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.

The Fourth of July on the White House South Lawn. (WH)

The Fourth of July on the White House South Lawn. (WH)

Since that day of July 4, 1776. when its independence was first declared by the American colonies upon the ratification of the Declaration of Independence, the United States has marked Independence Day for 240 years.

It was only thirteen years later that the American presidency was established and the Fourth of July began to be observed in various ways by presidential households.

For nearly two-hundred thirty years now, at either the White House in Washington, D.C. or the “Summer White House,” those rented or owned private retreats of presidential families, the July Fourth holiday proved important to several First Ladies for reasons that ranged from private grief to benchmarks in their public roles.

Jane Pierce, 1855

While always conscious of the tragic death of her young son in the weeks preceding her move to the White House, Jane Pierce also recognized how her mood could impede what she respected as the public’s right to enjoy the grounds of the presidential mansion on the Fourth of July.

Jane Pierce. (carlanthonyonline)

Jane Pierce. (carlanthonyonline)

Due to her religious belief that the Lord’s Day must be spent in silent prayer, she was initially adamant about rescheduling the customary Sunday public concerts played by the Marine Band from the White House South Balcony. Reaction was not entirely sympathetic.

The Congress Hall Hotel where Jane Pierce spent her July Fourth. (Pinterest)

The Congress Hall Hotel where Jane Pierce spent her July Fourth. (Pinterest)

When she joined the President for what was intended as a brief few days away from Washington at Cape May, New Jersey at the end of June, Mrs. Pierce convinced him to extend their vacation for another week.

Content with the presidential suite provided them at the Congress Hall Hotel, the First Lady kept them there until the July Fourth holiday was over in Washington, permitting the large citizenry gathered there for massive fireworks staged from the Navy Yard to make as loud a ruckus on the South Lawn as they wanted, while sparing her all the noise and crowds.

She returned three days after the holiday when she was assured that most of the masses had dissipated.

Julia Grant, 1876

As the two terms of the Grant Administration wound down into its last months, the First Lady remained as eager as ever to defend not only her husband’s conduct as president but the greatness of the nation over which he ruled.

Julia Grant.

Julia Grant.

Her pride especially came to the fore during the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, a display of Industrial Age America’s technological innovations and ingenuity. Although she spent the actual centennial day with her family in the White House, Mrs. Grant intended a highly visible presence for herself at the May 10 opening day of the exhibition.

When the empress of Brazil was invited to place her hand along with that of her husband and President Grant on the great Corliss Engine which powered all of the mechanical exhibits, Julia Grant was livid.

Julia Grant, the empress of Brazil and other wives of officials on the platform of the mammoth engine that set the machinery of the Centennial Exposition in motion. (LC)

Julia Grant, the empress of Brazil and other wives of officials on the platform of the mammoth engine that set the machinery of the Centennial Exposition in motion. (LC)

“I wondered what could have prompted this discourtesy to the wife of the President of the United States,” she later recalled.

The First Lady got her chance to shine, however. When she and the emperor came upon a large exhibit of American tobacco, he doubted it could have much worth. She retorted that it was an especially helpful aid for digestion.

The emperor quipped that rigorous physical exercise was the best way to aid digestion.

“Oh, Your Majesty, you are quite  away behind the times,” the First Lady patriotically pointed out. “The whole energies of the United States are now bent upon inventing labor-saving devices.”

Lucretia Garfield, 1881

It was only one month after her husband’s presidential inauguration that Lucretia Garfield fell deathly ill with the malaria that plagued generations of White House residents, resulting from the mosquito breeding grounds in the swamps just south of the executive mansion.

Lucretia Garfield took charge of her wounded husband's sickroom by the time she'd returned to the White House on the Fourth of July 1881. (LC)

Lucretia Garfield took charge of her wounded husband’s sickroom by the time she’d returned to the White House on the Fourth of July 1881. (LC)

Once she was considered strong enough to be physically moved from her bedroom on June 18, the First Lady preceded her husband and two eldest sons by taking in the fresh salt air and cooler temperatures of a retreat established for the family at Elberon, New Jersey.

The entire family was scheduled to spend the July Fourth holiday together there and the President headed with his sons to join his wife a few days before, with a speech at Williams College.

President Garfield got no further than the train depot station, being shot point blank by a disappointed office-seeker Charles Guiteau.

The Jersey shore mansion where Lucretia Garfield was recuperating when, the morning before July Fourth, she rushed back to her wounded husband's side in Washington. She later brought him here, where he died. (longbranchhistory.org)

The Jersey shore mansion where Lucretia Garfield was recuperating when, the morning before July Fourth, she rushed back to her wounded husband’s side in Washington. She later brought him here, where he died. (longbranchhistory.org)

In the early morning hours the day before Independence Day, the First Lady was being sped by train back down to Washington.

On the Fourth of July that year, having composed her initially overwhelmed reaction, she took control of the chaos in a bedroom that was hastily-organized into a hospital ward, dismissing even the President’s belief he would soon die from the bullet wounds.

“Well, my dear, you are not going to die as I am here to nurse you back to life; so please do not speak again of death.”

Sadly, not even Crete Garfield’s determined optimism could alter his fate, the President dying two months later with his wife at his side.

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The Fourth of July on the White House South Lawn. (WH)

The Fourth of July on the White House South Lawn. (WH)

Since that day of July 4, 1776. when its independence was first declared by the American colonies upon the ratification of the Declaration of Independence, the United States has marked Independence Day for 240 years.

It was only thirteen years later that the American presidency was established and the Fourth of July began to be observed in various ways by presidential households.

For nearly two-hundred thirty years now, at either the White House in Washington, D.C. or the “Summer White House,” those rented or owned private retreats of presidential families, the July Fourth holiday proved important to several First Ladies for reasons that ranged from private grief to benchmarks in their public roles.

Dolley Madison, 1808

Dolley Madison. (carlanthonyonline)

Dolley Madison. (carlanthonyonline)

Her husband had not yet been elected the fourth president in his own right and the later, persistent crediting to her of serving as the third president’s official White House hostess are a misnomer, but the Fourth of July in 1802 was a watershed moment for Dolley Madison.

With both President Jefferson and Vice President Aaron Burr being widowers, her status as the  spouse of the Secretary of State, the Cabinet member of highest rank, converged with her natural ease with crowds to forge her into one of the nation’s few female public figures.

An 1803 watercolor of the White House also shows nearby the first residences of F Street, where the Madisons lived (Huntington Library)

An 1803 watercolor of the White House also shows nearby the first residences of F Street, where the Madisons lived (Huntington Library)

Mrs. Madison was a prominent figure among the crowds invited by President Jefferson to his open-house Independence Day reception, using the event one year to solicit prominent women of the city, in her effort to spearhead a private fundraising effort to help compensate the federal government funding of the western exploration by Lewis and Clark.

It was in 1808 that Dolley Madison was given the highest honor and made a bit of feminist history. A band and cavalry contingent stopped outside the private home of Secretary Madison to serenade his wife.

Dolley Madison then presented them with a ceremonial flag and delivered a “patriotic address” related to Independence Day, the first woman known to make a public July 4th speech.

Sarah Polk, 1848

Sarah Polk. (Polk Home)

Sarah Polk. (Polk Home)

In 1848, incumbent Sarah Polk hosted a unique Fourth of July gathering of her First Lady sorority, welcoming among guests her elderly predecessors Dolley Madison and Louisa Adams.

The two presidential widows had joined with Betsey Hamilton, widow of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton in heading up a women’s committee that was part of a larger national organization raising funds for the groundbreaking and initial construction of the long-anticipated Washington Monument.

The drive proved so successful that the laying of the cornerstone ceremony was scheduled for Independence Day that year.

This watercolor illustrates the Washington Monument cornerstone-laying ceremony. (Scottish Rite Temple)

This watercolor illustrates the Washington Monument cornerstone-laying ceremony. (Scottish Rite Temple)

After appearing at the outdoor ceremony beneath a striped tent on the grounds south of the White House, the two former First Ladies joined Mrs. Polk for a reception in their old home.

Incumbent First Lady Sarah Polk with her husband President James Polk, joined by others including former First Lady Dolley Madison at far right. (Eastman House)

The President and Mrs. Polk joined by  former First Lady Dolley Madisont. (Eastman House)

Contemporary accounts include the crowd’s marvel at the youthful appearance of Dolley Madison, then over eighty years old.

It is the first known gathering of multiple First Ladies at a public event.

What could not be known to the three First Ladies at the time, however, was that a future presidential hostess was also in attendance, Harriet Lane, the young niece of Polk’s Secretary of State James Buchanan.

While a certain Illinois Congressman was also among the crowd at the ceremony, his wife Mary Lincoln is recorded as having already left the city.

Peggy Taylor, 1849

Peggy Taylor. (NFLL)

Peggy Taylor. (NFLL)

Forever a shadowy figure in her husband’s brief sixteen-month presidency, the wife of Zachary Taylor had arranged with her youngest daughter Betty to essentially divide the First Lady role into private and public responsibilities.

Peggy Taylor would serve as hostess at private dinners, where visiting family members and political figures she knew personally were guests. Betty Taylor Bliss would serve as the public First Lady, promenading at open-house and diplomatic receptions on the arm of her father, greeting guests and seated at dinners with the status of the presidential lady.

A Sunday School Union group in 1849, the year such a group were received by Mrs. Taylor on July Fourth. (Pinterest)

A Sunday School Union group in 1849, the year such a group were received by Mrs. Taylor on July Fourth. (Pinterest)

On the first Fourth of July of the administration, however, Peggy Taylor agreed to make a rare public appearance in the large East Room, so she could join the President in welcoming the teachers and students of the local Sunday School Union.

While she was able to leave the executive mansion on a nearly daily basis and go unrecognized across the public square to attend midday religious services at St. John’s Episcopal Church, on this Fourth of July, Peggy Taylor was willing to temporarily sacrifice her anonymity and accept the gift of a Bible from the Baptist organization.

Little could she know that the next year’s Fourth of July ceremonies would find her husband overeating and contracting a likely bacterial infection, leading to his sudden death days later.

