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.

Pat Nixon and Women’s Issues of the 70s

Pat Nixon speaking at a national park. (National Archives)

Pat Nixon speaking at a national park. (National Archives)

This article is an adaption of a response to a public inquiry asking for the origins of First Lady Pat Nixon’s public declaration of support for both the Equal Rights Amendment and the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.

First Lady Pat Nixon, in blue, bidding farewell to Second Lady Betty Ford, in the blue Red Cross uniform, 1974. (National Archives)

First Lady Pat Nixon, in blue, bidding farewell to Second Lady Betty Ford, in the blue Red Cross uniform, 1974. (National Archives)

Although it is her successor and friend Betty Ford who is the First Lady most closely associated with several women’s issues that dominated the national dialogue in the 1970s, Pat Nixon was the first to express her views. She did so not out of a motivation to weigh in on the issues, but in response to questions posed to her at a 1972 press conference, whereas Betty Ford became an outspoken activist on behalf of gender equality issues.

Mrs. Nixon’s support of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which was part of the platform of the 1968 National Republican Convention, as well as her support of what would be the Supreme Court’s final decision on Roe v. Wade emerged from a press conference in the summer of 1972, as she was campaigning on her own on behalf of the President’s re-election campaign.

In mid-September of 1972, the First Lady made a one-week campaign tour on her own, starting in Chicago.

On the afternoon of September 19, 1972, following a stop at a ceremony where immigrants were undergoing their naturalization ceremony, and accompanied by Illinois Governor Richard Ogilivie, she held an informal press conference.

Mrs. Nixon holding a press conference with college students in 1971. (Nixon Presidential Library)

Mrs. Nixon holding a press conference with college students in 1971. (Nixon Presidential Library)

In her meeting with reporters, they asked her a series of politically sensitive questions, including amnesty for those who had left the U.S. to avoid being drafted to the war in Vietnam, the pending Supreme Court case on abortion, the Equal Rights Amendment, the growing Watergate scandal, and the claims that the Attorney General’s wife, Martha Mitchell, had been held against her will by FBI agents.

During that conference, she affirmed her support of the ERA and belief that abortion should be a legally considered a “personal matter” (although a final decision on Roe v. Wade was not delivered by the Supreme Court until January 22, 1973, arguments had begun on December 13, 1971, and the issue was one of widespread public discourse all through 1972).

Apart from Mrs. Nixon’s responses to reporters that September day in 1972, she apparently gave the matter no further consideration in public.

Pat Nixon meeting with women workers. (historical images.com)

Pat Nixon meeting with women workers. (historical images.com)

There is a subtle but important distinction, however, that Mrs. Nixon made on the issue of abortion. While she supported an individual’s right to make this choice, she did not support what she called “wholesale abortion on demand,” thus suggesting she anticipated a moderated pro-choice Republican view that emerged in the early 1990s.

On the ERA, Mrs. Nixon seems to have had a rather vigorous perspective, having been a working woman for a full sixteen years of her life, ending only with the birth of her first child Tricia.

As Julie Nixon Eisenhower wrote of her mother “In 1972 she urged that the [equal rights] amendment be endorsed again at the convention” as it had been by the 1968 Republican National Convention platform which nominated her husband for his first term.

The Nixons at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where the First Lady first announced to reporters that she wanted a woman on the Supreme Court. (pinterest.com)

The Nixons at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where the First Lady first announced to reporters that she wanted a woman on the Supreme Court. (pinterest.com)

Julie states further that “my father raised objections,” a lukewarm response. The National Republican Party did again endorse the ERA in 1976, especially since then First Lady at the time, Betty Ford, was an outspoken activist on behalf of its potential passage.

There was only one other political issue on which the President and Mrs. Nixon were known to have had conflicting views, and that was the appointment of a woman to the Supreme Court. Contrary to her usual policy of refraining from weighing in on contentious issues.

The First Lady publicly declared her intention to lobby the President hard on appointing a woman while exiting a performance with him at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

In private, she vigorously implored him to do so and when he instead appointed a man, there were some frosty moments, according to her biographer and daughter.

Despite her telling ABC television reporter Virginia Sherwood that the bi-partisan Women’s National Political Caucus, formed in February 1971 that it sounded “out there,” she strongly supported its agenda of involving more women in politics, including elective office.

Pat Nixon arrives in Michigan to campaign for Lenore Romney (behind her), a candidate for the U.S Senate. (original source unknown)

Pat Nixon arrives in Michigan to campaign for Lenore Romney (behind her), a candidate for the U.S Senate. (original source unknown)

It’s original co-chairman of national policy council was, in fact,   Republican Virginia Allen, former chair of President Nixon’s Task Force on Women’s Rights and Responsibilities.

While learning, during a tour of Rumania’s legislature, that it had a large percentage of women representatives, the First Lady made a startling observation that American women were under-represented in the U.S. Congress.

Although it was initiated as a political payback for the loyalty of Michigan Governor George Romney to her husband, Pat Nixon made a highly publicized campaign tour on behalf of his wife, Lenore Romney, in her failed campaign for the U.S. Senate seat from Michigan.

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Lee Bouvier Radziwll, the sister of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

Lee Bouvier Radziwll, during the years when her sister Jacqueline Kennedy was First Lady. (ebay)

This article is adapted from a response to a public inquiry about the  sister of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

Jackie Kennedy and Lee Radziwill during the 1960 presidential election.

Jackie Kennedy and Lee Radziwill during the 1960 presidential election.

Born as Caroline Lee Bouvier on March 3, 1933 but always known by her middle name, Lee Radziwill currently lives between apartments in New York and Paris, France.

She has worked at various times as a fashion publicist, an interior designer and an actress.

Lee Radziwill has survived many family losses. Her famous sister, the former First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis died in 1994.  Five years later, she lost both her nephew John F. Kennedy, Jr. and her son Anthony, one of the two children she had.

Her most recent husband was the film producer Herbert Ross, who died in 2001, a year after they divorced. She obtained a Catholic annulment from her first husband Michael Canfield in 1959, and then married Stanislaw Radziwill.

Although born in the Ukraine, Radziwill was the descendant of Polish nobility; during World War II, he became a refugee to England.

Lee Bouvier Radziwill, popularly known as "Princess Radziwill" at an official function during the time her sister was First Lady. (ebay)

Lee Bouvier Radziwill, popularly known as “Princess Radziwill” during the time her sister was First Lady. (ebay)

Denied permission from the Queen of England the right to use his inherited title of “Prince,” he was permitted the informal use of it as a courtesy.

Since the American First Lady’s sister was often addressed as “Princess Radziwill,” it was often incorrectly assumed that she was a legitimate member of a European royal family. They divorced in 1974 and he died two years later.

Four years younger than Jackie, her only sister, the two siblings were constant companions and great confidantes in their early years.

Although Lee Radziwill relocated to England after her marriage to “Stas,” as he was known by family and friends, she was often in the United States visiting her sister in the 1950s, as the political career of her brother-in-law, Senator John F. Kennedy rose until he attained the presidency in 1960.

While unable to attend the January 1961 inauguration, Lee Radziwill made many long visits to the White House, marked by a stay at the presidential weekend home in Middleburg, Virginia and was once the guest of honor at a private dance hosted by Mrs. Kennedy.

Radzwill joins her sister and brother-in-law for church one Sunday in Virginia.

Radzwill joins her sister and brother-in-law for church one Sunday in Virginia.

With a wide circle of friends among international society, she knew many in the diplomatic set who figured, to some degree, in the Washington world of her sister. Privately, she also managed to purchase French-made clothing for the First Lady, technically enabling her to maintain a vow that she only purchased items made in the United States.

Although she did not play any technically official role in the Kennedy Administration, her presence was notable.

Lee Radziwill first came to wide public notice during the May-June 1961 state visit by the President and Mrs. Kennedy to Paris, Vienna and London.

While in London, the President and First Lady were guests at the Radziwill home and JFK served as godfather for his niece Christina, born in 1960 (who now lives in New York).

The Bouvier sisters on a Pakistani camel and Indian elephant. (Magnum)

The Bouvier sisters on a Pakistani camel and Indian elephant. (Magnum)

After the President returned to Washington from London, the Bouvier sisters then made their own trip, a private vacation to Greece in mid-June of 1961.

It was, however, the March-April 1962 trip to India and Pakistan of the First Lady Jackie Kennedy with Lee Radziwill as her official companion, that made the sister a globally recognizable figure.

Dressed similarly and with a remarkable resemblance to each other, they were seen in press photographs riding an elephant and then a camel together and in an NBC color documentary made for television audiences.

As part of the presidential entourage to Ireland, Radziwill greets an Irish government official, as Eunice Kennedy Shriver looks on.

As part of the presidential entourage to Ireland, Radziwill greets an Irish government official, as Eunice Kennedy Shriver looks on.

Her most prominent public visibility, however, came as part of the official presidential party of a trip to Ireland in June of 1963, joining President Kennedy.

Since the First Lady was then pregnant and unable to travel, Lee Radziwill acted as an informal companion to him, along with the presence of two of his three sisters, Jean Kennedy Smith and Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

The visit to Ireland was more than a state visit, however, it was a sentimental return to the land of ancestors for both the President and Mrs. Radziwill, which her maternal great-great grandparents had immigrated to America.

Lee Radziwill and Onassis,, February 1963.

Lee Radziwill and Onassis,, February 1963.

Following the death of Jacqueline Kennedy’s infant son Patrick in August of 1963, and her ensuring depression, Lee Radziwill arranged for them to make another European vacation, this time as guests on the yacht of her friend Aristotle Onassis, the Greek shipping magnate for a cruise of the Aegean Ocean and stops at ancient Greek sites, and tours of Turkey and Morocco.

Although the President and Mrs. Kennedy had once briefly met Onassis in the late 1950s in the south of France, Lee Radziwill’s more familiar friendship with him bridged what would become his later closeness to the First Lady.

Radziwill with her sister, three months after the president's assassination.

Radziwill (right) with her sister, three months after the president’s assassination.

Following her attendance at President Kennedy’s funeral in November of 1963, Lee Radziwill was a strong emotional support on whom her sister relied as she moved to a temporary home in Washington as a widow.

