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tv   First Ladies - Influence Impact  CSPAN  November 24, 2022 10:35am-11:47am EST

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four children. i would be very interested to know that. >> i would say, tell me what you think about thomas jefferson. >> what great questions. thank you all for being here. >> our conversation can continue out on the reception area, i ask
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that flora fraser be out to the stare before the crowd really fills and if you can start. moving thank you all, thank you for frazier. so wonderfully would all be here tonight.. did you know that all of c-span's american history program to reveal the watch online. go to slash history and type your topic of interest into the search box. thousands of programs looking into the people in places that shaped our nation. all available online at slash history >> this session, first ladies -- impact and influence, will explore the many ways in which first ladies have shaped history as the closest adviser to the president. as advocates for both change and continuity, as well as how the influence america's society, politics, culture, and diplomacy. now, i have a very great pleasure of introducing what many people consider the brightest jewels
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in the crown of first lady historians of america. so starting with dr. barbara perry, and while doctor perry is walking up here, it should be noted that she just came out today with an article in the publication the hill, on the first ladies and war. and as barbara said, she was inspired by the association. she is the gerald l. baliles professor and director of presidential studies at the university of virginia 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 doctor diana carlin, professor emerita of communications, and many have called her the queen of
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communications. [laughter] at st. louis university. and then we have doctor catherine allgor, who made a very fabulous statement earlier today in this session, the president of the massachusetts historical society. and dr. stacy cordery, which i understand is the british way to pronounce it -- and she is the dennis and vaune johnson endowed chair of theodore roosevelt honors leadership studies that dickinson state university. this is an incredible panel. and as stewart 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. [applause]
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>> well, welcome everyone to this panel on first ladies. thank you, theresa, for that very nice introduction. thank you to stewart 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 whose work has inspired mine over the years. so i'm very grateful to them. so as teresa said, we are going to be looking at first ladies today and thinking about their influence on their president husbands. we are 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 if it might be a good or bad thing. let me start -- i'd like when the last
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panel, we said let's do a flash poll. how many of you either work in the field of 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 for those of you who don't, we hope you spread the word about first ladies and f.l.a.r.e. 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, and office is, 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 wanted to start with the very first first ladies, and i also want to turn as well to catherine allgor, because she's
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a specialist on the founding first ladies as well, and particularly dolley madison. so let me turn to diana first. >> well i don't think you can really study the presidency without studying the first ladies. you know, i'm biased, but i believe that. that it really started because this has been a partnership from the beginning. when martha washington arrived in new york, a couple of months after the president had arrived, she was greeted with, by the president in a barge, he then, in new jersey, rode 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 realized 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 his members of congress there, and that they 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
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two person career from the very beginning. and she had abigail at her side, and i'll 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 was a partner, as she had been with the president all through their marriage and through those years during the revolutionary war, where she would go to the camps, and winter camps every year. and would assist him and try to keep morale 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
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british past, but she was also an example of what a southern lady would be. so, that was the beginning. >> great. >> i just think it's really striking. so, in other venues, i've actually said that dolly madison was the first first lady. and i'm prepared to defend 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 in 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 have rebelled against the monarchy. they were going to create the world anew, the world turned upside down. anti-monarchical,
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anti king, anti royalty. it's all going to be new. except when it came to ruling, they realized that the only vocabulary of power they had was monarchical and aristo-, 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 through, 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? what would convey a sense to the outsiders, who were not sure this america thing was going to work, and the new americans, who were not sure this america thing was going to work, and 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 kind of vestige of royalty. and that's why i think lady washington and dolley madison is going to be lady, but she's also going to be queen dolly, yes. >> yes. >> yes.
