tv First Ladies - Influence Impact CSPAN May 5, 2022 11:04pm-12:18am EDT
this session first ladies impact and influence will explore the many ways in which first ladies? have shaped history as the closest advisor. to the president as advocates for both change and continuity. and as well as how they influenced america society. politics culture and diplomacy now i have a very great pleasure. of introducing what many people consider? the brightest jewels in the crown of a first lady historians of america, so starting with dr. barbara perry. and while dr. perry is walking up here. it should be noted that she just
came out today with an article. in the publication the hill on first ladies in war and as as barbara said she she was inspired by the association. and she is the gerald bayless professor and director of presidential studies the university of virginia's miller center. and currently serves on the board which we are very honored the board of directors of the white house historical association. joining her on stage our panelist. dr. diana carlin professor emerit of communications and many have called her the queen of communications at saint louis university and then we have dr. catherine al gore who made a very fabulous statement earlier today in the session the president of the massachusetts historical society.
and dr. stacy cordary, which i understand is a british way to pronounce it and she is dennis and didn't denison von johnson endowed chair of theodore roosevelt honors leadership studies at dickinson state university. this is an incredible panel and as stuart has always advised us. we have a responsibility here. to inspire to encourage and to teach and i think with this panel you will get an abundance of material. thank you so much. well, welcome everyone to this panel on first ladies. thank you teresa for that very nice introduction. thank you to stuart and to anita for this amazing summit here in dallas that we've all been waiting. so to participate in and attend and to be in person you and the
team at the white house historical association have done amazing work as you always do and many thanks to my colleagues here all of who's work has inspired mine over the years. so i'm very grateful to them. so as teresa said we're going to be looking at first ladies today and thinking about their influence on their president husbands. we're going to be thinking about when they promote change and sometimes we talked about when they have not been in favor of change which we can decide might be a good or a bad thing. let me start i'd like the last panel when we said let's do a flash poll. how many of you either work in the field the first ladies or where you work has some connection with first ladies or you just are a first lady aficionado. let's see a show of hands great. well, this is super we welcome you all and and for those of you who don't we hope to spread the word about first ladies and flare particularly as well as the white house historical association all of its good work
in this field. so we wanted to start with a pretty basic question and that is how did the position of first ladies come to be? that's not in the constitution as the presidential position is an offices and it's an unelected position as we know. so how did it start and i'm going to turn to my first two colleagues to my left here to diana who is writing a book about all first ladies a textbook and you might tell us a little bit about that today and we want to start with the very first first ladies, and i also want to turn as well to catherine al gore because she's a specialist on the founding first ladies as well in particularly dolly madison, so let me turn to diana first. well, i don't think you can really study the presidency without studying the first ladies now, i'm biased but i believe that and it really started because this has been a partnership from the beginning. when martha washington arrived
in new york a couple months after the president had arrived she was greeted with by the president in a barge. he then in new jersey wrote her over to the shore in new york. she was greeted with a gun salute and people were yelling long live lady washington and when she arrived she found out she already had a schedule. they they realize that because our president is both head of government and head of state that there would be events that needed to be planned with dignitaries that he needed to have these members of congress there and that they needed to host them and so nobody was better than martha at that because she'd been doing it for years. so she had a schedule she had restrictions and so it was a two-person career from the very beginning and she had abigail at her side and let catherine talk a little bit more about that. but martha definitely understood the concept of soft power. and that has been something that has been a trend for first
ladies to use all the way through since the beginning. so the beginning was that martha really was a partner as she had been with the president all through their marriage and through his years during the revolutionary war where she would go to the camps the winter camps every year and would assist him and try to keep morell up and organize sewing circles and that type of thing, but it was a partnership it still is and so the two go together. she was not called first lady that didn't really happen until later in the 19th century. she was called lady washington, which was the term that was given to her by some of the revolutionary war soldiers. they even had a lady washington's brigade and that was sort of the vestige of the british past that she was also an example of what a southern lady would be. so that was the beginning. i just think it's really striking. so in other venues, i've actually said the dolly madison was the first first lady and i'm prepared found that but the truth is you're right right from
the beginning martha washington is getting the message. but what's also true again? there's an intentionality from her so she begins dressing a certain way and she along with george washington and alexander hamilton. maybe john jay. they start communicating about the kinds of ceremonies. that would be proper for a new republic. because of course at that time they got a real tight kind of like lane to stay in. the american colonists had rebelled against the monarchy they were going to create the world anew the world turned upside down antimonarchical anti-king anti-royalties all going to be new. except when it came to ruling they realized that the only vocabulary of power they had was monarchical and aristotle and so how are they going to cut that and so we have these moments in the historical record where george washington is wondering exactly how many pairs of
matched horses is enough to convey his authority pulling his carriage the and how much would be like too much? i think the answer was three pair but the same thing with martha, how would she dress that would convey a sense to the outsiders who are not sure this america thing was going to work and the new americans who are not sure this american thing was going to work that they were being ruled properly and well and they came up with ceremonies that tried to combine a kind of almost democratic energy. i think with you know, some some kind of vestige of royalty and that's why i think lady washington and dolly madison is going to be lady, but she's else would be queen dolly. yes. yes. so thoughts about we can't leave the founding. we've certainly need to get to more of dolly madison. but abigail adams, we always cite her letter to her husband about the constitutional convention about don't forget the ladies when they were putting together the constitution but of course in a
way they did but any thoughts about abigail and and john adams and and moving into the white house. well, yes, and there are the first couple to move into the white house. nobody stayed terribly long. they weren't impressed. i think abigail in some ways embodies another part of the partnership that diana is talking about she really wasn't interested in what they would call presiding. so she adopted martha's innovations and ceremonies rather dutifully, but the role that abigail played was really that of advisor. she really was her husband's closest. sir, and in the spirit of republican virtue, that's small our republican virtue john adams made the terrible decision not to change his cabinet. so he ended up the cabinet full of let's just called them traders all working behind his back so he would have always relied on abigail but in that particular circumstance, she really was his very closest advisor and that's fascinating that you're mentioning that
catherine because really coming up to modern first ladies and contemporary first ladies in terms of personnel issues. we know for example that nancy reagan so important on issues of personnel never afraid to tell her husband that person should go that person's not good for you. so it clearly starts at the very beginning in that kind of advisory capacity. so before we come back to dolly, let me turn to my colleague stacy and we did a panel some months ago in the midst of the pandemic when we were always online and doing these great panels for the white house historical associ. and for flair and stacy came up with a set of i guess you would call them roadmaps or criteria. just how do we know if a first lady is being influential? how do we know that at the time if we do know it what are some of the sign posts that we might see and then afterwards how do we know what what are some of the signals that a first is being influential?