Lee Radziwlll and Jackie Kennedy at the RFK funeral. (pinterest)

Lee Radziwlll and Jackie Kennedy at the RFK funeral. (pinterest)

During the first summer of her widowhood, Jackie Kennedy again had her sister as traveling companion during a cruise on the Adriatic Ocean, with a visit to Yugoslavia.

Although they kept a home in England, she and her family relocated to New York and lived within walking distance of her sister. Lee Radziwill was at her sister’s side during the June 1968 funeral and burial of Senator Robert Kennedy, brother of the late president, and her October 1968 remarriage to Aristotle Onassis.

Radziwll and Nureyev.

Radziwll and Nureyev.

While living in New York during the late 1960s and early 1970s, she befriended many of the leading names in the arts and pop culture at the time, including artist Andy Warhol, Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger, author Truman Capote, and dancer Rudolf Nureyev.

Lee Radziwill out on the town in the autumn of 2015. (ellecanada.com)

Lee Radziwill out on the town in the autumn of 2015. (ellecanada.com)

Later, as single women in New York, the two sisters pursued diverging professional pursuits, but came together to publish their original drawings and account of a European trip they made together in the summer of 1951, One Special Summer.

Mrs. Onassis hosted the wedding party in her Fifth Avenue apartment for her sister’s third marriage, in 1988.

Turning 83 years old on her next birthday, Mrs. Radziwill still maintains an active social life in Paris and New York. In 2013, she granted a taped interview with the New York Times.

She has also continued her link to the late president’s family, a notable attendee at the 2009 funeral of his brother, the late U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy.

(All images used in this article were found on ebay and do not note the original source.)

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A Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper depiction of Alice Roosevelt's debut party receiving line in December 1902. (Leslie's)

A Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper depiction of Alice Roosevelt’s debut party receiving line in December 1902. (Leslie’s)

This article is adapted from a response to a public inquiry about holiday dance parties hosted by First Ladies

Along with the traditional forms of entertainment and celebrations overseen and arranged by First Ladies during the holiday season, at the turn of the last century several of them hosted dance parties for their young adult children and relatives in the days between Christmas and New Year’s, giving the week an event with a bit of extra luster.

Mrs. Adams. (history.com)

Mrs. Adams. (history.com)

Abigail Adams hosted the first such party, inviting the few children of officials living in the new capital city of Washington in 1800 during her two months residency in what was then the new presidential mansion.

Living with her was her toddler granddaughter Suzanna and the First Lady wanted to have the child enjoy the holiday season, given that her own father was then terminally ill with alcoholism.

Southern presidential families were more accustomed to celebrating the holiday season with gusto in the 19th century than were New Englanders. The large and hospitable Tyler family of Virginia, with both young and adult children and several grandchildren brought with them the festive proclivities of the plantation slave-owner class.

Priscilla Tyler. (University of Alabama)

Priscilla Tyler. (University of Alabama)

Although details of their Christmastime celebrating in 1842 is scant, we do know that the by-then widowed President and his First Lady, daughter-in-law Priscilla, entertained Firstmarked by holiday parties for all of them, as well as those of family friends.

With all the young grandchildren, nieces and nephews who visited the Taylor White House, daughter Betty Taylor Bliss, who assumed the role of public hostess while her mother Peggy oversaw private entertaining managed holiday festivities. (cyberstamps.com)

Betty Taylor Bliss. (cyberstamps.com)

As overseen by the two First Ladies of Zachary Taylor’s administration, his wife Peggy and daughter Betty, four grandchildren, and a half-dozen young nieces and nephews gathered together for seemingly perpetual holiday fun in the White House, the record showing a large number of their kinfolk visiting from Kentucky, Virginia and Louisiana.

Two Tennessean First Ladies Emily Donelson, hostess for her uncle Andrew Jackson, and Martha Patterson, the public hostess for her father Andrew Johnson, arranged large and formal Christmas parties for the large number of small grandchildren composing their White House families.

Among these parties, the ones which captured the public imagination were the debuts into the social scene of several presidential daughters. The “coming out party” as it is sometimes called, was a rite of passage for young women from wealthy and influential families.

A Victorian era debutante ball. (pinterest)

A Victorian era debutante ball. (pinterest)

Usually a formal dancing party, or “cotillion” with a late supper, the event served as the initial social event at which they appeared and this “social debut” served as a public signal that the women were now able to attend social events on their own.

Typically wearing formal gowns of white to suggest the purity of their youth, and being “presented” in a formal lineup with other young women of the social elite class, the debutante ball took place at different times of the year between the autumn and spring.

Julia Grant.

Julia Grant.

In Washington, where even the calendar of social events revolved around the times that Congress was in session and not in recess, it usually took place in the holiday season.

Ida McKinley's favorite niece, Mary Barber, lived in the White House for long periods, including the holiday season of 1898, when her aunt hosted a Blue Room dance. (Ida McKinley)

Ida McKinley’s favorite niece, Mary Barber, lived in the White House for long periods, including the holiday season of 1898, when her aunt hosted a Blue Room dance. (Ida McKinley)

The first First Lady to arrange such an event for her daughter during the holiday season was Julia Grant.

Many were startled that she permitted her daughter Nellie Grant to “come out” at the age of only sixteen in December of 1873. The event, however, was staged outside of the White House.

The first Christmas dance hosted by a First Lady occurred in 1898, when Ida McKinley organized a party for a house full of her and the President’s young nieces and nephews. Refreshments were served in the State Dining Room but the music and dancing was in the Blue Room.

Alice Roosevelt. (wikipedia)

Alice Roosevelt. (wikipedia)

Perhaps the most famous party hosted by a First Lady at the White House for a presidential child was the December 1902 debut party staged by Edith Roosevelt for her unpredictable stepdaughter Alice. In attendance at the event was her distant cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Alice was not too pleased with the First Lady’s decision not to serve champagne, but rather a punch, and limit the hours of dancing. In later years, she remarked that her holiday party at the White House was “dreadful.” The public at the time had no idea of this. In fact, newspapers reporting on her holiday debut described her this way:

“She can cow fence, dance, ride and is expert In many exercises which give a good setup and encourage strong vitality. Miss Roosevelt is rather tall, slight in build, has dark eyes and light brown hair. Her face is full of sweetness and character, with an aim. intelligent expression. Best of all. she looks wholesome and happy and like an ideal American girl.”

Ethel Roosevelt. (pinterest)

Ethel Roosevelt. (pinterest)

In one of the last gatherings of the Theodore Roosevelt extended family, the First Lady hosted a second debutante party, this time for her daughter Ethel on December 28, 1908, about two and a half months before the end of the Administration.

Newspapers covering the anticipation of the event reported that Ethel Roosevelt showed a degree of disinterest in the social life ahead that her mother had planned for her, preferring instead the company of her dog Ace and horse Montauk.

Very much a tomboy and seemingly one of the gang of boys that included her brothers and their friends. She was described as a bit of a cut-up, known for giving a playful slap on the back of her brothers.

This print showing Edith Roosevelt, second from left, with her family during the 1908 Christmas season actually depicts the children as much younger than they were by that time. (NPS)

This print showing Edith Roosevelt, second from left, with her family during the 1908 Christmas season actually depicts the children as much younger than they were by that time. (NPS)

Edith Roosevelt did not ignore her four boys, however.

Days before Christmas in 1903, Ted, Kermit, Archie and Quentin along with some five-hundred of their friends and other children were invited to a “winter festival” with fake snow, a tall ice cream Santa Claus, dancing and supper.

Just two years later, Edith Roosevelt’s successor Nellie Taft hosted a third successive White House debut party during the holiday season, for her daughter Helene (as her given name “Helen” was pronounced by her family and friends). In contrast to the Roosevelt daughters, the Taft holiday party took place in the afternoon, from five to seven.

Helene Taft. (Library of Congress)

Helene Taft. (Library of Congress)

The First Lady was as prominent a figure at the party as her daughter, the two of them standing together at the south end of the East Room, to welcome two-thousand five-hundred guests.

Those invited to attend first met Mrs. Taft, dressed in ” delft blue chiffon, over white satin and trimmed in sable bands,” who then introduced guests to her daughter. At one point the President stood on the other side of Helene to join his wife and daughter.

Helene Taft in a White House photographic portrait colorized by digital artist AlixofHesse. (deviantart.com)

Helene Taft in a White House photographic portrait colorized in “Helene Pink” by digital artist AlixofHesse. (deviantart.com)

There were two elements at the holiday party that proved visually stunning.

In all the rooms of the state floor were endless bowers of pink roses offering a fresh tone to the green evergreen touches of the holiday season.

And then there was “Miss Helene” herself.

Active in progressive movement reforms intended to help working-class young women and academic in her interests, she decided to break from the tradition of debutantes wearing white dresses.

Instead, she wore a gown of rose-colored satin with “a long pointed tunic over a satin underdress,” and holding a bouquet of pink roses. She wore her hair in a “slightly waved pompadour, and a coil.”

Cal, Jr., President Coolidge, John and Grace Coolidge. (Library of Congress)

Cal, Jr., President Coolidge, John and Grace Coolidge. (Library of Congress)

Between the flowers and the First Daughter’s gown, a new color of “Helen Pink” was declared by local stores carrying women’s dresses in the color, much as had “Alice Blue” been made a popular color in honor of Alice Roosevelt’s favorite color.

FDR, Jr. and his wife Betsey. (pinterest)

FDR, Jr. and his wife Betsey. (pinterest)

In 1923, after the numerous holiday activities and private family celebration of Christmas Day, Grace Coolidge hosted a holiday dance for her two sons, John and Calvin, Jr. who were both home from the same Pennsylvania boarding school.

A decade later, Eleanor Roosevelt hosted a similar event for her annual dances for her two youngest sons, John a boarding school student at Groton, and Franklin, Jr. a freshman at Harvard University.

Six months after “Frank” married heiress Ethel Dupont in June of 1937, the couple were given permission by the First Lady to use the White House to host a Christmas dance party for their contemporaries and did so again two years later.