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>> so thoughts about -- and we can't leave the founding -- we -- certainly get to more dolley 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. any thoughts about abigail and john adams? and moving into the white house? >> well, yes. and they were the first couple to move into the white house. but nobody stayed terribly long. they weren't impressed. i think abigail, in some ways, embodies another part of 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 adviser. and in the spirit of republican
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virtue, that's small r republican virtue, john adams made a terrible decision not to change his cabinet, so he ended up with a cabinet full of traitors all working behind his back, he was always relying on abigail, but in that particular circumstance, she really was his very closest adviser. >> and that's fascinating that you mentioned 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, or 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 dolley, let me turn to my colleague stacy, and we did have a panel some months ago in the midst of the pandemic, when we were always online, doing
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these great panels for the white house historical association and for f.l.a.r.e., and, stacy came up with a set of, i guess you would call them road maps or criteria, does if 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 signposts that we might see? and then afterwards, how do we know? what are some of the signals that a first lady 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 commonsensical. 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. we take a sounding of what americans think about how well their president's succeeding, how well is the first ladies standing in that as well? we will get to 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
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decide what, whether a first lady is 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 ladies who preceded them. and sometimes the country changes so much 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 will lead us into dolley is this 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.
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and we know that first ladies certainly have excelled at that. so, let's think in those terms, and then let's turn to dolley, in that, you called it, catherine, when we were talking, this unofficial role. because again, this is a position 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, at some point, somebody is going to ask the very rude question, why should we care about first ladies? [laughter] and one of the things is that by studying first lady, the same way studying women, their words, their work, their life, 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 it's going to do for you political scientists is to change that word soft power, which sounds soft, and not powerful. because
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it may be this thing we are calling soft power, might be the power. studying first ladies brings up the study of the everyday, for instance. the power of the every day, the power of material culture, 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 earlier in the day, but this was a 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 a jaundiced eye, and the people, actually, new americans themselves. and james madison believed in unity and he believed, he worried, because they 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,
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you know, we don't have what he called veneration, that history, we don't even have history, we don't have blood, we barely have a language. and sometimes a little shaky at that, 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 in that way and then you look at all that dolley madison did in helping to found and cement washington, d. c., as the capital, and finally save it, when you look at the parties where she brought people together in a room and made them behave so they got to know each other as human beings, her role as 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 really off into democracy. >> and if you haven't read catherine's book on the madison's marriage, it's a perfect union, correct, the title? >> well, it's a perfect union. because i do think james and
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dolley were perfectly matched. different politically but also a perfect 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 dolley would have just been a virginia gentry wife who threw great parties. but she rose to those circumstances. and just to get back to -- you use the word unofficial. and again. this was, i think this shows us something important. when i studied the old republic, and i did read a little political science, i figured out that for politics to happen, you need two spheres. and one is official and one is unofficial. and the official sphere you all know, it's the speeches, the legislator, the legislation, the peace treaties and all 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
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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 at social events, women are disproportionately represented in that sphere. but you need both of those. and if -- somebody asks me yes, sometimes, what's wrong with washington, which i don't like to comment 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 different idea of the public good, we do share commitment to the public good. and so again, by studying first lady, that's where you see the power of that. and note the absence of it when it's gone. >> right. well, i think the importance of dolley, also, is that she not only did this with her husband, but dolley then tutored several other first ladies that came after her. you know, after james madison died, she moved back to washington
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and she held court a lot. but i think about sarah polk. and you know, james polk, probably the most successful one term president we've had, ran on for fifths 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 dolley. >> but she set the tone for, i mean, decades. eleanor roosevelt was about being the exception that proves the rule. mrs. kennedy, i know she didn't like the idea of redecorating the white house. a lot of people see dolley redecorated the white house. but what she did was restructured it in a way that mrs. kennedy would've approved. this is amazing that before dolley's white house which was called the executive mansion and, it would only be during her tenure that it would get a familiar loving nickname, white house. there was no place in the capital city where all the men of government could get together. let alone their families. let alone visiting diplomats, let alone visiting americas, let alone anybody. it