well, these are many of these go back to the very earliest first ladies as you two have discussed. and some of it is common sensical did has she achieved what she said she would achieve in some cases and on the other end of the scale as we have the sienna first ladies poll. so just like we take a sounding of what americans think about how well they're presidents succeeding. how weird is the first lady stand in that as well? we look at how her relationship with her husband seems to succeed or fail how any cause she might espouse supports her husband's programs. there are a number of ways that we i think try to decide what whether first lady successful or not. it gets tricky when you try to really put a number on it because so many of these causes are causes that are continued from first lady who proceeded them and and sometimes the the country changes so much that
that causes get abandoned because something else comes in their place. well, it seems to me that one of the things that we mentioned about martha washington. and again, we'll lead us into dolly is the concept of soft power and i am a pseudo historian. i'm really trained as a political scientist. so we like to think in terms of power and how power is used and defining power and typically political scientists and others. will define soft power as diplomatic power diplomacy cultural exchanges, and we know that first ladies certainly have excelled at that. so let's think in those terms in lynn. let's turn to dolly in that you called it catherine when we were first talking this unofficial role because again, this is a position that that is given to this woman. who's the spouse of the president simply because she's the spouse of the president.
yeah, and i mean i at some point somebody's going to ask the very rude question. why should we care about first lady and one of the things is that by studying first ladies the same way studying women their words their work their lives. we learn things we would not have known about and it cannot just be a record of contributions but constitutions and that it can change the narrative and maybe one of the things that's going to do for you political scientists. is to change that word soft power which sounds soft and not powerful because it may be this thing. we're calling soft power might be the power studying first. ladies brings out the study of the every day for instance the power of the everyday the power of material in different ways. so to address your question quite directly and using the roadmap you gave us she's good on this one james madison's major issue that he had to solve was the question of unity.
this was alluded to i think earlier in the day, but this was the time when the united states of america was referred to in the plural. the united states are right because nobody was sure this republican experiment was going to hold nobody the outsiders from europe looking with john just die and the people the new americans themselves. and james madison believed in unity, and he believed and he worried because he didn't think that enough unified the cold-blooded new englanders and the hot blooded virginians and he saw this group of people who were so very different and he said, you know, we don't have what he called veneration but history like we don't even have history. we don't have blood. we barely have a language and sometimes it will shake yet that we all understood each other, but we had to have unity so in theory, he understood unity. he didn't have the appetite, but if you think of it in that way and then you look at all the dolly madison did in helping to found and cement washington dc is the capital and finally save
it when you look at the parties where she brought people together in the room and made them behave. so they got to know each other's human beings. her role is the charismatic figure using her dress and her parties. all of that can be seen as fulfilling this role of unity and you might say unity which is an emotional or a psychological state is quote soft power but in the end, it's what got the united states of america into the singular through the war and off really often to democracy. and if you haven't read catherine's book on the madison's marriage, it's a it's a perfect union. correct the title. well, it's a perfect union because i do think james and dolly were perfectly matched different in a political but also proof union because as historians we always think what is the concatenation of person and circumstance and if the american revolution had never happened, i guess dolly would have just been a virginia gentry wife who through great parties
by the way, but she rose to those circumstances and just to get back to you use the word unofficial and again, this is i think shows us something important when i studied earlier republic and and i did read a little blue signs. i figured out that for politics to happen. you need two spheres and one is official and one is unofficial and the officials fair you all know. it's the speeches and the legislator legislation and the peace treaties and all of that. it's the product of politics, but then there's got to be a process. there's got to be a place. where people can get together and they can propose things. they might not propose in the official spotlight the glare of the spotlight they have to be able to negotiate. they also have to get to know each other as human beings. and that is the unofficial sphere and because that takes place in people's homes, and it's social events women are disproportionately represented
in that sphere, but you need both of those. and if somebody asked me, you know sometimes what's wrong with washington, which i don't like to come out on contemporary things. it's the lack of the unofficial sphere. there's no place where men and women can get together and understand that though you and i might have a very different idea of the public good. we do share a commitment to the public good and so again by studying first ladies, that's where you see the power of that and and and note the absence of it when when it's gone. right? well, i think the importance of dolly also is that she not only did this for her husband, but dolly then tutored several other first lady who came after her, you know after james madison died. she moved back to washington and she helped court a lot, but i think about sarah pope and you know james pope probably the most successful one-term president. we've had ran on four parts of a platform and accomplished all of them. he knew his health wasn't in great shape, so he didn't run for a second term, but sarah spent a lot of time learning from dolly. well, she really set the tone
for i mean decades. yeah, eleanor roosevelt being the exception that proved the rule but mrs. kennedy, i love that. she didn't like the idea of redecorating the white house a lot of people say dolly redecorated the white house, but what she did was restructure it in a way that mrs. kennedy would have proved by this is amazing that before dolly's white house, which is called the executive mansion and it would only be during her tenure where it would get that familiar loving nickname the white house there was no place in the in the capital city where all the men of government could get together. let alone their families let alone visiting diplomats. let alone visiting americans let alone anybody it was so what dolly did was she took that executive mansion and she turned it in to a center for entertaining where everybody in town would show up and they did and she threw weekly parties and they were as regular and as grueling as they sound but they became an independent and indispensable part of the washington political machine. and it's in those parties. i can tend that these people
