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.

Ida McKinley. (First Ladies Cookbook, Parent's Press, 1965)

Ida McKinley. (First Ladies Cookbook, Parent’s Press, 1965)

Among those wives who served as First Ladies during their husbands’ presidencies, Ida McKinley is perhaps the most interesting example in terms of signatures and handwriting.

Ida McKinley's silver inkwell set atop desk in the Saxton-McKinley House, NFLL. (aboutstark.com)

Ida McKinley’s silver inkwell set atop desk in the Saxton-McKinley House, NFLL. (aboutstark.com)

As discovered from the process of researching and writing her only full-length biography, Ida McKinley: Turn-of-the-Century First Lady Through War, Assassination & Secret Disability (2013), over the course of her life she left few yet greatly varied examples of writing in her own hand.

As a young woman, Ida Saxton wrote often and at great length but in one 1869 letter admitted to her brother that she hated writing letters, not only because of the tediousness but because she was reluctant to set down her feelings and thoughts permanently for others to read, apart from those initially intended to read her letter.
The great bulk of her extant handwritten material are her letters to her parents and brother written during her six month tour of Europe in the second half of 1869.
The opening of a rare fully handwritten letter from Ida Saxton [McKinley] to her parents, 1869. (McKinley Presidential Museaum)

The opening of a rare fully handwritten letter from Ida Saxton [McKinley] to her parents, 1869. (McKinley Presidential Museaum)

The conclusion and signature of a letter Ida Saxton [McKinley] wrote to her parents in 1869. (McKinley Presidential Museum)

The conclusion and signature of a letter Ida Saxton [McKinley] wrote to her parents in 1869. (McKinley Presidential Museum)

A legal document relating to Saxton family property signed by both William and Ida McKinley. (NFLL)

A legal document relating to Saxton family property signed by both William and Ida McKinley. (NFLL)

From this same general period, however, there are no known handwriting samples known to remain from the nearly two years she worked full-time as first a clerk, and then as an occasional manager of her father’s bank in their hometown of Canton, Ohio.

There are, however, some legal documents pertaining to ownership and transfer of property she inherited from her father. Even on one deed where her husband also signed as a co-owner, Ida McKinley was scrupulous in affixing her own signature.
Following the death of her second child, “Little Ida,” in August of 1873, Ida McKinley was beset by a series of debilitating but inconsistent chronic health conditions, including late-onset epilepsy, compromised immune system and chronic immobility. From this point on, she wrote practically no full-length letters.
With a rising public profile as first the spouse of a U.S. Congressman and then Governor of Ohio, Ida McKinley received a large amount of incoming mail from merchants, journalists, social contacts and her husband’s constituents.
Often a clerk in McKinley’s congressional, then gubernatorial offices, or her personal maid, would respond by writing out the content of her dictated response, which she then signed.
One of William McKinley's forged signatures of his wife. (historyinink.com)

One of William McKinley’s forged signatures of his wife. (historyinink.com)

In the early part of the McKinley presidency, her husband’s private secretary George Cortelyou wrote the body of some of her responses to the public, which she then signed herself.

Ida McKinley photo signed by her husband using her name. (collector.com)

Ida McKinley photo signed by her husband using her name. (collector.com)

As one who kept close ties to relatives and friends, Ida McKinley dictated personal responses to her husband; it was in his handwriting that these letters were written.

At one point during his congressional career, William McKinley actually began “forging” her signature.
When she attained national recognition during his 1896 presidential campaign, Ida McKinley posed for formal photographs that were sent to the public who wrote requesting her signed picture.
An autograph album clipping showing President McKinley's autograph and his forged one of the First Lady's. (amazon.com)

An autograph album clipping showing President McKinley’s autograph and his forged one of the First Lady’s. (amazon.com)

A large percentage of examples that remain of these indicate that they were signed more often by her husband on her behalf.

He continued this custom during his presidency, often signing her name to White House cards and even in autograph albums.

The presumption that President McKinley forged everything in his wife’s name, however, is misleading.
Over the course of her four and a half years in the White House, her health often went from excellent to extremely poor – and back again.
An authentic signature of Ida McKinley. (historyinink.com)

An authentic signature of Ida McKinley. (historyinink.com)

Examples of her authentic signature range in appearance. This seems reflected in the relatively small number examples of her signatures.

To date, there appears to remain only two extant letters she wrote entirely in her own hand during her incumbency as First Lady.
Both of these Mrs. McKinley wrote during the late summers of 1897 and 1898 to her beloved niece Mary Barber, the daughter of her sister Pina Saxton Barber.
A letter entirely written by Maud Healy who signed Ida McKinley's name - and mistakenly sold as being written by the former First Lady. (Heritage Auctions)

A letter entirely written by Maud Healy who signed Ida McKinley’s name – and mistakenly sold as being written by the former First Lady. (Heritage Auctions)

In them, she reported on the summer activities, the weather, her travel plans and her hopes that Mary might possibly join her for at least part of the respite.

Ida McKinley’s routine of dictating her correspondence continued after the President’s death to assassination n September of 1901. Returning to live in her Canton, Ohio home, Maud Healy, one of her maids transcribed the former First Lady’s responses.

