Bess Truman (née Wallace)- The Long-Lived
February 13, 1885-October 18, 1982
Relation to President: Wife
Early Life: Elizabeth Wallace was born to David and Margaret. David was a dogged office seeker whose lack of success sometimes caused hard times for his family. By contrast, Margaret’s family was very wealthy and her father didn’t like her marrying David. The young couple sold their home and moved closer to Margaret’s family.
Bess was the first grandchild from her mother’s side and was doted on by her grandparents, aunts and uncles. She first met her future husband, Harry S. Truman, at her first school. Bess excelled in high school athletics, particularly tennis, baseball, fishing and rowing. She was also a talented dancer. Bess then attended a prep school where she continued her sporting talents in the basketball and field clubs. She also did very well academically, particularly French.
Bess hoped to attend college but her father’s debts and poor financial state ensured that could not happen. Margaret Wallace was often away so Bess had to be the household mistress. Two years after she graduated high school, Bess’ father shot himself as they faced losing their house.
Suicide was a huge taboo back then. Bess was forced to act as the head of the household after they moved into their grandparents’ home. She showed a talent for managing the budget. Bess continued with the social life acceptable for a young woman which included bridge and needlework.
Bess worked before, during and after the engagement. She survived the Spanish flu but was left with some deafness.
Marriage: Ten years after they graduated high school, Truman and Bess met once again. He soon proposed but Bess initially turned him down. Her mother Margaret did not believe Truman was good enough, as he was a working class man with no college degree. Perhaps this was shaped by her own experience with a husband who was socially inferior. Truman persisted and Bess eventually agreed to marry him in 1913. Their engagement lasted six years due to Truman’s work and WW1.
Harry Truman and Bess Wallace married in 1919.
Pre-Tenure: Bess worked during the marriage to supplement her husband’s income. It was mainly secretarial and clerk work, though she was aide to several politicians. She advised her husband, helped him campaign and encouraged him to work on issues such as infrastructure.
Bess suffered several miscarriages before their only daughter, Margaret, as born.
Her husband was elected Senator in 1934. Bess became his hired clerk, answering mail, editing speeches and generally giving advice. The family lived in a modest apartment. Though Bess had some hired help, she did most of the housework alone. Her salaried role as her husband’s employee was controversial and in 1944, during Truman’s campaign for the Vice Presidency, they were attacked for it. Truman told the press that Bess deserved her salary and he wasn’t going to back down. She served as his clerk until he became VP.
Upon hearing her husband had been nominated in 1944, Bess was incredulous and scolded her husband, asking what would happen if FDR died. She wasn’t a fan of FDR, as he’d tried to get Truman out of his Senate seat in 1940. Nevertheless, Bess supported him.
Bess was only Second Lady for three months. She did nothing of note during this time and was rarely reported on. Her husband only met FDR a handful of times during his Vice Presidency; we do not know if she saw much of Eleanor Roosevelt.
Tenure: Upon hearing that FDR died on the 12th April 1945, Bess and Margaret immediately went to the White House to see Truman. They were present when he was sworn in at the White House by Harlan F. Stone. Eleanor Roosevelt offered to help Bess in any way she could.
Due to White House renovations, they essentially lived in Blair House during Truman’s second term.
The reticent Bess was thrilled to learn she did not have to do the press conferences Eleanor Roosevelt had. She never granted any interviews and allowed her daughter to talk for her when the press accosted her. Nevertheless, she remained a notable figure throughout her time as First Lady. She hated the loss of privacy, in particular that she wasn’t allowed to drive her own car.
Bess stuck to the traditional role of hostess and patron. She supported many charities and took an active role in social activities at the White House. Her favourite meals to serve were traditional American dinners. She, Truman and Margaret were extremely close and were referred to as the ‘Three Musketeers.’ They dined together every day and Margaret lived with them. Bess’ mother was still alive and demanding as ever, yet she was still fiercely protective of her.
She nevertheless remained a key political ally of her husband. Bess advised him, especially during the Korean War, and remained abreast of politics. She was a staunch supporter of the Democrats and was a party loyalist. Bess deemed herself unimportant and believed she was simply a wife and mother. She did not travel as extensively as Eleanor Roosevelt.