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Ida McKinley, seated at far right, during one of her husband's 1896 presidential campaign speechs on their front porch. (NFLL)

Ida McKinley, seated at far right, during one of her husband’s 1896 presidential campaign speechs on their front porch. (NFLL)

Perhaps the fact that the spouse of the presumptive 2016 Democratic presidential nominee is himself a former President would make it inevitable that his own record as Chief Executive would be likely to be turned into a campaign issue, whether it reflected on his presidential record on issues such as the crime bill or personal life. There have already been questions raised by Republican foes of his wife’s candidacy about Clinton’s life as a former president, involving his foundation, with the intention of making it an issue.

Former President Clinton confers with his wife, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. (Getty)

Former President Clinton confers with his wife, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. (Getty)

Yet even if this unique situation were not the case, there would remain a good chance of it occurring. In the last several months during the primary campaign, the professional advantage that may have been given to Heidi Cruz, wife of one of the Republican candidates who dropped out, while she was employed at the investment company of Goldman Sachs was raised during the primary season.

Despite the claims of the media and any given political opposition they were facing that a presidential candidate’s spouse and family members were “off-limits” as campaign issues, the first example of it occurred early on, during the 1808 presidential campaign.

The first two candidates’ spouses who their husbands’ opposition sought to create an issue of involved Dolley Madison in 1808 and Rachel Jackson in 1828.

Dolley Madison, painted by George Catlin.

Dolley Madison, painted by George Catlin.

In the case of the first one, there were lurid tales suggesting she had committed adultery with none other than Thomas Jefferson, strong ally of her husband who served the third president’s Secretary of State. There was no truth to the tales.

In the second case, that of Rachel Jackson, it had been the divorce by her first husband that was not only true but became a full-blown and central issue of her husband’s 1828 campaign.

Apart from the moral questions the opposition sought to raise by suggesting she was, as one campaign tract put it, a “wanton woman,” the fact that she married Jackson only on the claim that her first husband had obtained a divorce from her, rather than the verification was used to imply that Jackson, then a lawyer, had failed to act professionally and would do likewise as president.

Later tales that Peggy Taylor remained “hidden” as First Lady was due to her being a crude “white of the wilds” too coarse to preside over sophisticated social functions at the White House.

Rachel Jackson, one of her portraits in the collection of the Hermitage.

Rachel Jackson, one of her portraits in the collection of the Hermitage.

The root of this, however, may well have been the numerous stories that appeared in the press during her husband’s 1848 campaign, which emphasized her displeasure with Zach Taylor’s candidacy and lack of any interest in going to Washington.

Margaret Taylor. (Heritage)

Margaret Taylor. (Heritage)

Taylor himself made an issue of his wife’s disinterest, making jokes at his own expense for defying his wife’s wishes.

As the incumbent First Lady, Mary Lincoln feared that her overspending federal appropriations for furnishing the White House did turn up in a smaller form during her husband’s 1864 reelection campaign.

The campaign of her husband’s Democratic opponent churned out a small pamphlet listing grievances of the Lincoln Administration and including a separate topic entitled “Mrs. Lincoln’s Crockery,” a reference to her purchase of two purple state china sets, one for the White House and another, apparently, for private use.

Mary Lincoln (LC)

Mary Lincoln (LC)

The topic was addressed simply as a matter of frivolous indulgence during wartime, not a question of the china purchase on government funds. Despite her fears, it never mushroomed into a serious issue – nor did it lead her critics to the knowledge of her larger overspending.

A piece of the purple Lincoln state china. (pinterest)

A piece of the purple Lincoln state china. (pinterest)

Ida McKinley suffered from a number of ailments, the most confounding being the brain dysfunction known as epilepsy.

Since it was still equated at the time with a type of insanity, her husband went to great lengths to hide the true nature of her condition.

In fact, it was a primary reason he decided to conduct his 1896 campaign from the front-porch of their rented home.

Still, as voter delegations came to hear William McKinley deliver his campaign speeches at his home, stories began to circulate about Mrs. McKinley in the western states that ranged from the reasonable suggestion that she had some type of disorder to wildly illogical ones that had no possible derivation in the truth about her epilepsy, such as claims she was a spy or a Catholic.

Ida McKinley as Ohio Governor's wife. (ebay)

Ida McKinley as Ohio Governor’s wife. (ebay)

Ultimately, the campaign felt the threat of perception that there was something wrong with Ida McKinley led the campaign to commission a biography about her life, the first such publication about a presidential candidate’s spouse.

It was the first alleged marriage and the birth of her son that threatened to become a campaign issue in 1920 when Florence Harding’s husband was running for President.

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.

The fact that there has never been any record in any county of Ohio that proved she had married Henry DeWolfe, which would have made the birth of their son Marshall a legitimate one, threatened to be raised by Democrats as a campaign issue intended to reflect poorly on the morality of the candidate in a far more judgmental era.

As the Democratic vice-presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt recorded, however, in a private letter to the president of Harvard University, the Harding campaign knew well about the love affairs of the Democratic candidate James Cox and both campaigns decided not to pull out either of the personal issues on the opposition.

Like Mrs. Lincoln, it was the issue of extravagant spending that was leveled against Jacqueline Kennedy, in addition to the fact that she’d been educated in Europe, went fox hunting and had a strong affinity for the French culture.

Jacqueline Kennedy campaigns with her husband weeks before the 1960 election. (pinterest)

Jacqueline Kennedy campaigns with her husband weeks before the 1960 election. (pinterest)

This shaped a persona of her as being an elitist that the average American would feel little to no affinity for, and it became a serious concern of her husband’s campaign advisers who were relieved that her pregnancy during the 1960 campaign naturally kept her from frequent public exposure.

Still, she could handle the issue herself, responding that reports of her expensive clothing taste were exaggerated and had nothing to do with her husband’s qualifications to serve as president.

While she was First Lady, Betty Ford openly discussed social issues including drug use, abortion, mental health, and premarital sex during 1974 and 1975 in media interviews.

Later, her openness was seen as a healthy break from a more repressive demeanor expected of political spouses, to refrain from acknowledging often contentious yet common family issues.

First Lady Betty Ford speaking on women's equality presented a political challenge to conservatives within the Republican Party at the time of her husband's 1976 presidential campaign. (GRFL)

First Lady Betty Ford speaking on women’s equality presented a political challenge to conservatives within the Republican Party at the time of her husband’s 1976 presidential campaign. (GRFL)

At the time, however, advisers on her husband’s 1976 campaign feared she would alienate conservative voters within the Republican Party during the primary season.

There were times when a sharp contrast was drawn between her and Nancy Reagan, the wide of Governor Ronald Reagan then challenging President Ford for the nomination. In the general election, however, the issue faded when Ford faced the more liberal Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter, While many depicted his wife Rosalynn as holding more conservative views than Betty Ford, that perception was not enough to draw disaffected Republicans to vote against the Ford candidacy.

 

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Ellen Wilson on a whistlestop, the first incumbent First Lady who left the family home to publicly appear at a spouse's presidential campaign appearances. (Frances Saunders biography of Ellen Wilson)

Ellen Wilson on a whistlestop, the first incumbent First Lady who left the family home to publicly appear at a spouse’s presidential campaign appearances. (Frances Saunders biography of Ellen Wilson)

Melania Trump, many believe, has proven to be a presidential candidate’s spouse who suggests an earlier era when those in her position were often seen, but rarely heard.

Melanie Trump speaking in South Carolina. (youtube)

Melanie Trump speaking in South Carolina. (youtube)

On only four occasions during the South Carolina, New Hampshire and Wisconsin state primary election races of 2016 has she spoken to crowds of her husband’s supporters at rallies and other events.

Unusually, since he has thus far held none of the usual large fundraising events common among modern presidential candidates, Mrs. Trump has been spared the obligation of appearing and speaking at these events as has been performed by the likes of others among this year’s other candidates’ spouses like Bill Clinton, Heidi Cruz, and Columba Bush and many a generation of those from the past.

Whether she will be able to continue this as the general campaign ensues is uncertain, but at least thus far it is a decision that seemingly harks back to an earlier era when presidential candidates’ spouses might be seen, but were rarely heard.

Lucretia Garield, seated at center in black, with family members on the front porch of their home, at a moment when it was not the center of attention during the 1880 campaign. (Garfield NHS)

Lucretia Garield, seated at center in black, with family members on the front porch of their home, at a moment when it was not the center of attention during the 1880 campaign. (Garfield NHS)

Wives of candidates began to publicly appear within the acceptable realm of their designated sphere of the home, when that home was the center point of presidential candidates’ speeches – the front porch.

Women such as Mary Lincoln, Lucretia Garfield, Caroline Harrison and Ida McKinley were soon identifiable to the regular political press corps that were covering their husbands’ campaigns simply by their ubiquitous if silent appearances with or near their husbands.

Roosevelt on Notification Day at his home. (LC)

Roosevelt on Notification Day at his home. (LC)

Yet even as late as 1904, when Theodore Roosevelt stood on his front porch for the ceremonial “Notification Day,” marked by the formal conveyance by party leaders to the candidate of the news that he had received his party’s nomination, and then the candidate’s official acceptance of it, it was considered too political for his wife to appear there with him.

Edith Roosevelt (inset) and the windows she listened through to hear the Notification Day ceremony. (NYT)

Edith Roosevelt (inset) and the windows she listened through to hear the Notification Day ceremony. (NYT)

Instead, recalled his daughter Alice, she stood with her stepmother Edith Roosevelt behind a screen placed behind the open porch window, listening in on the speeches but never being seen by the press covering the event.

Although she worked as an adviser to her husband during his 1912 campaign, Ellen Wilson also remained assiduously silent over the course of it.

Press coverage of her appearances at his side on the whistlestop train tour or at events held in their Princeton, New Jersey home were never marked by any quotes from the candidate’s spouse.

When there was a printed claim that Ellen Wilson approved of women smoking cigarettes, she felt compelled to issue a denial. Rather than break precedent and speak to reporters, however, she typed up a carefully worded but unambiguous statement that made it clear she disapproved of cigarette smoking not just for women but men as well.

Ellen Wilson joined her husband on a podium in Virginia. (carlanthonyonline)

Ellen Wilson joined her husband on a podium in Virginia. (carlanthonyonline)

Then, she smilingly handed out copies of her statement – without uttering a word.

Grace Coolidge was the incumbent First Lady in 1924 when her husband undertook his first presidential campaign. She, like Mrs. Wilson had, appeared with her husband at the relatively few campaign appearances organized by the Coolidge campaign.