The First Lady's niece and namesake, who authored a memoir about the First Lady in 2005.  (Davis Enterprise)

Eleanor Roosevelt’s niece and namesake, who authored a memoir about the First Lady in 2005. (Davis Enterprise)

There were no sedate waltzes, however, but rather the exciting sound of the most popular music of the era, “swing,” and the First Lady was reportedly in attendance briefly.

And the First Lady, despite all of her work on behalf of others, be it policy negotiating behind the scenes or public acts of benevolence, made sure to put time aside and plan what would be the final of the four White House holiday debutante parties.

It took place in December of 1938 and was held in honor of her niece and namesake, Miss Eleanor Roosevelt.

The FDR family gather for Christmas 1939 in the East Room. (FDRL)

The FDR family gather for Christmas 1939 in the East Room. (FDRL)

According to an article on the White House Historical Association’s website, the First Lady and her brother, Hall, studied the faces of the dozens of young Roosevelt cousins who attended, trying to determine who they were by their potential resemblance to their parents.

Finally, while Mrs. Roosevelt gave the adult, young adult and students in the generation behind her, she didn’t forget the youngest Roosevelts; in the early years of the administration, she hosted Christmas parties for her growing brood of grandchildren.

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The Most Iconic Images of First Ladies

Jacqueline Kennedy's familiar, and now, iconic pink a suit worn at the moment of President Kennedy's Dallas assassination in 1963. (JFKL)

Jacqueline Kennedy’s familiar, and now, iconic pink a suit worn at the moment of President Kennedy’s Dallas assassination in 1963. (JFKL)

This larger article is adapted from a response to a media inquiry regarding the visual significance of the iconic pink suit Jacqueline Kennedy was wearing at the time of President Kennedy’s 1963 assassination.

The important power of the visual in the political world is unquestionable, increasingly so as each generation enjoys new technological advances in photography. And in no political realm is iconic imagery more scrutinized and central than that of the presidency. Sometimes a single ephemeral image snapped at the right moment can linger in the imagination and have a far greater impact than a speech or a website detailing policy, particularly if it captures an important historical moment.

Certainly the impact of the simple, wordless image of Jacqueline Kennedy in her pink suit and hat just before, during and after the moment of her husband’s assassination in 1963 is proof of this. Pictures showing her in those clothes that day have come to immediately summon the thought of not just a turning point for the Kennedy presidency but the entire nation and its history. This is true for not just those alive and old enough to remember the tragedy, but all those born since.

Other iconic images of First Ladies may not carry as emotionally dramatic a symbolism. Still, since the World War I era when constantly snapping the presidential wives became more frequent and routine by the news photographers who cover the White House, images of certain moments or scenarios have come to stand out as representative images of what these women accomplished and how they came to be perceived.

Here are some of those photographs that seem to do so best with the seventeen First Ladies from Edith Wilson to Michelle Obama.

I

From the fall of 1919 until the late winter of 1921, as her husband struggled to recover from a stroke, the debility of which First Lady Edith Wilson prevented from being fully disclosed, she vigilantly protected him and his reputation, never away from his side. The only glimpses the public had of him at this time was during carriage rides Edith took with him. This image perfectly captured her role, although the public did not yet know the truth about his stroke – and her role during it,

This image, appearing in a popular weekly magazine, World’s Work, was more than an image of the new and folksy First Lady Florence Harding and her Airedale dog Laddie Boy; it symbolized her passionate commitment to animal rights, rescue and protection organizations, often lending Laddie’s presence to fundraisers. (World’s Work)

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Grace Coolidge accommodated the request of more press photographers than had any of her predecessors and came to perfect the “photo op,” The former teacher of the deaf famously posed with the hearing and sight disability advocate Helen Keller and the image was widely circulated in newspapers of the time. (LC)

Comparatively subdued as First Lady compared to her earlier public activities, the general public came to identify Lou Hoover closely with her long-term role as a leader of the Girl Scout movement and she was most recognizable from her frequent photographs in the organization uniform. (HHPL)

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Among the many diverse scenes of American life where Eleanor Roosevelt seemingly appeared suddenly, none captured the public imagination as did her donning a metal mining hat and descending by cart into a coal mine. (FDRL)

This 1936 image of Eleanor Roosevelt being escorted by two African-American men as she visited the campus of Howard University was used by segregationists in pamphlets intended to protest her revolutionary efforts towards racial equality; conversely it was circulated among the black community as a hopeful sign of improved conditions. (LC)

This 1936 image of Eleanor Roosevelt being escorted by two African-American men as she visited the campus of Howard University was used by segregationists in pamphlets intended to protest her revolutionary efforts towards racial equality; conversely it was circulated among the black community as a hopeful sign of improved conditions. (LC)

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)

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By her own determination, Bess Truman was viewed in the one-dimensional role of traditional wife, albeit one unhappy with being in the political spotlight. The most prolific image of her, supportive and serious, was snapped at the moment her husband assumed the presidency upon FDR’s sudden 1945 death and remained uppermost in the public perception of her.

Assuming her role as First Lady at the dawn of the 1950s, Mamie Eisenhower was closely associated with her favorite color pink. While she used it often in clothing and decor often during her eight years, it was her sparkling first inaugural gown in the color the public came to call “Mamie Pink” that became iconic. (Smithsonian)

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Few First Ladies better reflected the evolving values and priorities of the majority of American women at the time of their tenure than did Mamie Eisenhower in her role asa devoted grandmother. Many photographs regularly depicted her in this,her favorite familiar role. (DDEPL)

Although she made many visually startling appearances during many foreign trips, it was her regal bearing during her first state trip with the President, to Paris, as she joined him to proceed to Versailles for a formal dinner, which singularly captivated the world's attention of this new type of modern American woman. (Getty)

Although she made many visually startling appearances during many foreign trips, it was her regal bearing during her first state trip with the President, to Paris, as she joined him to proceed to Versailles for a formal dinner, which singularly captivated the world’s attention of this new type of modern American woman. (Getty)

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Although Jackie Kennedy’s 1962 television tour of the White House was in black and white, and not color, it proved to be the most sustained glimpse of an American First Lady that the people of the country had ever had, and it so seared a permanent impression of her appearance and voice into the public mind that she was ever after easily mimicked and parodied for how she moved and spoke. (CBS)

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Just as the image of her pink suit symbolized one of the most violent and shocking events in 20th century American history, Jackie Kennedy’s strong yet sad appearance behind a black veil as her son saluted the coffin of his father was the most iconic image of the world’s mournful farewell to the young world leader. (AP)

While there was no one individual image of Lady Bird Johnson planting flowers or trees that crystallized her primary public project of “Beautification,” which came to be the leading issue with which the public would identify her.

Lady Bird Johnson's other most familiar role in the public's mind was being the human face of LBJ's "War on Poverty" social legislation, most prominently as a key promoter of Head Start. The now seemingly requisite photos of First Ladies sitting on small plastic grade school chairs and reading books to children began with Mrs. Johnson. (LBJL)

Lady Bird Johnson’s other most familiar role in the public’s mind was being the human face of LBJ’s “War on Poverty” social legislation, most prominently as a key promoter of Head Start. The now seemingly requisite photos of First Ladies sitting on small plastic grade school chairs and reading books to children began with Mrs. Johnson. (LBJL)

In her bright red winter coat, Pat Nixon's arrival in China with President Nixon for his unprecedented 1972 state visit is perhaps the most iconic image of her as First Lady. Another, some might argue, was her sad expression on the podium the day he resigned. (RMNPL)

In her bright red winter coat, Pat Nixon’s arrival in China with President Nixon for his unprecedented 1972 state visit is perhaps the most iconic image of her as First Lady. Another, some might argue, was her sad expression on the podium the day he resigned. (RMNPL)

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Like the Kennedy assassination, the Nixon resignation was viewed as a tragic end of a presidency. As he delivered his final speech as president just hours before his resignation took effect, Pat Nixon stood stoically at his side, a dramatic finale to a role of ultimate loyalty that most believed she best embodied. (RMNPL)

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While she looked the part of the authentic suburban mom that she truly was, Betty Ford was also an overt feminist who spoke easily and casually about the need for gender equity. Wearing a large but simple button making clear her support of the Equal Rights Amendment, she redefined the old visual caricature of the “women’s libber.” (GRFPL)

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At the time she underwent a mastectomy for breast cancer, Betty Ford decided to openly discuss the crisis in order to encourage other women to seek early detection through a mammography; the intent of what she was discussing was made all the more powerful by the White House deciding to publicly release the first images that showed a First Lady in such a private moment, confined to a hospital bed. (GRFPL)

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Both in tandem with her husband and on her own terms, Rosalynn Carter’s compassionate humanitarianism might have been perceived as more a cerebral act until a series of images were released showing her physical interactions among suffering and dying rCambodian refugees on the Thailand border in 1979/ In fact, the photographs of her are credited with provoking the American reception of the refugees. (JCPL)

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The proof of her physical presence in the Oval Office on a weekly basis to maintain a standing lunch meeting with the President especially underlined the political partnership Rosalynn Carter maintained with her husband. (JCPL)

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Just two months after they entered the presidency, Ronald Reagan was shot in an assassination attempt in Washington, D.C. Although already known for her especially devoted attentiveness to her husband, the new First Lady immediately demanded that she be rushed to his side. This first image of the surviving, but ailing President was the one released to the public and captured the protective and encouraging nature of Nancy Reagan’s role as his wife. (RRPL)

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In the course of beginning her national campaign to raise awareness about the harm of illegal drugs and prevent young children from experimenting with them, Nancy Reagan replied to a question from a student about how to best turn away offers of drugs from older children. Her response became a slogan that not only became the banner of her effort but a catchphrase of her era. In dozens of images during the Reagan Administration, the First Lady met with students, spoke at rallies, and attended functions where the phrase “Just Say No” was prominently displayed with her. (RRPL)

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Not since Grace Coolidge had a First Lady become so closely associated with a dog as did Barbara Bush and her springer spaniel Millie. Many images were taken of them together at White House events where she brought the dog along as her companion, but this one, with the president’s wife on the distinctive Truman Balcony in formal clothes, beaming a smile as she holds her dog close in her arms, captured the relationship. Used as the cover image for the book Millie “wrote” (with Mrs. Bush’s help), it proliferated. (GBPL)

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With her own large family and – by her own words – her white hair and figure, Barbara Bush assumed a public persona of grandmother, a nurturing image that manifested itself in addressing the controversial social issue of the AIDS epidemic by her simple embrace of children living with the virus. (GBPL)

Hillary Clinton’s overtly political partnership with the President was given immediate specificity in the first weeks of the administration when she was put in charge of organizing the effort for a massive health care reform initiative. The rare image of a First Lady testifying before Congress with a professional faculty for policy seemed to best crystallize her role. (WJCPL)

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With the greatest threat to the survival of her husband’s presidency involving his adultery, the scandal inevitably blended an overtly public crisis with a private betrayal, Hillary Clinton became the central focus of the world’s attention, her every move or mood or remark reported and analyzed. The simple wordless image of her and her husband managing their emotional estrangement by the link of both holding a hand of their daughter seemed to best represent the period.

