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tv   Discussion on First Ladies and the Executive Mansion  CSPAN  May 30, 2015 7:00pm-8:13pm EDT

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you are >> you're watching american history tv. follow us on twitter for information on a scheduled upcoming programs and to keep up with the latest history news. >> on american history tv, white house a story and william seale sits down for a conversation about the first ladies who have had the most impact on the executive mansion. this discussion posted by the white house historical association features the kennedy, edith roosevelt, laura bush, and michelle obama. seale -- anita mcbride delivers
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introductory remarks. this program held at the house across from the white house is just over one hour. >> good afternoon, everyone. welcome to the white house historical association. i am an id. at right, a member of the board of directors -- i am anita mcbride. our associations president could not be here. i'm delighted we are hosting you at the historic decatur house. this is the perfect setting for today's presentation of the book "first ladies: presidential historians and the line of 45 iconic women." the white house historical suspicion was in fact founded by a first lady -- jacqueline kennedy in 1961.
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we are a nonprofit educational's association. our purpose is to enhance the understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment of the executive mansion. one of the most important symbols of our democracy. all the proceeds from the sale of the associations books and all our product including the ever popular white house christmas ornament -- all of those proceeds are used to fund the acquisition of historic furnishing and artwork for the permanent white house collection. we also assist in the preservation of all public rooms and we further the educational information of the history of the building and its occupants. many of us on the board had the privilege of working in the white house for one or more presidential administrations. we have seen firsthand what life is like in the white house as an office, museum and home to our first family. all of us on the board appreciate the opportunity to support the associations very
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vital mission. in my work at the center for congressional and presidential studies at american university, i leave the legacies of americans first ladies initiative. our work includes those national conferences with the white house historical association and the presidential library. c-span is a committed partner for us and has always been there to cover those events honoring our first ladies. on many levels it is a pleasure for me to open today's program. i want to recognize some of our very special guests today in the audience, the republican grand national -- congressional spouses forum. thank you to cindy ross who organized a wonderful lunch earlier today or all of you
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heard from white house historical's association chief historian bill about the history of this house and its occupants. now it is my pleasure to introduce you to our featured speakers. susan swain and william seale. susan swain is a 30 year veteran of the cable public affairs channel. she integrates or management role at the network was that of on camera interview were sitting down with president interview or -- interviewer. during the 2013-20 14 season she was post at c-span's very popular biography series -- first lady influence and image which in the historical association was very proud to be a partner. i had the pleasure of the interview by susan on the floor of the republican national convention in 2012 as a she announced the launch of the
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first lady series. i was also very grateful to join her for the series closing segment. the highly successful series is the basis for this latest c-span book logic which we will hear about today. this book gives an intimate portrayal of the personal life of every first lady in american history based on original interviews with major historians and first ladies themselves. one of the preeminent historians called upon to help tell the stories was our own william seale. he served as a consultant and panelists for the c-span production. he is editor of the white house historical is a station's award-winning journal "white house history." . he is author of the presidents house. as well as several other books
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on american architectural and cultural history. he is witty, humorous, a fabulous storyteller that brings history to life. susan and bill will have a lively conversation and then we will open up for a few questions from all of you in the audience. after that susan's book will be available for sale just down the hallway and she and bill will be her to sign them for you. the proceeds from the book go to c-span's education foundation which further the study of the presidency and congress. if you are tweeting from this event today, please use #firstladiesbook @whitehousehistory. the program is over to you. ms. swain: thank you very much.
