book

Every First Lady from Martha to Michelle

Meet Michelle Obama and all her predecessors in the first book that profiles every woman who has served as our nation's First Lady. In America's First Ladies: Power Players from Martha Washington to Michelle Obama, Rae Lindsay reports behind-the-scenes details about the lives of these forty-plus un-elected, unpaid women who filled what many call “the world’s hardest job.” They range from the famous to the obscure, from the beloved to the unpopular, from the well-educated to those who could barely read.

Some were elegant and gregarious entertainers; others endured grief and pain in private. Many served as their husbands' eyes, ears and voices. Some bloomed, while others wilted under the light of public scrutiny. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Any woman who goes into public life has to have a hide like a rhinoceros.” When Michelle Obama took on the First Lady role she set some major precedents: not only is she the first black First Lady, but in addition, her great-great-grandfather was a slave. She has vowed to be "Mom-in-Chief" to her pre-teen daughters (the youngest children to live in the White House since Amy Carter), but her education and career experience will lead her to take on significant national projects as well. Barack Obama calls her his "rock," and, in this role, she most certainly will act as her husband's influential "eyes and ears."

In America's’ First Ladies, Rae Lindsay relates the major roles played by our Presidents’ wives or surrogates, as well as the “First Lady” foibles that impacted on presidential families and, sometimes, our country.

  • Martha Washington was such a poor speller that often George wrote her letters for her. She also recycled muslin grain sacks as morning dresses.
  • Abigail Adams often wrote three love letters a day to her husband; in one she urged him to “remember the ladies,” one of the first feminist statements.
  • Dolley Madison and Nancy Reagan fudged their true birth dates
  • Eliza Johnson and Abigail Fillmore taught their husbands, Andrew Johnson and Millard Fillmore, to read.
  • Mamie Eisenhower transformed much of the White House into “Mamie Pink” and often greeted her staff, in bed, wearing a Mamie Pink bedjacket.
  • Julia Grant wanted an operation to fix her cross-eyes and wanted to live “off campus” in Georgetown; Ulysses S. Grant denied both these goals.
  • Eleanor Roosevelt absentmindedly served sweetbreads to FDR six days in a row, and gave away silver teaspoons to visitors as White House souvenirs.
  • Mary Lincoln ordered $1,000 in mourning clothes over a year before Lincoln was assassinated;a shopaholic, during one spree she bought over 100 pairs of gloves.
  • Jacqueline Kennedy was criticized for reportedly spending $60,000 on clothes, while Pat Nixon wore a “respectable Republican cloth coat.”
  • Jane Pierce stayed upstairs at the White House writing letters to her dead sons during Franklin Pierce’s term in office.
  • Pat Nixon urged her husband to destroy all his tapes; his refusal led to Watergate and his resignation.
  • Sarah Polk, Helen Taft, and Rosalynn Carter attended their husband’s cabinet meetings.
  • Betty Ford and Nancy Reagan relied on astrologers for clues about their husbands’ futures.

In America's First Ladies, Lindsay tells you about parties and problems, weddings and funerals…cows on the White House lawn and rats in the White House walls…and about the women who cared deeply about what was happening in their country, as well as those who couldn’t care less. Was Edith Wilson trying to take over the reins of power, or was she just trying to maintain her husband’s position as President? Was Frances Cleveland simply a great entertainer or should she be recognized as a woman who helped hide her husband’s horrific cancer of the jaw from the public? Would Mary Lincoln have had a stronger place in American history if she had been treated for her apparent bi-polar disorder?

And what about the peaks and valleys in public opinion? Americans loved Jackie but thought her frivolousm until JFK was assassinated. Nancy Reagan went up and down in the public’s view until her Ronnie was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Everyone always loved Mamie and the outspoken Bess. Few loved Mary Lincoln or Florence Harding or the elitist Eliza Monroe. Eleanor Roosevelt was “everybody’s aunt,” and millions adored her, while just as many deplored her. Hillary Cllinton, writes Lindsay, is like spinach or liver: ”you either hate it or love it.” In the last chapter, Lindsay takes a prescient look at "what if...the first lady is a MAN"...what would we call him? what would his role be?

Lindsay has written two earlier books about the women in the White House. In its review of The Presidents' First Ladies, Booklist wrote, “This charming, anecdotal account relates the arduous tasks, personal details, and historical facts about the presidents’ ladies. In an unusual twist, Lindsay has categorized each of the 40-plus first ladies according to the major role she has played – such as pioneer, entertainer, stand-in, and spokeswoman – rather than chronologically…An interesting look at the demanding, un-elected, unpaid, highly visible job and the women who have undertaken it."

For a sampling of THE PRESIDENTS' FIRST LADIES, click on "cameos".

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