Although not directly involved in any of the policy matter related to the Afghanistan War, Laura Bush became publicly associated with the renewal of women's lives there in a wide variety of efforts, from education to professional training.  (GWBPL)

Although not directly involved in any of the policy matters related to the war on terrorists in Afghanistan, Laura Bush became publicly associated with the renewal of women’s lives in that country in a wide variety of efforts, from education to professional training. It was a positive gesture undertaken without rhetoric yet a bold and optimistic strike at the limitations that had been placed on women’s lives there as a result of terrorist control. (GWBPL)

Having earned a graduate degree in library science and then worked as a librarian, Laura Bush’s celebration of the book format of the written word, merged with political events when Hurricane Katrina wiped out many small, local libraries – and the First Lady began a national effort to rebuild the structures, believing them to be important not only as centers of learning but community gathering. (GWBPL)

This image of Michelle Obama and England’s Queen Elizabeth hugging each other’s back, taken in the early months of the Obama Administration, seemed to crystallize the new First Lady’s accessible informality even in formal attire during a state visit. (AP)

Michelle Obama working with children in the White House vegetable garden she created as a way of focusing attention on nutrition and childhood obesity. (WH)

Michelle Obama working with children in the White House vegetable garden she created as a way of focusing attention on nutrition and childhood obesity; there is no one particular image of her in the garden that stands out in the public mind as much as the action she is taking in them. (WH)

 

 

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Nancy Reagan’s California Ranch Homes

Nancy Reagan and her husband, President Ronald Reagan in their southern California ranch house. (RPL)

Nancy Reagan and her husband, President Ronald Reagan in their southern California ranch house. (RPL)

This article is an adaptation of  a public inquiry response about the Reagan Ranch, near Santa Barbara, California.

Throughout most of her life, Nancy Reagan has enjoyed the open and rugged lifestyle afforded by what were, to the surprise of many, very simple and small ranch houses.

Nancy Reagan and her husband on the second of three "Reagan ranches." (savethemeadow.com)

Nancy Reagan and her husband on the second of three “Reagan ranches.” (savethemeadow.com)

Ninety-four years old at this writing, the former First Lady no longer owns or uses a ranch house, however, residing quietly at her home in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles.

From the time she began dating Ronald Reagan in the early 1950s until 1996, just eight  years before his death, Nancy Reagan spent most of her weekends and long vacations in the canyons and mountains of California, in the southern region of the state.

At the time Nancy Davis first began spending time with the divorced actor Ronald Reagan, she was introduced to western ranch life, making an initial visit with him to his first ranch property in Northridge, just north of the city of Los Angeles, where both maintained apartment residences.

Reagan working on his Northridge Ranch, prior to his marriage to Nancy Davis. (imdv.com)

Reagan working on his Northridge Ranch, prior to his marriage to Nancy Davis. (imdv.com)

In 1951, Ronald Reagan sold the eight acre property. She did not, however, live at this first ranch.

Today, Northridge is a densely populated suburban city, hardly the sort of open and wild western landscape one imagines as a place for a ranch.

Sold in the immediate postwar era when there was massive growth in the Los Angeles region population due to the settlement there of many returning American servicemen who fought in the Pacific theater during World War II, there are now subdivision residences where this first Reagan ranch house once stood.

Shortly after the Reagan Northridge ranch was sold, the future President bought a larger one, more distant from Los Angeles.

In March of 1951, one year to the month before Nancy Davis married Ronald Reagan, he purchased a tract of 250 acres in the Agoura area, building a ranch house on the property which was located close to Lake Malibu.

The second Reagan ranch was located at what is now Cornell Road and Mulholland Drive. (ronaldsreagansranches.com)

The second Reagan ranch was located at what is now Cornell Road and Mulholland Drive. (ronaldsreagansranches.com)

Yearling Row Ranch became an important aspect of the future First Couple’s strong bond.

Here, Nancy Davis became an expert horsewoman, riding western style in the trails around the property and also came to first meet and know Maureen and Michael Reagan, the adolescent children of Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman, who would become her stepchildren.

As a refuge from the uncertainty both faced as a result of his waning acting film career and respite from the pressures and expectations on them as he entered state politics by mounting a successful campaign as governor of California and became a national political figure, Yearling Row Ranch was also a beloved family home.

The Reagans riding alongside each other. (alltrails.com)

The Reagans riding alongside each other. (alltrails.com)

Here, as both a fiancé and newlywed, Mrs. Reagan performed manual labor as well, clearing brush and dead trees, moving stones and clearing spaces, and helping her husband build fencing.

While Reagan often enjoyed jumping fences on his horse, Mrs. Reagan liked a speedy trot on her horse, alongside her husband on his.

The Reagans play with one of their dogs at the Yearling Row Ranch just before selling it. (Getty)

The Reagans play with one of their dogs at the Yearling Row Ranch just before selling it. (Getty)

Nancy Reagan’s embrace of her new role as a mother to two maturing children, daughter Patti and son Ron, was made all the more enjoyable during their times at the ranch, it being located close to the coastline; here she and her children got to enjoy the California beach lifestyle, especially Malibu’s Trancas Beach.

The Reagans sold this ranch to both Century Fox studios just after his election as governor in 1966. Today, the property itself is preserved and enjoyed by the public, as part of Malibu Creek State Park.

The only remaining structures from the Reagan residency are the swimming pool, a large barbecue, and the original stables, now converted for use as storage and office space for state park rangers and administrators.

Rancho del Cielo. (scholarworks.gvsu.edu)

Rancho del Cielo. (scholarworks.gvsu.edu)

As Reagan was approaching the end of his tenure as California’s governor, he and Nancy began planning for their return to the southern part of the state.

In 1974, knowing how important it was to their own well-being to have a place where they could restore themselves in the beauty and challenge of outdoor life, they purchased 688 acres in the Santa Ynez Mountain range, north of Santa Barbara, near the town of Solvang.

Here they enlarged a simple  adobe living structure, with space enough to accommodate them and their children.

With the breathtaking and wide western vistas offered by the vast land,  they dubbed the property “Rancho del Cielo,” Spanish for ranch in the sky.

The Reagans ride at the ranch. (RRPL)

The Reagans ride at the ranch. (RRPL)

While she oversaw the addition of a traditional Spanish red tile roof, replacing an old metal one, no heating or air-conditioning was ever added.

Reagan not only continued to build the fencing as he did with his second property, the future President himself built the stone and concrete patio and created a lake.

This property became the famous “Reagan Ranch” during his presidency in the 1980s, a place where the President and First Lady retreated for a large number of lengthy vacations.

An aerial view of the Reagan Ranch. (www.vacationsmadeeasy.com)

An aerial view of the Reagan Ranch. (www.vacationsmadeeasy.com)

While it was considered the “western White House,”  the ranch house was placed in a remote part of the property and difficult for the regular presidential press corps to access.

On those occasions, such as an economic recovery bill-signing ceremony and the welcome of a visiting Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, reporters and presidential staff members were often brought to the home in jeeps.

The Reagans in western gear outside their ranch. (RRPL)

The Reagans in western gear outside their ranch. (RRPL)

Nancy Reagan outfitted the startlingly small house with mementos evoking the western landscape, and one wall was entirely composed of bookshelves.

Here she also had a chance to more freely enjoy their menagerie of horses, barn cars and a bouvier de flandres dog Lucky, who had proven too large and rambunctious for life at the White House.

The Reagans welcomed world leaders like Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife Raisa to the ranch during the presidential years. (RRPL)

The Reagans welcomed world leaders like Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife Raisa to the ranch during the presidential years. (RRPL)

With the end of Reagan’s presidency in 1989, Nancy Reagan was able to enjoy her husband’s company unimpeded by official schedules, especially relishing their long horseback rides together throughout the vast acreage.

With the onset of the former president’s Alzheimer’s disease, however, it became more apparent to her and their loyal, longtime ranch manager that continuing to make the challenging trek to the ranch house and permit Reagan to ride horses was a risky endeavor. His last visit there was in 1995.

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

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

With regret, the former First Lady directed the sale of the famous ranch. Preferring that it be preserved rather than developed into other properties, after the National Park Service was unable to arrange an agreement, it was purchased by the conservative political organization Young America’s Foundation in 1998. That year marked Nancy Reagan’s last visit, alone, to the ranch.

The private organization has been assiduous in carefully maintaining the ranch’s historical integrity and the Native Sons of the Golden West designated it as a California State Landmark two years before the former president’s death in 2004.

The Reagan Ranch Center. (Young America's Foundation)

The Reagan Ranch Center. (Young America’s Foundation)

The small size of the ranch house and difficulty accessing it prevents the Reagan Ranch from becoming an historic home that cam be viewed by the general public, although the foundation owning it does arrange special viewings for its guests on occasion.

However, the Young America’s Foundation has built a state-of-the-art visitor’s center, open to the general public in the city of nearby Santa Barbara, where many ranch items are on display and the history of the property is brought to life.

Nancy Reagan in solitude during a visit to her husband's grave. (pinterest.com)

Nancy Reagan in solitude during a visit to her husband’s grave. (pinterest.com)

Since the time she sold it, the former First Lady has not returned.

While certainly going there might recall the more recent memories of her husband’s final years  of struggle while there, it may also raise fond memories of the long, relaxed days she spent in the company of her beloved companion.

