, Ulysses S,. Grant had received any number of threats on his life, yet had emerged unharmed. He’d managed to get through a life on the battlefield as if protected. The war was now over.

Grant was now becoming a national celebrity, which Julia insisted was the ordained path of his fate. She reveled in the cheers and applause with which he was met by the masses at public events.

And yet, despite the promise of enormous adulation from a theater full of admirers who were likely to give Grant a standing ovation along with Lincoln when they entered the presidential box, she felt compelled to obey her inner sense that some type of danger was imminent and must be avoided.

Julia Grant (left) had a fearful sense of doom for her husband had they accepted the invitation of Mrs. Lincoln to j

Julia Grant (left) had a fearful sense of doom for her husband had they accepted the invitation of Mrs. Lincoln to join her and the President at Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865 to see the play Our American Cousin. (LC)

Both the General and his wife did long for some private time alone with their children, then staying with relatives in New Jersey; it also provided Julia Grant with an acceptable reason for refusing the honor of being seated with the President and Mrs. Lincoln on the night of April 14, 1865.

The Grants were already well on their way to New Jersey that night as the Lincolns arrive at Ford’s Theater to see the play Our American Cousins. It was later learned that the conspirators who assassinated the President that night believed Grant was to have also been there – and had every intention of murdering him too.

Ida McKinley escorted by her husband and doctor, 1899. (NFLL)

Ida McKinley escorted by her husband and doctor, 1899. (NFLL)

During her husband’s presidency, Ida McKinley was distorted into the caricature of a Victorian invalid who needed his perpetual protection, a useful tale which made William McKinley a “martyr” and won him votes on sentimentality.

In truth, Ida McKinley was vigilant in her protection of him. 

During the Spanish-American War when he stopped taking even carriage rides and went without sleep, she conspired with his staff to remedy this, terrified of the affect on his health.

At times, she panicked that he was tempting fate by his refusal to be guarded, based on his somewhat arrogant presumption that nobody would ever wish to harm him, despite the many world leaders who were being murdered at the time by a global network of anarchists.

A regular reader of astrological journals, it was easy for her to become further agitated when she inadvertently came across articles predicting situations where President McKinley might be harmed.

Yet, Ida McKinley’s premonition dated from before her husband was elected President in 1896. On the night of his election victory, while he was surrounded by jubilant friends and family, several noticed how “greatly distressed” she was.

Provoking her husband President McKinley to chuckle, Ida McKinley blocked photographers with a parasol as they entered the Buffalo Pan-American Exposition grounds. (LC)

Provoking her husband President McKinley to chuckle, Ida McKinley blocked photographers with a parasol as they entered the Buffalo Pan-American Exposition grounds. (LC)

Her friends later told reporter Edna Colman that “they were satisfied she had a premonition of his fate.” Embarrassed by her dark mood, McKinley made light of it, chuckling, “This little woman is always afraid someone is going to harm her husband.”

Ida McKinley yelled back at him in front of all their guests,  “Oh, Major, they will kill you, they will kill you!”

History’s later casting of Ida McKinley as behaving with irrational demands on her husband date from eyewitness accounts during the period he was planning a run for a second term. Having come to nearly the end of his first term without harm, she argued more stridently and reacted with overt hostility towards his intention, angrily frustrated at him for tempting fate by seeking a second term.

Mrs. McKinley in her Canton home. (NFLL)

Mrs. McKinley in her Canton home. (NFLL)

Forced to accept his decision or essentially forgo any further public role as First Lady, she acquiesced.

Still, as the first summer of his second term waned and Ida McKinley prepared to leave the restful privacy of their home in Canton, Ohio and journey with the President for his anticipated visit to the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, her premonitions of five years earlier returned.

Her nurse admitted to the press at the time that it was “strange” just how intensely Mrs. McKinley objected to attending the exposition, yet “gave no reason for not wishing to go.”