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[applause] ms. swain: i will have to work on these introductions. you get witty and i get "30 years." we could have said multiple years or something. [laughter] it is really delightful to have you. welcome. we are so delighted you are here. you have a special connection to the biographies of the first ladies. you know more than many of the people in this room what it is like to be a paid political spouse and we tell so much of the stories of the triumphs and challenges of life in this book and it is wonderful to have all the rest of you here. this will be fun. we got particularly important for the white house historical substation -- association to look at the lives of six or seven first ladies who have been particular stewards of the white house. all of them have a
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responsibility to care for while they are there but some of them have had more impact than others. we invited this man. he is really a national treasure. i had the opportunity to interview him many times over the years and you know someone about the building and the people who occupy it. we are going to start with a little video. anita mentioned jacqueline kennedy. it was her whose interest in the white house really friendly modern-day white house as we know it and it was through that project and special for television and we are going to watch a little bit of that right now. ♪
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>> mrs. john f. kennedy. mrs. kennedy, i want to thank you for letting us visit your official home. this is the room for which much of your work on it is directed. >> it is attic and seller all in one. we receive hundreds of letters every day. this is where we evaluate and do our budget. >> every administration since president madison's time has made changes in the white house. before we look at and yet the changes you have made, what is your basic land? >> i really don't have one
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because i think this house will always grow and shed. it seemed to me a shame when we came here to find hardly any thing of the past in the house. i know when we went to columbia, the presidental palace there has all of the history of that country in it. every piece of furniture has some link to the past. i thought the white house should be like that. ms. swain: she was 32 years old at the time. what exactly can we credit mrs. kennedy with doing for that building? mr. seale: mrs. kennedy and the president himself repackage the entire white house idea, the entire neighborhood, a new way of thinking about it. they formalized it and took its story and worked it and furnish the house to evoke that
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historical story and in so doing, the american people saw it better than they had ever seen it. the -- one of the supports for the interior work was a guidebook which she wrote and wanted to do. it -- to show how popular she was, it sold one million copies almost immediately. it was the first product of the white house historical association. then the ideas spread to the grounds and lafayette park is a long shadow of the president and mrs. kennedy -- they did not want high rise buildings that were already planned. there were big, white, marble, high rise buildings to be here at it simply got stopped right before his death. they left a mark of history and
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public identity on the house. ms. swain: it is interesting to note 56,000 people watched that telecast. charles was the person you saw on the film. think about that 56 million number. an enormous percentage of the population. it increased public interest and awareness in the building. the idea of creating -- she speaks about this idea of an american museum -- disassociation -- this is a station to preserve it. what was she concerned about that would happen if there was not a mechanism for preserving? mr. seale: that it would be as it had always been. overused. it would have to be change and become the product of an interior decorator without the historical background. she learned a lot. she learned congress does not by
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embellishments for the palace. [laughter] she did not get a penny of federal money for the furnishing. she had to raise it privately. clark clifford, her advisor learned that there was an organization called friends of the park so they were able to create the white house historical association as a regular historical society but attached the fund raising to it so people could donate and generate a fund where it things have to be done, -- a wonderful picture of james monroe. or they legged breaks off of some chair somewhere, they can repair that.
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the idea of perpetuation was very much in her mind. a warehouse full of stuff. ms. swain: how difficult was it to find the previous pieces? mr. seale: people came forward. dealers, everybody came forward. the warehouse had many things in it out at the national airport. they finally organized it there and things had just been trashed. nobody wanted them. everybody is in a harry at the white house. -- hurry. stopping to do the house over is not a frequent thing in the history of the white house. what she did was plug result into that project and get it done on a big scale. it was the first time it had happened since theodore
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roosevelt. he wasn't personally involved. james monroe was. she began the collection and she wanted a set income a historical setting all-star you could walk in the blue room and think of james monroe. not in the sense of a lot of states. she wanted it to be a house where people could live. she realized it had to be used. there is a description of a party in the blue room and the kennedy period that said you cannot see across the room because of the cigarette smoke. it was used heavily. this entire context she created for it with help from different people ms. swain:. will you reference some historical names?
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people often ask who are favorites and i almost always say dolly madison because she was very important at her time and she was also important for so many years after she left the white house. what i want to do do is read to you a little bit about the british invasion. you see a wonderful depiction of dolly. she was much taller than james. she exacerbated that height difference by wearing turbans which often had feathers on top of them. you would always see her when she made an entrance. this was -- this project had 56 different historians involved.
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about the british invasion she told us "when you're trying to figure out of someone is as symbolic as we say, sometimes it is instructive to look at their enemies. he was going to come and dine at mrs. madison's table. he was going to make his bow at her drawing room, prater through the streets. he was not attacking james madison. we know dolly really was a public figure. in fact, when he got to the white house and she was not there, he took things of hers, including her cushion. he wished to warmly recall her seat." [laughter] mr. seale: it is considered absolutely shocking. that a man like that in the opposition would remark on a woman in that way -- it was not done.