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Jacqueline Kennedy in the Red Room, following her restoration of the mansion. (CNN)

Jacqueline Kennedy in the Red Room, following her restoration of the mansion. (CNN)

This article is a more full explanation based on a response to a recent public inquiry about whether the federal government underwrote the cost of Jacqueline Kennedy’s legendary historical refurnishing of the White House, a project she began almost immediately upon becoming First Lady in 1961.

Facing a CBS camera, Jacqueline Kennedy narrating the story of her White House restoration for the public, during her televised tour of the rooms showing her efforts. (CNN)

Facing a CBS camera, Jacqueline Kennedy narrating the story of her White House restoration for the public, during her televised tour of the rooms showing her efforts. (CNN)

From the very onset of her vision for making the White House not only a showcase of presidential history and the finest examples of Americana but, more subtly, a “classroom” of sorts, to be used to tell the story of democracy at a time of Cold War conflict with the Soviet Union’s promotion of communism, Mrs. Kennedy determined that it could be done without expense to the American taxpayers.

She first organized a volunteer committee of national experts on different aspects of furnishings from the founding period of the United States and named as its chairman, Henry DuPont, a Republican – thus diffusing any potential conflict raised by political partisanship.

Mrs. Kennedy and her committee. (JFKL)

Mrs. Kennedy and her committee. (JFKL)

With not only the wealth but the contacts throughout the high-end antique collecting world, the committee was able to solicit donations or raise funds to purchase many of the White House’s most prized and rarest of objects.

After seeking the advice of White House counselor Clark Clifford, Jackie Kennedy decided to establish a privately run foundation, still in place today, called the White House Historical Association.

In there Treaty Room, Mrs. Kennedy with Vice President Johnson and Senate leaders during a ceremony during which they presented a donated chandelier that had been in the Capitol but was once in the White House. (JFKL)

In there Treaty Room, Mrs. Kennedy with Vice President Johnson and Senate leaders during a ceremony during which they presented a donated chandelier that had been in the Capitol but was once in the White House. (JFKL)

This permitted her to accept cash donations from the public to underwrite the project as well as donations of historical furnishings to be used in what is considered to be the public parts of the presidential mansion: the ground floor parlors (the library, vermeil room, china room), and the first floor state rooms (The East Room, Red Room, Green Room, Blue Room, State Dining Room, Family Dining Room, Cross Hallway, North Entrance Hall).

The Kennedys in the second floor Yellow Oval Room. (JFKL)

The Kennedys in the second floor Yellow Oval Room. (JFKL)

It also covered the quasi-private second floor bedroom suites and study (the Lincoln Suite, the Queen’s Suite, the Treaty Room).

The private, family quarters of the White House on the west side of the second floor and all of the third floor were redecorated with the traditional congressional appropriation provided by Congress to each new, incoming presidential family.

At the ceremony during which Jacqueline Kennedy was presented with the first copy of the White House guidebook, the President takes a peek. (WHHA)

At the ceremony during which Jacqueline Kennedy was presented with the first copy of the White House guidebook, the President takes a peek. (WHHA)

Although this “redecoration” is always considered in overviews as part of the dramatic visual change she coordinated throughout the White House, the federal funding for it cannot correctly be considered part of her “project.”

She also created a vehicle which not only made her process and the results of it entirely accessible to the public in a tangible, permanent form, by having the WHHA publish the first edition of a color-illustrated booklet, The White House: An Historic Guide.

The completed Kennedy Green Room. (JFKL)

The completed Kennedy Green Room. (JFKL)

The booklet, still in print through many editions for over half a century, was sold at a nominal fee and all the proceeds went to the WHHA to underwrite the cost of purchases and upkeep. The color photography work was done by the National Geographic Society without charge.

Lastly, one of the key components to the success of launching the “restoration” project was bringing on a professionally trained curator.

Mrs. Kennedy with Lorraine Pearce sorting through donated items. (Life)

Mrs. Kennedy with Lorraine Pearce sorting through donated items. (Life)

Of all she did, Jackie Kennedy said she was proudest of the historic restoration. (LIFE)

Of all she did, Jackie Kennedy said she was proudest of the historic restoration. (LIFE)

Although the White House was first and foremost a home, as well as being a working office and public entertaining space, by its very nature it was also an historical site.

Certainly some have argued that, having been gutted and girded from within by new steel beaming, a job only completed in 1952 that the White House that Jacqueline Kennedy moved into was, in fact, a 9-year old modern building.

Mrs. Kennedy in the curator's office looking over a blueprint of the mansion. (Life)

Mrs. Kennedy in the curator’s office looking over a blueprint of the mansion. (Life)

However, the warehouses full of accumulated historical furnishings acquired in previous administrations dating back to the mid-19th century, as well as the still-standing four original walls made it, at the least, a museum.

Mrs. Kennedy moving furnishings with federal government maintenance personnel in the Blue Room. (Life)

Mrs. Kennedy moving furnishings with federal government maintenance personnel in the Blue Room. (Life)

To not only begin the research and restoring of incoming, donated antiques but also maintain the existing collection in a professional manner, a curator was essential.

During her tenure, there would be three who held the position.

The first two were professionals requisitioned to work at the White House from the federal government’s Smithsonian Institution staff. Lorraine Pearce, the second to hold that position, worked closely with Mrs. Kennedy as the project got underway.

The First Lady adjusts a chair's placement in the Green Room. (LIFE)

The First Lady adjusts a chair’s placement in the Green Room. (LIFE)

An office space to conduct the work was not leased; instead the “broadcast” room used during by Presidents and First Ladies in the Administrations that immediately preceded the Kennedy one, was converted into the curator’s office.

The small space, though expanded to some degree, continues to serve as the work space of the White House curatorial staff.

The White House Curator became an official federal position towards the end of the Kennedy Administration.

Thus, the third person to hold that role, James R. Ketchum, was the first to be specifically granted a federal salary and work directly as part of the White House staff.

Mrs. Kennedy guiding her television tour through the State Dining Room. (AP)

Mrs. Kennedy guiding her television tour through the State Dining Room. (AP)

This position continues to this day and is technically the only extra federal cost generated by Jacqueline Kennedy’s innovations.

Finally, the White House and all of its furnishings continue to be cared for, protected and cleaned by household staff professionals who are also federally-salaried.

Whether it would be antique furniture, draperies, rugs, china, clocks, food service silver utensils and other items or modern ones bought at a department store, however, the maintenance it all would still be a necessity.

The Queen's Sitting Room is the only space in the White House which still looks as Jackie Kennedy planned it. (WHHA)

The Queen’s Sitting Room is the only space in the White House which still looks as Jackie Kennedy planned it. (WHHA)

Today, the White House Historical Association and the White House Curator remain as Jacqueline Kennedy’s enduring legacy to the nation, the direct result of her vision for the first house of the country.

In the half a century since her work, the rooms have been renovated and redecorated several times.

However, in one private corner of the White House, tucked away on the second floor at the northeast end, the Queen’s Sitting Room has remained unchanged, a more personal tribute to her personal touch.

 

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The First Lady Who Sang A Love Song to Her Husband

 

Nancy Reagan, Marvin Hamlisch, Kitty Carlisle, Sarah Vaughn, the Manhattan Transfer, George Merritt and Priscilla Baskerville during an In Performance at the White House, "Tribute to American Music" in East Room, October 26, 1986. (RRPL)

Singing “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” Nancy Reagan, Marvin Hamlisch, Kitty Carlisle, Sarah Vaughn, the Manhattan Transfer, George Merritt and Priscilla Baskerville during an In Performance at the White House, “Tribute to American Music” in East Room, October 26, 1986. (RRPL)

This article is adapted from a response to a media inquiry about whether there was a particular song identified with Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

The Reagans celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary in the White House, 1982. (RRPL)

The Reagans celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary in the White House, 1982. (RRPL)

There have been many couples in love who lived in the White House, but none were so public about their romance than Nancy and Ronald Reagan. In fact, there is even a specific piece of music associated with their marriage.

And once, the First Lady performed it, singing to the President.

The song is “Our Love is Here to Stay.” How this standard became an apparent favorite of the presidential couple is unclear, but there are at least two known circumstances when, as the incumbent First Lady sang it to the President, and another when it was especially performed for them.

The Reagans with England's Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip aboard the yacht Britannia, the latter couple hosting an anniversary dinner for the former there. The piano at left was played while the First Lady again serenaded her husband with "Our Love is Here to Stay." (britain-magazine.com)

The Reagans with England’s Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip aboard the yacht Britannia, the latter couple hosting an anniversary dinner for the former there. The piano at left was played while the First Lady again serenaded her husband with “Our Love is Here to Stay.” (britain-magazine.com)

In 1983, while invited to celebrate their wedding anniversary on the royal yacht Britannia, by a visiting Queen Elizabeth of England, then visiting the Reagans in California with her husband, the First Lady serenaded the President with the song as aide Mike Deaver played the piano.

Then, three years later she repeated her singing performance on October 26, 1986 during the East Room taping of a public television special covering the first of four concerts of popular American music, focused on George Gershwin – the song’s composer.

In a closing number, along with performers including The Manhattan Transfer, Sarah Vaughan, and Kitty Carlisle Hart, composer Marvin Hamlisch took the microphone and sang a line from the song, “It’s very clear, our love is here to stay…”

The Reagans hosting British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her husband Denis at their final state dinner. (CNN)

The Reagans hosting British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her husband Denis at their final state dinner. (CNN)

Mrs. Reagan then grasped the microphone, rose from her seat and turned around to look at her husband, singing the lyrics to him: “But oh my dear, our love is here to stay. Not for a year, but ever and a day…Together we’re going a long, long way…”

Sheet music for the theme song of the Reagan marriage.

Sheet music for the theme song of the Reagan marriage.

Finally, at the last Reagan state dinner, in November of 1988 honoring British Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher, the after-dinner entertainment was a piano performance by pianist Michael Feinstein.

Among the numbers he played for guests that night was, “Our Love is Here to Stay.” Although he pointed out that it was “Mrs. Reagan’s favorite song” she did not serenade the President with it this time.