Bess was also accused of racism. She attended a meeting of the Daughters of the Revolution. DAR was currently embroiled in a scandal, as it refused to allow African-American performer Hazel Scott to perform for them. Scott was a Congressional wife, her husband was the influential Adam Clayton Powell. She asked Bess to cancel but the First Lady refused. Scott hit out at her in the press and an angry Truman refused to invite the couple over ever again. Whether it was down to racism or not wanting to rock the boat we don’t know, but she was accused of anti-Semitism later in life.
She was thrilled that her husband chose not to run in 1952.
Post Tenure: Bess was thrilled to finally have her life back. She enjoyed driving her own car and being at home in Missouri the most. Bess, Margaret and Truman travelled extensively together. When Margaret married and had children, the Trumans would often visit them and vacation together.
In May 1955, Bess was interviewed by her daughter on TV. She showed good humour and wit, but refused to discuss politics. In 1959, she had a secret mastectomy on discovering she had breast cancer.
Several Jewish acquaintances reported that they were never invited into the Truman home. They said this was at the behest of Bess, as her husband said she and her late mother would never allow it. She did invite Henry Kissinger over later in life and attended a United Jewish Appeal luncheon. Her husband wrote some rather anti-Semitic things but Bess’ apparent views are subject to conjecture.
Bess met former and later First Ladies. She attended events with Frances Cleveland, Edith Wilson and Grace Coolidge among others. When Eleanor Roosevelt died in 1962, she joined Jackie Kennedy and Lady Bird Johnson at the funeral. She praised Jackie when she became First Lady and sent condolences to her upon JFK’s death. Jackie said that she wanted to emulate Bess. Bess was also friendly with Lady Bird and Pat Nixon. Betty Ford remembered her well and paid tribute to her upon visiting, but Bess felt snubbed by the Carters.
President Truman died in 1972. Bess outlived him by a decade and was buried alongside him in 1982.
Appearance and Character: Bess was a short, stout woman with blonde hair and blue eyes. She was a strong-willed, athletic woman who didn’t initially take to Truman. Bess would show herself to be a loyal wife with an unwavering devotion to her mother, husband and daughter. She did not care for the press or publicity, preferring to be a traditional woman. Bess did encourage her husband to appoint women to federal positions and for her daughter to attend college. She did, however, have questionable views about Jews and an insensitivity to the plight of African-Americans.
Advocacy: General charity work.
Mamie Eisenhower (née Doud) – The Pink Lady
November 14, 1896-November 1, 1979
Children: Doud, John
Relation to President: Wife
Early Life: Mary Doud was born to John and Elvira ‘Minnie.’ Her father, a successful businessman, retired when Mamie was ten. The family moved around frequently so Mamie was never settled in one place. Her education was sporadic and she was never particularly academic. Her father did teach her the importance of money and budgeting however. Mamie was brought up in refinement but was always conscious of money.
Marriage: Mamie had just graduated from finishing school when she met a young soldier stationed nearby. Dwight D. Eisenhower was the Officer of the Day and invited Mamie to accompany him. A few months later, Mamie received Eisenhower’s class ring, a signal of a serious relationship.
The two married in July 1916.
Pre-Tenure: Mamie lived the nomadic life of a military wife, living in 33 different homes over 37 years. She did this without complaint. Their eldest son died of scarlet fever as a child- Mamie blamed herself, as she’d hired the nursemaid that had given him the illness. Mamie and Eisenhower lived all around the world, joined later by another son, John (he was born in the States).
When Eisenhower went off to Europe for WW2, Mamie didn’t see him for three years. She lived in DC. It was rumoured that Eisenhower had an affair with his driver Kay Summersby when he was abroad and considered divorcing Mamie, only put off by the higher ups refusing to allow it. Mamie volunteered during the war and responded to the thousands of letters sent to her as the wife of the famous general.
The family lived in Pennsylvania and Paris in the years between the war and his presidency. The home in Pennsylvania was the first home Eisenhower owned outright. It was, however, temporary.
Mamie became a popular figure during the 1952 election. Women were becoming a powerful voting bloc so Mamie was wheeled out as the traditional wife. Mamie happily joined him on a tour with 77 stops, greeting the crowds with a smile. She assisted with his speeches and appeared on TV with him.
She approved of his decision to have singer Marian Anderson sing at her husband’s inauguration and ensured her African-American maids had suitable accommodation in the segregated DC.
Tenure: Mamie was a traditional wife who focused on entertaining and her family. She was known for being very loving and kind to her staff, ensuring that their birthdays were always celebrated. Whilst Mamie demanded perfection as a strict army wife, she was never mean to her staff. She ensured she knew everyone’s name and face.
