Wednesday, April 18, 2018

America's First Ladies by Betty Boyd Caroli

I am sure you have all heard that Barbara Bush died yesterday. I was looking at pictures of her life and I remembered this book that I adored when I was about ten or so. 

I loved it so much that when Mom and Dad were getting rid of it, I was the one they gave it to. And although it is obviously out of date (Hilary is the last addition) I still keep it. Because.... well... I still kind of love it. 

I was a major geek and American history was my thing. There was a companion book to this about the American presidents that I loved too, but this one I loved a bit more. 

I ended up studying history (and biology) in college as a result of all this fascination. As I began to choose a focus, I realized that while I liked the intrigue and high stakes in political history, I was much more interested in learning about everyday, lesser known people. 

Most of the First Ladies of America are not really everyday people. Many of them came from a place of wealth and privilege. But they always seemed like accidentally famous people to me. They hadn't chose the spotlight necessarily, and for some, they actively disliked the spotlight. But there they were. 

I loved them for their love of country and that their love for a particular man could make them stay in this scrutinized and often thankless position.

I love our first ladies. 

And when all this love for First Ladies (do we capitalize that?) was developing, Barbara Bush was the first lady. She never struck me particularly when I was ten. She just was. She was the definitive definition of what being a first lady was about to my ten year old self.

A young Hilary, sporting the cold shoulder look while Abraham Lincoln apparently sees something interesting happening stage right. (or is that stage left? I always forget if you say it from the audience or actor's viewpoint.)

Grace Coolidge liked to do her own housework. 

The loss of privacy is one of the hardest things for me to understand as First Lady. Someone is always, always nearby, filling up your house. 

Jackie Kennedy helping the refurbishers put up a candelabra

Clearly, Michelle Obama was not the first First Lady to have ripped upper arms. 

The first Bushs (Bushes?) and the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh. 

I read today that her hair went white when she was 28. Their first daughter died of leukemia just before her fourth birthday and Barbara's hair went white from the strain. 

She dyed it for years and then finally embraced her natural hair color. People critiqued her for it, telling her she looked more like her husband's mother than his wife. But she didn't let any beauty industry dictate to her. Go her! 

Eleanor Roosevelt--always fascinating. 

I adore her for her care and interest in the everyday people. Those letter children wrote her in the Great Depression that she actually read and did something about? Swoon. 

I always thought it was unfortunate that we didn't have trains around for political campaigns nowadays. It lends a certain something to the whole proceeding. 

Lady Byrd. How could you not love someone who planted a lot of flowers around and wore coats as yellow as a daffodil?

HW and Barbara and kids. 

They said Barbara was pretty traditional in her role, being her husbands biggest supporter and cheerleader. As HW began to get further into politics and higher up the ladder, Barbara began to get more vocal and let her strong personality shine through. She actually supported abortion rights and gun control, publicly differing from her husband on those issues. 

Go her!

The Kennedys. So tragic and enthralling.

Lucy Hayes apparently loved feeding the pigeons

Barabara and  HW's wedding.

They met at a dance. He couldn't waltz, so they talked. Barbara later told someone, "We started talking that night, and never stopped." 

She married the first boy she ever kissed. 

72 years of marriage later...

A young Hilary receiving her degree

Barbara Bush was asked to speak at a Wellesley commencement, but student's protested that she wasn't qualified, since she didn't have a degree. Instead of backing out, she invited the First Lady of the Soviet Union, a university professor, to speak with her. Attitude!

Jackie-O loved photography! How cool is that?

The young Roosevelts. FDR is apparently knitting. Was that a thing? Was it normal for men to knit back in the day? 

Betty Ford, having a quiet moment.

This, more than anything, captures what I love about the First Ladies--trying to live life, having all those attendant feelings as a woman, wife, mother, citizen, and having to do it in front of the whole world. How did they keep their sanity? How did they balance the constant demands of the public with their private life? 

Fascinating stuff. 

And goodbye to my first (or at least the first one I was aware of) First Lady. 

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