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First Ladies & The White House South Lawn

Under Michelle Obama's sponsorship, Girl Scouts camped out on the White House South Lawn for the first time in history. (The White House)

Under Michelle Obama’s sponsorship, Girl Scouts camped out on the White House South Lawn for the first time in history. (The White House)

This article is an adaption of a detailed response to a recent media about First Lady Michelle Obama’s unique and consistent use of the White House South Lawn as a venue for promotion of her “Let’s Move!” program.

A performance on the South Lawn during the years Laura Bush was First Lady. (GWBPL)

A performance on the South Lawn during the years Laura Bush was First Lady. (GWBPL)

For more than two centuries, the White House has consistently served as a powerful symbol of the United States, generally, and the American Presidency, specifically.

Despite all of the interior and exterior architectural changes that have shaped its evolution as a visual center of attention, one element most easily overlooked is the very foreground which has always served to provide a frame, so to speak, for the white sandstone and marble building has been the broad greensward of the South Lawn.

Like the mansion’s interiors and exteriors, the South Lawn has changed over the decades, put to use for various purposes at the direction of not just the Presidents but the First Ladies.

Certainly, one of the earliest accounts placing a First Lady on the South Lawn is of Dolley Madison.

Although she was not yet the wife of the president but rather the secretary of state at the time, she appeared at President Thomas Jefferson’s Independence Day 1801 reception, held on the South Lawn.

Dolley Madison, painted by George Catlin.

Dolley Madison, painted by George Catlin.

With his announcement on July 4th two years later of the Louisiana Purchase, Mrs. Madison used the annual lawn event to help supplement government support for necessary goods for the famous Lewis and Clark expedition that would explore the far reaches of the western portion of what would become the entire United States. Wax, silver cooking utensils, oil lamps were among the practical supplies that she, according to legend, gathered that day on the lawn both through donated items and funds to purchase them

Although there would be intermittent efforts to formally landscape the White House South Lawn, Angelica Van Buren was unfairly singled out in an exaggerated claim by a political opponent of her father-in-law, President Martin Van Buren.

Angelica Van Buren in later years. (LC)

Angelica Van Buren in later years. (LC)

Among the charges of royal living made by a Whig Congressman against Van Buren, he suggested that the presidential hostess, having taken a honeymoon tour that included visits to the British and French royal households and gardens, convinced Van Buren to similarly re-landscape the South Lawn with a regal touch.

Letitia Tyler was rarely seen by the public, having suffered a stroke that left her paralyzed but she still directed the social events from her second floor suite.

A present but publicly inactive First Lady Letitia Tyler, painted by Lyle Tayson in 1979. (artworkoriginals)

Letitia Tyler. ((artworkoriginals)

While specific documentation crediting her for the innovation of hosting Marine Band concerts open for the public to enjoy in the summer of 1841 is unknown, these did first take place at that time and her daughter-in-law Priscilla Tyler, who served as the President’s hostess in her stead, appeared at these with the public.

Public Marine Band concert on the White House lawn, sponsored by the Hardings, 1921. (WHHA)

Public Marine Band concert on the White House lawn, sponsored by the Hardings, 1921. (WHHA)

Another invalid First Lady, Eliza Johnson, enjoyed from afar the unique use of the South Lawn by her grandchildren.

Among the earliest definitive accounts of the now annual White House Easter Egg Roll dates to the Andrew Johnson Administration, although it appears to have been more of a private event for the presidential grandchildren and their friends, while the First Lady watched from the South Portico.

By the time Lucy Hayes was First Lady, the large children’s garden party was established and would continue to this day, except in times of war and presidential illness.

The South Lawn became something of a public park by the end of the 19th century, so much so that First Lady Frances Cleveland felt rather besieged about having strangers wander across what is technically the back lawn of the presidential home.

Frances Cleveland was horrified to see tourists passing around her children on the South Lawn. (carlanthonyonline.com)

Frances Cleveland was horrified to see tourists passing around her children on the South Lawn. (carlanthonyonline.com)

When, from an upstairs window, she saw that tourists on the South Lawn had stopped her children’s nursemaid and were picking up and passing around her daughters, she decided that the family must relocate to a private home and use the mansion for only social events she and the President would have to host.

The South Lawn was closed to all during World War I, but it was still put to use under the era of Edith Wilson. It was there that she and the President came to watch a demonstration of one of the first federal airmail planes. Capturing the public imagination at the time was the sight of sheep grazing the South Lawn.

The Wilson sheep. (ghostsofdc.com)

The Wilson sheep. (ghostsofdc.com)

The unusual vision of sheep on the first house of the lawn was intended to serve as an example of how the presidential household was doing its part to reduce a reliance on manual laborers like groundskeepers at a time when all effort had to be directed towards the war effort.

Florence Harding gave greater focus to the South Lawn than perhaps any of her predecessors.

With the advent of the decade dubbed the “Roaring Twenties” she began using the lawn as an extension of the White House state rooms and used them frequently for entertaining in her favorite format, the garden party.

First Lady Florence Harding welcomes a wounded World War I veteran as Charles Forbes, arms crossed, stands behind her.

First Lady Florence Harding welcomes a wounded World War I veteran as Charles Forbes, arms crossed, stands behind her.

She began a tradition of hosting an annual garden party for the disabled and wounded veterans in the wards of nearby Walter Reed Hospital.

She had tulip bulbs planted to give color to the greensward, and also had the trees filled with newly-crafted birdhouses.

In another time of war, Eleanor Roosevelt directed the planting of a victory garden on the South Lawn, as all American households were being encouraged to do in order to economize on food.

She was not known, however, for taking any direct role in the cultivation or harvesting of its bounty.

Jacqueline Kennedy also took an especial interest in the South Lawn, particularly after learning that it was suffering from the bane of millions of suburban families at the time – crabgrass.

At her direction, a plant to remove and then replant the entire green grass yardage of the South Lawn was undertaken.

Jacqueline Kennedy attending her premier Youth-to-Youth concert on the White House South Lawn, 1961. (JFKPL)

Jacqueline Kennedy attending her premier Youth-to-Youth concert on the White House South Lawn, 1961. (JFKPL)

Once completed, the South Lawn was put to use for a wide variety of performing arts shows, including a Student-to-Student series of concerts and a ballet performance.

A staging platform was used, created for the unique dimension of the South Lawn, with a clamshell-shaped back wall.

It was not, however, the first time the lawn was used for a cultural performance beyond the Marine Band concerts.

Nellie Taft. (LC)

Nellie Taft. (LC)

In 1910, Helen Taft hosted the only known performance of Shakespeare on the South Lawn, an event used to raise funds for the establishment of local playgrounds for children.

Two other unprecedented uses of the South Lawn were initiated by Lady Bird Johnson in the 1960s.

As part of her 1965 Festival of the Arts, Mrs. Johnson had guests enjoy an afternoon break from readings inside the mansion outside on the South Lawn; there, a contemporary American art exhibition was created.

Mrs. Johnson in an antique car arrives at her South Lawn country fair, 1968. (LBJL)

Mrs. Johnson in an antique car arrives at her South Lawn country fair, 1968. (LBJL)

In the final days of the summer of 1968, a time of turmoil and national conflict as well as that of a presidential election, Mrs. Johnson hosted what was characterized as an old-fashioned country fair, with game booths, cotton candy and popcorn carts, a Ferris wheel and antique car parade.

The guests were all of the White House staff workers and their spouses.

Pat Nixon also made unique use of the South Lawn.

She and the President hosted a special state dinner to honor returned American prisoners held captive by the North Vietnamese and released upon the end of the Vietnam War in 1973.

Pat Nixon painting a balloon during her Summer in the Parks event on the White House South Lawn. (RMNPL)

Pat Nixon painting a balloon during her Summer in the Parks event on the White House South Lawn. (RMNPL)

For the first time, a special temporary structure was built to house the formal dining tables and chairs usually used inside the White House to permit a larger number of guests to attend.

She also joined area children there for the inaugural event of a “Summers in the Park” program that hosted activities during the summer school break on National Park Service properties in the capital city region.

Among Mrs. Nixon’s most democratic legacies also involved the South Lawn. At her direction, she opened the grounds for the first public tours, held annually in the spring and fall.

The Nixons during the POW dinner held in a South Lawn pavilion. (RMNPL)

The Nixons during the POW dinner held in a South Lawn pavilion. (RMNPL)

The tradition has largely continued. Feeling that so many come to the capital city but, due to timing, were unable to see the White House, she initiated a new lighting system that kept the mansion and the South Lawn fountain illuminated so that they could be enjoyed in the dark of night.

More recent First Ladies each made unique use of the South Lawn. Betty Ford hosted the first children’s Halloween Party there.

Mrs. Carter with a Jazz Festival guest on the South Lawn.

Mrs. Carter with a Jazz Festival guest on the South Lawn.

Rosalynn Carter established the regular use of the South Lawn for a summer Congressional picnic, and one year hosted the first White House Jazz Festival there.

Peggy Fleming during the Carter holiday party on the South Lawn. (JCPL)

Peggy Fleming during the Carter holiday party on the South Lawn. (JCPL)

One winter, Mrs. Carter also created a winter wonderland holiday party for congressional families, with an ice ring where Olympic skater Peggy Fleming performed, a snowmaking machine with snowmen, and mugs of hot cider and chocolate made available.

Always celebrating her July 5th birthday on Independence Day, Nancy Reagan extended the personal festivities by reviving the White House July 4th Picnic, held for White House staff.

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

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

After enjoying a birthday party with the President and their friends earlier in the day, she joined in with the staff South Lawn picnic, sitting on a blanket and listening to a concert of patriotic music.

The Rose Garden, just outside the West Wing, and what is now called the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, its counterpart on the east end, are technically part of the South Lawn.

Both areas were the point of special focus by previous First Ladies.

Ellen Wilson's Rose Garden in a rare color image of the era. (original source unknown)

Ellen Wilson’s Rose Garden in a rare color image of the era. (original source unknown)

Ellen Wilson undertook the landscaping of the first Rose Garden, which included statuary and a fountain. The modern Rose Garden, however, was created at Mrs. Kennedy’s direction by her friend, horticulturalist Rachel Mellon.

Theodore Roosevelt’s wife created what was called a “colonial garden” on the east side.