learn to work together in a bipartisan ways going towards something they didn't even know is going to happen, which is that this one party republic was going to turn into a two-party democracy. you know, we're certainly still in in the earliest days of this office. but stacey focuses on the early 20th century first ladies, and so let's turn to her and thoughts about how the role had changed was it has it been changing. did it change did the civil war for example change it as we get closer than into the gilded age and then the 20th century before we talk about change. i think it's worth pointing out that what dr. algar has been describing is the consistent through the through the centuries. edith roosevelt for example provided a space where theodore roosevelt could meet together with booker t, washington that was not something it could have happened. just anywhere in washington dc, you know so that space that first ladies and first families
in general have provided for gathering americans across the political divide as has been a crucial part of it. i think that's why in historical historians solidarity with dr. algo there unofficially the unofficial sphere is such an important term rather than i know political science and soft power, but that unofficial sphere is integral to the what the first lady has always done even down to today. so changes. well, there's a there are many changes and we can talk more about these but it has to do with the growth of a gender expectations the growth of women's activity in the world as we move through the century the civil war. it makes changes women's war work and then as we get towards the gilded age and moving into the progressive era that's sort of work that women do in the world. to move out of their domestic sphere which was the socially
dictated acceptable place for women to be education and yeah, yep carry on there's met there's a million changes education is just one so certainly by the time you reach the first decade of 20th century and edith roosevelt helen taft. you have many solitaries, but many many differences, too. so well, i think just to defend my discipline. i think the reason why male political scientists focus on soft powers that they also focus on hard power and they want to make that distinction. of course, they view hard powers the military power and the economic sanctions all of which we're seeing now, but i think in this month of women's history, you know, we want to think certainly much more broadly beyond those two categories and when you mentioned women's history month, it's great that we're doing this now because i really think that if you look at the ark of american women's history, you have to look at first ladies. once again, we those of us who study first ladies say that they
mirror society and women's roles and so went by studying those first ladies you get this little microcosm of what was happening. we talked about this division of spheres. but they also produce change and so that arc of history were the changes and so you begin to see the first ladies for instance who have an education who have a college education lucy hayes the first one you see where the first ladies were on suffrage. and interestingly you did not have them favoring suffrage at least not explicitly because politically it would not have been wise for some of them to have done that because the suffragists were basically viewed as radical extremely radical and then when you look at temperance was another issue that was also tied in with the suffrage movement later and all of these women were held up to a certain standard as to whether they were serving wine or hard liquor or nothing in the way of alcoholic drinks in the white house and that all played in with the movement.
so it i really don't think you can separate first lady's history from american women's history. there's a paradox who that you're reminding me of which i think is also part of white women's history, which is this paradox if you had called dolly madison a feminist she would have been horrified first. you didn't confuse because nobody use that word, but she wouldn't horrified and and you would point out to her you'd say well mrs. madison, you know, you go get legislation passed for your you know constituency in virginia those revolutionary war pensions, and don't you get jobs for the sons of your friends and political supporters. that's called patronage mrs. madison, and she would say i am supporting my husband. so i'm supporting my husband and his goals and i'm not doing anything and that kind of denial of political intent or i guess political intent or ambition is so very typical, especially a middling and elite white women and you see it these women using
they're very conservative positions to actually foster what we call radical change right they had access to power and if you look at the anti-suffrage movement, it was often very elite women whose husbands were powerful positions who have posted because they had a pathway to power and so some of these women did not thinking about all the other women who didn't you know, you mentioned the i'm actually writing it. nita mcbride and nancy keegan smith who's some of you know, who was at the national archives for many years. and the second chapter of our book we the first chapter we look at this whole notion of the evolution of the position including when the title came into play, but our second chapter is on first ladies and civil rights. and we put that at the front of the book because we wanted to once again show this arc of history through the women who were the first lady and so you start with martha washington who brought in slave servants to the homes in both, new york and philadelphia and in
philadelphia, they were doing it pretty much they had to skirt the law if they had kept their enslaved servants there for more than six months. they were free. so they would send them back to mount vernon. and so there was this back and forth in order to evade this law. we had 10 families in the white house historical association because michelle obama brought that to their attention looked at slavery in the white house. so 10 different families had brought in slave servants and part of the reason some of them did it was that congress was so tight with the money for running the household and they had to use a lot of their own money. it was just they would bring their own enslaved servants with them to say, you know on the funds so we look in this chapter starting with martha washington and the contributions those early southern first ladies made to systemic racism. and then we get into. you know mary lincoln who has an african freed woman who is her dressmaker and she is giving
money to the freed slaves who have come to the dc area and are living hand to mouth and she's taking her own money and supporting them then you get up to eleanor roosevelt. you know who did amazing things and was actually on a hit list by the ku klux klan they had a bounty on her head for what she was doing to promote civil rights and to bring the issue of lynching out lady bird johnson's incredible whistle stop tour after the civil rights act in 64. so we really and then of course we get historic michelle obama, and so we trace that history and look at where these women sort of fit in from these elite southern women. up to michelle obama and i think it's a good way for people to see this relationship between first ladies in history and the impact. and social history stacy, i think did you have your oh, i was just going to just on the topic of suffrage. there were small cadre of elite women in america, of course who