Sometimes Maud Healy identified herself as having written a letter for Mrs. McKinley. (pbgalleries.com)

Sometimes Maud Healy identified herself as having written a letter for Mrs. McKinley. (pbgalleries.com)

On occasion, in the body of the letter she stated that “Mrs. McKinley wishes to say….,” while in many others she did not make this clarification.

In every known example Healy signed the letters as Ida McKinley.

On some occasions, she identified herself as “maid” or “assistant” beneath the Ida McKinley signature, or used the term “per MH,” indicating her initials.
She did not, however, do so consistently and many unwitting winners of auctions have bought what they thought were letters written and signed by Mrs. McKinley as a widow that were not.
A close-up of Ida McKinley's genuine signature on a free franked envelope. (historyinink.com)jpg

A close-up of Ida McKinley’s genuine signature on a free franked envelope. (historyinink.com)jpg

One absolutely certain form of her authentic signature is found on the envelopes of letters she had sent during her years as a widow, up until her death in May of 1906.

Whether the envelope was addressed to an organization, a member of the public or one of her family members or friends, the name and address was written out by Maude Healy or one of two other maids who worked for her from 1901 to 1906.
An Ida McKinley free-franked envelope - although she did not writing the name and address of the recipient. (bennetstamps.com)

An Ida McKinley free-franked envelope – although she did not writing the name and address of the recipient. (bennetstamps.com)

However, in the upper-left corner of the envelopes, usually in very small, cramped handwriting style there always appeared the name “Ida McKinley” or sometimes “Ida S. McKinley.”

The oddity here is that most other presidential widows placed their signatures in the upper-right hand corner of the envelope.
Having been granted by Congress the privilege of the “free frank,” meaning that as a presidential widow she did not need to use any postage on her outgoing mail, Mrs. McKinley felt it would be improper, perhaps illegal, if she permitted anyone else to sign her name or if she used a rubber stamp of her signature.

 

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The White House Staff of First Ladies

Eleanor Roosevelt with staff members Malvina Thompson and Edith Helm. (FDRL)

Eleanor Roosevelt with staff members Malvina Thompson and Edith Helm. (FDRL)

This article is adapted from a public inquiry response about a Canadian email claiming that Michelle Obama has maintained a larger staff than any of her successors.
Mary Catherine Hellen Adams. (New England Historical Society)

Mary Catherine Hellen Adams. (New England Historical Society)

Documentation suggests that during the presidencies from 1789 until 1877, family members who were hired as federal clerks to serve the President also responded to incoming correspondence to First Ladies from those unknown to the presidential wives. Housekeepers and ushers aided in carrying out formal dinners, invitations for those related to foreign nations being coordinated with the Secretary of State. Press inquiries were rare, but were usually processed by the federal clerks working for the President.

Often, friends or relatives making lengthy visits during the winter social season assisted First Ladies in planning and executing social events. For example, Polly Lear, the wife George Washington’s private secretary Tobias Lear, worked with Martha Washington. Louisa Adams’  niece (and later daughter-in-law) Mary Catherine Hellen worked as her social aide. Julia Tyler’s sister Margaret Gardiner aided her during the 1844-1845 social season.
George Cortelyou aided Frances Cleveland and Ida McKinley. (Commerce Dept)

George Cortelyou aided Frances Cleveland and Ida McKinley. (Commerce Dept)

By the latter 19th century, the Personal or Private Secretary of the President or a clerk began to answer public mail for First Ladies, as seen in the examples of Orville Babcock doing so or Julia Grant, Stanley Brown for Lucretia Garfield, George Cortelyou for Frances Cleveland and Ida McKinley. Mail clerk Ira Smith also answered mail for Mrs. McKinley.

Since the turn of the 20th century, First Ladies have relied on a growing number of regular clerical staff that is assigned to work in the Executive Offices to carry out the growing responsibilities of true expanding public role.
Belle Hagner (right), at a White House social event. (WHHA)

Belle Hagner (right), at a White House social event. (WHHA)

As First Ladies took a more direct role in planning social events, they relied upon and worked more closely with the chief usher, housekeeper, cooks, florists, and others on the permanent domestic staff.

Mary Spiers and Alice Blech. (WHHA)

Mary Spiers and Alice Blech. (WHHA)

Edith Roosevelt was the first to have a Social Secretary who was a salaried federal employee – Isabelle Hagner.

Nellie Taft was given the same congressional appropriation within the executive branch government and had a series of three different women fulfilling that job including Alice Bech and Mary Spiers.
Ellen Wilson and Edith Wilson both rehired Belle Hagner. Florence Harding hired Laura Harlan and Grace Coolidge’s Social Secretary was Polly Randolph.
Laura Harlan looks at audience as Florence Harding addresses them. (carlanthonyonline.com)

Laura Harlan looks at audience as Florence Harding addresses them. (carlanthonyonline.com)

In 1929, Lou Hoover became the first to have multiple secretaries – a total of four by the time she left the White House. One or two of these “private secretaries” were paid a salary by the Hoovers.