Later, it was formally landscaped during Lady Bird Johnson’s tenure, completing the vision begun by her predecessor and named for her officially as the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden.

Hillary Clinton in the Sculpture Garden on the South Lawn. (WJCPL)

Hillary Clinton in the Sculpture Garden on the South Lawn. (WJCPL)

Hillary Clinton particularly enjoyed this part of the lawn and there created The Sculpture Garden, with a rotating exhibition of large, outdoor contemporary American sculptures.

Hillary Clinton expanded upon Pat Nixon’s use of the South Lawn as a staging area for large state dinners. She also hosted a unique musical concert by leading American performers there, with the station VH1, as part of its “Save the Music” initiative to retain musical education in public schools.

Certainly, however, no First Lady more consistently put to unique use the South Lawn than has Michelle Obama.

Mrs. Obama with students in her South Lawn vegetable garden. (WH)

Mrs. Obama with students in her South Lawn vegetable garden. (WH)

It was at the beginning of her “Let’s Move!” program, intended to improve the diet and awareness of food consumed by children that she began it by creating a White House vegetable garden there.

Throughout the course of each year, she has not merely sponsored but herself participated in the soil preparation, seed planting, cultivation and harvesting of a surprising large yield of freshly-grown vegetables, alongside groups of schoolchildren.

The First Lady exercising with children on the South Lawn. (WH)

The First Lady exercising with children on the South Lawn. (WH)

In many respects, the White House South Lawn has served as a familiar venue for the current First Lady.

The greensward provides her with a chance to not only address issues of importance to her involving nutrition and health, initiated by concern for the alarming rate of obesity among the nation’s youth, but also a platform for her to demonstrate what she encourages others to do.

As part of the exercise component of “Let’s Move!” the First Lady has also used the vast greensward as a staging area for physical movements with children, from jumping rope, to running, to even hosting the largest hula-hoop demonstration on record.

Here are some more views of the White House South Lawn over the course of the American Presidency’s history:

The first photograph showing the South Lawn of the White House, 1840's.

The first photograph showing the South Lawn of the White House, 1840′s.

A colorized engraving of the White House South Lawn from 1855, during the Pierce presidency.

A colorized engraving of the White House South Lawn from 1855, during the Pierce presidency.

The South Lawn with a new fountain, photographed in 1868.

The South Lawn with a new fountain, photographed in 1868.

Lou Hoover looks over crowds on the South Lawn, circa 1930. (LC)

Lou Hoover looks over crowds on the South Lawn, circa 1930. (LC)

President Kennedy addressing crowds from the clamshell stage on the South Lawn. (JFKPL)

President Kennedy addressing crowds from the clamshell stage on the South Lawn. (JFKPL)

John Kennedy, Jr. enjoying a Coca Cola on the South Lawn,1963. (JFKL)

John Kennedy, Jr. enjoying a Coca Cola on the South Lawn,1963. (JFKL)

Jacqueline Kennedy, the President and their friend Tony Bradlee at a play area on the South Lawn created by Mrs. Kennedy for her children and their friends. (JFKPL)

Jacqueline Kennedy, the President and their friend Tony Bradlee at a play area on the South Lawn created by Mrs. Kennedy for her children and their friends. (JFKPL)

Staging construction on the South Lawn during the Kennedy Administration. (JFKPL)

A ballet performance on the South Lawn during the Kennedy Administration. (JFKPL)

Country singer Buck Owens at the LBJ country fair on the South Lawn, 1968. (LBJPL)

Country singer Buck Owens at the LBJ country fair on the South Lawn, 1968. (LBJPL)

The large tented pavilion built on the South Lawn for the Nixon state dinner honoring POWs. (RMNPL)

The large tented pavilion built on the South Lawn for the Nixon state dinner honoring POWs. (RMNPL)

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

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

Betty Ford welcomes child guests for her 1974 Halloween Party on the South Lawn.  (GSRFPL)

Betty Ford welcomes child guests for her 1974 Halloween Party on the South Lawn. (GRFPL)

A Congressional Picnic on the South Lawn. (WH)

A Congressional Picnic on the South Lawn. (WH)

Cedric the Entertainer performs on the South Lawn of the White House, July 4, 2010. (WH)

Cedric the Entertainer performs on the South Lawn of the White House, July 4, 2010. (WH)

Another year's Congressional Picnic. (WH)

Another year’s Congressional Picnic. (WH)

An Oregon salmon bake demonstrated at a White House picnic. (WH)

An Oregon salmon bake demonstrated at a White House picnic. (WH)

A 2014 state dinner for the French President in a large staging tent on the South Lawn. (AP)

A 2014 state dinner for the French President in a large staging tent on the South Lawn. (AP)

A helicopter view of the South Lawn. (WH)

A helicopter view of the South Lawn. (WH)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Earthy First Lady: Lou Hoover Digs A Vegetable Garden

A decade before becoming First Lady, Lou Hoover took a hoe in hand and began cultivating vegetable gardens, instructing Girl Scouts to do the same. (HHPL)

A decade before becoming First Lady, Lou Hoover took a hoe in hand and began cultivating vegetable gardens, instructing Girl Scouts to do the same. (HHPL)

She is often overshadowed among 20th century First Ladies, coming along in the historical timeline between the highly popular Grace Coolidge who presided over the zesty Roaring Twenties, and Eleanor Roosevelt, the legendary humanitarian, but Lou Hoover was one of the nation’s most accomplished presidential spouses. She came to the White House with expertise in a number of divergent fields.

The main cabin of Camp Rapidan, designed by Lou Hoover as the first presidential retreat. (NPS)

The main cabin of Camp Rapidan, designed by Lou Hoover as the first presidential retreat. (NPS)

She was an amateur architect, helping to execute her vision of a modernistic home in northern California of cubist block forms and multi-leveled open-aired terraces, but also of a woodsy presidential retreat in the the cool Shenandoah mountain range of Virginia. She believed that architecture must always be crafted to blend into the natural, indigenous landscape.

Lou Hoover's Palo Alto, California home. (Wikipedia)

Lou Hoover’s Palo Alto, California home. (Wikipedia)

She had travelled the world, extensively learning about those places few Americans at the time even knew existed, and immersing herself with respect and curiosity in the cultures of foreign lands, including Egypt, China, India, New Zealand, Russia, Ceylon, Burma, and Japan. Her ease with language had her learning not only to speak but write Chinese and, with her husband, translate from Latin to English an essential text on metallurgy, first printed in the 1500s.

Long before she earned her college degree in geology, however, Lou Hoover was at home in the natural world.

Warren Henry fishing in the northern California mountains with his very young daughter Lou. (HHPL)

Warren Henry fishing in the northern California mountains with his very young daughter Lou. (HHPL)

As a companion to her father, she learned to fish, pitch a tent, find her way through the woods, identify edible and dangerous greens. Nothing was more glorious to her than sleeping out beneath the stars.

As she matured, Mrs. Hoover came to recognize how unusual it was for a woman to be so physically active and fit, let alone enjoy it as much as she did.

Yet both her physical stamina and mental strength were outcrops of the discipline and the gifts that came from known the earth as well as she did, and exploring it with respect.

Soon, she would strive to offer the same opportunities of knowing nature and deriving the same gifts from it to hundreds of thousand of young American women.

Lou Hoover brought all these sensibilities to the fore when, in 1917 she was recruited by Juliette Gordon Low to become a National Commissioner of the organization she had founded just five years earlier, The Girl Scouts.

Mrs. Hoover, second from right, with other leaders of the national Girl Scout organization. (gshistory.com)

Mrs. Hoover, second from right, with other leaders of the national Girl Scout organization. (gshistory.com)

Today, Mrs. Hoover is remembered as First Lady most strongly by her association with the Girl Scouts. During her four years in the White House, although she held the title of the organization’s “honorary ” president, she raised a half-million dollars to help restructure and standardize the organization, increase membership, addressed its annual convention, delivered radio speeches to the troops, and edited field guides and instructional manuals.

It was, however, her initial experience with The Girl Scouts, which coincided with U.S. entry into the European conflict then known as “The Great War” that forged her into a national leader.

Living in London at the time World War I first began, she had first-hand knowledge of the sudden and severe food shortage crisis, particularly in Belgium. Farming regions that had provided produce had suddenly become battlefield and regular good delivery routs were cut off by fighting. Lou Hoover rose to the occasion, leading a successful effort to provide emergency food supplies to starving Belgians.

A World War I food conservation poster. (USFDA)

A World War I food conservation poster. (USFDA)

Relocating to Washington, D.C. from her home in northern California when her husband Herbert Hoover was made the U.S. Food Administrator, Mrs. Hoover believed Girl Scouts could respond to the need for food conservation.

This was not only a matter of adhering to rationing, consuming only certain foods on certain days, and using sugar, dairy and meat substitutes, but also growing one’s own vegetables and fruits.

Mrs. Hoover in the field. (carlanthonyonline.com)

Mrs. Hoover in the field. (carlanthonyonline.com)

And so, in her new job with the Girl Scouts, Lou Hoover undertook an effort not to merely print guidelines or give lectures, but to demonstrate with her own hands how to create wartime gardens.

Working with troops of local Washington Girl Scouts in one of the organization’s local properties, she taught them how to prepare soil for produce planting, cultivate and harvest produce and, importantly, to re-soil vegetable the garden plots. While they were making the field trip, she also taught them how to pitch a tent and live outdoors.

While many photographs would show Lou Hoover dressed in the leadership uniforms of the Girl Scouts, with its plain, dark-green suit and brimmed hats, these rarely seen images show her in the real life effort of toil and soil, wearing an old, brimmed men’s hat, a long, protective dress.

As she hoes the soil or inspects a tin cup of just the right amount of water necessary for growing plants, Mrs. Hoover’s hair is astray but through it all, she smiles, enjoying every moment.