did support suffrage but among elite women most of whom we can count the first ladies among. alice roosevelt longworth was a first daughter. once said i have more power around my dining room table then i have with one vote. yeah, that's a great kind of sum up that attitude. yeah. she also said if you can't say something nice come sit by me right didn't she have an embroidered pillow that said that on her couch, i love that. oh, can we circle back to mrs. lincoln? we don't want to quite park on the 20th 21st century, but some of you here know my personal story of how i became interested in the presidency in the white house's my dear mother took me to see john f kennedy campaigning and our hometown of louisville, kentucky in october of 1960. just one month before he was elected and i always start with that story because my mother was not a political scientist or historian. she was out in the suburbs of
louisville raising baby boomer children, and but was very well read and and a wonderful grammarian and a champion speller and and but she just was drawn to him we're catholic he was the same generation. he was a world war two veteran is it was my father but the next memory i have a i think i was about six was being taken to hodgenville, kentucky to see lincoln's birthplace. so one one moment taken to see an almost president one from some time before and then a couple years later my dad took me out to the airport in louisville to see ex-president eisenhower come through and he was campaigning in the 1962 midterm. so came from a very bipartisan household, but i always say that when i went as age six to see the presidential side of the birthplace of abraham lincoln as a six-year-old. what made the biggest impact on me was the replica of the log cabin that they have there in the replica of the lincoln memorial and the next thing that
made such an impact on me. they said this is a tree that was here when abraham lincoln was born and somehow just knowing that there was something living there from when he was born just made such an impact on me. so also as a native, kentucky and i have to think both about and mrs. lincoln, and we talked in one of the earlier panels, of course about all of us having to deal with different kinds of media, but she was really savaged in the media was she not during the civil war and so can we talk about that and and then maybe also get into the larger discussion of how first ladies have dealt with media and the changes in media. so i open that up to our group and i start with the dolly connection because this was her this was maybe a fatal decision on mary todd lincoln, by the way. i love that story because that really speaks to the power of place and person and sites presidential site absolutely and sites and the materiality of it and that's something else. we should have a whole another
panel on but so i think this is true so mary todd lincoln try to make a sort of kinship connection with dolly madison because dolly had had a first husband john todd who perished in a yellow fever plague and the todd thing was the mary todd mary. lincoln dolly todd madison, okay. and so she tried to emulate dolly and so i meant it when i said dolly set the tone for first ladies for you know two centuries, but she was kind of tone deaf, right? like she threw parties in a war which dolly had done but that wars 1812 wars all happening out there, but the battlefield was like a mile away in virginia. i was just it was bad news, wasn't it? far be it for me to be a mary todd lincoln apologist, but it's worth noting before diana jumps into this because i can. see no first lady. ever gets it right. yeah some big portion of america
says you're doing it completely wrong and it should be this way and the other half of america says you're just perfect darling. keep going. no. no first lady ever gets it, right and so mary todd lincoln had her supporters. she's certainly had a lot of detractors and even among his stories today who study here. there are first lady. i guess i would say first lady scholars of different backgrounds who would find mary todd lincoln a figure of tremendous pathos. yes. yes, definitely with a terror just a terrible terrible life and who didn't deserve nearly the criticism she got but she was sort of tone deaf about the parties and the dresses and the money she spent and even her own husband had to say, you know, mary you have to dial back some of this grief because remember the rest of the country's grieving as well. so she's again. i'm not going to be an apologist, but no first lady has ever had a hundred percent thumbs up from the country. well and the thing with mary lincoln too was that she did a lot of very good things she did
but she didn't understand public relations as she probably should have she was savaged both in the northern press and the southern press because she was a kentuckyian some of her she came from she had a blended family because her mother had died when she was younger father remarried. she had half brothers who were fighting on behalf of confederacy. so some of the northerners considered her a traitor and of course the south considered her a traitor being married to abraham lincoln and and being the wife of the president so she really was never going to please everybody whether it was in the north or the south and and she was also a westerner. and this was something that other first ladies rachel jackson for example died before her husband was inaugurated and some people believe that it was the way she was savaged in the press they accused they they pictured her as this corn cob smoking woman. of course, they accused her being a bigamist and the press was so horrible. you know, she had a stroke and died before he took office and they they did the same thing to
margaret taylor who was an educated woman and tried to portray her also as this corn cob that was sort of the stereotype of somebody from the west if you were in east coast occupant of dc and so mary went through some of that too that she wasn't quite dignified enough so some of her spending came from her wanting to fit in to this social milieu of washington dc and be acceptable as someone who was refined. but she was savaged in the press, but she also went to the the hospitals she would write for wounded soldiers. none of that really came out much at the time and then the support that she gave like i mentioned in our chapter on first ladies and civil rights where she was actually giving money to former slaves to help them live. and this was a type of thing. that didn't come out at that point in time where she needed to take a page out of julia tyler who was john tyler's
second wife who hired a press agent. and made sure that certain articles were placed about her and what she was doing and mary just didn't get her positive story out as much as she needed to. well, let's move fully and squarely into the 20th century and again back to media and i'm thinking stacey of changes in visual media coming on yellow journalism. how does that affect first ladies at that early part of the 20th century you've written so extensively written on alice roosevelt longworth for example written on your latest book is on elizabeth arden, correct and how women i'm presuming present themselves. so and if you would like to weave in the fashion component one of our young colleagues talked at the pre lunch panel about her podcast that she gets young people interested in talking about the fashions of carolyn bessette and and they end up being interested in the in the new frontier. so how have first ladies as we
get into the more visual side of the media and electronic media begin to have an impact in that way. frankie cleveland was the youngest first lady it's about 21 years old. and she was a kind of a celebrity herself partly her youth partly the interest in the relationship. she was married to a sitting president where she married grover cleveland and you know, she became her her face her name got put on advertisements. she could do nothing about it drove grover cleveland crazy that his wife was used in this way. but, you know wherever she went. she had crowds following her. there's tremendous interest among the american people in frankie, cleveland. and so, you know, this isn't too far ahead in into the 20th century as we moved to the 20th