Eleanor Roosevelt had two staff members Social Secretary and Personal Secretary, as did Bess Truman.
Mamie Eisenhower dictates to secretary Mary Jane McCaffree. (Life)

Mamie Eisenhower dictates to secretary Mary Jane McCaffree. (Life)

Mamie Eisenhower had only one Social Secretary but by this time, her responsibilities were far greater than planning social functions.

She acted also as correspondence and press secretary, and had a staff of typists and clerks working for her.
Jackie Kennedy with Pamela Turnure, prior to a press event. (JFKL)

Jackie Kennedy with Pamela Turnure, prior to a press event. (JFKL)

Jacqueline Kennedy hired the first Press Secretary, Pamela Turnure. In the press office was also an assistant.

There was also a head of correspondence.Letitia Baldrige was given the ostensible title of “Social Secretary” but was already functioning as a de facto Chief of Staff. Mrs. Kennedy also hired the first White House Curator, who worked under her direction, as did the Housekeeper and Chief Usher.
There were many clerks answering her mail.
Betty Ford at a staff party. (GRFL)

Betty Ford at a staff party. (GRFL)

Lady Bird Johnson’s Press Secretary Liz Carpenter was functioning as Chief of Staff. In addition to Social Secretary there was also added to the First Lady’s staff the position of Project Director.
Under Pat Nixon, the position of Advance woman was added. Under Betty Ford, the position of speechwriter was added.
Mrs. Reagan with the first of several of her Social Secretaries and Chiefs of Staff, Mabel Brandon and Peter McCoy. (RRPL)

Mrs. Reagan with the first of several of her Social Secretaries and Chiefs of Staff, Mabel Brandon and Peter McCoy. (RRPL)

Rosalynn Carter was the first to have a single designated figure serve as Chief of Staff.

Barbara Bush employed the first African-American press secretary and Michelle Obama hired the first male Social Secretary.
Under the department heads of East Wing directors (Press Secretary, Social Secretary, Personal Aide, Project Director, Correspondence, Speechwriting, Advance) there are often deputies and assistants who carry the title.
Hillary Clinton meeting with her staff. (WJCPL)

Hillary Clinton meeting with her staff. (WJCPL)

Under a more general “staff” designation there are typists, and researchers working for First Ladies.

On many occasions, it may be hard to trace what specific federal positions work for a First Lady because often they are hired through the West Wing or a Cabinet department and are requisitioned due to their expertise, either for the full term of the administration or part of the time, depending on the endeavor.

For example, at the time of the weddings of LBJ’s daughters, Press Secretary Liz Carpenter requisitioned the temporary services of one of the President’s press aides, Tom Johnson.

Michelle Obama with members of her staff in 2010. (WH)

Michelle Obama with members of her staff in 2010. (WH)

Or, during her initial drug abuse education program planning, Nancy Reagan had the president’s advisor on illicit drug use work with her staff.

The claim about Mrs. Obama having the biggest staff in history may be due to the greater transparency of the Obama Administration in delineating the names, titles and salaries of those who have or are working for her.

While this has always been a matter of public information, the Obama Administration is the first to publicly disclose it.

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

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

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

Martha Washington

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

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

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

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

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

Lucy Hayes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ida McKinley

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florence Harding

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eleanor Roosevelt

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

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

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

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

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

Pat Nixon

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

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

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

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

Hillary Clinton

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle Obama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edith Roosevelt and daughter Ethel. (NPS)

Edith Roosevelt and daughter Ethel. (NPS)

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

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

Edith Wilson (artinamerica.com)

Edith Wilson (artinamerica.com)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florence Harding and Laddie Boy. (NFLL)

Florence Harding and Laddie Boy. (NFLL)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some side notes on the matter of First Lady codenames.

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

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

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

Barbara Bush had two known codenames.

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

 

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First Ladies as Author

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

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

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

Michelle Obama's first book.

Michelle Obama’s first book.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written works by earlier First Ladies have also been published.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Coolidge and Eleanor Roosevelt, 1934. (ebay)

Grace Coolidge and Eleanor Roosevelt, 1934. (ebay)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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First Ladies At the Old Ballgame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hillary at bat. (Clinton Library)

Hillary at bat. (Clinton Library)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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First Ladies at the Funerals of Other First Ladies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eleanor Roosevelt

November 10, 1962, Hyde Park, New York

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mamie Eisenhower

November 3, 1979, Abilene, Kansas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bess Truman

October 21, 1982, Independence, Missouri

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

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

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

Pat Nixon

June 26, 1993, Yorba Linda, California

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

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

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

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

May 23, 1994, New York, New York

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

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

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

Lady Bird Johnson

July 14, 2007, Austin, Texas

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

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

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

Betty Ford

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

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

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

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

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Presidential Daughters Attending State Dinners, Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Columnist Art Buchwald penned a witty commentary on the incident:

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

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

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

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

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

As Prime Minister Trudeau stated about Malia and Sasha Obama:

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

 

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Presidential Daughters Attending State Dinners, Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Margaret Wilson. (NFLL)

Margaret Wilson. (NFLL)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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