She was famously known for her love of the colour pink and a shade was named after her- Mamie pink. Mamie became a fashion icon who was frequently on eBay dressed lists. Mamie hosted lavish dinners for foreign heads of state but always kept her eye on the budget. Even as First Lady, she clipped coupons from newspapers.
Despite her traditional role, Mamie did sometimes get involved in politics. She refused to invite Joe McCarthy to a White House event that other Republicans were invited to. Mamie also campaigned for Ellen Harris, a Republican woman running for a congressional seat. She defended her husband’s decision to send troops to integrate Little Rock High School, though privately. Mamie would sometimes use her influence to help citizens who requested her help.
When her husband had a heart attack in 1955, Mamie took control. As he recuperated, Mamie took over some administrative duties. When Eisenhower hoped to attend a dinner after his 1957 stroke, Mamie refused and said that Vice President Nixon would suffice.
Mamie was involved in philanthropy for veterans and became chair of the American Heart Association.
One notable event happened in late 1960, just before the inauguration. Mamie did not like JFK and thought Jackie to be some posh college girl. Jackie had given birth only weeks before and it had been a difficult one that had left her needing a wheelchair. Her team requested one be there. Mamie thought it beneath her to push Jackie around and had the wheelchair hidden out of view. An intimidated Jackie didn’t ask and after the long tour, she collapsed. When asked about it, Mamie merely replied that Jackie hadn’t asked for it.
Post-Tenure: Mamie and Eisenhower finally enjoyed a permanent home together after 45 years of marriage. They travelled around both Europe and the USA, having homes in Pennsylvania and California. She was invited to a state dinner for the Japanese Prime Minister in 1962, but showed little enthusiasm.
She encouraged her husband to intercede on behalf of a suicidal congressman and ally who was facing criminal charges. Mamie also encouraged Eisenhower to reacquaint himself with Truman; she forged a friendship with Bess.
As Eisenhower fell extremely ill in 1968, Mamie told Lady Bird Johnson that she was scared of widowhood. Lady Bird passed this onto her husband, who signed legislation extending lifetime Secret Service protection to widowed First Ladies. Eisenhower died in 1969.
Mamie expressed longing for her late husband, but lived an active widowhood. She took yearly trips to his grave, spoke at events and endorsed charities. Mamie was an opponent of women’s liberation, hated the term Ms and was shocked when she was given a female Secret Service agent to protect her.
After her grandson married one of Nixon’s daughters, Mamie became even closer to the family, particularly Pat. Unlike her husband, who had been wary of Nixon, Mamie endorsed him and even encouraged his candidacy before he announced. She campaigned for him in television adverts. Mamie often stayed over at presidential retreats and the White House. She kept quiet during Watergate but was never disloyal.
Mamie suffered a stroke in September 1979 and died just over a month later on the 1st November. She is buried with her husband.
Appearance and Character: Mamie was a petite woman with auburn hair and blue eyes. She was a vivacious, lively woman with an appetite for luxury, though she took to poorer conditions as an army wife extremely well. Despite being a traditionalist, Mamie had political interests and became increasingly partisan. She was warm to the Nixons, especially when they became family, never wavering even during Watergate. Staff remember a perfectionist who knew their names and insisted they all have fabulous birthday cakes every year. Mamie also held tolerant views on race. She did, however, have a cruel side. Her snobbishness and partisanship led to her mean treatment of the recovering Jackie Kennedy. She was still cold to her in later years.
Advocacy: Heart conditions and veterans
Jackie Kennedy (née Bouvier, later Onassis) – The Icon
July 28, 1929-May 19, 1994
Children: Arabella, Caroline, John, Patrick
Relation to President: Wife
Early Life: Jacqueline Bouvier was born to John ‘Black Jack’ and Janet. She is the first First Lady to have been born in a hospital. The family was well off and entrenched members of New York society. At an early age, Jackie became a noted equestrian, a love she carried with her throughout her life. She attended several elite schools, where she was known for being intelligent and fun but very naughty. Her particular talents lay in French and literature, receiving a prize for the latter.
Unfortunately, her parents did not enjoy a happy marriage. Many had been surprised that her hedonistic father had married, especially to a much younger and more refined woman. Black Jack was known for his numerous affairs and party lifestyle. The Bouviers separated when Jackie was seven. They divorced when she was ten. This was particularly scandalous at the time, due to their social status and Catholicism.