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it was amazing what she had to go through during that. ms. swain: before the british arrived, we have a depiction of the social life in the white house. how were they using it before? mr. seale: peter did those pictures. very great research. all you see theire was burns. her husband was quiet. he sat around like this in the corner. he had to meet people and bring people to both sides of the aisle and her personality -- she was a funny looking little thing. she liked people. she loved the stage she was on. should also been a quaker and had an unhappy party with them
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being a widow. she was kicked out of a meeting. she always covered her head. she dressed very fashionably and she created a show and she served what we would call risky punch. the politicians lives -- wiser mostly at home -- wives were mostly at home. she wanted them to, to her house as they packed in and she gave them punch and good things to eat. things dipped in chocolate. she helped her husband in that way. i would venture to say it was because of him. she loved him very much. in fact, talk about an explosion.
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when she was a young widow and he had never looked at his -- a woman in his life and they eloped. she made herself liked the people like martha washington. ms. swain: martha washington pulled dolly aside and gave her approval. interesting what a small community it was there in the early days will stop when the bridges got through with the white house, what did it look like? mr. seale: a shell. imagine it as a shell. all that is left of the original is the entire south wall, the east and west wall down to the basement, and then the center part of the north side we see.
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it was rebuilt by madison's command. everybody tried to change his mind. they tried to move the capital to cincinnati. he wanted it exactly as it had been. it begins as a symbol there. it became a symbol when they said rebuilt it and they got the same guy to do it. they wanted it exactly as it was. they changed some chimneys and little things but it was rebuilt as a symbol of survival and furnished like a palace by president munro -- monroe. many things are still in the white house. monroe at the beginning of his administration was the last of the founding fathers. he thought political parties were over. you are going to have one government under one man and that was fine. he learned very fast that what
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he called the era of good feeling had some gas pains. [laughter] mr. seale: he was idolized and he built the white house back. it's a social image really came from dolly madison. ms. swain: let me move on to munro. daniel preston, the guest on that program, told us the white house was not ready in march of 1817 when he became president and they lived in another house for several months. he left washington on a four-month tour around the country. when they moved back, they had to begin buying furniture. they decided to buy french and he writes "buying french furniture and speaking french was as controversial or politicians then as it would be today." why did he make the decision to buy french and tells about the controversy? mr. seale: they loved france.
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they spoke french at home. their daughter went to a french school. they lived there, they had a beautiful place in paris furnished. they brought that furniture back and it was the obvious thing to do. napoleon had fallen and all these cabinetmakers had no business. some supposition that some of the gilded furniture in the blue room today came from a warehouse stock. who knows? they still had workman that needed the work. the elegance of the house is a description of 1840 of a man who comes in and says he stood in the elliptical saloon as the blue room was called.
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"i stood under a chandelier that began to napoleon." it had that french cachet. mr. seale: but it was controversial. ms. swain: it was. miss munro had lost a little boy and she was not social anymore. she has been presented in the past as a wilting flower. she was no wilting flower. she was in paris. the word got to them that madame lafayette whose mother and grandmother and sister had been guillotined -- that she was next. they concocted this scheme where mrs. monroe who was a knockout beauty dressed up to the nines got in her carriage, and drove through the streets slowly and
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finally came to the prison and the coachman got down and gave her card to the dl are. it rattled everything -- card to the jailer. a young woman came to the gate and they embraced. she was released the next day. mrs. monroe was not a wilting flower. you cannot show me a wilting flower that has ever been a first lady. ms. swain: the blue room is on the tour. how many people have been fortunate enough to see the blue room? how much of today's blue room came from the munro's? mr. seale: i will have to ask the curator. bill? he is very bashful but he said yes. he has tried to keep it to the munro period.
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it is probably -- and the chandelier meets the description of the one ordered. ms. swain: we have a picture of an event with the obama's in the blue room. you can see the portrait of mrs. monroe. mr. seale: the library in fredericksburg is well worth the visit. it was a law office and it has a rich collection. it has her garb she wore in court with the long train. that room seems to be one of the president's favorites because he often has his speeches and interviews there. it is probably the closest to authentic from the 1820's but it cannot be one thing, it has to be where people live.