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was, and what dolly did was she took that executive mansion and she turned it into 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 and an indispensable part of the washington political machine. and it's in those parties, i contend, that these people learn to work together in bipartisan ways, going towards something they didn't even know what's going to happen, which was that one party republic was going to turn into a two party democracy. >> you know, we are certainly still 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. has it been changing? did it change? did the civil war, for example, change it as we get closer then into the gilded age and then to the 20th century? >> before we talk about change i think it's worth talking about that what doctor allgor has been describing is
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consistent through the centuries. edith roosevelt, for example, provided a space where theodore roosevelt could meet together with the booker t. washington. that was not something that could have happened just anywhere in washington d. c. and so, that space that first ladies and first families in general have provided for gathering americans across the political divide has been a crucial part of it. i think that's why in historical, historian solidarity with dr. allgor there -- the unofficials sphere, it is such an important term rather than -- i know, political science and soft power -- but the unofficial sphere is integral to what the first lady has always done, even down to today. so changes, well there are many changes in and we can talk more about these, but it has to do with the growth of gender expectations, the growth of women's activity in the world
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as we move through the century of civil war, it makes changes. women's war work. and then as we get toward the gilded age and moving into the progressive era, the 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. >> just education. >> yes. yes, carry on. there's a million changes. education is just one. so certainly by the time we reach the first decade of the 20th century and edith roosevelt, helen taft, you have many similarities but many, many differences too. >> well i think, just to defend my discipline, i think that a reason why male political scientists focus on soft power is that they also focus on hard power. and they want to make that distinction. of course they view hard power as the military power and the economic sanctions, all of which we're
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seeing now. but i think in the 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 arc of american women's history, you have to look at first ladies once again. those of us who study first ladies say that they mirror society and women's roles. and so, 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 changes and you start to see first ladies, for instance, who have an education, who have a college education. lucy hayes was 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
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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, i really don't think you can separate first ladies history from american women's history. >> and there's a paradox too, that you're reminding me of, which is also part of white women's history, which is this paradox. if you had called dolley madison feminist she would have been horrified. first, she would have been be confused because nobody used that word. but she would have been horrified. and people would point out to her, you say, well, mrs. madison, you know, you go get legislation passed for your, you know, constituents 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. you know, so i'm
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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 in middling and elite white women, and you see these women using their conservative positions to actually foster what we'd call radical change. >> and you know, they had access to power. and if you look at the anti suffrage movement, it is often very elite women whose husbands had been in powerful positions who opposed it, 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 book that i'm actually writing with anita mcbride, and nancy keegan smith, who is somebody, you know, is
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that was at the national archives for many years. and the second chapter of a book, 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 two 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. he had ten families in the white house historical association, because michelle obama brought that to their attention, looked at slavery in the white house. so, ten 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
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household and they had to use a lot of their 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 meet to systemic racism, and then we get into mary lincoln, who has an african, african woman, who is our dressmaker. and she is giving money to the freed slaves who have come to the d. c. area, and are living hand to mouth, and she's taking her own money and supporting them. and 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. then of course we get historic michelle
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obama. and so we trace that history and look at where these women sort of fit in from the elite southern women up to a 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 too. stacy, i think, did you have your? >> oh, i was going to just go, on the topic of suffrage, there were a 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, who was a first daughter, once said, i have more power around my dining room table than i have with one vote. >> yeah, that's a great kind of sum of that attitude. yeah. >> she also said, if you can't say something nice, come sit by me, right? >> [laughter] >> didn't she have an embroidered pillow on her couch? >>
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>> [inaudible] i love that. can we circle, back to mrs. lincoln? we don't want to quite park in the 20th, 21st century. but some of you know my personal story of how i became interested in the presidency and the white house as my dear mother took me to see john f. kennedy campaigning in 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 then, but was a very well read, and a wonderful grammarian, and a champion speller. but she just was drawn to him. we were catholic, he was the same generation, he was a world war ii veteran, as my father. but the next memory i have of presidents, i think i was about six, was being taken to hodgenville, kentucky, to see lincoln's birthplace. so, one moment, taken to see and almost president, one from sometime before, and then a couple of 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