century, but you know eda throws well by the time we get to that point. edith roosevelt was very protective of her family of her children. she loathed what she referred to as camera fiends. didn't didn't want the the photographers around and had post pictures of all the children taken so that they could be released when the newspapers wanted them. she really did not want her children and again, the protection of one's children is another through line that goes all the way from the very beginning to today. you know, melania trump didn't want to move into the white house until barron had finished his schooling up there. so, so the the newspapers the vast increase in the number and types of newspapers published at the end of the 19th century into the 20th century is part of it many more sort of photographic sections in newspapers and then the women's magazines in particulars. they came out began to feature first ladies and much of what
they said was true in a good bit was not first ladies tended not to give interviews to journalists of any sort and when they did they did not want to be quoted partly. that was a fear of saying something that would detract from their husbands. program or his presidency in some way, but it was very clear very early on back to dr. august era that the arab study that the first lady was a phenomenal interest to people so trying to keep the camera fiends away was almost a no-hoper. yeah, and i mean we have to look at those again these one of the things women's history has done for us is brought new topics into what quote what is history including things like fashion and sociability and it's important whenever it's a first lady it's never personal. it is always got a policy component. so dolly madison is very sort of authentic personality became a tool of policy for james
madison, and she also used fashion and my form of the media because the media at the time didn't do things like you're talking about we're observers, so i would when i was researching dolly madison, i was terribly interested in her outfits and and people's reaction to her and everybody wrote about her. so if you went to one of these parties you saw on the street you wrote home about it, and i enjoyed all of reading all of these descriptions of the outfits and the way she was with people and then i realized that these were not just celebrity mentions that these were actually a form of political analysis because they were looking at her and evaluating her is whether she was the of the right. ruling class. is this a proper person and one of the things that dolly did is she wrote that line that i sort of mentioned between, you know republican virtue exemplified by james madison who was such a non-entity that he got lost in his own parties. and queen dolly who swanned around and fantastical outfits. so she was dolly madison was not
a well-dressed woman of fashion. she also did not dress like a real queen in europe. i don't think she knew what that was. she dressed like what americans would imagine a queen would be so fabulous materials, and yes the turbines with the feathers so that when she's walking around that room and the white house, you know, where she is everywhere she goes and and in fact these outfits which were almost like the colors and the -- they were kind of crazy. they unlike a real queen's outfit. she could move quite freely because she needed to come out she needed to connect and she needed to touch and people are writing about this and writing about this and and you understand that this is again not just as what what was she wearing? you know, it was trying to evaluate who this person was and for the most part though dolly had her haters too. so i have to run. yes. she did. she got it right people were very satisfied that they were they had their own. and that was queen dolly democratic queen, but a queen dolly part of mrs. lincoln's problem was as diana said the
country is at war so she spent too much under clothing then she was criticized for that every first lady going way back to martha washington has had to walk a fine line between saying i my white house will reflect the best of europe we will be and we will be a washington dc that fits in with every european capital and you can see this in the way that the white house is the the interior designs and you can see in the way dress for example. and on the other side, there are first ladies who had to say no that we are going to showcase the best of american art and culture and and i am not going to dress like i were, you know a european queen so you think about mrs. carter, for example, i'm really skipping ahead now, but rosalyn carter made a virtue in addressing like the everyday woman back up to edith roosevelt who felt this? keenly edith roseville was not particularly a fashion plate and she and her daughter got very
good at sending out different slightly different descriptions of the exact same dress to the press. so to find that fine line between being criticized for spending too much money and not spending enough money someone once said of edith, roseville. something like either throws out says she dressed on three hundred dollars a year and she looks it. fine line very difficult to find that middle ground and we can think of the more recent first ladies and my favorite jacqueline kennedy during the campaign and we now think of her as this beautiful fashion icon, but during the campaign of 1960. she was being criticized. she says in our oral history the things that used to be viewed as a handicapped to my husband. they said because i spoke french or because i dressed in a beautiful way that that was detracting from my husband then she said when i became first lady then that seemed to help but during the campaign she was it was quoted in the paper that
someone said she spent $30,000 right a year on on her clothing and she fired back and she said, oh i couldn't spend that much if i were sable underwear, and so she she took it nancy reagan, of course ran into this she was being her loaned beautiful designer gowns for events at the white house and other events and then there was a criticism of was she paying for those or not and when it came out that perhaps she was not pain and not just having them loan to her, but she was keeping them in her closet. so you might remember at the white house correspondence dinners. she did that great send-up of herself where she dressed like carol burnett's char woman and and sent came out into the tune of secondhand rose and i'm wearing second hand clothes. i'm wearing second and close and she brought the house down and and if if you are being attacked and you can make fun of yourself or poke fun at yourself, that's
a lesson, of course to be learned. let's talk about some other technological changes. that would have changed the role of first lady and that is as travel became more of an opportunity and ease or ease of travel. so the railroads come into being and then obviously planes about all of the first ladies that you know, and you've studied and what travel then actually contributed to their own work and to the work of their husbands. well, the pokes did a trip down to the south. and sarah polk went with him. and this was one of the early opportunities for a woman to be beside her husband someplace outside of washington. you know, this was the thing if anyone knew about the first ladies outside of the washington area, it was either in their home state or from what they were reading in the press and so with train travel it then gave the wives an opportunity to travel with the husbands, so they had a very successful run down.