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ms. swain: we are going to do a fast journey right now. mid-19th century and mary lincoln. mr. seale: she was a pill. [applause] ms. swain: she had a bit of a challenge. washington society was a pretty tightknit group back then and these were westerners coming from illinois. they were looked upon as crude and mrs. lincoln was feeling the pressure of being welcomed here. here is our chapter here. richard smith, a great historian. he said "this is lincoln looked upon the white house very much as a symbol of this nation and took seriously her responsibilities not only as a hostess but as a woman responsible for the appearance
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of the house. this is a time when the country is coming apart at the seams so the symbolic value of america's houses perhaps even greater despite the president's order the half finished them of the capital have to be completed. she took the same view of the white house. she got a lot of criticism for what she was doing. mr. seale: it was the first time a first lady since dolly madison had been repeatedly criticized in the press. they were ugly remarks about her close. she was a middle-aged woman who had lost one child and she was going to lose another one in the white house stuck she also had a hard act to follow. she followed james buchanan's niece. beautiful and personable. she was a personal friend of queen victoria.
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harriet lane was just the bees knees and the end of everything in this country. mrs. lincoln here comes to the white house and she is overweight and she is not bubbly like harriet. ms. swain: and there is a war going on. [laughter] mr. seale: and a war. she still wanted to be that. she cannot get along with the staff and they took advantage of her. a sad figure as we all know. she had some sort of depression problem at the end. ms. swain: you much an earlier congress was not willing to allocate money and in the case of the lincolns, they did. they appropriated money for refurbishing of the white house. mr. seale: she really went over
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the wall when she began spending on furniture and the lincoln bedroom one of her purchases. lincoln when he saw the bill they held the bill back from him. they said he resented it. the soldiers needed blankets. ms. swain: we tell the story in our chapter about her. she was really holding her breath to remember how close the reelection was and he thought he was going to lose and her interest was making sure they came back so the bill could get paid. mr. seale: he did get a little preparation to do it. ms. swain: she wanted to poverty after they left the white house. -- went into poverty. mr. seale: the salary was $25,000 a year and they had to
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spend it on the house or parties or whatever. they went home with their 25 which was a huge salary for those days. jefferson through his away one sunday cosigning the note of because in. others held onto it and built on it as a good business. that is what the lincolns were doing. his salary was cut of course when he was killed and she had little to live on. ms. swain: we have a bit of video because you will remember during the second bush administration, laura bush embarked on the restoration of the lincoln bedroom and here is the video c-span produced with her when she speaks about that project. >> when truman redid the house in the late 1940's and early 1950's, he set up the room we now call the lincoln bedroom to commemorate the fact that it was
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lincoln's office and it was the room he signed the emancipation proclamation in. the women -- the room itself is a shrine to american history. the carpet was over 50 years old. i worked with the white house historical is a station -- historical association and we looked back at the wallpaper lincoln had in his office, the carpet he had in his office, and we did reproductions of those. >> that dates back to 18 61 bought by mary todd lincoln as part of her right house refurbishing. it is eight feet long, six feet wide. >> mary todd lincoln drape the bed with purple and gold and fringe and laced. high victorian decorating.
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we did have later photographs with the bed still dressed the way she had rested. we did that again. ms. swain: i am going to let that video stand because our time is going to evaporate. i have two get this story. this is another one of my favorites. the story of caroline harrison. it's caroline harrison had worked her will, what would our precious white house look like? what was she wanting to do? mr. seale: she was incorporating a lot of ideas. one big wing was supposed to be the national gallery of art. the green houses were moved there so you could see over them from the windows of the house but then there was a guest and office wing on the left and the national gallery on the other. she was very sincere about it. she was a very ambitious woman
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and political to her toes. she was one of the founders of the dar. that is what she planned for the house and it would have happened to celebrate the 100th anniversary of george washington's inauguration. lehman stanford had made the speaker of the house maps of the speaker refused to bring the bill up and it died. then she died in 92. she decided she would make the best of what she had in the second floor of the white house was still not only family quarters but office space and she was trying to figure out a way to make it more livable for the family. she went to the attic. not only did she find furniture -- what else did she find? mr. seale: rats. ms. swain: lots and lots.