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bipartisan household. but i always say that when i went at age six to see the presidential site of the birthplace of abraham lincoln, as a six-year-old, what made the biggest impact on me was a replica of the log cabin that they have and 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 kentuckian, i have to think both about him and mrs. lincoln. and we talked in one of the early panels 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 then maybe also get into the larger discussion of how first ladies have dealt with media and the changes in media? so i'll -- open that up
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with the group. >> can i started with the dolley connection? because this was maybe a fatal decision on mary todd lincoln, i love that story because it speaks to the power of place in person and sites. and the materiality of it. said that something else we should have a hold on the battle on. but so, i think this is true. so, mary todd lincoln tried to make up, sort of kinship connection with dolly madison. because dolley had had a first husband, john time the pressure that yellow fever play. and the taunting was -- mary todd, mary todd lincoln, dolley todd madison -- okay. and so she tied to emulate dolley. and when i said dolley set the tone for first ladies
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for you know two centuries, but she was kind of tone-deaf, right? like, she threw parties in a war, which dolley had done, but f that war is 1812, that is all happening out there. the battlefield was like a mile away in virginia. it was just, it was bad news, wasn't it? >> far be it from me to be a mary todd lincoln apologist. but -- [laughter] -- >> i think it is worth noting this before diane jumps into this because she wants to. no first lady ever gets it right. 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, your perfect, darling, keep going. [laughter] no first lady ever gets it right. and so, mary todd lincoln had her supporters, she certainly had a lot of detractors. and even among historians today who study her, there are first lady, i guess i would say first lady scholars of different backgrounds who would find very tragic and a figure of tremendous pathos. >> yes. yes, definitely. >> just a terrible, terrible life and didn't deserve nearly the criticism she got. but she
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was sort of tone-deaf about the parties and the dresses and the money she spent, and even her own husband had to say to mary, you have to dial back some of this grief because remember the rest of the country is grieving as well. so she's, again, i'm not going to be a apologist, but no first lady has ever had 100 percent thumbs up from the country. >> well, 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 the southern press because she was a kentuckian. she came from, she had a blended family, because her mother had died when she was young, her father remarried. she had half brothers who were fighting on behalf of the 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 being the wife of the president. so she really was never going to please everybody, whether it was in the north of the south, and she was also a westerner. and this was something that other first ladies -- rachael jackson for example -- died before her
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husband was inaugurated and some people believe that it was the way she was savaged in the press. they accuse them, they pictured her as this corncob smoking woman of -- they accused her of being a bigamest, and the press was so horrible that she had a stroke and died before he took office. and they did the same thing to margaret taylor, who was an educated woman. and she tried to portray her also as this corncob. that was sort of this stereotype of somebody from the west. if you were in east coast occupant of d. c.. and so, mary went through some of that too, and she wasn't quite dignified enough. so some of her spending a came from her wanting to fit
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into this social milieu of washington, d. c., and be acceptable as someone who was refined. but, she was savaged in the press, but she also went to the hospitals. she would write letters for wounded soldiers. and i'm of that really came out much at the time. and then the support that she gave, i mentioned an hour chapter on first ladies and civil rights, where she was actually giving money to former slaves to help them live. this was the type of thing that did not come out at that point in time where she needed to take a page out of julia tyler, who is 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. mary just did not get her positive story out as much as she needed to. >> let's move squarely into the 20th century. again, back to the media. 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 that you have written on so extensively? written on alice, your latest
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book is on elizabeth ardin, correct? how women, i'm presuming, present themselves. 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, she gets young people interested in talking about the fashions of caroline bisette. and they end up being interested 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? >> franky cleveland was the youngest first lady. about 21 years old. and she was a, kind of a celebrity herself, partly her youth and partly her interest in the relationship she was married to a sitting president. and you know she
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became her face, her name got put on advertisements. she could do nothing about it. it drove cleveland crazy that his wife was used in this way. wherever she went, she had crowds following her. there's tremendous interest among american people about frankie cleveland. so this is not too far ahead into the 20th century. as we move to the 20th century. edith roosevelt, 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. did not want the photographers around and had post pictures of all the children taken so that they can be released when the newspapers wanted them. she really did not want her children put forth. again, protection of once children is another through line that goes all the way from the very beginning today. melania trump did not want to move into the white house until baron had finished his
