Scandals, Gossip, and the American Presidency

Scandals, Gossip, and the American Presidency
Eleanor Roosevelt: Sports and Popular Culture

Skill: Middle School
Time Required:


Today, one can clearly see that Eleanor Roosevelt was a woman of many accomplishments including a role model and an agent for change . Though viewed positively today, Eleanor Roosevelt was considered scandalous by many.  Scandal surrounded her when she went into a coal mind to inspect it; such behavior was not considered ladylike.  Scandal surrounded her when she supported friends in positions of public employ; such behavior was not considered proper behavior on the part of a president’s wife.  Scandal surrounded her friendships with Lorena Hickok and Joseph Lash; the relationships were viewed suspiciously by opponents and considered improper for a First Lady.


In this lesson student will gain a historical perspective of scandal and the American presidency.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet and/or access to a public library.


1. Explain to students, that for the most part, no president held office without at least a little scandal.  For example, even Thomas Jefferson dealt with the scandal of a child born to one of his slaves who we now know was his child, but at the time of his presidency, was simply a scandalous rumor.

2. Share with students that songs were written and used to mock Thomas Jefferson and explain the fun people have with scandals.

3. Below is a chart of presidents and scandals that plagued their presidency.  Divide the presidential scandals equally among the students in the class.



John Adams

XYZ Correspondence

Andrew Jackson


Thomas Jefferson

Sally Hemmings

Martin Van Buren

Ellen Randolph

John Tyler

Julia Gardiner

James Polk

Mexican American War

Zachary Taylor

Corrupt Cabinet

Franklin Pierce

Ostend Manifesto

Abraham Lincoln

Old Clothes Scandal

Andrew Johnson


Ulysses Grant

Credit Mobilier

Ulysses Grant

Whiskey Ring

Rutherford Hayes

His Fraudulency

James A Garfield

Credit Mobilier

Chester Arthur

Machine Politics

Grover Cleveland

Illegitimate Child

Theodore Roosevelt

Campaign Finance

William Taft


Woodrow Wilson

Petticoat Government

Warren Harding

Teapot Dome

Herbert Hoover

Lou Hoover and Mrs. DePreist

Franklin Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt and Civil Rights

Dwight Eisenhower

Francis Gary Powers

John Kennedy

Bay of Pigs

Lyndon Johnson

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

Richard Nixon


Gerald Ford

Betty Ford and Equal Rights Amendment

Jimmy Carter

Roslyn Carter Cabinet Meetings

Ronald Reagan


George H. Bush

Savings and Loan Scandal

Bill Clinton


George W. Bush

CIA Agent Leak


4. Using the Internet and/or a public library, have students research the scandal assigned, answering the following questions:

  • What was the scandal about?
  • Who was considered guilty in the scandal, at the time of the scandal, and why?
  • Do we know today more about the scandal and, if so, what do we know?
  • Did the scandal result in further events (i.e. cover-ups, war, etc.)?
  • Who benefited from the scandal and how so?
  • Who was hurt by the scandal and how so?
  • How was the scandal spread?  For example, was a song similar to the one about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings created?  Was it spread through 'yellow journalism' tabloids?

5. Once students complete their research, have a class discussion on their findings as well as scandals of public figures and gossip on a personal level.

Extending the Lesson:

To extend this lesson, have students write and perform a song about the scandal.

Sources & Resources:

Eleanor Roosevelt:
   Freedman, Russell. Eleanor Roosevelt, a Life of Discovery. New York: Clarion Books, 1993.   (Newberry Award) 
   Rosenburg, Pam. Eleanor Roosevelt. New York: Compass Point Books, 2003. 
   Winget, Mary. Eleanor Roosevelt. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications Company, 2003.
   Embridge, David (ed.). My Day: The Best of Eleanor Roosevelt’s Newspaper columns, 1936-1962. New York: First Da Capo Press, 2001.  
   Feinberg, Barbara Silberdick.  Eleanor Roosevelt, a Very Special Lady. Brookfield: The Millbrook Press, 2003. 
   Mattern, Joanne. Eleanor Roosevelt, More Than a First Lady.  New York: The Rosen  Publishing Group, 2003. 
   Roosevelt, Eleanor. The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt.  New York: Harper & Brothers, 1961. 
   Roosevelt, Eleanor. You Learn By Living. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960.
Presidential Scandals: 
   Lawson, Don.  Famous Presidential Scandals (Government Series). Berkeley Heights: Enslow Publishers Inc, 1990. 
   Olsen, Keith W. Watergate: The Presidential Scandal That Shook America.  Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2003. 
   Schultz, Jeffrey D. Presidential Scandals.  Washington, D. C.: Congressional Quarterly Books, 1999. 
   Shield-West, Eileen and MacNelly, Jeff.  The World Almanac of Presidential Campaigns:  All the Facts, Anecdotes, Scandals, and Mudslinging in the History of the Race for the White House.  New York: World Almanac, 1992. 
   Stratton, David H. Tempest over Teapot Dome: The Story of Albert B. Fall.  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998. 
   Trefousse, Hans L.  Impeachment of a President: Andrew Johnson, the Blacks, and Reconstruction.  Bronx; Fordham University Press, 1999. 
   Williams, Robert.  Political Scandals in the USA.  Edinburgh: Keele University Press, 1998.

Eleanor Roosevelt: 
Presidential Scandal: 


This lesson was written by Debra L. Clark, Kent State University.