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mr. seale: women hate those. ms. swain: that is a little gender-based. men don't like rats either. [laughter] mr. seale: the elevator shaft had cut off the attic. there was no stair access to it anymore and so they just ran free up there. she would bring the whole things down but she became so ill. ms. swain: but she successfully reorganized. she would open a box, a rat would jump out, she would scream and a guy would shoot. we are thankful that her plans for the explosion of the white house never made it. mr. seale: it came up again in
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1900 and happened. ms. swain: as we go through time, you mentioned you get roosevelt. -- edith roosevelt. she was tired of the family living over the shop as she put it. it was too crowded for their big family. she decided was time to do something about it. what did they do? mr. seale: that flynn was going through and the ark attacks -- architects got -- that plan was going through and the architects got to the roosevelts and they talked them into something else and show them how it could be a home. that is what they wanted. talk about a strong first lady. he didn't knew exactly what she wanted. she went to the white house as first lady, did her job, and one was over, privacy is what she wanted and she had it until her death. a wonderful little book published of her letters to the
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local library and about the books they were both reading. really interesting. she taught her clock exactly as she wanted it to be and kept him from doing some awfully foolish things. at one point after the white house, he was being presented in court in england to the queen and he wanted to wear his rough rider costume. she said "no ted, no rough rider costume's." she we organized the social functions of the white house to save money. eight wines was reduced to three. service and the way things operated, she worked with the architects on that. a wonderful way with people. sometimes a little extreme. she had a chamber where she met with the cabinet was once a week
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and they went over people's moral habits. probably the reason lafayette's descendent left. he was pretty randy. [laughter] she would have an eight go and tell them -- she would have her aides go in tell them what he would do. she kept people behaving. it was a -- a fascinating woman. ms. swain: this was the entrance of america on the world stage. they wanted this white house to reflect it. mr. seale: the white house was like an old family house there
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is a picture of washington there. people did go through and look at the house but it did not have the snap. they had all been in europe. the snap of the royal court. they did not want to do that but they wanted a house that internationally people would feel very comfortable and welcoming and that is what they transformed it into. ms. swain: one did the white house get the name the white house? mr. seale: we don't know for sure but there is a letter where it is referred to in 1803 and i suppose because it was whitewashed. it was never intended to be.
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it was because the stone is so bad, the rain would get in it and freeze and crack the stone so they did a heavy whitewash with a flat base and painted the house stark white. it was really more of a paste. it would protect the house and the house was whitewashed a few times but it was after the war of 1812 that there was any record of it being painted. black marks from the fire could be seen through the whitewash. it was a huge deal.
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i imagine that is why it got the name. ms. swain: i often see it referred to with theodore roosevelt becoming current. mr. seale: officially on the roosevelt immediately upon taking office dropped the old term executive mansion and said it here after it should be called the white house. the executive mansion didn't mean anything to him anymore. he spanish war took the presidency back to a level of power it had not known since george washington. it'd only been since then that an executive mansion. now it was not going to be called the palace or anything like that so the white house is fine. it is a symbol of that transfer of power the house began to represent. what it was built for, really. ms. swain: i want to talk but a
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first lady glided very short tenure but she contributed something symbolic and that is the rose garden. mrs. wilson. mr. seale: she was a quiet little woman, a gifted painter. her father was a minister in georgia. she and woodrow wilson were really a love match. she was gifted. she loved gardening. gardening was a big thing among women at the turn of the century. it was a liberating thing. we have a new white house history issue coming up with that story. mrs. wilson -- the old stable yard was down outside the dining room. she created the rose garden. it was an ugly approach to the
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new west wing which theodore roosevelt had built and she wanted it to be pretty so she planted hedges and lines and put a statue in their and grew a lot of roses. it is mainly green because she wanted the president to be able to walk down a pretty way. he went in to the wing there which did have an oval office then. she started the rose garden and it was enhanced over the years and finally, the president kennedy himself asked mrs. mellon to redesign it for him and she took it as a sole request and took it upon herself because she was quite a student of the subject and she redesign the rose garden, not abandoning everything missiles and had done but reinterpreting it and that
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is the rose garden we know today. ms. swain: there are so many connections among these first ladies over the years. it was mrs. kennedy decided the practice of greeting dignitaries at national airfields was not symbolic enough and she was the one who suggested using the rose garden. mr. seale: letitia was a social secretary and a genius at this sort of management. they used to fly into the air force base and not be limiting procession with a little flag in the government employees were invited to come out with little flag and wave them along pennsylvania. some people may remember that. it took a long time so what they did was flew the party into the grounds and got in a limousine and was taken around to the back of the house where a band was stationed. a short ceremony, perfectly
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beautiful. lasted 22 minutes. longer today but it lasted 22 minutes. that did completely free make that kind of ceremony. that is the kind of thing edith wilson did. these people had an eye for that and the president got to get back to work. ms. swain: it has made the rose garden a symbol throughout the world. mr. seale: and right outside the oval office. it is great. ms. swain: we spoke about theodore roosevelt. i want to talk about fdr. they lived a rather different life at the white house. here is a little bit from our chapter on her with the great fdr historian, alito black. she writes about the roosevelt family.