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schooling. so, 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 photographic sanctions in newspapers and the women's magazines, in particular, as they came out, began to feature first ladies. much of what they said was true and 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 it to be quoted. partly that was a fear of saying something that would detract from their husbands program, or his present presidency in some way. but it was very clear very early lawn that the era of study, the first lady was of phenomenal interest to people. so trying to keep the camera fiends away was almost no hope. >> we have to look at those
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again, one of the things that women's histories has done to us was brought new topics into what is quote history, including what is fashion and sociability. it's important whenever it's a first lady, it's never personal. it's always about a policy component. so dolley madison's authentic personality became a tool policy for james madison. she also used fashion and my form of the media, because the media at the time did not do things that you are talking about, where observers, so when i was researching dolley madison, i was interested in her outfits and people's reaction to her. everybody wrote about her. if you went to one of these parties, you saw her on the street, you wrote about it and i enjoyed reading all of these descriptions of the outfits and the way she was with people. i realized that these are not just celebrity mentions, these are actually a form of political analysis, because they were looking at her and evaluating her as whether she was of the right ruling class. is this a proper person? one of the things that dolley did, she wrote that line that i sort of mentioned
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between republican virtue exemplified by james madison who was such a nonentity that he got lost in his own parties, and queen dolley who swanned around in fantastical outfits. so dolley madison was not the well dressed woman of fashion, she also did not dress like a wheel real queen in europe, i don't think she knew that was. she dressed like what americans would imagine a queen would be. fabulous materials and yes, the turbans with the feather so that when she is walking around that room in the white house, you know where she is everywhere she goes. in fact, these outfits which were almost like the colors, they were kind of crazy, unlike a real queens outfit, she could move quite freely because she needed to come out, she needed to connect and touch. people are writing about this and writing about this and you understand that this is, again, not just what was she wearing. it was trying
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to evaluate who this person was and for the most part, dolley had her haters as well, and she got it right, people were very satisfied that they had their own queen and that was queen dolley. democratic queen, but queen dolley. >> part of mrs. lincoln's problem was, as diana said, the country was at war. so if she spent too much on her 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, my white house will reflect the best of europe, we will be a washington, d. c. that fits in with every european capital and you can see this in the way that the white house--the interior design and you can see it in the way i dress, for example. on the other side, there are first ladies who have had to say no, we are going to showcase the best of american art and culture and i am not
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going to dress like i were a european queen. so think about mrs. carter for example, i'm really skipping ahead. but roslyn carter made a virtue in dressing like the everyday woman. back up to edith roosevelt, who felt this keenly. she was not particularly a fashion plate. she and her daughter got very good at sending out 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 roosevelt, something like edith roosevelt said she dresses in $300 a year and she looks it. fine line, very difficult to find that middle ground. >> we can think of the more recent first ladies and my favorite, jacqueline kennedy, during the campaign. we now think of her as this beautiful fashion icon, but during the campaign of 1960, she was being criticized. she says in her oral history, the things that
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used to be viewed as a handicap to my husband, they said because i spoke french or because i dressed in a beautiful way, that that was detracting from my husband. she said when i became first lady, then that seemed to help. during the campaign it was quoted in the paper that someone says she spent $30,000 a year on her clothing. she fired back and she said i could not spend that much if i wore sable underwear. so she took it. nancy reagan, of course, ran into this. she was wearing beautiful designer gowns for events at the white house and other events. then there was the criticism of what she paying for those or not. when it came out that perhaps she was not paying and just having them loaned to her, but she was keeping them in her closet, so you might remember at the white house correspondents dinner, she did that great send up of herself or she dressed like
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carol burnett's charwoman. she came out into the tune of secondhand rose and i'm wearing secondhand clothes, and wearing secondhand clothes. she brought the house down. and if you are being attacked and you can make fun of yourself, or poke fun at yourself, that is a lesson, of course, to be learned. >> let's talk about some other technological changes that would've changed the role of first lady and that is, as travel became more of an opportunity or ease of travel. so the railroads come into being and then obviously planes. talk about all of the first ladies that you know and you have studied and what's then actually contributed to their own work and to the work of their husbands. >> well the polks did a trip down to the south and sarah polk went with him. this was one of the early opportunities for a woman to be beside her
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husband someplace outside of washington. 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. so with train travel, it then gave the wives an opportunity to travel with the husband's. they had a very successful run down through several states and that i think was important for her image. the cleveland's traveled together. there were several others, garfields. early on after the train, the lincolns came from illinois to washington from a train on springfield and had stops all along the way, so people got to see the first lady before the inauguration. it really was important. >> so beginning to travel around the country's important. >> yes. it's important. the other sense of who the first lady's.