Jackie was very close to her father, who spoiled her. He would often visit her at boarding school and take her out at weekends. By contrast, Jackie had a difficult relationship with her mother. Janet was a very demanding woman who could treat her children coldly. Jackie had a good relationship with her stepfather Hugh D. Auchincloss, step siblings, particularly Hugh Jr, and half-siblings.
Jackie initially attended Vassar College, though she’d wanted to study at Sarah Lawrence. She spent her junior year in France, charming her hosts and becoming a darling of society. For her final year, Jackie transferred to George Washington. She graduated in French Literature.
Upon graduating, Jackie was hired for a prestigious Vogue internship. She was there for only a day, as one of the editors told her women who worked at Vogue never got married. Jackie was then hired as ‘An Enquiring Camera Girl,’ who would stop random people on the street, take their photo and ask funny questions. One famous interview was with a young Tricia Nixon. Jackie tried to interview Eisenhower’s granddaughters outside their school, annoying Mamie to the point where she put a complaint in.
Jackie was initially engaged to a stockbroker, but was worried he wasn’t wealthy enough and didn’t like his personality. Her mother had encouraged her daughters to marry well in order to secure their lives.
Marriage: Jackie was introduced to Senator John F. Kennedy at a dinner party in a matchmaking attempt by friends. The two hit it off and became an item. Kennedy was in his 30s at that point and still unmarried, a political risk for a man with his eyes on the presidency. Joe Kennedy Sr approved of Jackie- she was young, pretty, Catholic and had no interest in politics. Nevertheless, Kennedy continued his affairs and even told a woman he met a week before the wedding that he wished he could be with her instead.
Jackie spent a month in Europe covering the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. She accepted the proposal upon her return and quit her job.
The wedding took place in September 1953. Jackie had wanted a small, intimate wedding, but Joe took control and made it a huge ceremony. The newlyweds took several hours to greet the nearly 2000 guests. Janet Bouvier spitefully got Black Jack drunk so he couldn’t attend the ceremony, so Jackie was given away by her stepfather.
Pre-Tenure: Jackie had a mixed relationship with the Kennedy family. She was especially close to Joe Sr and would spend hours talking to him. Jackie also formed a close bond with Bobby, and was very friendly with Rose and Ted. Her relationship with the Kennedy girls and wives was less solid. They derided her as a snooty college girl who wouldn’t join in on their fun and games.
One reason for Jackie’s pain was that she did not conceive a child within the first year. Kennedy wives and daughters were expected to have children quickly. Jackie suffered several miscarriages. In 1956, Jackie was on her second pregnancy when she fell ill. She delivered a stillborn girl named Arabella. Kennedy was away with friends and had to be told to go to her side- he’d kiss his career goodbye if he didn’t.
In 1954, Kennedy nearly died after an operation. Jackie eventually had a healthy daughter named Caroline in 1957, though she lost her beloved father a few months prior. She attended classes at Georgetown and tended the home.
His infidelity was a strain on their marriage. Jackie believed that all men cheated and it was to be expected, seeing as her father did it. She was warned but did not realise the extent of her husband’s misbehaviour. Jackie apparently wanted to divorce Kennedy, but Joe Kennedy begged her not to as it would ruin his son’s career. He reportedly paid her to stay.
Kennedy announced he was running for President in January 1960. Jackie soon discovered she was pregnant and was immediately put on bedrest due to her precious precarious pregnancies. She did have a limited role in the campaign, writing a column and appearing in screened adverts. Lady Bird Johnson did the heavy lifting.
Between her husband’s election and the inauguration, Jackie gave birth to son John Jr.
Tenure: The intensely private Jackie immediately ensured her children would be shielded from public life. She was horrified when tourists rushed to see the children or when they were photographed. Jackie said that she wanted to emulate Bess Truman in that manner.
Her main White House project was its renovation. She scoured warehouses for appropriate pieces and managed to get donations from museums and private citizens. Jackie even managed to charm one man into giving her the portrait he’d bought for several million. She also persuaded Congress to pass a bill to ensure any donated objects belonged to the White House. The entire thing was privately funded. Jackie did use public funds to hire a White House Curator, a position still in use.
The arts were incredibly important to Jackie, who ensured there was a cultural renaissance. Famous singers and artists visited the White House to perform. She somehow managed to get the Mona Lisa on loan from France and was present at its unveiling. In 1962, she conducted a widely watched televised tour of the White House and received an Emmy for it.