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"it was regularly filled his family, visitors, and friends. it was very clear he was coming and going, especially when mrs. roosevelt's column started getting published because eleanor -- she would also have her own press conferences where she would tell people who the guests were and there you see one of the press conferences. people really at the time knew all of those folks were living in the white house or ." she was -- only men could cover the white house and she was going to change that so she started having press conferences and only woman reporters were able to cover the press conferences. there you see a photograph. what was life like on the family quarters of the white house during the roosevelt years? the fdr years? mr. seale: extremely crowded.
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he occupied a little room, the yellow oval room. he had an army orderly to help them get around but he would meet -- i spoke to congressman that he would meet in that room while he was dressing and eleanor would come in in her bathrobe and they would all have breakfast in the office. it was a funny little government then. first names and all that stuff. then there were all the guests. the ones we know about but also the famous movie stars. endless numbers of guests. then it got to be her guests and his.
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and he didn't like hers and he made no secret of it and he did not like her housekeepers cooking either. why he didn't like stuffed prunes i don't know. [laughter] he would just rage about it. when his mother died, he brought the cook from home and she would cook them everything he liked. she gained a life of her own. she made more money than the president with her contracts for radio and all that. they were together as friends and they began to spread apart. i think the lucy mercer story is over told. lucy mercer was a very refined catholic girl, very pretty. i think the popular history has done ugly things by assuming
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things that were not necessarily true. i don't know if that was the problem but they got along. more than any two different people love ever lived in the white house. ms. swain: what shape was it in one day left? mr. seale: horrible shape. it took 13 moving vans full of stuff. roosevelt was in one place so everybody came to see him. he could not go to see them. it was more convenient to have them spend the night in the lincoln bedroom. it was more convenient because they were there. he wanted his things as well. his collections of prints, his boats and animals. these things were in mass. she knew exactly how she wanted her things. there a wonderful drawing of her study on the top second-floor
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corner where she had pictures all over the wall. she had all that measured and numbered so when they painted the room, they were hung exactly as they had been. they were at home there. hyde park became difficult to go to. that is one shangri-la started which became cap david. mrs. roosevelt only went there once but he went all the time and took his friends and his staff or like children to him. he loved his staff. -- warlike children to him. i spoke to sir john martin, her chilled secretary. he said that -- churchill's secretary.
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he said during the work am always eight was eggs. -- all we ate was eggs. ms. swain: two more first ladies. this is one that probably doesn't get credit for the impact she had on the white house and that is pat nixon. here is our chapter on and and -- pat nixon. pat brennan says "when pat nixon came to the white house, one third of the furnishings were antiques. when she left the white house two thirds of them were antiques . dolly madison is famous for saving the campus of george washington in 1814. she saved two campuses.