Ida McKinley always strongly believed her husband would be killed as President. (Ohio Historical Society picture of ISM  at left)

Ida McKinley always strongly believed her husband would be killed as President. (left side, Ohio Historical Society)

Among the few examples of Ida McKinley’s handwriting are some lines she scribbled in a 1901 diary book her husband had given her as a New Year’s Day gift. She had barely used it.

Yet, some sense was strong enough to compel her to record her feelings as they readied to leave Canton for Buffalo.

As she wrote in the entry for September 1: “I wish we were not going away from home.”

The President and Mrs. McKinley nevertheless left Canton and arrived in Buffalo on September 4.  Two days later her husband was shot. He died eight days later, just as Ida McKinley had always sensed he would be.

It was former President Wilson, by then a victim of stroke, that his wife Edith Wilson feared would die - not the incumbent President, (LC)

It was former President Wilson, by then a victim of stroke, that his wife Edith Wilson feared would die – not the incumbent President, (LC)

By the night of August 2, 1923, Edith Wilson had been out of the White House for two and half years.

She had managed to help craft a false front for the public that her husband, the President, had only been suffering from “nervous exhaustion” upon returning from a cross-country speaking tour by train.

Of course, he had suffered a major debilitating stroke.

Keeping his as rested as possible while working with his physicians, she also successfully managed his presidency by approving routine matters and maintaining the myth that he was fully in charge.

She was lucky to further manage to get him out of the White House alive, the day his successor Warren Harding was sworn in on March 4, 1921.

Seen with his healthy, younger successor Harding, it was outgoing President Wilson's survival which was feared. (LC)

Seen with his healthy, younger successor Harding, it was outgoing President Wilson’s survival which was feared. (LC)

Yet she knew how fragile her husband really was, and her grave concern for his survival only intensified.

That night, however, Edith Wilson was overwhelmed with what she called an inexplicable feeling of “something ominous hanging over us.”

She went to bed, but remained there for only a few hours. The former First Lady was soon awakened by the cries of newspaper boys on the street, who shouted out the headline news that President Harding had died.

Edith Wilson and Eleanor Roosevelt proceed to the U.S. Capitol to hear President FDR declare war on December 7, 1941.

Edith Wilson and Eleanor Roosevelt proceed to the U.S. Capitol to hear President FDR declare war on December 7, 1941.

Curiously, on the afternoon of April 12, 1945, Edith Wilson was with the incumbent First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, making a joint appearance at a fundraising tea at the Sulgrave Club of Washington.

While seated beside her predecessor, a club butler whispered to Mrs. Roosevelt that a call had come in from the White House, asking that she return there at once.

Eleanor Roosevelt never claimed she had the power of extra-sensory perception but she did state for the record that in that moment, she had a visceral foreboding.

Eleanor Roosevelt visits the grave of an American serviceman in Guadalcanal. (pacificwrecks.org)

Eleanor Roosevelt visits the grave of an American serviceman in Guadalcanal. (pacificwrecks.org)

With American and Allied military forces tightening the grip on the Axis during World War II on two fronts, any military move being made at the time could have proven decisive or disastrous.

Having visited what would prove to be nearly ten percent of the U.S. Armed Forces stationed in European and the Pacific bases, she was acutely conscious of wartime death.

She kept up on the fate of the sons of many friends and relatives, always fearful of a report that one had been killed in combat.

She also had all four of her sons on active duty at the front. Any one of them might well be killed.

This was not what troubled her, however.

As she entered her car in the driveway of the Sulgrave Club and was rushed back to the White House, Eleanor Roosevelt had a premonition that her husband had died. (Smithsonian, left)

As she entered her car in the driveway of the Sulgrave Club and was rushed back to the White House, Eleanor Roosevelt had a premonition that her husband had died. (Smithsonian, left)

“I got into the car and sat with clenched hands all the way to the White House,” she recalled. “In my heart of hearts, I knew what had happened.”

She was right.

Her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had died.

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