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>> mrs. wilson went abroad with woodrow wilson, the second mrs. wilson after the war. >> just before that, this is another topic that comes together, first lady scholars tend to look at when did first ladies begin to campaign with their husbands? so these opportunities to travel with the husband began to overlap with campaigning. some wives went, edith roosevelt went for example on trips when he was campaigning. not even always for himself. in part to see what he did. it was useful for first ladies or potential first ladies to see how they're husbands interact with the public. so edith, 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 versailles to conclude world war i. this was a very
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important moment for her to see her husband acclaimed essentailly as the savior of the war. that was an important step forward, but even closer to your era as lady bird johnson. >> so even in the era of plane travel, you of course had the whistle stop and ladybird and 64, which was an incredibly important trip and that gave her a chance to travel and to begin seeing it was okay for women to campaign for their husbands, to be surrogates. that's something that we have not really talked about yet is this whole surrogate notion. how the wife can do a lot to restore a presidents image. you mentioned frankie cleveland who became frances cleveland after she married, for those who don't know. her father was his law partner and her father died when she was very young and he
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was her ward, essentially. 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 she came back from her european tour and he marries the daughter instead of the mother. so everyone was enthralled. if you remember also, grover cleveland, mama where's my pa, gone to the white house. ha, ha, ha. so by marrying frankie cleveland, he really had a redemption of his image. then when he came in for a second term, they had baby ruth, that the candy bar is named after. they now have a young child, the first child born in the white house was cleveland's second daughter. so, it was a rehabilitation of grover
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cleveland's image by marrying francis cleveland. there were rumors that he was abusive, so she went on record publicly about what a great husband he was and on and on. so people saw a change in him, so there was a very different rover cleveland as a result. women, betty ford, vote for betty's husband because everybody loved betty ford and we are seeing more and more of that that the wives often have higher ratings in the husbands. i don't think of that a surrogate in the sense of a substitute. i think it is in addition. seymour martin lipset, had a -- he was a political scientist. he was a charismatic figure. he was talking about george washington that way. 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. you could -- you could be emparting messages of authority and legitimacy, of reassurance, of americanists,
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of modernity, the way jacqueline kennedy did and michelle obama. it is like an extension of personification. >> lady bird did that really well. >> yes. extremely well. >> another change that happens, to get back to your question, barbara, along these lines is that women who open up the role of the first lady by opening -- simultaneously opening up the white house to the people and thinking about women who were more forthcoming about their health. i mean, mrs. ford, betty ford, is probably our best example. she is not the first one who was less private about her health concerns. shared with the american people, what was going on before then -- there were a lot of health concerns hidden, both for the first lady and the president. when betty ford allowed americans to learn about her breast cancer, this is something that we can actually put a number to. 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. it was a kind of bravery that it was
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hard to reimagine, although some of you know that at that time we did not even say the word cancer, let alone the word breast. this is a first lady going on beyond what her husband had imagined. >> it can be quantified. >> indeed. >> last point, speaking of being opened up, we would like you to come to the microphone and ask your questions. while you are thinking of those, just a last point about travel. it is exactly 60 years ago this month that mrs. kennedy undertook her trip to pakistan and india by herself. she did not go with the president. those two countries are always a bit tense. certainly during the cold war, she did take her sister. they had a really charming and wonderful trip. that is that concept of diplomacy and carrying the
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image of the country in the cold war when we were trying to tell those countries -- we called them third world, now we would say developing. we were trying to get them to our side so they would not join in the communist side or the soviet sphere, the chinese sphere. she was able to present the country abroad and certainly at home. with that, let me bring my friend brandon. >> 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, a couple first ladies, plural, wielded the most power during their time in the white house? >> so, the question i think most scholars would say edith wilson, right? or, the answer, rather. no, dr. allgor is looking at me like, maybe not. >> i'm pondering. that was a
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tricky question. very good, very good. he is a lawyer. that is why that was tricky. >> there you go. woodrow wilson was in terrible health throughout most of his life, in fact. we look back on this and we see that he was having many strokes, as it were, during his marriage to his first wife. the terrible health problems he had during a second marriage led up to his paralysis and his inability to conduct the business of state. i think that is probably what leads to the answer of edith wilson. i think edith wilson also because she becomes the example of what not to do as first lady. edith wilson overstepped boundaries. she decided -- 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 of his ill health.