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the other was a portrait of herself and patent it and brought it back to the white house. she worked hard behind the scenes to pick up or jackie kennedy had left off. she could be very persuasive. and convincing is divisions and museums to return pieces and loan them to the white house. they found people to donate money to get the proper funding." they didn't publicize it. she was doing it for a long time before anybody realized she was. she tried to give the credit to other people. mr. seale: and she was faced with doing the state rooms over because the johnsons had just worn them down. huge entertainment, huge events. she was a little dismayed at first but they so much approved of what the kennedy administration had done that all
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she really wanted to do was enhance the collection and make it even finer. when it was all said and done, the mrs. kennedy and children came down one evening to have dinner and see at all and jackie kennedy was very touched. ms. swain: in a few minutes we will ask for your questions and we hope you have thought of some along the way. we are going to have a microphone here. our colleague has his microphone back there. put your hand up and we will find you. we will close this with the current occupant of the white house. we have a video once again. this is from an interview she gave us early on and administration. michelle obama talking about what life is like in the white house. ms. obama: it feels like you are living in this beautiful hotel and the grounds for is the lobby
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and when you step into it, you will interact with a whole range of people. some special visitors, staff members. you feel like greeting them and then you get into the elevator and you go into your quiet private, personal space and it feels very much like you are the only people living here. i think the white house staff has really figured out how to accommodate families and make them feel as normal as possible even though there are dozens of people around dropping off flowers, vacuuming, fixing things up all the time. you begin to see them as family in so many ways and that is the beauty of this place. it is the staff who make it home. ms. swain: even president nixon in his farewell said it is the staff that is the heart of the white house.
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normally it is passed down through the centuries through families. there have been some pretty great people that have gone through history. gary walters, mr. west wrote his famous book about the kennedys and johnsons. it is not like any house anybody lives in today. we have all seen the television show about the house in england. it is a little like that. a little more streamlined. [laughter] it is the same idea because it works. the situation works. it has nothing to do with being servile. it is like a machine and it works and they have to serve many people a day and i will buy to comment on one thing. about the first ladies in general. if you were a wife of a man who
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works for exxon or somebody like that and he got transferred to rochester, new york and he could do worse, then she would go with him. it is a normal process with people that do that. it is a basic part -- i think that is true of the first ladies -- they go with their husbands to the white house. so often like any marital arrangement, they had a level of advice that he couldn't buy if you trie andd wouldn't trust it he did. he trusts her more than anyone. lyndon johnson, a beautiful organized person. she carried a lot of baggage for him and he would have been the first to say so and i think that is true of so many of them. even poor little mrs. tyler when
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she could barely stand up. when she could, she would go to receptions. she went there with her husband and i think you need to attach that to all of them. but that is the basic -- that is why they are there. many would rather not be there. we all know the ones like mrs. taft who could not wait to get there. for lady had a stroke the month later. she would sit at the tables of the state dinners and close the doors. she would have everything served to her as though she were at the table. she really wanted it but there were other people who did not but they did because their husbands were there. i know that is old-fashioned and simplistic. ms. swain: thank you very much. today, and related focus on first ladies in the history of the white house. if a project -- this whole
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project -- the reason why the study first ladies is because these are the closest advisors that cannot be fired. the last person the president speaks to you before they go to sleep and the first in the morning. they have this witness to history that is important and unique and worthy of study. thank you for adding to our knowledge of them. appreciate it. [applause] ms. swain: i hope there are some question. anyone have a question for us about the first ladies and the white house? there is one in the front row over here. >> she said she wanted to have some people know when he walked in the ruby because no one knew he was in the room because he was so small. -- in the room because he was a so small. mr. seale: polk.
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she was a glamour girl. they called her the spanish donna and she knew it. she supposedly began the march -- hell to the chief was used from then on -- hail to the chief was just from then on. i popular song they used to add to musical shows. not hamlet i don't think. they did in some other kinds of things. someone would come saying be sing between the scenes. to enhance it, jackson had already done that. they did it another way without the music. they put papier-mâché stars in the east room because they had just redecorated for the first time and he wore a long cape to cover up the fact he was so thin and pale and had a collar like this.
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poor little jimmy polk would have been buried in the cape. the song works best for him. >> i am curious. if a first lady in the future wanted to do something really weird to the white house, i know the curator from the historical association, who is the ultimate arbiter? mr. seale: the president. but there is public opinion. if someone wanted to go in there and paint lightning strikes on the wall, i don't know, anything weird, i think public opinion would not be worth it. >> can they change the family quarters to what they wish? mr. seale: yes.