Lou Hoover approves of just the right amount of water a young scout shows her. (LC)

A troop of Girl Scouts hoe the soil, preparing it for planting, as directed by Lou Hoover. (LC)

Lou Hoover watches that the young scout pours water at just the right place on a tomato plant's roots. (LC)

Lou Hoover watches that the young scout pours water at just the right place on a tomato plant’s roots. (LC)

The future First Lady sets up a pup tent for sleeping under the stars. (LC)

The future First Lady sets up a pup tent for sleeping under the stars. (LC)

Mrs. Hoover instructs Girl Scouts on just the right way to harvest carrots from the soil.(LC)

Mrs. Hoover instructs Girl Scouts on just the right way to harvest carrots from the soil.(LC)

After the war, during the eight years that Herbert Hoover served as Secretary of Commerce during the Harding and Coolidge Administrations, Lou Hoover continued to work for The Girl Scouts, serving as its vice president,  president and national board of directors chair.

Lou Hoover, in her role as Girl Scout president, with First Lady Grace Coolidge visiting the "Little House." (LC)

Lou Hoover, in her role as Girl Scout president, with First Lady Grace Coolidge visiting the “Little House.” (LC)

She helped to establish its “Little House” in the capital city, a demonstration home where scouts were taught to cook, bake, clean but also budget, economize and organize their time.

She also enlisted the support of First Ladies Florence Harding and Grace Coolidge, having them not only serve as honorary presidents but coming to visit the Little House.

Mrs. Harding with Girl Scouts. (LC)

Mrs. Harding with Girl Scouts. (LC)

The lessons she learned and taught during World War I as a Girl Scouts leader impressed upon Mrs. Hoover the belief that the troops of young women would make them natural community activists as they matured, with the hope they would extend their training to civic projects.

When she became First Lady, she had every hope that the troops would be a strong enough force during the Great Depression to meet the sudden needs of the nation’s unemployed, homeless and hungry but the problem was too vast to be solved this way.

Mrs. Hoover in her Girl Scout uniform after the White House (HHPL)

Mrs. Hoover in her Girl Scout uniform after the White House (HHPL)

Two years after leaving the White House, Mrs. Hoover served as a member on The Girl Scouts’ National Board of Directors, while also working as its President for a second time, for a two-year term. As a former First Lady, Mrs. Hoover held the title of Girl Scouts Honorary Vice President until her death in 1944.

Former First Lady Lou Hoover helped launch what became the legendary annual Girl Scout Cookies sales. (The Newburg Graphic)

Former First Lady Lou Hoover helped launch what became the legendary annual Girl Scout Cookies sales. (The Newburg Graphic)

It was during her last period of work with the organization that Lou Hoover helped promote what became its most familiar symbol.

Envisioning the expansion of an annual sale among hundreds of individual troops of  a simple box of baked treated first sold in 1936 by a Philadelphia troop, the former First Lady eagerly put on her familiar uniform and posed for press photographs holding Girl Scout cookies.

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Florence Harding & The Veterans’ Bureau Scandal

 

First Lady Florence Harding welcomes a wounded World War I veteran as Charles Forbes, arms crossed, stands behind her.

First Lady Florence Harding welcomes a wounded World War I veteran as Charles Forbes, arms crossed, stands behind her.

(This posting is based on a response of the NFLL to a public inquiry regarding Florence Harding and Veterans Bureau chief Charles Forbes)

Forbes. (fineartamerica.com)

Forbes. (fineartamerica.com)

It might be called the “Tale of Three Charles.”

When her husband Warren G. Harding was first elected to the United States Senate, Florence Harding accompanied him on a 1915 trip to Hawaii, then a U.S. territory. There she had a most memorable time due to the great lengths their host went to provide for their comfort and enjoyment. Florence Harding never forgot this engaging  former U.S. Army colonel. He was then charged with building the naval base of Pearl Harbor. His name was Charles R. Forbes.

And when Harding was facing off with other Republican presidential candidates at the deadlocked 1920 convention, Charlie Forbes persuaded the Washington State delegation to commit all their ballots for him. Florence Harding considered him  among their loyalest and most ardent of not just political allies but personal friends.

Warren Harding recording a 1920 campaign speech. (Library of Congress)

Warren Harding recording a 1920 campaign speech. (Library of Congress)

In a day before electronic research makes practically all records about anyone instantly available, what Forbes seemed to have kept well-hidden from the Hardings was the fact that he had deserted the army during the Spanish-American War.

Florence Harding and Charlie Forbes had, at least what seemed to be a mutual commitment to help thousands of World War I veterans who had only recently returned from the European front with injuries that left them disabled.

During World War I, Forbes had enlisted in the U.S. Army and went on to be awarded a Distinguished Service Medal.

Evalyn McLean and Florence Harding, in Florida 1922. (NFLL)

Evalyn McLean and Florence Harding, in Florida 1922. (NFLL)

As a Senator’s wife, Mrs. Harding had befriended Evalyn Walsh McLean, wife of the owner of the Washington Post. Mrs. McLean had “adopted” a wing of Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, where many of the luckier of local disabled veterans were receiving the best care in the nation’s capital, under the watchful eye of government leaders.

Mrs. McLean took Mrs. Harding to visit “the boys” there one day and Florence felt herself immediately compelled to declare her determination to ensure that all of these men who had risked their health were cared for properly by the government.

Charlie Forbes, seated at center, holding a meeting with his Veterans Bureau staff. (Library of Congress)

Charlie Forbes, seated at center, holding a meeting with his Veterans Bureau staff. (Library of Congress)

Considering Charlie Forbes to be just like one of the disabled vets she came to know at Walter Reed Hospital, Florence Harding was the one who made the compelling argument to her husband that Charlie Forbes was the only person to properly be named director of the Bureau of War Risk Insurance, which became the newly-created Veteran’s Bureau five months after the inauguration.

The Veterans Bureau was charged with the mission of building desperately needed hospitals for the disabled vets and provide their medical care and, if possible, rehabilitation. Congress appropriated half a billion dollars to the new department, the largest budget of any government agency.

Charles Cramer. (slideshare.net)

Charles Cramer. (slideshare.net)

The First Lady felt especially proud that her friend Charlie would carry out this task. When he hired Charles Cramer, a brilliant California attorney, to head the legal department of the bureau Florence Harding even sold the Wyoming Avenue home she and Warren Harding had occupied during his years as a U.S. Senator.

Forbes was a  hail-fellow-well-met, a backslapper who indulged the President’s love of poker by playing endless rounds with him.

Charles Forbes, Florence Harding and an unidentified U.S. Army official outside of Walter Reed Hospital.

Charles Forbes, Florence Harding and an unidentified U.S. Army official outside of Walter Reed Hospital.

He was also especially flattering to the First Lady and they grew close in the first months of the Administration, he often coming to the White House to see her for long and frank discussions.

When she began hosting special garden parties on the White House South Lawn for busloads of the wounded Walter Reed Hospital vets, Charles was right at her elbow to answer questions she had or offer introductions to other officials. When she went to visit “my boys” at the facility, he would drop everything and dash from his office to be there with her.

It was not mere social gossip they were exchanging, however. The First Lady had made the care of disabled veterans her leading public cause and undertook every imaginable effort she could to advocate on their behalf.

This included making spontaneous visits to the very few government veterans hospitals there were or other facilities leased by the government to treat them. She also came to know well not just Army and Navy department officials whose responsibilities were carried out in conjunction with the Veterans Bureau but everyday workers, like nurses and guards at the facilities.

Doctor Charles "Doc" Sawyer. (wikipedia)

Doctor Charles “Doc” Sawyer. (wikipedia)

Dr. Charles Sawyer, was one of those she relied on to keep abreast of the progress being made at the Veterans Bureau. He had been her longtime physician in their hometown of Marion, Oho.

Believing only he had the power to keep her alive, as she was often beset by a lfie-threatening kidney ailment, he was given the high-ranking post of  Brgadier-General in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, just so he could keep close to her in Washington.  A homeopath with poor eyesight, Sawyer was considered by even those who enjoyed his company to be arrogant and extremely jealous of anyone who became too close a friend too quickly with the First Lady. He mistrusted Forbes almost immediately.

So, by the summer of 1922, when Florence Harding began to receive disturbing letters from the families of disabled vets who were not receiving their promised care and private reports from office-workers she relied on for insider intelligence about Veterans Bureau budget excesses, she called on “Doc.”

Florence Harding with Doc Sawyer.

Florence Harding with Doc Sawyer.

The First Lady directed Sawyer to make a spot investigation of a veterans warehouse facility in nearby Maryland. It would prove to be the beginning of the end for Forbes.

As time would reveal, he had been personally profiting by first making outrageously excessive purchases from medical supply companies at exorbitant purchases and then selling the unneeded and new supplies as “surplus” at a loss, but always taking a cut for himself, for sometimes as much as ten percent.

During his many long trips around the country to allegedly review potential hospital sites, he had been taking bribes and demanding kickbacks from building contractors hat were awarded the lucrative contracts to construct the hospitals, most of which were never built. Forbes took some $2 million in graft.

In early 1923, when Sawyer first reported his findings to the First Lady, she was recuperating from a near-fatal illness and reluctant to believe it.

So was the President. Forbes tried to make excuses, but Harding was so enraged he famously throttled him by the throat. He took off for a “rest” in Paris, and from there suddenly resigned his position by telegram.

The bureau legal chief Charles Cramer was informed he would be called for questioning before a Senate committee seeking to investigate the growing reports of malfeasance.

The home where the Hardings lived before the White House and sold to Cramer. (Washington Post)

The home where the Hardings lived before the White House and sold to Cramer. (Washington Post)

Complicit in all the corruption, Cramer shot himself in the head in the same home that had been the Hardings’ before moving to the White House.

President Harding knew that Forbes had made, at the very least, egregious judgement calls.

Nobody knew the full extent of what he had done, however, until the Senate hearings began in October of 19213, two months after the President had died.

Florence Harding alone was left  to bear the full knowledge of what she termed “the worst betrayal” among the several Harding Administration officials eventually caught in political scandals that rocked the nation.

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

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

It was, she later emphasized, all the worst not just because it was committed by a political appointee who had been so personally close to her.

What had made the Forbes betrayal unforgivable to her was that it had come at the cost of those soldiers, sailors and marines who had given up their health for their country and who she had promised to ensure would be properly cared for.

Dying in November of 1924, Florence Harding did not live to see Forbes convicted of conspiracy to defraud the government, fined $10,000 and sent to prison for only twenty months.

 

 

 

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