However, in what was a highly political bit of stagecraft, during this first presidential election after which women had been granted the right to vote, in 1920, Mrs. Coolidge had her desk brought out on the South Lawn of the White House and posed as she filled out an absentee ballot for her native state of Vermont.

The image was conveyed throughout the nation’s newspapers, intending to encourage other women voters to register to vote or fill out an absentee ballot – and perhaps cast their vote for her husband.

Grace Coolidge filling out her absentee ballot. (LC)

Grace Coolidge filling out her absentee ballot. (LC)

Yet all the while, she remained more silent than her husband, never once discussing not just the issues but her husband’s prospects of winning. The only publicity about her that year involved reams of publicity focusing on her domestic skills as a cook and baker.

This policy remained in place for several decades.

In 1928 and again in 1932, when her husband ran his presidential campaigns, Lou Hoover suddenly fell silent.

The press had known her to be an intelligent, informed public figure who had addressed any number of social issues for well over a decade at that point.

Lou Hoover receiving a kiss from her husband during his 1932 campaign - and the flowers she was seemingly over handed. (HHPL)

Lou Hoover receiving a kiss from her husband during his 1932 campaign – and the flowers she was seemingly over handed. (HHPL)

Yet in the context of the presidential campaigns, she refused to engage reporters on issues, responding once that she was there simply to “get the roses.”

Even her overtly political successor Eleanor Roosevelt followed this policy during her husband’s four presidential campaigns.

Joining FDR on some of his whistlestop campaign tours, she would bend over the railing of the back platform to shake hands but otherwise bypassed the microphone always placed there for speeches.

While she was a popular figure on her husband’s 1948 whistle-estop campaign train, introduced by the candidate at the end of his speeches as “the Boss,” Bess Truman only smiled and waved.

Bess Truman, far right, at a campaign event, always said a political wife's duty was to sit, listen and be sure her hat was on straight. (Truman Library)

Bess Truman, far right, at a campaign event, always said a political wife’s duty was to sit, listen and be sure her hat was on straight. (Truman Library)

As she explained, the role of the candidate’s wife was to “be seen not heard, and make sure her hat is on straight.”

It was only when the candidate’s spouses themselves decided there was an overlooked but important point to be made about their husbands’ qualifications that they began to discuss issues of substance.

Jacqueline Kennedy undertook a series of articles made available by the National Democratic Committee for use by national newspapers in which she addressed medical care for senior citizens, education and housing.

Jackie Kennedy conducts a press conference during the 1960 campaign. (all posters)

Jackie Kennedy conducts a press conference during the 1960 campaign. (all posters)

During a meeting with a New York Times reporter who had asked her about the cost of her clothing, Mrs. Kennedy retorted by raising the issue of nuclear weaponry and how her husband was especially qualified to de-escalate the Cold War.

Four years later, Lady Bird Johnson made a decided break with past presidential candidates’ spouses by raising the issue of civil rights as she made her own, independent campaign trip through southern states.

If the Kennedy and Johnson examples proved that spouses were entirely capable of discussing serious issues, it had still been a matter of their prerogative, of them raising important subjects rather than responding to questions about other consequential topics.

Pat Nixon conducting a press conference during her husband's 1968 presidential campaign. (allposters.com)

Pat Nixon conducting a press conference during her husband’s 1968 presidential campaign. (allposters.com)

As the impact of the organized women’s movement began to make strides of change and equality by 1972, the incumbent First Lady, Pat Nixon, found herself being asked the sort of highly political and pointed questions that no reporter had thought to ask her four years earlier during Nixon’s first successful presidential campaign.

Tersely, and carefully choosing her words to convey opinions aligned with the viewpoint of her husband’s campaign, Mrs. Nixon responded honestly but with as vague and brief answers as she could muster, determined not to create news by potential misspeaking on questions including the Vietnam War, and the new but rapidly growing Watergate scandal.

Ever since that era, presidential candidates’ spouses have known that once they begin making appearances and being accessible to the press, they will be asked as hard and controversial a range of questions as the candidates themselves.

Barbara Bush during a joint interview with her husband during the 1988 presidential campaign. (GBPL)

Barbara Bush during a joint interview with her husband during the 1988 presidential campaign. (GBPL)

By 1988, when presidential candidate’s spouse Barbara Bush routinely conducted rounds of broadcast and print interviews she knew she would inevitably be confronted with issues of the campaign that were especially contentious.

She also knew that, considering her status as the candidate’s wife, whatever she said could be blown up into a headline that would bump out the less sensational targeted message her husband’s campaign intended to be conveyed at that point.

And so, while she often acknowledged being informed on the issue, she refused to respond to the questions.

Later, she further disclosed that on some issues such as abortion and gun control, her personal view varied from the one her husband was campaigning on – all the more reason she compelled herself to, as she put it, “keep my mouth shut.”

 

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Nellie Taft, face covered by veil and seated in the back, smiles as her husband makes an impromptu speech.

Nellie Taft, face covered by veil and seated in the back, smiles as her husband makes an impromptu speech.

During the now nearly-ended 2016 presidential primary race, Jane Sanders, the wife of Socialist-Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, made frequent appearances on numerous political television news shows, discussing at length his strategies, and explaining his perspective on the issues.

Jane Sanders has been relatively overt about her campaign role. (dailykos.com)

Jane Sanders has been relatively overt about her campaign role. (dailykos.com)

In the process, she thus revealed how integral a part she was to his campaign.

She further acknowledged that she did discuss with, and offer her advice as the primary campaign proceeded during the winter and spring months.  She even admitted to being the reason the candidate had not yet released his tax returns: like many families, she had assumed responsibility for this aspect of their household’s functioning and was behind schedule in completing them.

In making these appearances, Mrs. Sanders was revealing a role that many a past presidential candidate’s spouse had played in previous presidential campaigns, that of an adviser who, in the past, had worked almost entirely behind the scenes and rarely disclosed to the press and public.

In fact, the earliest example of this involved a woman who seemed eager to practically take on the role of what might be compared to a campaign manager, Louisa Adams. In a time when presidents were ultimately chosen by members of Congress serving as electors and there was an implicit if feigned modesty on the part of candidates ambitious for the highest office in the land, Mrs. John Quincy Adams operated on two front.

Louisa Adams (seen from the side, at far left) entertaining with the intention of enlarging her husband's political support vase. (Harper's)

Louisa Adams (seen from the side, at far left) entertaining with the intention of enlarging her husband’s political support vase. (Harper’s)

In public, she became a convivial and active hostess, presiding at social events where she pointedly intended to win over the personal loyalty of members of Congress who were key to her husband winning the 1824 presidential election.

In private, she kept bearing down on her husband to break with tradition and more actively seek support from allies who could be made to commit to vote for him on the final day of tallying. She especially implored him to meet with important political figures from the mid-Atlantic states and make clear how determined he was to become President. To what degree her advice infiltrated his often

Mary Lincoln has been credited with not merely having as equally an ambitious desire to see her husband be elected president as he himself had, but also with advising him on how to frame the important and contentious issue of slavery during his 1860 campaign. To what degree this was true and how much of her thinking was incorporated by him is unknown; any such conversations took place entirely in the privacy of their home.

What is known is that when Abraham Lincoln learned the election results, he ran into his home and burst out happily to his wife, “We are elected!”

The Springfield, Illinois home of Abraham Lincoln during a campaign event. Mary Lincoln has been identified as sitting in the upper left window. (LC)

The Springfield, Illinois home of Abraham Lincoln during a campaign event. Mary Lincoln has been identified as sitting in the upper left window. (LC)

When it came time for a rally and his speech, taking place in the front lawn of their Springfield, Illinois home, however, Mrs. Lincoln remained removed – watching from an upstairs, open window.

Lucretia Garfield insisted on remaining as invisible as possible during her husband’s 1880 campaign, not an easy task since he conducted it largely from the front porch of their Ohio farmhouse. As private letters prove, however, she served as a liaison to a faction of the Republican party that had proved resistant to supporting him by making an undercover  trip to New York, using an assumed name, to hear out the oppositional view.

Nellie Taft’s central role as her husband’s primary adviser during his 1908 campaign for the presidency is revealed only in the correspondence between them. It was Mrs. Taft who went to privately meet twice with the incumbent President Theodore Roosevelt and so vigorously coax from him an endorsement of her husband that “Teddy” felt she was ambitious for herself more than her husband. During the campaign, she offered advice on the content and delivery style of her husbands speeches, while maintaining a remote distance from the actual campaigning.

In 1920, the press covering the campaign of Republican candidate Warren Harding did often suggest just how involved Florence Harding was in her husband’s effort to win the presidency.

Florence Harding with her friend, 1920 campaign manager and future Attorney General Harry Daugherty. (carlanthonyonline.com)

Florence Harding with her friend, 1920 campaign manager and future Attorney General Harry Daugherty. (carlanthonyonline.com)

To a certain degree, Mrs. Harding did not deny her role, often photographed speaking alone with the campaign manager Harry Daugherty, remarking openly that she might tell or suggest an approach for her husband to take in seeking to win over various demographics or address a campaign issue. Notably, she stood against other advisers to insist her husband not address a false story fired against him in the final weeks of the campaign and her judgement proved the right course.

Despite her unprecedented political role during her one dozen years as First Lady, when it came time for her husband to undertake his four presidential elections, in 1932, 1936, 1940 and 1944, Eleanor Roosevelt refused to discuss the campaign publicly or make anything except the most superficial public appearances.

Eleanor Roosevelt's role during her husband's four presidential campaigns was covert; in public, she merely shook hands like candidate spouses'  had traditionally done. (FDRL)

Eleanor Roosevelt’s role during her husband’s four presidential campaigns was covert; in public, she merely shook hands like candidate spouses’ had traditionally done. (FDRL)

Behind the scenes, however, she worked very closely with leaders of the Democratic National Committee in negotiating conflicts with her husband and his circle, and most especially played the crucial role of enlarging the voter registration of women into the party.

In more recent years, the role of campaign adviser often played by candidates’ spouses has become more apparent.

Jacqueline Kennedy, in reviewing her husband’s itinerary of planned campaign appearances during the 1960 general election, voiced her opinion that he was losing valuable time in air travel time by going from one event in an area of the country to the next one at a great distance, advising that fundraisers, speeches and rallies be scheduled by region.