through several states and that i think was important for some of her image. the clevelands traveled together there were several others garfields so early on after the train, you know, the lincolns came. from illinois to washington on a train from springfield and had stops all along the way so people got to see the first lady before inauguration. so it really was important beginning to travel around the country is around the country so citizens who won't normally be able to be in washington get a sense of who the first family is and mrs. wilson went abroad than with withrow wilson the second mrs. wilson, correct? yes the war. yes, and just before that. this is a another topic that that comes together first lady scholars tend to look at when did first ladies begin to campaign with their husbands? and so these opportunities to with the husband?
began to overlap with campaigning some wives went either throws out went for example on trips when he was campaigning not even always for himself and in part to see what he did, you know, so it was useful first ladies or potential first ladies to see how their husbands interacted with the public. so edith. well the second mrs. wilson. ellen wilson was woodrow wilson's first wife and she died in the white house. so when president wilson remarried his second wife edith went abroad with him during the time. he was negotiating the treaty of versa to conclude world war one. and this was a very important moment for her to see her husband acclaimed essentially as the savior of the of the war. so that was that was an important step forward. but even your closer to your eras the lady bird johnson and the whistle stop. yes in the whistles up you and
yeah, so even in the era of plane travel you of course had truman doing the the whistle stop and then ladybird in 64 as i mentioned, which was an incredibly important trip in that gave her a chance to travel and to begin seeing that it was okay for women to to campaign for their husbands to be surrogates. you know, that's one thing we haven't really talked about yet. is this whole surrogate ocean and how the wife can do a lot to restore a president's image and you mentioned frankie cleveland who became francis cleveland after she married you don't know he had been her father was his law partner and her father died when she was very young and he was her ward essentially and everyone thought he was going to marry her mother. and she did a tour of europe after she graduated from college and there were all these rumors and they she came back from her european tour and he buries the daughter instead of the mother. so everyone was enthralled but if you remember also grover
cleveland mama, where's my paw gone to the white house? hahaha. so by marrying frankie cleveland, he really had a redemption of his image and then when he came in for a second term, they had they be ruth the candy bars named after they now have a young child and they had just and the first child born in the white house was the cleveland's second daughter. so it was a rehabilitation of grover cleveland's image by marrying francis, and she even had to make some public statements. there were rumors that he was abusive and so she went on record publicly about what a great husband he was and on and on and so people saw change in him. and so there was a very different grover cleveland as a result. and women, you know betty ford vote for betty's husband because everybody loved betty ford, and we've seen more and more of that that the wives often have higher ratings than the husbands and i don't think of that as surrogate in the sense of a substitute. i think it's an addition. so sea mart seymour martin lipset had a who's a political
scientist at a category called the charismatic figure and he was talking about george washington that way and dolly madison really pioneered this role, which is that you could be this carrier of your husband's message. you could be a larger than life entity that had good and bad things because you could also be a but you could be imparting messages of authority and legitimacy of reassurance of americanness of modernity the way jacqueline kennedy did and michelle obama, so it's like an extension a personification of your husband's message. yeah. so lazy bird did that really well with great society programs extremely well, and another change that happens to get back to your question barbara earlier along these lines is women who open up the role of the first lady by opening simultaneously opening up the white house to the people. i'm thinking about women who were more forthcoming about their health. i mean, you know mrs. ford betty
ford is our probably our best example, but she's not the first one who was less private about her health concerns and so shared with with the american people what was going on before before then there was a lot of health concerns hidden both of the president and the first lady and when betty ford allowed americans to learn about her breast cancer, this is something that we can actually put a number two. we know for a fact that in this way. i think betty ford saved, who knows how many lives because women went and got mammograms after this happened and she was it was a kind of bravery. it's hard to reimagine. although some of you will know at that time. we didn't even say the word cancer let alone the word breath, you know, so this is the first lady going beyond what her husband had originally imagined right and as you say can be quantified indeed last point speaking of being open and opened up we would like you to
come to the microphones and ask your questions now and while you're thinking of those just a last point about travel by first ladies, it's exactly 60 years ago this month that mrs. kennedy undertook her trip to pakistan and india by herself did not that is did not go with the and and those two countries are always a bit tense and certainly during the cold war. she did take her sister lee reds will but they had a really charming and and wonderful trip and that is that concept of diplomacy and carrying the image of the country in the cold war when we were trying to tell those countries. we called them then third world that we would say developing but we were trying to get them to our side so they wouldn't join in the the communist side or the soviet sphere the chinese sphere and she was able to present the country abroad and certainly at home. so with that let me bring my friend and thank you, dr. perry.
you can take this as broadly or as narrowly as you desire but in your opinion, which first lady singular or i guess couple first ladies plural wielded the most power during their time in the white house. so the question i think most first ladies scholars would come up with would be edith wilson, right? i the answer rather. no, dr. august looked at me like maybe not. i'm pondering and that was such a tricky question. very good. very good. lawyer that was why that was tricky. there you go. woodrow wilson was in terrible health throughout most of his life in fact, and we look back on this now and we see the perhaps he was having. many strokes as it were during his marriage to his first wife. so the the terrible health problems. he had during his second marriage that led up to his paralysis and his inability real well separate process inability
to conduct the business estate. i think is is probably what leads to the answer of edith wilson, and she i think edith wilson also because she becomes the the example of what not to do is first lady edith wilson overstepped bounds. she she decided when when president wilson was so ill she made several decisions about him that resulted in her. not exactly running the country, but she certainly misled the american people. she decided not to tell him the extent of his ill health. she decided not to tell the cabinet the extent of his ill health. she decided not to tell the american people the extent it was ill health. she decided that he should not step down. although there was no we didn't have a requirement for that and the vice president was widely seen as week or inconsequential and she continued to insist that he would be able to continue to be service president.