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she decided that he should not step down, although we did not have a requirement for that. the vice president was widely seen as weak or inconsequential. she continued to insist that he would be able to continue to serve as 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 to the timing of all this. and this is all happening in the context of trying to bring a conclusion to world war i. so edith wilson is the person that we look back to and say, you have stepped too far. we say this because even during nancy reagan's time, when there were intimations that nancy reagan was too powerful, wore the pants in the reagan family, journalists at the time called upon edith wilson and suggested to nancy reagan that she was going to make a misstep akin to mrs. wilson's. there are many, many, many first ladies who are very powerful, but i think that
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the answer would probably start with edith wilson. >> so i'm going to make this case. >> i knew she would. >> i'm going to do it. so, it's the end of the war of 1812. been in this war -- nothing. this is a war that should not have even -- it ended before it began. the british conceded. don't make me explain it. they conceded. we had the war anyway. at the end of it, the loss of treasure, lives, nothing gained. capitol burned to the ground. yet, the celebrations of this war -- this was right at the end of the madison presidency. james and dolley go off in a golden glow. in fact, they can't leave town after the inauguration because people just want to give them parties. everyone is celebrating this war. it's making the americans feel more american than ever. they are jumping with joy. how did that happen? and i would say that it was dolley madison's efforts
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during the war of 1812 to unify the capital, unify the country, emerge as the savior of washington city, it's one of the earliest stories, that made americans feel pretty darn good about this. that really was the era of good feelings. i don't know if i have convinced you. >> yeah. i would put in a plug for sarah polk. amy greenberg's biography of her is outstanding, i highly recommend it -- lady first is the title. she was essentially the chief of staff. he had health issues. as i said, 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 dolley madison in getting the right people together, people on both sides of the aisle respected her. 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
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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. she would give him far more advice. he would listen to her advice more than some of his cabinet officials. and when she was accused of being too powerful or controlling him, she would essentially say, you know, i am 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. she used that domestic sphere as her defense. i am just looking out for his well-being so he can be president and do the right thing. and that was how she deflected some of the criticism. 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 the death of a child in the white house. but one of the reasons that people liked grace coolidge so much is because the
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three first ladies who came before her were widely considered to have too much power. so, edith wilson and helen taft and florence harding all were very powerful first ladies. grace benefited from that. >> there is a blow back, though, isn't there? >> always. >> not being elected, for the first ladies who come after a first lady who is perceived as powerful, whether they want to cut back or not, they feel the pressure from the public. >> we have a question here. >> yes. i have heard edith wilson referred to as our first female president. >> [laughter] >> i'm also surprised in this discussion that you haven't mentioned eleanor roosevelt. that isn't my question. my question is, political writers and pundits are very free about ranking our best presidents and our worst presidents. and i wonder if you would go so far as to maybe talk about who were our good first ladies and who
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were our worst. i know a lot of people -- they are not elected. they are thrust into the position. some people rise to the occasion and some don't. i just wonder if you would be involved in ranking them. >> this audience likes trouble. they like causing trouble. >> well, that gives us a project to work on. i didn't want to take the chair's 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. they had more power after they left the white house. and
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certainly, eleanor roosevelt would fall into that category. she was -- let's put it this way -- she was very influential on our topic today for no other reason than the longevity of her time in the white house because of her husband's 12 years there. i became interested in this particular topic at the site, at the hyde park site. i had not been there until 2010. and of course, i went through the main house where fdr was born. and i didn't realize i had a personal relationship with him, as i felt with president kennedy because of my mother taking me to see him. 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. we turned a corner and he said, this is the room where franklin roosevelt was born. and i burst into tears. very embarrassing to my friend who was accompanying me, because i was sobbing on his shoulder. we went to val-kill to see mrs. roosevelt's home that she had
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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 val-kill living room. eleanor led the way with these brilliant, bright smiles. i knew they had a problematic relationship politically. and so i wanted to study that. 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 already mentioned. we did mention her in relation to civil rights. she was always telling her husband, you know, please get the anti-lynching bill through congress. and yet, we have to say, we have said the negative of their not being elected and accountable, but in some ways, that was a problem
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for -- fdr was saying, look, i have to run. 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 passed through, i can't put them off by supporting the anti lynching bill. so sometimes, the first ladies have the advantage of not having to worry about being on the ballot, and then sometimes, they can't do what they want because they are not on the ballot. anyway, we would have to put her up there. to have lead as our -- she was our first ambassador to the united nations when it was founded after her husband's death, after the war, after world war two. the declaration of human rights, the universal declaration of human rights. i