Jackie Kennedy and her husband on his campaign plane; she successfully urged changes in her travel itinerary. (pinterest)

Jackie Kennedy and her husband on his campaign plane; she successfully urged changes in her travel itinerary. (pinterest)

When a reporter asked if it had been she who offered this practical solution, she acknowledged that it was her.

Lady Bird Johnson is heard on tape-recorded phone conversations with her husband, for example, giving him precise even harsh feedback on the pacing of his speaking style and the harm done by permitting his speeches during the 1964 campaign to go on as long as they did.

Rosalynn Carter later wrote openly of the numerous and important tasks she undertook to help get her husband elected president in 1976.

Jimmy Carer helps his wife Rosalynn out of a prop plane after one of her many regional fact-finding missions around the country during the 1976 campaign. (alamy)

Jimmy Carer helps his wife Rosalynn out of a prop plane after one of her many regional fact-finding missions around the country during the 1976 campaign. (alamy)

Beginning her work a year before the election by literally going door-to-door in different states and districts around the country, Mrs. Carter kept notes on issues that were raised by everyday Americans and thus developed invaluable information as her husband then began structuring the thrust of his campaign around the matters most relevant to voters.

She further undertook the effort of assiduously maintaining notecards about each delegate attending the Democratic Convention, a process that helped guide campaign aides to lobby those individuals who remained uncommitted to her husband until they might finally support Carter.

At the very start of her husband’s 1980 campaign, as Ronald Reagan faced immediate unexpected challenges in the New Hampshire primary, it was Nancy Reagan who sought to resolve a conflict among his senior advisers.

Nancy Reagan listens to her husband speak during the 1980 New Hampshire primary. (lowellsun.com)

Nancy Reagan listens to her husband speak during the 1980 New Hampshire primary. (lowellsun.com)

Then, when consensus among the candidate and his wife and other confidantes identified an aide, John Sears, as the weakest link, it fell to her to personally inform him that the campaign was letting him go. The incident became fully documented in a New York Times magazine article later in the campaign.

Barbara Bush was known to have joined the inner circle of her husband’s campaign advisers as he proceeded through the 1988 primary campaign and then mounted the overall agenda of the general campaign, meetings that took place mostly in their private homes where her presence was natural.

Barbara Bush at far right and Lee Atwater, at far left, at a 1988 rally for Bush.

Barbara Bush at far right and Lee Atwater, at far left, at a 1988 rally for Bush.

At one point it was reported that she had voiced reservations about the large number of negative television commercials that George Bush was urged to approve by his campaign manager Lee Atwater and while several did appear, some later credited her with the fact that there were relatively fewer than the actual number that were initially planned to be released.

When her husband first ran for president in 1992, Hillary Clinton’s professional career as an attorney and active role in all of his past campaigns for state office in Arkansas made the press correctly assume she was an important if not the most key adviser to him.

Hillary and Bill Clinton working side-by-side on the 1992 campaign plane. (Time)

Hillary and Bill Clinton working side-by-side on the 1992 campaign plane. (Time)

During a primary season debate he promised that a vote for him would mean the nation would elect “two for one” presidents.

It became the most overt acknowledgement of the influence of a candidate’s spouse might have in the White House and, logically, was already exercising over tactical campaign decisions.

Of course, the great irony with that is how the former president’s importance as an adviser to his wife’s presidential campaign is such a universally recognized presumption that it has generated practically no press whatsoever.

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During World War II Eleanor Roosevelt wore the uniform of the American Red Cross to visit approximately ten percent of the entire USA Armed Forces o active duty in Europe and the Pacific. She was transformed into the symbol of true "American mother," according to one popular publication  read by servicemen at the time.  (FDRL)

During World War II Eleanor Roosevelt wore the uniform of the American Red Cross to visit approximately ten percent of the entire USA Armed Forces o active duty in Europe and the Pacific. She was transformed into the symbol of true “American mother,” according to one popular publication read by servicemen at the time. (FDRL)

Today, Memorial Day is a civi holiday intended to honor those military members who lost their lives in wartime service while November’s Veterans Day is intended to honor those who survived. Yet both holidays are a time to pause in reflection on how so many hundreds of thousands have been willing to sacrifice their own lives in defense of their nation. Like their fellow citizens, First Ladies have made the effort to honor both the living and the dead of U,S. military engagement. These particular ones, however, made specific efforts to do so, their efforts resulting in tangible actions.

Martha Washington

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. (Sotheby’s)

Even at the time of the American Revolution, Martha Washington was held in especially high esteem by those fighting in the Continental Army led by her husband in the effort to win independence from England.

Over the next decade, into her tenure as the wife as the first president, “Lady Washington” as she was fondly called by American Revolutionary veterans was the person they could always count on for help whether they were enduring physical suffering, poverty or unemployment.

In both of the temporary US capital cities of New York and Philadelphia, veterans would come to the presidential mansions where the Washington lived to make their case for help; the first First Lady would then call on the wealthy and powerful within the circle of friends and colleagues of her and her husband to provide help to the individual in need.

Lucy Hayes

During the Civil War, this passionate supporter of the abolition of slavery, worked in the battlefields of Virginia, serving as a nurse to those wounded while serving under the command of her husband, a Union Army general.

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)

As both the First Lady of Ohio and then the United States, Mrs. Hayes helped raise money and organize institutions that provided necessary care and support to veterans of both the Union and Confederate Army, as well as the widows and orphans of those soldiers who had been killed.

As First Lady, she always welcomed Civil War veterans to visit her in the private quarters of the White House and was once even found sewing the clothes of one such fellow.

Mrs. Hayes took the meaning of Memorial Day with solemnity. She also joined the thousands of other postwar Americans in decorating the graves of the fallen on the designated national holiday.

Ida McKinley

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

Mrs. McKinley inspected a Spanish-American warship in 1899. (NFLL)

Following the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine, the inciting event which led to the Spanish-American War, this First Lady led the effort in raising funds for the creation of the first memorial honor those fallen in the war, the soldiers killed in the ship’s explosion.

During the war, she insisted on walking through the overcrowded and disorganized camps established to house and train the soldiers soon to ship out to the Pacific battle front and ignored the squalor to risk her own precious health to shake hands and engage with those she encountered along the way.

She also made an effort to always welcome any individual soldiers she saw walking near the White House, once even supplying a young soldier with bananas, to beef up his health.

When a scandal broke out over the tainted canned beef that the War Department was supplying to troops, this First Lady led the effort to have the President fire the War Secretary, believing his disregard for safety led to harming the troops.

Florence Harding

During World War I., while her husband was serving as a US Senator, she worked at the canteen in Washington’s Union Station, dispensing coffee, cigarettes, reading materials and games to those enlisted men who came by the trainloads on their way to training camps and eventually the European war.

Florence Harding places her mourning ribbon on the casket of the Unknown Soldier. (NFLL)

Florence Harding places her mourning ribbon on the casket of the Unknown Soldier. (NFLL)

As many soon after began returning with bodily wounds, missing limbs and post-traumatic stress syndrome, she began to volunteer regularly as an aide at Walter Reed Hospital.

As First Lady, she continued her devotion to the thousands in the wards there, helped foment the creation of the first Veterans Bureau, and advocated on behalf of their postwar care. She led the national effort to sell red-dyed paper “poppies” which helped raise private funds fort further care of the World War I vets.

She even sewed herself the mourning ribbon for the flag-draped coffin of the Unknown Soldier and placed it there while it lay in the UAS Capitol Building rotunda, soon to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery where it has remained the point of honor for succeeding generations of Presidents who come to present a wreath each Memorial Day.

Eleanor Roosevelt

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

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

Few wartime First Ladies more publicly and vigorously advocated on behalf of the rights of active US servicemen than did Mrs. Roosevelt during World War II.

To get the most realistic understanding of their needs she made three unprecedented overseas trips to spontaneously speak to Army and Navy servicemen and servicewomen in training camps and at battlefield bases, first to England and Ireland, then to the South Pacific, Australia and New Zealand, and finally to the Caribbean Basin and South America.

She went directly to the President when she discovered a discrepancy in their care and engaged with generals and admirals to right the wrongs she observed. All four of her own sons served in the war – and by coincidence she ran into two of them during her travels. It was later estimated that she saw a full ten percent of all enlisted US service personnel during the war. This video summarizes her activities on those trips and those she saw:

Pat Nixon

Pat Nixon, in a pink gown, with the President, hosting the large state dinner for returning Vietnam War prisoners of war. (RNPL)

Pat Nixon, in a pink gown, with the President, hosting the large state dinner for returning Vietnam War prisoners of war. (RNPL)

In her first year as First Lady, Pat Nixon flew in an open-air helicopter over an active battlefield into the jungles of Vietnam to visit and speak with those soldiers who had been wounded and were rushed into medic tents for care.

As the Vietnam War drew to a close, she hosted an unprecedented White House dinner held in a large tent on the South Lawn to honor those American prisoners of war who had  been held and tortured by communist North Vietnamese troops.

Hillary Clinton

As First Lady, Hillary Clinton fought to have Gulf War Syndrome recognized as a genuine affect on service personnel fighting in that conflict.

Hillary Clinton meets with a Gulf War veteran in 1995. (Getty)

Hillary Clinton meets with a Gulf War veteran in 1995. (Getty)

As Senator on the Armed Services Committee, she fought to   establish new services for military members and veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries. She regularly worked across the aisle to expand military benefits, including to ensure that all members of the Reserves and National Guard and their families had access to health benefits; to expand benefits afforded to surviving spouses; and to broaden protections afforded by the Family and Medical Leave Act to the family members of wounded service members. During her effort to reform national health care, Hillary Clinton came to grasp the extent of suffering by veterans of the Gulf War who had been exposed to the chemical weapon known as Agent Orange, an herbicide. She called for and was successful in provoking congressional hearings into the US Defense Department’s use of the toxic substance known as Agent Orange during the Vietnam War and investigations into the long-range damage it caused on the health of veterans of that war.

Mrs. Clinton’s concern about Agent Orange continued during her tenure as a US Senator and Secretary of State. During her historic visit to Vietnam she met with officials to discuss joint efforts to continue to clear sites that had been contaminated by the poison and medical responses to the health problems it caused.