she decided which mail he would see she decided which people would come to him. she decided which topics he should take up. she determined the timing of all this and this is all happening in the context of trying to bring a conclusion to world war one. so edith wilson is the is the person that we look back to and say you step too far and and we see this because even during nancy reagan's time when they were intimations that nancy reagan was was too powerful wore the pants in the reagan family too many times journalists at the time called upon edith wilson and suggested in nancy reagan that she was going to make a misstep akin to mrs. wilson's there are many other i mean many many many first ladies who are very powerful, but i think that the answer would probably start with edith wilson. all right, so i'm gonna make this case i knew she would i'm gonna do it. so it's the end of of the war of 1812. been in this war nothing this is the war that shouldn't have even ended before began.
they conceded the british conceded don't made me explain it they conceited but we had the war anyway, and at the end of it loss of treasure lives. nothing gained capital burned to the ground. and yet the celebrations of this war this is right at the end of madison the madison presidency and james and dolly go off and a golden glow. in fact, they can't leave town after the inauguration because people just want to give them parties and everybody is celebrating this warm. it's making the americans outbreak gallatin said feel more american than ever. they're jumping with joy. how did that happen? and i would say that it was dolly madison's efforts during the war of 1812 to unify the capital unify the country emerge as the savior of washington city as one of the early stories that just made americans feel pretty darn good about this. and that really was the era of good feelings. i don't have convinced you. i'd go ahead. yeah, i'd put in a plug also for
sarah poke and amy greenberg's biography of her is outstanding. i highly recommend it. it's a lady first is the title, but she was essentially the chief of staff. she you know, he as i said had health issues and she was perceived by many as very powerful. she was very savvy she knew how to work her way around washington and followed a lot of the dolly madison getting the right people together. both people on both sides of the aisle respected her, but she would read the newspapers every morning and give him a summary. she worked on his speeches when he was running for governor of tennessee. she was back in his second campaign when he was incumbent governor. she was essentially watching over the governorship while he campaigned and she took a lot of that same practice to the white house so she would give him far more advice and he'd listen to her advice more than some of his cabinet officials. and so she and when she was accused of being too powerful or
controlling him, she would essentially say, you know, i'm saving his health she also managed his schedule to try to once again save his energy and so this would be i'm just being a good wife. so she used that domestic sphere as her defense that i'm just looking out for his well-being so that he can be president and do the right things and that was how she deflected some of the criticism but she was essentially a chief of staff to him grace coolidge was much beloved by the american people in large measure because she was a very traditional wife who dressed very well was a very good mother suffered the grief of a death of a child in the white house, but one of the reasons that people like grace college so much is because three first ladies who came before her or why they considered to have had a little too much power. so edith wilson and helen here in taft and florence harding all very powerful first ladies. so grace benefited from that.
there is a blowback though, isn't there on this accountability and mike dean elected for the first ladies who come after a first lady who's perceived his powerful whether they want to cut back or not. i think they feel the pressure from the public to do that. we have a question here. yes, i've heard edith wilson referred to as our first female president, and i'm also surprised in this discussion that you haven't mentioned eleanor roosevelt, but that's not my question. my question is political writers and pundits are very free about ranking our best president in our worst presidents, and i wonder if you would go so far as to maybe talk about who are our good first. ladies and who were our worst and i know a lot of people get that. they're not elected. they're thrust into the position and some people rise to the occasion and some don't but i just wonder if you would be
involved in ranking or judge that this audience likes trouble. it's a project to work on to be sure i didn't want to take the chairs prerogative, but i will speak about eleanor roosevelt. anyone here from hyde park. well, i'll tell you another site story. then my upcoming book will be on the political relationship between john kennedy and eleanor roosevelt. and we could have a discussion on the power of first ladies after they leave the white house because so many of them had continuing power or maybe even more power but after they left the white house and certainly eleanor roosevelt would fall into a category such as that, but she was was let's put it this way very influential on our topic today if for no other reasons the longevity of her time in the white house because of her husband's 12 years there, but i became interested in this particular topic at the site at
the hyde park side. i had not been there until 2010 and of course i went through the main house where fdr was born and i didn't i didn't realize i had a personal relationship with him as i have felt with president kennedy because of my mother taking me to see him and yet i had all these stories that had collected from my parents and my aunts and uncles about coming along in the depression and what fdr and eleanor roosevelt meant to them. and so the ranger the park ranger was taking us through the mansion and we turned a corner and he said this is the room where franklin roosevelt was born and i burst into tears a very embarrassing to my friend who was accompanying me because i was sobbing on his shoulder, but then we went to val kill to see mrs. roosevelt's home that she had built in part to have her own life and let's face it to get away from her domineering mother-in-law and i saw this
picture of president kennedy then candidate kennedy coming out of the valquil living room eleanor lead in the way with these brilliant bright smiles and yet i knew they had a problematic relationship politically and so i wanted to study that so that will be my next book, but certainly you would have to put her at or near the top in terms of influential not only again during her first ladyship all of the work that she did in so many fields you've already mentioned we did mention her. relation for example to civil rights. she was always telling her husband, you know, please get the anti-linching bill through congress and yet we have to say we've said sort of the negative of they're not being elected and accountable but in some ways that was a problem fdr was saying look i have to run and i also have to keep on my side the two-thirds of the senate and the house who are southern democrats and in order to get my new deal legislation pass through i can't put them off by supporting the
anti lynching bill. so sometimes the first ladies have that advantage of not having to worry about being on the ballot and then sometimes they can't do what they want because they're not on the ballot. but anyway, we'd have to put her up there and then to have led as our really our in some ways our first ambassador to the united nations when it was founded after husband's death after the war after world war two the declaration of human rights the universal declaration of human rights and then i'll give her a out because in a way she helped jack kennedy be elected because they buried the hatchet at a lunch at valkil in august of 1960 and they didn't bury it in each other. so they yeah they came to common ground as we talked about last night at the at the wonderful panel, you know, can we not find common ground those were two people in the same party, but had very different backgrounds and very different views and they found common ground and worked with each other and by the way again given that we're in the women's history month