In her time as First Lady, Jackie became a fashion icon. She favoured French designers but was told that the public wouldn’t appreciate her expensive designs. Jackie instead designed her own clothes and had them made by American designers. She popularised the pillbox hat and tailored outfits.
Jackie proved to be a more popular diplomatic figure than her husband. She charmed the notoriously grouchy Khrushchev, who disliked her husband. Khrushchev sent her a puppy. When Jackie was being cheered for by the crowds, she took Khrushchev’s shy wife and ensured that she received applause. Charles DeGaulle was also charmed by Jackie, a fluent French speaker with a love for the country and its culture. Kennedy famously introduced himself as the man who’d accompanied her. It was said that crowds doubled when she was around.
Jackie did suffer a lot of heartache. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, she saw that her husband was struggling. Not allowed to sit in on previous political discussion, Jackie would eavesdrop through a crack in the wall. She refused to consider evacuating her and the children, insisting that their place was with her husband. Kennedy eventually allowed Jackie to see the plans and informed her of what was going on.
One of the biggest tragedies occurred in August 1963. Jackie was pregnant with another child. She went into labour over a month early. The baby was born by an emergency c-section but did not have fully developed lungs. Jackie only ever saw her son in an incubator. Kennedy met their new son, named Patrick, at Boston’s Children Hospital. Patrick died after only a few days. It is said that the incident brought the couple together as they were seen holding hands and spending more time together.
Jackie did not want to visit Texas in November. She didn’t always attend campaign stops and was probably aware of the hatred towards her husband. Kennedy convinced her to go. Jackie proved as immensely popular as ever, speaking to Latino voters in fluent Spanish. She was riding with her husband when the shots rang out. Jackie attempted to climb out onto the back of the car but was guided back in by Secret Service Agent Clint Hill. Jackie couldn’t recall why she did it but Hill believes that she was trying to reach for a piece of his skull. She held onto her husband as they raced to the hospital.
The medical staff and Secret Service had to convince Jackie to let go of her husband. Kennedy was mortally wounded and died at around 1PM.
Post-Tenure: After an agreement was reached that meant that the autopsy wouldn’t have to be performed in Texas, the body was ready to be moved. Kennedy’s body was placed in Air Force One and it left Texas just over an hour later. Jackie refused to change outside of her blood stained suit. She is pictured standing next to Lyndon B. Johnson as he was sworn in.
Jackie had wanted to tell the children what had happened in person, but was beaten to it by their nanny Maud Shaw. She took charge of the funeral, modelling after Abraham Lincoln’s. Jackie insisted that they walk behind the casket but the Secret Service and other security agencies were nervous. If a foreign dignitary wanted to do it, they could. She remained in the White House for two weeks after the assassination.
For the next few years, Jackie lived a life of privacy. She was horrified at tourists and others constantly hanging on her door and windows in an attempt to see her and the children. Jackie then moved them to somewhere with privacy. She only made a few statements of support for LBJ in the 1964 election, praising his kindness towards her.
Jackie attended a few services dedicated to her husband, went on a trip to Angkor Wat and attended the funeral of Martin Luther King.
She was shattered by the death of Robert Kennedy. They had become very close and were rumoured to have had an affair. Upon his death, Jackie married old friend Aristotle Onassis. He was a Greek millionaire who Kennedy had been wary of. Onassis was a known womaniser and had previously slept with Jackie’s sister Lee.
Jackie was widely criticised for daring to remarry, especially to a divorced Greek Orthodox man. She wanted to be away from the Kennedys and their curse and found that with a wealthy man. There was even talk of Jackie being excommunicated but that never came to fruition.
She spent several years enjoying the jet set lifestyle. The public and the media derided her for this, still believing she should still be that elegant grieving widow. Jackie’s marriage was turbulent as Onassis swung between spoiling her and being verbally abusive. She had a poor relationship with her stepchildren, particularly step daughter Christina. Onassis died in 1975.
Jackie returned to America after Onassis’ death. She began work as an editor for a book company and helped with translation. Jackie continued in her campaign to preserve historic monuments and art. Once again she became very popular with the people who’d castigated her for marrying Onassis. She helped refurbish many famous New York buildings such as Grand Central Station and the Metropolitan Museum.
In 1993, Jackie was diagnosed with cancer. The cancer had spread by the next March and was diagnosed as terminal in May. Jackie died at home in May 1994 at the age of 64 with Caroline and John Jr at her side. She is buried with her husband, Arabella, and Patrick in Arlington.