Michelle Obama

The First Lady addresses troops at Fort Lejeune in April 2011 as part of her Joining Forces campaign.

The First Lady addresses troops at Fort Lejeune in April 2011 as part of her Joining Forces campaign. (The White House)

It was during her husband’s initial presidential campaign that Michelle Obama first learned of the often desperate needs of families of active military personnel in the Iraqi War and Afghani War, and continuing US military presence and promised to make their struggle part of her agenda if her husband was elected.

Within weeks of becoming First Lady, she began to tour US bases and engage with military families to assess the greatest problems of housing, education, childcare and food in the context of cost-of-living rises and slashed federal budgets, initially visiting North Carolina’s Fort Bragg.

“These are people who are willing to send their loved ones off to perhaps give their lives, the ultimate sacrifice, yet they’re living back at home on food stamps. It’s not right and it’s not where we should be as a nation,” she observed.

She successfully advocated for a three percent increase in the Administration’s 2011 budget, a total of $8.8 billion, and made the case for coverage of mental health care for returning military personnel and their families ($1.9 billion), military base childcare ($1.3 billion), spousal career development ($84 million) and necessary Coast Guard housing ($14 million).

In seeking to fulfill the President’s directive of engaging the private sector in the effort, she created”Joining Forces” to advance the goal of increasing support for military families’ employment, education, and wellness as well as mount a public awareness campaign of the needs.

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Jim Haley and Grace Coolidge during one of their daily long walks around Washington. (NFLL)

Jim Haley and Grace Coolidge during one of their daily long walks around Washington. (NFLL)

Yesterday, the White House was placed on lockdown when an armed man approached a checkpoint to the complex and refused to put down his weapon, resulting in his being shot by a Secret Service agent. The incident yet again brings focus to the ongoing efforts by  the federal protection force to ensure the privacy and safety of not just the President, but the First Lady.

On the day President Kennedy was assassinated, Jacqueline Kennedy was preceded by her Secret Service agent Clint Hill. Shortly thereafter, after JFK was shot, he would jump on the presidential limousine to push her back into the car. (JFKL)

On the day President Kennedy was assassinated, Jacqueline Kennedy was preceded by her Secret Service agent Clint Hill. Shortly thereafter, after JFK was shot, he would jump on the presidential limousine to push her back into the car. (JFKL)

No matter how freely a First Lady may think she has managed to live while a resident of the White House, one thing is for sure: she will always be shadowed by members of the United States Secret Service.

Edith Roosevelt and daughter Ethel. (NPS)

Edith Roosevelt and daughter Ethel. (NPS)

Protection for the incumbent President’s family members was first enacted during Theodore Roosevelt’s Administration, he having inherited the position while Vice President to William McKinley, who was assassinated in 1901.

Despite the provision funding the safety of presidential family members, however, it was not yet strictly enforced.

Edith Wilson (artinamerica.com)

Edith Wilson (artinamerica.com)

When young Quentin Roosevelt walked out of the White House to attend classes at a local public school, for example, he might be trailed by a Secret Service agent from a distance – or he might not.

Edith Wilson was the first presidential spouse who was specifically assigned a Secret Service agent, she was almost always in the company of the President when in public and thus covered by those protecting him.

Florence Harding and her devoted Secret Service agent Harry Barker. (carlanthonyonline.com)

Florence Harding and her devoted Secret Service agent Harry Barker. (carlanthonyonline.com)

Harry Barker, a native of Newton, Massachusetts became the first Secret Service agent to truly serve a First Lady. In the process of being out in public with the highly active Florence Harding and at her side on presidential trips to the south and out west, and then up to Alaska, they became especially close.

While the President’s Secret Service agents developed a protective personal feeling for him, Barker remained doggedly loyal to Mrs. Harding, a quality she found especially comforting when those she’d considered reliable friends appointed to political office began to betray the trust she and the President had invested in them. On one occasion, when the President’s mistress came to meet with him, Barker interceded and informed the First Lady.

When she was at the residence, Florence Harding entrusted Harry Barker to retrieve her astrologer Marcia Chaumprey and discreetly deliver her to the family quarters for her readings and predictions.

Florence Harding and Laddie Boy. (NFLL)

Florence Harding and Laddie Boy. (NFLL)

Upon the death of the President, Mrs. Harding gave their beloved Airedale Laddie Boy to Harry Barker who lovingly made the dog part of his family, his wife and sons caring for the famous pooch at their Massachusetts home.

Whenever she set out on her daily power walks around Washington, D.C. Grace Coolidge was always in the company of her Secret Service agent James Haley and the duo became a familiar sight around the capital.

While later generations of agents would, for obvious security reasons, remain largely anonymous figures in public, Jim Haley was identified in the press by name.

Along with her Secret Service agent Jim Haley, Grace Coolidge walking the Harding dog Laddie Boy, who was soon after given by Mrs, Harding to her Secret Service agent Harry Barker. (carlanthonyonline.com)

Along with her Secret Service agent Jim Haley, Grace Coolidge walking the Harding dog Laddie Boy, who was soon after given by Mrs, Harding to her Secret Service agent Harry Barker. (carlanthonyonline.com)

He earned unwanted publicity during the 1927 presidential summer vacation to South Dakota, however, when he and the First Lady headed out for a hike in the nearby woods and were gone for several long hours.

The President feared something terrible had occurred and was angered when they finally appeared at the lodge that was serving as their residence. President Coolidge ordered that Haley be removed from his position and reassigned to another position within the agency.

The press, however, suggested that Coolidge was really jealous of a secret love affair between his wife and Haley. Unknown to the President, the First Lady wrote a strong letter to the Secret Service director, commending the behavior of Jim Haley. She remained a friend of his, as well as his wife Joan, for the rest of her life.

How each First Lady has reacted to being trailed by armed guards largely depended on both the degree of public exposure they had and how accustomed they may have previously been with the experience of being guarded.

Eleanor Roosevelt, with her constant travels around the nation and making three overseas trips as First Lady, felt the presence of protection was an encumbrance on her activities.

Eleanor Roosevelt conceded to the Secret Service request that she learn how to use a pistol for self-protection and the acquiesced in her request not to trail her (FDRL)

Eleanor Roosevelt conceded to the Secret Service request that she learn how to use a pistol for self-protection and the acquiesced in her request not to trail her (FDRL)

She refused to accept Secret Service protection and the agency acquiesced only on the condition that she always carry a pistol and learn how to properly use it. Mrs. Roosevelt went through the training, but rarely took her gun with her on trips.

Bess Truman especially dreaded having her privacy intruded upon and insisted upon driving her own car during her initial period as First Lady. Several months into her tenure, however, when she would drive and have to stop her car at a stop sign or red light, pedestrians and other motorists immediately recognized her. Finally, Mrs. Truman acquiesced to being guarded at all times.

Mamie Eisenhower formed a close friendship with agents who protected her and the President. During her first two summer sojourns to the Denver, Colorado home of her mother, the First Lady fostered a romance between a local woman and Secret Service agent Robert Newbrand.

When the couple married, Mrs. Eisenhower attended the wedding ceremony and stood prominently on the church steps to throw rice on them as they emerged.

Mamie Eisenhower showers her Secret Service agent and his new wife with rice at their 1954 wedding. (ebay)

Mamie Eisenhower showers rice on her Secret Service agent Robert Newbrand and his bride at their 1954 wedding. (ebay)

Finding that she could have relative peace and solitude by taking walks with scarves and sunglasses on, Pat Nixon enjoyed strolling the Pacific Ocean shoreline near the presidential home in San Clemente, California and window-shopping at night in Washington, D.C. With the risk of any potential harm to her being relatively low, Mrs. Nixon managed to have her Secret Service agents trail her at a slight distance, giving her a simulated sense of freedom.

Betty Ford, though never having had her every movement watched, formed an immediately friendly relationship with members of her Secret Service agent detail.

Betty Ford coaches a touch football game between her Secret Service detail and the President's. (Ford Presidential Library)

Betty Ford coaches a touch football game between her Secret Service detail and the President’s. (Ford Presidential Library)

With a tendency to take a protective attitude towards them, she famously cheered on and coached members of her Secret Service detail in a 1976 summer game of touch football against those who guarded the President, while at the presidential vacation home in Vail, Colorado.

The 1981 assassination attempt on her husband’s life just two months after he assumed the presidency left Nancy Reagan dramatically shaken; for the rest of his presidency, she remained worried about his exposure to potential harm and kept a direct line of contact with the chief of his detail.

Since the president’s four grown children were also trailed by agents, the First Lady found that she could keep an eye on their private activities by requesting reports of their movements from the Secret Service.

Nancy Reagan with her Secret Service agent John Barletta. (People)

Nancy Reagan with her Secret Service agent John Barletta. (People)

After leaving the White House in 1989 and until her death two months ago, in March of 2016, Mrs. Reagan maintained a close friendship with some of her former agents, especially John Barletti.

Barbara Bush endeared herself to agents with her motherly concern for their personal well-being.

Barbara Bush jogging in Chicago with her three Secret Service agents. (alamy)

Barbara Bush jogging in Chicago with her three Secret Service agents. (alamy)

As both the wife of a Vice President and a President, Mrs. Bush sought to ensure that they were warm when stationed outside in cold weather and arranging the presidential family vacations during the holiday season in a way that permitted the agents to spend time with their own families, as Jacqueline Kennedy and Lady Bird Johnson had also done.

Mrs. Johnson was even known to buy and wrap Christmas presents for some of her agents.

Mrs. Obama surrounded by her Secret Service detail in Spain. (andalucia.com)

Mrs. Obama surrounded by her Secret Service detail in Spain. (andalucia.com)

More recently, Michelle Obama also extended a warm overture to the men and women who put their lives on the line to protect her own and those of her family.

Reports claim that she insisted they call her by her first name, and that she invited them to and joined private family parties.

Since she was the first First Lady to make multiple and extensive trips to foreign countries, Jacqueline Kennedy’s Secret Service agent Clint Hill had an opportunity to travel the world, from a 1962 summer vacation on the Amalfi Coast of Italy to a 1963 luxury cruise on the legendary yacht of Aristotle Onassis.

Michelle Obama with Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan. (AP)

Michelle Obama with Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan. (AP)

While always maintaining a professional relationship and always calling him formally by “Mr. Hill,” the duo became especially close, even sharing cigarettes.