president kennedy named mrs. roosevelt to chair his president's commission on the status of women, and that led to having similar commissions on women's rights in the status of women in every one of the 50 states and eventually led to the founding of the national organization of women and what we consider to be the modern feminist movement and eleanor in response to the ranking eleanor on most of the polls that have been taking is number one and we'll stay there and i think the reason we mentioned her as one of the powerful first ladies. i think we were thinking of it more in terms of directing the president or like you said usurping wilson, but she redefined what a first lady could be. and that's why i think she's up there at the top. she was the first really activist first lady. she showed how she could go out and really promote what her husband was doing. she was his eyes his legs his ears and so in that sense, it wasn't her own agenda. she was really furthering his
and providing him with that feedback from around the country that he couldn't personally get because of his physical limitations and i think i think you brought this up, but we're successfully avoiding her questions. so we have heard it. we are now sidestepping it but i do i do think looking at what a first lady does afterwards because they sometimes wake up to their power and i would include mrs. laura bush in that and incredibly active post first lady lady. yeah, yes. i mean so there we go. we'll be seen her this evening, right? yes next question. thank you very much for all of your insight when i think about the influence that first lady may have i think about the resources that the first lady may need to make that influence. so, can you talk about how the the budget for the first lady has involved over the years? we yes, we may need to call it in here. maybe it's there isn't one there. hadn't been one or even office space or anything else like
that. you know, the east wing is a relatively new phenomenon within the white house from a physical space edith roosevelt was the first to actually hire someone to work for her and then for many years they were conscripting people from other departments to help out and agencies, but you know people are shocked when i i do a lot of public lectures on first ladies for both students and other groups and they're all they say. well, how much does the first lady get paid, you know zero and and they're stunned. it's like well, but it's a full-time job. yes, either throws about higher the first social secretary, but she did. pay for the caterers out of her own pocket. you know, what, would you rather do right the letters or make the meals? anita would be a wonderful person to talk to you about that the money actually she'd be our best expert. yeah. hi, thank you so much for this discussion this afternoon.
it's my understanding that eleanor roosevelt. really didn't enjoy the public eye at first and somewhat struggled with. with having that that public persona and getting involved, but then she she really made a breakthrough and became one of our most remembered first ladies. my question is are there other first ladies who had a similar struggle like that and then made that breakthrough and were able to make some really important. changes in their experience well, there were several who? had at least many years before the presidency to take care of some of that both bushes. i think laura bush did not expect to be married to a politician and barbara bush was terrified of public speaking and the way she developed on the
communication person. so i really study a lot about what they do with their public speaking, but she she would do slide shows when she would go back to texas. she would take her children around all the monuments when he was in congress, and she developed her public speaking skills from doing slideshows back in texas so that she had a crutch and they were looking at her lady bird johnson sabotage being valedictorian of her high school graduating class. she purposely got a bee in a class so that she wouldn't be so she wouldn't have to give a speech. and she took a public speaking course with a group of other senate wives and that was how she got over it and she wasn't excited when she married linden. i mean many of these women came into this reluctantly but then saw because they had a public service commitment that this was something that was very important to the country and that they could make a real contribution. so they overcame fears of public speaking they overcame, you know
the fear of being out there in the public is all in a roosevelt and so many of the other ones did but it's really more common. we had a few wives actually prayed mrs. pierce that her husband wouldn't win because she didn't want to get involved in most first ladies said they didn't want to be first lady and and some of them that were sort of duped along the way it was joe biden who said to jill nothing will change nothing will change for you when you marry me and of course eleanor roosevelt, i think we could say started out as an introvert. but she had to become available to be her husband's legs when polio afflicted him in the early 20s. and so that's when she started really going out to speak in that case for him or keep his name out in public and really took lessons from louis howe his his great political advisor and then because she had done that she actually took public speaking lessons. she began writing to president kennedy once he was in the white house and told him he needed to
see a public speech expert to improve his public speaking. what did ted sorensen i don't think she can play she didn't complain about the speech content. she wrote a very complimentary note about his inaugural address, but later on she said you do need your throat is too tight. hello. my name is jill scotty, and i'm the superintendent of jimmy carter national historical park. thank you and i want to say something that i say about 10 times a day mrs. carter's name is pronounced rosalyn. she's named after her aunt lynn and her cousin rose and i always tell people remember rose garden rosalind, so wanted to just make that clear. thank you. thank you. well, thank you very much barbara if you would allow me to say something in the minute we have left. yes have one minute and catherine wishes to speak. um, it's been this has been wonderful and i've done several of these programs for the white house historical association, and i've been in the first lady game about 25 years and what's
been amazing for me is to see how it's grown as a field of study. it started to be an almost like compulsive focus on biography and it really wasn't clear really why you should care about a particular first lady. some of them were fascinating some of them weren't none of them plan to be first lady pretty much and it's grown from that to actually being an intellectually sophisticated category of analysis. we're looking at first ladies. tell us something about women about power about american. tree and the white house historical association has played such a large part in that and it shouldn't be surprising. it was founded by our first lady, but the truth is understood there has been a real focus on first lady studies taking it seriously obviously having anita mcbride as the leadership in the organization has sharpened that and it has been my pleasure to sit with these women and other women over the years and watch this field
grow. you've mentioned flair and flair which tell us what is this again? first lady is association for research and education. it's brand fairly brand new and it really i would say it is that it is the child of the white house historical association's focus on first lady, so i just want to thank you anita and stuart wherever you are, but thank you so much. thank you. thank you.
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