Appearance and Character: Jackie was a woman of medium height with a slender frame. She had brown hair and brown eyes. Jackie was a deeply intelligent, cultured woman with a deep love for the arts and all things French. She was devoted to her children throughout their life and everything she did was for their safety and privacy. Whilst she was embarrassed by her husband’s adultery, Jackie carried on with dignity and grace. She overcame a lot of tragedy in her life, from miscarriages to family deaths. Jackie could be spoiled and childish, with a jealous streak. She treated Grace Kelly coldly because she thought Kennedy had a crush on her.
Advocacy: Arts and culture
(I recommend reading the brilliant America’s Queen by Sarah Bradford, a very comprehensive biography about Jackie).
Lady Bird Johnson (née Taylor) – The Beautifier
December 22, 1912-July 11, 2007
Children: Lynda, Luci
Relation to President: Wife
Early Life: Claudia Taylor was born to Thomas and Minnie. Her father was a wealthy businessman who owned cotton fields. Claudia was known as Lady Bird from an early age after a nursemaid compared her to one. Minnie was an elegant woman who felt too refined for their small Texas town and suffered from constant illness. She died after a miscarriage caused by a fall when Lady Bird was only five.
Lady Bird graduated high school at only fifteen and started at the University of Alabama at the same age. She missed Texas and decided to attend college there instead. A bright, intelligent student, she held degrees in both history and journalism. Lady Bird expressed an interest in journalism as a career but marriage put an end to that.
Marriage: Lady Bird met Lyndon B. Johnson on the 31st August 1934. Johnson proposed on the first date but Lady Bird demurred. This did not put the strong willed Johnson off and he relentlessly pursued her for weeks until she finally agreed. The pair wed in November of that year.
Pre-Tenure: Lady Bird showed her brains and business acumen in 1937 when her husband first ran for Congress. She used her inheritance to bankroll the campaign and he won. In DC, Lady Bird befriended Eleanor Roosevelt and other political wives.
She also kept busy during the war years. With LBJ off to war, Lady Bird bought a struggling radio station in Texas and turned it around. Among other things, she found businesses to advertise on the station and kept up with the accounts. She ran it until the 80s and kept a tidy profit. This was only one of her business portfolios.
Lady Bird was a huge help to Johnson during his many years in Congress. When he had a heart attack, Lady Bird took a room nearby and turned it into a mini office. She was one of the few people he would always listen to and one needed her to get him. Unfortunately, Johnson had a nasty streak and a temper. He had affairs and could be extremely emotionally abusive. Lady Bird took it all on the chin and helped others when Johnson had been rude to them.
Suffering several miscarriages, Lady Bird gave birth to Lynda in 1944 and Luci in 1947.
In 1960, Lady Bird Johnson was disappointed that the younger JFK was the Democratic nominee. She begged Johnson not to accept the vice presidential nomination but he decided to. As Jackie Kennedy was pregnant, Lady Bird filled in as the lead female campaigned. She was desperate to keep her beloved South in the Democratic column, but her friendship with prominent African-Americans and her insistence on integrated events was controversial. Lady Bird nevertheless won praise for her poise and dignity.
As Second Lady, she was often called in to replace Jackie at events. She frequently travelled yet remained abreast of her business dealings.
Lady Bird was in the car behind the Kennedys on the day of the assassination. She and Johnson were at the hospital when a Secret Service agent came in and addressed Johnson as ‘Mr. President.’ Lady Bird would later say that was the moment she knew Kennedy had died and screamed.
Tenure: Lady Bird initially held off on full First Lady duties out of deference to Jackie. Jackie assisted Lady Bird during the transition even after she’d left the White House.
More progressive on race than her husband, Lady Bird was a fervent supporter of the Civil Rights Act. She was the only woman present when he signed it. Lady Bird kept abreast of everything political her husband did, becoming friends with his subordinates. She maintained friendships with Cabinet and other political wives.
Lady Bird is mainly known for her love of nature and encouragement of beautification. She worked for local, regional and national campaigns and legislation. Millions of seeds and bulbs were sent to be planted around public buildings. Lady Bird would investigate reports of pollution. She ensured that the majority African-American areas of DC were cleaned and that horticulture was taught to the young. High school and college students were employed during the summer to help the project.