The 1963 assassination of President Kennedy forever changed the Secret Service protection of those women who either would be or had been First Ladies.

The new President, Lyndon B. Johnson ordered immediate protection for the three living former Presidents, the widowed Herbert Hoover, and the married Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower.

Jackie Kennedy on her 1962 Italian holiday with Clint Hill in black shirt. (Getty)

Jackie Kennedy on her 1962 Italian holiday with Clint Hill in black shirt. (Getty)

By default, Bess Truman and Mamie Eisenhower had some form of protection.

Also, for the first time, special protection was approved for a singular First Lady, the widowed Jacqueline Kennedy, was given protection by vote of Congress as were her children. She lost her protection with her 1968 second marriage and they upon turning 16 years old.

The widowed Jackie Kennedy walking her dog in New York while her Secret Service agent blocks a photographer. (Pinterest)

The widowed Jackie Kennedy walking her dog in New York while her Secret Service agent blocks a photographer. (Pinterest)

Five years later, as former President Eisenhower began his long decline in health leading up to his April 1969 death, President Johnson recognized that the anxious Mamie Eisenhower would be left essentially abandoned and isolated upon widowhood, living in relative isolation at the large Gettysburg, Pennsylvania farm where the couple had retired; thus LBJ signed legislation providing for the first protection of presidential widows.

A nurse pushes Bess Truman in a wheelchair while the presidential widow's Secret Service agent looks on. (UPI)

A nurse pushes Bess Truman in a wheelchair while the presidential widow’s Secret Service agent looks on. (UPI)

At the time, this new ruling applied only to Bess Truman and Mamie Eisenhower, since Mrs. Kennedy had the protection since 1963. Just several months later, however, Jacqueline Kennedy lost her Secret Service protection when she lost her status as a president’s widow upon her October marriage to her second husband, Aristotle Onassis.

Nevertheless, when she was in the presence of her two young children Caroline and John, she remained under their observation if not their technical protection by law. The Kennedy children lost their Secret Service protection when each reached the age of 16 years old.

Presidential widow Nancy Reagan being escorted by Secret Service agent Richard Kyle Bui. (ocweekly.com)

Presidential widow Nancy Reagan being escorted by Secret Service agent Richard Kyle Bui. (ocweekly.com)

When their husbands’  presidencies ended, Secret Service guard was provided to Lady Bird Johnson (1969). Pat Nixon (1974). Betty Ford (1977), Rosalynn Carter (1981), Nancy Reagan (1989), Barbara Bush (1993), Hillary Clinton (2001), and Laura Bush (2009). Several years before her 1993 death, Pat Nixon gave up her Secret Service protection, making relatively few public appearances and feeling it was an unnecessary expense to the federal government.

Initially uncomfortable having the presence of guards around her, Hillary Clinton has had a long period of period of protection, beginning with her tenure as First Lady in 1993, continuing on while she served as a U.S. Senator unit 2009.

Hillary Clinton with her Secret Service detail during her 2008 presidential campaign. (hillarydaily.com)

Hillary Clinton with her Secret Service detail during her 2008 presidential campaign. (AP/hillarydaily.com)

Due to her status as a Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton’s Secret Service detail was increased between 2009 and 2013.

It reduced after she left that position until just recently, when she became a 2016 presidential candidate.

Pat Nixon had her agents trail behind during her cherished, solitary walks on the beach. (pinterest)

Pat Nixon had her agents trail behind during her cherished, solitary walks on the beach. (pinterest)

From the time that First Ladies were designated as figures requiring Secret Service, during Edith Wilson’s tenure, they have also been dubbed with nicknames used by the Secret Service.

However, the names have been chosen by the White House Military Office.

Some side notes on the matter of First Lady codenames.

Whatever agents may have called Florence Harding, Grace Coolidge and Lou Hoover remains a mystery; none have surfaced in nearly a century. Whether they were assigned one is even uncertain.

Rosalynn Carter, watched by her agent as she campaigned in a senior center. (pahrumpvalleytimes.com)

Rosalynn Carter, watched by her agent as she campaigned in a senior center. (pahrumpvalleytimes.com)

Barbara Bush had two known codenames.

Here is a list of each of their codenamed: Edith Wilson, Grandma; Eleanor Roosevelt, Rover; Bess Truman, Sunnyside; Mamie Eisenhower, Springtime; Jacqueline Kennedy, Lace; Lady Bird Johnson, Victoria; Pat Nixon, Starlight; Betty Ford, Pinafore; Rosalynn Carter, Dancer; Nancy Reagan, Rainbow; Barbara Bush, Snowbank, Tranquility; Hillary Clinton, Evergreen; Laura Bush, Tempo; Michelle Obama, Renaissance

 

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First Ladies as Author

Michelle Obama writing, in her Chicago home. (twodelighted.com)

Michelle Obama writing, in her Chicago home. (twodelighted.com)

As Michelle Obama goes through the final year of her tenure are First Lady, there has been a renewed interest in both her personal story leading up to her husband’s presidency and reflection on how much she has accomplished. All of this has inevitably begun speculation about when she might sign a book publishing contract to write her memoirs.  She has also authored a 2012 book on the White House vegetable garden, American Grown.

Michelle Obama's first book.

Michelle Obama’s first book.

Certainly there is good reason for her to do so. The memoirs of former presidential spouses have a history of outselling those penned by their husbands and, if Mrs. Obama does write the story of her life and include her White House years, she would become the seventh consecutive First Lady to do so. Each one since Betty Ford has published a post-White House memoir.

There is also a rich and long history of First Ladies as authors of works other than their memoirs.

The first presidents’ wife to write a book that was published in her lifetime was Helen “Nellie” Taft. In 1914, two years after leaving the White House she wrote her memoirs, Recollections of Full Years.

The other First Ladies who wrote and published their memoirs after leaving the White House were: Eleanor Roosevelt, Lady Bird Johnson (based on excerpts of her daily taped recordings of a White House diary), Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Laura Bush. However, there are several interesting footnotes to this:

the posthumously published memoirs of Julia Grant, the first First Lady to pen such a book.

the posthumously published memoirs of Julia Grant, the first First Lady to pen such a book.

Julia Grant actually wrote her memoirs in the 1890′s but was advised not to publish them because she was too harsh in her assessment of her husband’s political and military colleagues. They were posthumously published in 1975.

Grace Coolidge wrote a series of articles in American Magazine in the early 1930′s that consisted of her White House memoirs, treated topically, but did not choose to have the articles published as a book.

Lou Hoover co-translated with her husband an ancient Latin text on mineralogy before she was First Lady – but not her memoirs.

Eleanor Roosevelt wrote the first volume of her memoirs, covering her early years, while still First Lady.

Eleanor Roosevelt wrote numerous articles and contributed to different books before she became First Lady. Following her husband’s election as President, she published a small booklet-magazine called Babies, Just Babies about maternal care. She also wrote numerous books – besides her memoirs – as a former First Lady, including her last one, published posthumously, called Tomorrow is Now.

Nancy Reagan's memoirs were actually the second version she wrote, the first appearing during her husband's presidential election,

Nancy Reagan’s memoirs were actually the second version she wrote, the first appearing during her husband’s presidential election,

Nancy Reagan wrote and published an early, first version of her life called Nancy in time for the 1980 presidential race of her husband. She then wrote the introduction for To Love a Child, a book about the Foster Grandparent program in 1981, while First Lady.

Barbara Bush “ghostwrote” two books by her dogs, one while she was the vice-president’s wife, C. Fred’s Story, and the other, Millie’s Book, while First Lady.

Hillary Clinton wrote It Takes a Village to Raise a Child in 1995 – and also read portions of it for a books-on-tape version which won a Grammy for the Spoken-Word Category.

Betty Ford wrote a second volume of her autobiography that actually returned to her earlier life covered in her first book – but in her second book, Glad Awakening, written once she had been in recovery.

Although Jacqueline Kennedy never wrote her own White House memoirs, she did quietly aid in the publishing of her White House “story” from her perspective by drafting and editing discreetly two books written by a trusted friend of her family, journalist Mary “Molly” Thayer. The first was Jacqueline Kennedy, a biographical overview of her life up to the point of her husband’s inauguration and appeared in bookstores to coincide with that January 20, 1961 event.

Lady Bird Johnson's memoirs were actually edited transcripts of her daily tape recordings made during her White House years.

Lady Bird Johnson’s memoirs were actually edited transcripts of her daily tape recordings made during her White House years.

The new First Lady’s mother provided the author with previously unpublished family photographs and some drawings and poetry by the young Jackie. She also told her some tales and handed over some private letters that Mrs. Kennedy had written to her family as a student – a fact that the exasperated First Lady wished she hadn’t done. Four years after President Kennedy’s assassination, Jacqueline Kennedy again worked with Molly Thayer in authoring Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years.

First Ladies who published books in addition to their memoirs were Eleanor Roosevelt, Lady Bird Johnson, Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan.

The earliest book written and published by an incumbent “First Lady” who was not a president’s wife but a president’s sister, was the unmarried Rose Elizabeth Cleveland, whose brother was bachelor President Grover Cleveland (before he married his wife Frances in the White House in June of 1886.

Edith Wilson's vindictive memoirs, written to counter those written by aides of her husband that she felt miscast him.

Edith Wilson’s vindictive memoirs, written to counter those written by aides of her husband that she felt miscast him.

In fact, “Miss Rose,” as the nation’s newspapers dubbed her, “Libbie” to her family – published several books while in the White House and it launched her career. She wrote literary criticism and even works on proper social roles and behavior – not quite etiquette, not quite sociology, but a bit of both.

Written works by earlier First Ladies have also been published.

The earliest book ever “written” by a First Lady was unintended and dreaded by her as a possibility after her death – these were the published letters of Abigail Adams in 1848, Letters of Mrs. Adams – Wife of John Adams.

The book, Memoirs and Letters of Dolley Madison, Wife of James Madison, President of the United States, appeared posthumously but was not actually written by the former First Lady, but rather by her niece Lucia Cutts in 1886.

Rosalynn Carter's acclaimed memoirs were an honest accounting of her political role, as well as the many others that she played.

Rosalynn Carter’s acclaimed memoirs were an honest accounting of her political role, as well as the many others that she played.