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it is an awful lot of trouble and money. mrs. reagan is heroic for doing over the family quarters. she raised the money and made it a comfortable, as mrs. obama said, hotel. she made it into a livable place to be. theoretically, the congress and the constitution build a house for the president and a house for the congress. don't try to tell the congress how to change anything. the same mr. of the white house. it's whatever the president wants to do. ms. swain: the next question is over here in this aisle. >> i saw in a recent article
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that you gave speculations about a possible chelsea clinton role. is there any example historically of someone that a president clinton could look to in the new role of a first gentleman. ms. swain: it would be cutting new ground to have a first gentleman. because there were a number of first ladies who did have their daughters fulfill their obligations for various reasons the most recent was mrs. wilson when she passed. it was about a year and a half before the president married again and her daughter filled in that role. were looking into some stories from history. -- we're looking into some stories from history. do you know of any others? mr. seale: the secretary to the
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president was a nephew, van buren's son. mostly, if they existed, either a close relative had become more professional by the time of theodore roosevelt. in the earlier 19th century, family was always there. i think it was a matter of trust. you wouldn't have wanted to be james pokes secretary -- james polk's secretary. there would be plenty of chances for chelsea clinton to be part of the white house office. ms. swain: this is definitely a
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mold breaker in this election. we have a question here in the front row. >> can you tell us about when barry lincoln went back right after the assassination and lived in the white house? mr. seale: 30 days. ms. swain: did you see the flag that was staged during the morning. ? >> -- mourning period? mr. seale: things were stolen during this time. they would cut the trim off of curtains and things like that. mrs. lincoln was upstairs wailing for 30 days. her seamstress, a former slave
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was the only one who seemed to get along with her so the government hired her. grandstands were being built and her carriage had to go right through it. people went to see her. she saw betsy lee. they were friends. she wrote some very nice notes during the time. she was suspended in disbelief that this could happen. ms. swain: we have time for two more questions. >> i'm curious about the first ladies' spriiritual lives. i know congressional wives were
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focused on trying to keep their husbands grounded. how did they handle that? mr. seale: they all went to church. st. john's. until it became impossible to go. president and mrs. bush were the last because they were crushed by crowds. there was a movement -- mrs. nixon was the most interesting woman. during that time there was a movement to build a chapel in the white house. boy, she wanted no part of that. she thought it was not a place for a religious denomination. that idea had already gained money and moved to camp david.
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it was mrs. and who blocked it at the white house. >> did they ever have bible studies in the white house? mr. seale: not that i know of but they may have. they had their friends over for different things and that wouldn't be such an unusual thing to do. i wish i could be definitive but i'm not. ms. swain: one more question. >> one of the nicest complements ever paid me and my husband was that we made a good team. of course i said to this young man, it's called marriage. i would like to know in your estimation, what president and first lady made the best team. mr. seale: all back through history? >> yes.
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[laughter] mr. seale: it would either be rutherford and lucy hale's or the garfield's. -- hayes' he was always amused at lucy's morality. she was against alcohol. if you read about prohibition, there was a reason for it. she got on the temperance wagon. he quit drinking too. there are reports that on the train to washington, he fell off the wagon. then he became quite a moralist. i would have to pick the hayes'.
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some people are happy in their way. you wonder, my god how do they stand each other? he was a guy that could go out into two years and make lots of money. he was often tutored by his uncle. ms. swain: there are so many stories of real political partnerships. this includes james polk's wife. another team that comes to mind is the johnsons. she knew she was going into a
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political life when she married him. she was so very involved as a political partner in the campaigns, running the family business. those are be some that i would add. mr. seale: also the hoovers. they were an adoring couple and very intellectual. she was the most organized first lady. they are interesting to read about. they went out into the world and made a fortune in mining and then went into the public life of charity. they started in england. he lived long after her. he was one of kennedy's best friends. she was an amazing woman. she educated herself in his
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field. they were both mining engineers. ms. swain: she was the first recorded woman in america to get a geology degree. she got it from stanford which is where they met. thank you so much for being with us. [applause] >> thank you for being here. we could talk about first ladies all day. we would now like to invite you all to purchase the book and come have it signed by susan and by bill and we are just thrilled that we were able to host you here at the decatur house. thank you so much for choosing us to host your event. [applause]
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[captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2015] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] announcer: here on c-span3, we complement coverage by showing you the most relevant congressional hearings and public affairs events. on weekends, we are the home to american history tv, with programs that tell our nation's story. including the civil war's anniversary. we also tour museums. we look at the policies and like needs -- policies and legacies of our nation's leaders. our new series, "real america,"


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