When she promoted a bill to limit billboard adverts at the roadside, Lady Bird received severe backlash due to its political nature. Enraged by the attacks on his wife, Johnson used every skill he had in order to get the legislation through.
Lady Bird saw both of her daughters marry in the White House years. She encouraged college education for women. As the Vietnam War progressed and her husband’s popularity plummeted, Lady Bird was visibly distressed by the vitriol directed to her husband. She worried for his health, both physical and mental. Lady Bird was very glad when her husband decided not to run for another term.
She was the first member of the Johnson administration to speak out after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. When Bobby Kennedy was killed, Lady Bird kindly sent condolences to Jackie. She also visited the dying Eisenhower. After Mamie expressed uncertainty about widowhood, Lady Bird pulled strings to get her lifetime Secret Service protection.
Post-Tenure: The Johnsons returned to their beloved Texas. Lady Bird set about helping build what would become her husband’s presidential library. She became associated with many institutes of higher education. Lady Bird started to write a memoir and have their home turned over to the National Park Service.
Johnson suddenly died in January 1973. Lady Bird had a long widowhood in which she continued her fight for natural beauty. She befriended subsequent presidents and First Ladies, sharing an anger at the constant criticism of Hillary Clinton’s activism. Lady Bird vacationed with Jackie and attended her funeral. She also stayed with the Nixons and the Carters. Her approval of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment shocked many, especially when she appeared at a womens’ conference with Betty Ford and Rosalynn Carter.
When her son-in-law ran for office, Lady Bird supported him. Her health failed over many years before she passed away in 2008. She is buried with her husband
Appearance and Character: Lady Bird was a petite woman with brown hair, brown eyes and noticeable features. She was a kind, warm woman who always looked out for others. When her husband was in a bad mood and rude to others, Lady Bird would move in to soothe the mess. She took his meanness with grace and dignity. Lady Bird was a brilliant businesswoman and her investments gave the family significant wealth. Her advocacy for the environment and beauty is not to be underestimated.
Advocacy: Beautification, nature and poverty
Pat Nixon (née Ryan) – The Warm
March 16, 1912-June 22, 1993
Children: Tricia, Julie
Relation to President: Wife
Early Life: Thelma Ryan was born to William and Katherine. The family was not rich but was not poor either, indeed, she was later seen as of a lower social status than Nixon. She lost her mother when she was twelve, then her father five years later. Pat, as she was widely known, would have to rely on her brothers and half-siblings. When in high school, she was an avid member of the drama club
From a very early age, Pat worked, even helping harvest produce as a child. In order to support herself in college and her father during his terminal illness, Pat worked in a huge variety of jobs from being a movie extra to being an x-Ray technician. During college, she worked forty hours a week on top of her classes. Pat graduated from the University of South California with a degree in merchandising and a teaching certificate.
After graduating college, Pat accepted a teaching position at Whittier Union High School. She was an active faculty member who directed school plays, organised events and attended PTA meetings.
Marriage: Pat met Richard Nixon when they were both performing at a community theatre. He proposed on their first date but Pat rejected him. It took him several years to finally convince Pat to marry him. The residents of Whittier, especially Nixon’s family, thought her to be below his social station.
Richard Nixon and Pat married in 1940.
Pre-Tenure: The pair returned to Whittier after their honeymoon and Pat continued to work, unusual for the time. When America entered WWII, Nixon joined the Navy. Pat served stateside in several capacities, most notably as an economist.
A year after the war ended, Nixon ran for Congress. Pat wasn’t thrilled about her husband choosing to enter politics but supported him anyway. She gave birth to daughters Patricia ‘Tricia’ and Julie in 1946 and 1948 respectively. In his Congressional and Senate elections, Pat was a key advisor and campaigner. She typed up, edited and handed out his campaign literature. Pat would visit the speeches of opponents and create a transcript. When it came to reviewing her husband’s speeches, she pulled no punches. Pat was also excellent at the traditional role of teas and social events, in which she was praised for her warm manner.
When Nixon was in consideration for the Republican vice presidential nomination in 1960, Pat begged him not to take it. She only learned that he’d accepted it upon seeing it on a news bulletin. Despite her dislike of politics, Pat encouraged Nixon to fight against the charges of taking illegal contributions and was at his side during the infamous Checkers speech.
As Second Lady, Pat was hugely popular. Eisenhower thought so highly of her that he would always send her on trips abroad with her husband. Pat visited fifty three countries around the world, though she did have some poor welcomes. She would often sub in for Mamie Eisenhower when the First Lady wasn’t available. Pat kept a behind the scenes profile when it came to politics, acting as an unpaid secretary to her husband.