It was published thirty-seven years after the legendary Mrs. Madison’s death but it contained many of the anecdotes she told her niece that she felt were important enough to be recorded for the public, and drew on the rich resource of her personal letters.

Surprisingly, no other First Ladies wrote what would be considered strictly a “children’s book” but Eleanor Roosevelt wrote a Christmas book intended for a children’s reading audience, and Laura Bush co-wrote one with her daughter Jenna in the last year of her incumbency.

Laura Bush is the most recent First Lady who penned her memoirs.

Laura Bush is the most recent First Lady who penned her memoirs.

The two “as-told-to” books that Barbara Bush wrote as memoirs of her dogs, were largely picture books with her commentary and could be read by and understood by children, but they weren’t “children’s books” in terms of publishing industry classification.

Edith Roosevelt contributed a chapter to a book that included chapters written by her son, Cleared for Strange Ports, published in 1925.

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As former First Ladies, Edith Wilson, Eleanor Roosevelt and Bess Truman agreed to headline a large Democratic Party fundraiser in the 1950s. (Bettman/Corbis)

As former First Ladies, Edith Wilson, Eleanor Roosevelt and Bess Truman agreed to headline a large Democratic Party fundraiser in the 1950s. (Bettman/Corbis)

She was the first incumbent First Lady to actually take control of a plane briefly and fly it. The first to write a daily column, a months magazine column, multiple books, host a weekly radio show. The list of precedents that Eleanor Roosevelt shattered for First Ladies and those she established are endless. So, in many respects it seems highly appropriate that she might well be dubbed the Dean of First Ladies in the long march of history, meaning the one who knew or met more of her peers than any other.

From both the written and photographic record, it appears that Eleanor Roosevelt interacted with First Ladies stretching from Frances Cleveland to Barbara Bush, for a total of fifteen.

Theodore and Edith Roosevelt and her husband signed the marriage certificate of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. (FDRL)

Theodore and Edith Roosevelt and her husband signed the marriage certificate of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. (FDRL)

Along the timeline of her own life, Eleanor Roosevelt knew Edith Roosevelt, the wife of her uncle Theodore (who was her father’s brother”) from her earliest childhood. Although “Uncle Ted” took an especially tender concern about young Eleanor’s development following her being orphaned by age ten, Edith Roosevelt kept a certain degree of distance in terms of anything resembling an active role in raising her niece, who was living full-time with her maternal grandmother. It was Edith Roosevelt who first saw the internal beauty of the young girl who had been cruelly termed an “ugly duckling” by venturing that someday she would grow into a “beautiful swan.”

When Eleanor Roosevelt’s husband first ran for President, her aunt Edith came out in public opposition to him, but she remained a cordial correspondence with her niece during the tenure of her years as First Lady, commiserating with her on some of the more trying aspects of it.

Eleanor Roosevelt first met Nellie Taft at the time the latter was First Lady, in Canada where both families maintained summer residences. During her time in the White House, Mrs. Roosevelt hosted a reception for Mrs. Taft and other widows and spouses of Supreme Court members. Despite their partisan difference, the two women liked one another and often sat together at other various events in Washington, D.C., where the former First Lady lived.

In her capacity as the wife of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Eleanor Roosevelt came to know both the first and second wives of Woodrow Wilson.

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

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

Ellen Wilson inspired her own later advocacy for better housing, when she led the young woman and other interested officials on tours of slum areas of Washington to inspect substandard conditions she was working to eradicate.

Eleanor Roosevelt had perhaps the longest relationship among other First Ladies with Edith Wilson. It began in 1919, following the end of World War I, when both women were in Europe during President Wilson’s postwar negotiations with other world leaders and the drafting and signing of the Versailles Treaty. It was not always a smooth alliance, Edith Wilson often refusing to cooperate with Eleanor Roosevelt’s efforts to enlist her support of Democratic Party campaigns. Still, they were cordial and Mrs. Roosevelt invited Mrs. Wilson to sit beside her during President Franklin Roosevelt’s declaration of war message to Congress on December 8, 1941. They last saw one another during the 1961 Kennedy Inauguration and rode together in an open car in the Inaugural Parade. Mrs. Wilson died eleven months later, and Mrs. Roosevelt died elevens months after her.

Lou Hoover and Eleanor Roosevelt, Inauguration Day, March 4, 1933. (carlanthonyonline.com)

Lou Hoover and Eleanor Roosevelt, Inauguration Day, March 4, 1933. (carlanthonyonline.com)

It was as both she and Florence Harding, as the wife of a U.S. Senator, volunteered together at the servicemen’s canteen set up in Union Station that Eleanor Roosevelt first met this First Lady. During the 1920 campaign, Mrs. Harding was the wife of the Republican presidential candidate and Mrs. Roosevelt the wife of the Democratic vice presidential candidate, but neither crossed paths at that time. Upon President Harding’s death, Eleanor Roosevelt sent a telegram offering the sympathies of her and FDR.

It was also during World War I that Eleanor Roosevelt came to initially befriend Lou Hoover, her husband then heading up President Wilson’s Food Administration. The two women even picnicked together at the time. Later, there was tension between them when Hoover lost his 1932 re-election bid to FDR, but they convened together at a Girl Scouts leader meeting in Boston.

Grace Coolidge and Eleanor Roosevelt, 1934. (ebay)

Grace Coolidge and Eleanor Roosevelt, 1934. (ebay)

Mrs. Roosevelt went as the representative of FDR, at the time he was president-elect, at the Boston funeral of former President Calvin Coolidge and then first briefly met Grace Coolidge. During World War II, the two women came together when Mrs. Coolidge hosted a reception for Mrs. Roosevelt who came to Northampton, Massachusetts for a meeting involving the WAVES, the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, the US Navy’s Women Reserves corps, members of which Mrs. Coolidge permitted use of her home for housing and gatherings.

On at least two occasions while she was First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt encountered her predecessor Frances Cleveland, by then remarried and known as Mrs. Preston. The first known occasion was when the First Lady gave a speech at Princeton, New Jersey where Frances Preston lived and the second documented time was at a formal dinner in New York, where Sara Roosevelt, the mother-in-law of Eleanor Roosevelt was also in attendance.

There were numerous occasions when Eleanor Roosevelt and Bess Truman were together, the latter first meeting the former at the White House when Harry Truman was serving as a U.S. Senator. Together they presided at the White House reception following the 1945 Inaugural ceremony giving FDR his fourth term and Truman as his vice president. During and after the Truman presidency, the two women were often together at Democratic Party events, and Eleanor Roosevelt also attended the opening festivities of the Truman Presidential Library.

Eleanor Roosevelt greets Mamie Eisenhower in Paris. (columbia.edu)

Eleanor Roosevelt greets Mamie Eisenhower in Paris. (columbia.edu)

As the wife of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces during World War II, Mamie Eisenhower had long admired Eleanor Roosevelt and kept an autographed picture of the First Lady signed for her on her mantlepiece alongside pictures of her family.

Mrs. Eisenhower even once served her when she was volunteering as a waitress at a serviceman’s center, and Mrs. Roosevelt the incumbent First Lady appeared unannounced to join some enlisted men for lunch. Later, when General Eisenhower was heading NATO, his wife and the former First Lady met in Paris at Barnard College’s dormitory for women’s students. They last saw each other at the 1961 Kennedy Inaugural ceremonies.

Jacqueline Kennedy’s first reaction to the 1945 death of President Roosevelt as a high student student was to think of the impact on Eleanor Roosevelt. As the wife of Massachusetts’s junior U.S. Senator and a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, she joined her husband at numerous Democratic Party fundraisers in the 1950s, including one held to honor the former First Lady on her 75th birthday. During the 1960 presidential campaign, the joined together at a rally in Harlem, New York and both addressed the crowds from the podium.

Five women who served as First Lady after her death had also met Mrs. Roosevelt.

Eleanor Roosevelt, Bess Truman and, at the end of the row, Lady Bird Johnson, at the 1956 National Democratic Convention. (carlanthonyonline.com)

Eleanor Roosevelt, Bess Truman and, at the end of the row, Lady Bird Johnson, at the 1956 National Democratic Convention. (carlanthonyonline.com)

Lady Bird Johnson, as a young congressional spouse always recalled the “long, purposeful strides” of the First Lady as she arrived for an afternoon reception and she even filmed her with her home movie camera. She would also be invited with Congressman Johnson to dinner at the Roosevelt White House. During the 1950s, the two women were often together at Democratic Party events.

An avid admirer of Mrs. Roosevelt, it was while working in New York as an x-ray technician before her marriage that Pat Nixon met the First Lady on a reception line following her address to a hospital workers’ conference attended by the future First Lady.

Betty Ford only briefly met Mrs, Roosevelt when both attended the 1961 Kennedy Inaugural ceremony at the U.S. Capitol. She later named the First Lady along with her mother as her two role models.

Although all four were Republicans, Pat Nixon, Betty Ford, Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush each shook hands and briefly met Mrs. Roosevelt and later spoke of their admiration for her., (Nixon Foundation)

First Ladies Nixon Ford, Reagan and Bush each briefly met Mrs. Roosevelt. (Nixon Foundation)

Recalling it was nothing more than a handshake, Nancy Reagan’s one meeting with Eleanor Roosevelt took place backstage at the 1940 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where the former grew up. she and her mother were guests of the mayor Ed Kelly, and he made the introduction.

As a young housewife, Barbara Bush met Eleanor Roosevelt in Texas, at the home of the latter’s granddaughter Chandler, the daughter of Elliott Roosevelt and a friend of Mrs. Roosevelt’s.

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First Ladies At the Old Ballgame

Nancy Reagan throws the first pitch of the 1988 World Series featuring the Oakland Athletics and the Los Angeles Dodgers on October 15, 1988.

Nancy Reagan throws the first pitch of the 1988 World Series featuring the Oakland Athletics and the Los Angeles Dodgers on October 15, 1988.

The onset of spring, for many Americans, means just one thing. The start of baseball season. And among those who have loved going out to the old ballgame one can count a number of First Ladies.

The Coolidges at Game Seven of the 1924 World Series (LC)

The Coolidges at Game Seven of the 1924 World Series (LC)

It is probably a dead heat tie between Grace Coolidge and Bess Truman when it comes to the Biggest White House Baseball Fan – and that includes the Presidents too.