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will give her a shout out because, in a way, she helped jack kennedy be elected, because they buried the hatchet at a lunch in val-kill in august 1960 and they didn't bury it in each other. they came to common ground. we talked about that last night at the wonderful panel. can we not find common ground? those were two people in the same party, but had very different backgrounds and very different views. they found common ground and worked with each other. and by the way, again, given that we are in 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 and 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 we have been taking, is number one. and will stay there. i think the reason we have not mentioned her as one of the powerful first ladies, i think we were thinking of 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
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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. so in that sense, it was not 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. >> i think, you brought this up, but we are successfully avoiding your question, we have heard it, we are now sidestepping it. 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. an incredibly active post first lady, lady. [applause] >> we will be seeing her this evening, right? >> yes, next question. >> thank you very much for all of your insight. when i think about the influence that first ladies have, i think about the resources that the first lady might need to make that
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influence. so, can you talk about how the budget for the first lady has evolved over the years? >> yes. 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 people are shocked when i do a lot of public lectures on first ladies for both students and other groups and they say well how much does the first lady get paid? zero. they are stunned. but it's a full-time job. yes. >> edith roosevelt hired the first social secretary, but she did pay for the caterers out of
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her own pocket. you know, what would you rather do? write the letters or make the meals? anita would be a wonderful person to talk to about the money actually. she would be our best expert. >> hi, thank you so much for this discussion this afternoon. it's my understanding that eleanor roosevelt really did not enjoy the public eye at first and somewhat struggled with having that public persona and getting involved, but then 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? >> there were several who had
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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 -- i'm a communication person, so i really study a lot about what they do about their public speaking -- she would do slide shows when she would go back to texas. she would take her children all around all the monuments when he was in congress and she developed her public speaking skills from doing slide shows back in texas, so that she had a crutch and they weren't looking at her. lady bird johnson sabotaged being valedictorian of her high school graduating class. she purposely got a b in a class, so that she wouldn't be, so that she wouldn't have to give a speech. she took a public speaking course with a group of other senate wives, and that was how she got over it. and she was not excited when she
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married lyndon johnson. many of these women's came into this reluctantly and 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. they overcame fears of public speaking, they overcame the fear of being out there in the public as eleanor 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 would not win because she did not want to get involved. >> most first ladies said they didn't want to be first lady. 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. [laughs] >> 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. that's when she started really going out to speak, in that case, for him, or keep his name out in public
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and really took lessons from louis howe, his great political adviser. 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 think? >> she did not complain about the speech. she wrote a very complimentary note about his inaugural address. later on she said your throat is too tight, she said. >> hello, my name is jo stuckey, i'm the superintendent of jimmy carter national historical park. >> thank you. >> i want to say something that i say about ten times a day. mrs. carter's name is pronounced rosalynn carter. she's named after her aunt lynn and her cousin rose. i always tell people rose garden, rosalynn carter. i wanted to just make that clear.
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>> thank you. >> if you would allow me to just say something in the minute that we have left. >> one minute and catherine wishes to speak. >> this has been wonderful and i have done several of these programs for the white house historical association and i have been in the first lady game about 25 years. what has been amazing for me is to see how it has grown as a field of study. it started to be an almost, like, compulsive focus on biography and it really was not clear really why you should care about particular first lady. some of them are fascinating, some of them weren't, none of them plan to be first lady pretty much. it has grown from that to actually being an intellectually sophisticated category of analysis where looking at first ladies tells us something about women, about power, about american history. the white house historical association has played such a large part in that. it should not be surprising, it was founded by a first lady, but the truth is under stewart, it has been a
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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 mentioned f.l.a.r.e. and f.l.a.r.e., could you tell us what it is again? >> first ladies association for research and education. >> it's fairly brand-new. really, i would say it is the child of the white house historical association's focus on first ladies. i just want to thank you anita, and stewart, wherever you are. thank you so much. >> thank you. [applause] he's american history tv continues now. you can find the full schedule for the weekend on your program guide or at c-span dot org slash history.


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