When her husband lost narrowly in 1960, Pat was devastated. His loss in the election for Governor of California in 1962 jaded her further. Nixon practiced law during his wilderness years and Pat acted as an assistant.
When Nixon announced that he was running in the turbulent 1968 election, Pat was devastated. She was less open and did not campaign as much, being guarded when she was interviewed by the press. Luckily, Nixon won this time.
Tenure: Pat came into office as the roles of women were changing. Though the country was still largely traditional, women were becoming more independent. More were attending college and working instead of marrying early. As the woman lauded for being a traditional housewife in the 50s, Pat was derided as ‘Plastic Pat’ as First Lady. She was, however, so much more.
One of her main interests was volunteering. She encouraged women to get involved with political parties as volunteers during elections. Pat crossed the country and encouraged people to volunteer in order to cure social ills. She was part of the National Centre for Voluntary Action.
One of Pat’s favourite things was being a tour guide for visitors to the White House. She changed the rules so that visually impaired guests could touch the artifacts. Pamphlets in foreign languages were produced, tour guides spoke slowly to allow the deaf to lip read and there were ramps for wheelchairs. Pat introduced tours later in the day so that working people could come. She would greet guests herself with hugs and was praised for her generosity.
As she had been as Second Lady, Pat was well travelled. The administration saw her talents and she was trusted to do goodwill tours alone. After a devastating earthquake in 1970, Pat managed to arrange a humanitarian trip in a few short hours, flying to the country with supplies. She endeared herself to the population by hugging children left homeless and climbing through the rubble. Until Hillary Clinton, Pat was the best travelled First Lady. She was the first First Lady to visit Africa and joined Nixon on his famous trip to China.
Pat engineered Jackie Kennedy’s first visit to the White House in eight years. She invited Jackie and the children to see the portrait of the late President. Out of respect, she didn’t tell the press until after the Kennedys had left. Pat would later invite the widowed Rose Kennedy to the White House.
Despite her traditional image, Pat had strong views on women’s rights. She was the first First Lady to wear trousers both in public and in magazines. Pat told a crowd in Yugoslavia that the world needed more women in the legislature. She encouraged her husband to pick a female Supreme Court Justice, though this never came to fruition.
One daughter married between Nixon’s election and inauguration, another during his first term. Pat was much more enthusiastic during the 1972 campaign, crossing the country to stump up support for her husband.
The Watergate era was a hard time for Pat. She and her daughters were completely unaware of the scandal until it broke. Pat thought little of Nixon’s staff, believing them to be too powerful and that they’d locked him out of the loop. She advised him to destroy the tapes before they were in the public domain. Pat also told Nixon not to resign and to fight the charges. She thought him to be totally innocent of all charges.
When Nixon announced his decision to resign, Pat asked him why. She was devastated after his television announcement and told him the whole family was proud of him. Pat immediately planned the move back to California and started packing. As the Fords walked the Nixons to their helicopter, Pat put an arm around Betty.
Post-Tenure: Pat fell into private life, a victim of poor health and devastated by the scandal. One of her few public appearances was in her hometown in 1975, where a school was named after her.
Pat had a debilitating stroke in 1976 and had to undergo intense physical therapy. She had another stroke in 1983 as well as a litany of other health problems. She only made three public appearances- the aforementioned school visit, the opening of the Nixon Presidential Library and the opening of the Reagan one. Pat was notably frail in the latter two. Nevertheless, Pat enjoyed life in New Jersey surrounded by her grandchildren.
In 1993, Pat Nixon died. Her husband and daughters were with her. The funeral was well attended by most of the living Presidents and First Ladies. The normally reserved Nixon broke down frequently at the funeral and did not stop crying. In the months after, Nixon would complain that he was lonely and the house was empty without her. Nixon died eighteen months after his wife. They are buried together in California.
Appearance and Character: Pat Nixon was a woman of medium height with blonde hair and hazel eyes. She was a kind, warm woman dedicated to the public and her family. Pat had a firm sense of duty and took on many roles in her lifetime. She is remembered for her kindness and openness to everyone, regardless of their station. Pat was an extremely devoted wife, though not the doormat people thought her to be. She worked before her marriage in order to better her life.
Advocacy: Volunteering, the disabled and humanitarian work.