Just how and when Grace Coolidge began her love of the sport as a spectator is unclear, but by the time her husband was tossing out the first ball of the season for the old Washington, D.C. team of the Senators at the long-gone Griffith Stadium, she was the most obviously enthusiastic one between them.

The Coolidges and their son John take in a local ballgame on the Ellipse, behind the White House. (LC)

The Coolidges and their son John take in a local ballgame on the Ellipse, behind the White House. (LC)

In later years, she confessed that, “Mr. Coolidge never played baseball. I know of no sport in which he took part. He did not share my enthusiasm for baseball.”

Barely three months after becoming First Lady, on October 10, 1924, the First Lady made her first public appearance at a ballgame, bringing her husband to watch Game 7 of the World Series between the New York Giants and Washington Senators.

Phil Rizzuto gives the elderly Mrs. Coolidge an autograph at the 1950 World Series. (sbnation.com)

Phil Rizzuto gives the elderly Mrs. Coolidge an autograph at the 1950 World Series. (sbnation.com)

It was as a former First Lady that Mrs. Coolidge’s devotion truly emerged, with her loyalty to the Boston Red Sox.

Well into her 70s she was a familiar figure in Boston’s Fenway Park, cheering on her team and when the management knew she was coming from her home in Northampton, there was always a special seat reserved for her just above the Sox dugout.

In 1946, First Lady Grace Coolidge chatted up Red Sox manager Joe Cronin before taking in a game. (Boston Globe)

In 1946, First Lady Grace Coolidge chatted up Red Sox manager Joe Cronin before taking in a game. (Boston Globe)

Contradicting her staid public appearance, Bess Truman had been an active sportswoman as a young girl, winning awards in high school for her physical prowess at tennis, shot-put, track, and basketball.

One legendary tale in her family was how, one day, while passing a baseball game where her two younger brothers were playing they needed an extra player.

Bess Truman casting her vote for the players she wanted to see in the all-stars game. (HSTL)

Bess Truman casting her vote for the players she wanted to see in the all-stars game. (HSTL)

Young Bess Wallace took her place as a pinch-hitter among the otherwise all-boy baseball team.

As First Lady, Bess Truman not only appeared with the President on opening day of the Senators at Griffith Stadium, but also went on her own or with her daughter and friends.

Shortly after leaving the White House, she appeared at a  Yankees game in New York where, by coincidence, three rows in front of her was sitting another out-of-towner there for the game, Grace Coolidge.

Bess Truman with her daughter Margaret, friend and former Truman Trasury Secretary John Snyder and his daughter drucie at a June 1953 Senators game. (HSTL)

Bess Truman with her daughter Margaret, friend and former Truman Trasury Secretary John Snyder and his daughter drucie at a June 1953 Senators game. (HSTL)

Upon retiring to Independence, Missouri, the former First Lady was able to fully indulge her love of the game, a doggedly loyal Kansas City Royals game.  She also had loyalty to Missouri’s other team, the St. Louis Cardinals.

When the strictly unpolitical former First Lady was asked to co-chair the reelection campaign of U.S. Senator Thomas Eagleton, part of her incentive for accepting was the fact that former Cardinals star Stan Musial would serve as her co-chair and she had the chance to talk baseball with him.

Nellie Taft and the President at the April 14, 1910 game between the Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies when he threw out the first presidential baseball pitch. (LC)

Nellie Taft and the President at the April 14, 1910 game between the Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies when he threw out the first presidential baseball pitch. (LC)

Not long after baseball caught on as the national pastime, several First Ladies showed an interest or support for it.

When White House clerical staff members used their lunch hour to play ball on the White House South Lawn they were cheered on by Ida McKinley watching from a window.

Nellie Taft insisted on joining her husband, President William Howard Taft, when he became the first President to throw out the ball to open the baseball season, on April 14, 1910 in a game between the Washington Nationals and the Philadelphia Athletics.

Upon their retirement to New Haven, Connecticut, Mrs. Taft often slipped off to watch Yale baseball games on her own, or taking her caramel-colored poodle Caro with her.

Florence Harding and the President at a baseball game. (LC)

Florence Harding and the President at a baseball game played by locals in a small Alaska village, 1923. (LC)

Florence Harding was also a baseball fan, keeping her own scorecard. While taking a winter sojourn in Augusta, Georgia in 1922 she joined her husband to take in a Warren Park exhibition game between the Detroit Tigers and an unspecified Canadian team, but what especially excited the First Lady was the presence there of local resident and baseball legend Ty Cobb.

Although details are sketchy, it is believed she returned to see Cobb play there again, the following year, when the presidential party again stopped in Augusta on its way to Florida. Following the sudden death of President Harding in August 1923, the legendary Babe Ruth wrote a heartfelt sympathy letter to the presidential widow.

Jackie Kennedy at the Yankees' opening day game April 14, 1967, with her son and one of his friends.

Jackie Kennedy at the Yankees’ opening day game April 14, 1967, with her son and one of his friends.

Following Bess Truman’s omnipresence at Griffith Stadium, however, it was nearly two decades before another First Lady regularly returned to the ballpark.

Jacqueline Kennedy never joined her husband when he pitched the ceremonial season opening game, but as a former First Lady, she often took her son, John F. Kennedy, Jr. to local New York Shea Stadium and Yankee Stadium for games played by the Mets and the Yankees, respectively.

Jackie Kennedy Onassis at the 1969 World Series with her husband, daughter and son. (Getty)

Jackie Kennedy Onassis at the 1969 World Series with her husband, daughter and son. (Getty)

Jackie would even return to Shea Stadium with her daughter and second husband, Aristotle Onassis for a 1969 World Series game, and all eyes were on her as she explained the finer points of the game to him.

A local newspaper would later suggest that Mrs. Onassis be invited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch for the Mets to break a long slump but she was apparently never actually approached to do so.

Pat Nixon became the first First Lady to toss a ceremonial ball at a professional baseball league game during the 1971 World Series. (carlanthonyonline.com)

Pat Nixon tosses the ball starting a 1971 World Series game, the first First Lady to toss a ceremonial ball. (carlanthonyonline.com)

When next an incumbent First Lady showed up at a professional ball game without a President, she made history.

On October 11, 1971 Pat. Nixon became the first First Lady to toss out a baseball for a major league team, being at Game Two of the 1971 World Series, making her ceremonial first pitch at Baltimore Memorial Stadium.

While not as avid as Mrs. Coolidge or Mrs. Truman, Mrs. Nixon had long loved going to watch baseball games with the stadium crowds, sometimes with her husband or with her daughters, a presence at Griffith Park in the 1950s when she had been serving as Second Lady.

Pat Nixon with her husband at a July 14, 1970 Major League Baseballs All Star game at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium. (Getty)

Pat Nixon with her husband at a July 14, 1970 Major League Baseballs All Star game at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium. (Getty)

Pat Nixon’s precedent, however, was not followed. It was not until the last months of the Reagan Administration that another First Lady stepped up to the plate, literally.

On October 15, 1988, Nancy Reagan threw out the first pitch for Game One of the World Series, between the Oakland Athletics and the Los Angeles Dodgers, at Dodgers Stadium. Here is a video of the moment, which the outgoing First Lady used to promote her “Just Say No” program:

Barbara Bush tossing out the first ball of the new Texas Rangers team, 1989. (Corbis)

Barbara Bush tossing out the first ball of the new Texas Rangers team, 1989. (Corbis)

Six and a half months later, Barbara Bush became the first First Lady to toss a ceremonial first pitch for aa Texas Rangers baseball game, on May 5, 1989.

Mrs. Bush tosses another ball, this time at a World Series game. (Getty)

Mrs. Bush tosses another ball, this time at a World Series game. (Getty)

She did so just a month after her son, the future president, became managing general partner of the Texas Rangers and did so as a way to help promote his endeavor. Mrs. Bush would prove to be a regular at opening games.

And she continued her love of baseball well past her White House years, often seen attending games of her local team, the Houston Astros.

Former First Lady Barbara Bush and her husband at a Astros game. (Getty)

Former First Lady Barbara Bush and her husband at a Astros game. (Getty)

Mrs. Bush would also become the only former First Lady to date to town out a first pitch, in this case at Game Four of the Yankees vs. Red Sox World Series, on  October 17, 2004.

Her visibility at the nationally-televised event, many discerned, was a boost to the presidential re-election campaign of her son, incumbent president, George W. Bush.

Hillary Clinton in a Chicago Cubs cap and then a New York Yankees ones. (Clinton Library and Getty)

Hillary Clinton in a Chicago Cubs cap and then a New York Yankees ones. (Clinton Library and Getty)

On April 4, 1996 Hillary Clinton threw out the ceremonial first pitch of the baseball season at a Chicago Cubs game in Wrigley Field; born and raised in the city she was a lifelong fan of the team.

She spent the weekend before practicing her pitch to the President in the White House Rose Garden.

Hillary at bat. (Clinton Library)

Hillary at bat. (Clinton Library)

Hillary Clinton also proved herself formidable as a player, participating in a White House baseball game informally held for members of the staff, to help kick off the PBS documentary series on baseball.

When she began her unprecedented campaign for a U.S.Senate seat in her adopted state of New York, however, Mrs. Clinton had to split her loyalties with the Chicago Cubs, adopting the Yankees and happy to don one of the team baseball caps.

Mrs. Obama practices her pitch at Camden Yards. (WH)

Mrs. Obama practices her pitch at Camden Yards. (WH)

Not since Barbara Bush has there been as frequent a ballpark First Lady as Michelle Obama.

In July 2010, the First Lady tossed the first pitch of a Baltimore Orioles vs.Tampa Bay Rays game, practicing first at Camden Yards, the Orioles stadium..

Her appearance, as had been Nancy Reagan’s, was in conjunction with her primary special project, the “Let’s Move” effort to encourage exercise among children.

The First Lady handed the ball she tossed at the 2010 World Series from a member of the US Armed Forces. (Getty)

The First Lady handed the ball she tossed at the 2010 World Series from a member of the US Armed Forces. (Getty)

She was joined by members of Baltimore’s Boys and Girls Club of America and not only pitched – but caught a baseball.

That autumn, she was at another major league game, this time for Game One of the World Series, appearing with Second Lady Jill Biden to help promote their project,  “Joining Forces.”

 

 

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