First ladies Presidential historians on the lives of 45 iconic American women

Susan Swain

Book - 2015

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New York : PublicAffairs [2015]
Corporate Author
C-SPAN (Television network)
Main Author
Susan Swain (-)
Corporate Author
C-SPAN (Television network) (-)
First edition
Physical Description
xxi, 462 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • Martha Dandridge Washington / Patricia Brady, Richard Norton Smith
  • Abigail Smith Adams / Edith Gelles, C. James Taylor
  • Martha Wayles Jefferson / Catherine Allgor, William Seale
  • Dolley Payne Madison / Catherine Allgor, Edith Mayo
  • Elizabeth Kortright Monroe / Daniel Preston, Richard Norton Smith
  • Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams / Amanda Mathews, Richard Norton Smith
  • Rachel Donelson Jackson / Patricia Brady, Michael Henderson
  • Hannah Hoes Van Buren / Patricia Brady, Michael Henderson
  • Anna Symmes Harrison / Edith Mayo, Edna Greene Medford
  • Letitia Christian Tyler, Julia Gardiner Tyler / Edna Greene Medford, Taylor Stoermer
  • Sarah Childress Polk / Paul Finkelman, Conover Hunt
  • Margaret Smith Taylor / Paul Finkelman, Conover Hunt
  • Abigail Powers Fillmore / Paul Finkelman, Conover Hunt
  • Jane Appleton Pierce / Ann Covell
  • Harriet Lane / Ann Covell, Feather Schwartz Foster
  • Mary Todd Lincoln / Richard Norton Smith, Rosalyn Terborg-Penn
  • Eliza McCardle Johnson / Jacqueline Berger, Kendra Hinkle
  • Julia Dent Grant / Pamela Sanfilippo, William Seale
  • Lucy Webb Hayes / Allida Black, Tom Culbertson
  • Lucretia Rudolph Garfield / Carl Sferrazza Anthony
  • Ellen Herndon Arthur / Carl Sferrazza Anthony
  • Frances Folsom Cleveland / Annette Dunlap, Taylor Stoermer
  • Caroline Scott Harrison / Edith Mayo, William Seale
  • Ida Saxton McKinley / Carl Sferrazza Anthony, Richard Norton Smith
  • Edith Carow Roosevelt / Stacy Cordery, Kathleen Dalton
  • Helen Herron Taft / Jane Hampton Cook, Lewis Gould
  • Ellen Axson Wilson, Edith Bolling Wilson / John Milton Cooper, Kristie Miller
  • Florence Kling Harding / David Pietrusza, Katherine Sibley
  • Grace Goodhue Coolidge / Cyndy Bittinger, Amity Shlaes
  • Lou Henry Hoover / Emily Charnock, Annette Dunlap
  • Anna Eleanor Roosevelt / Allida Black, Douglas Brinkley
  • Elizabeth (Bess) Wallace Truman / Nicole Anslover, William Seale
  • Mamie Doud Eisenhower / Marilyn Irvin Holt, Edith Mayo
  • Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy / Michael Beschloss, Barbara Perry
  • Claudia (Lady Bird) Taylor Johnson / Betty Boyd Caroli, Cokie Roberts
  • Patricia Ryan Nixon / Mary Brennan, Timothy Naftali
  • Elizabeth (Betty) Bloomer Ford / Richard Norton Smith
  • Rosalynn Smith Carter / Jay Hakes, Grace Hale
  • Nancy Davis Reagan / Carl Cannon, Judy Woodruff
  • Barbara Pierce Bush / Jeffrey Engle, Myra Gutin
  • Hillary Rodham Clinton / David Maraniss, Gail Sheehy
  • Laura Welch Bush / Ann Gerhart, Mark Updegrove
  • Michelle Robinson Obama / Liza Mundy, Krissah Thompson.
Review by Booklist Review

Extrapolated from C-SPAN's special yearlong history series, First Ladies: Influence & Image, these minibiographies each feature an official portrait and contributions from two noted historians. Because more than 50 historians were featured throughout the series, the tone and the perspective of individual entries and excerpts vary from First Lady to First Lady. Though the book contains a wealth of interesting facts and anecdotes, readers searching for more comprehensive coverage of each subject will be disappointed. Casual browsers who can move beyond the distracting, clunky transcript-like format will appreciate this attempt to highlight the unique contributions of presidential wives to their husband's life, politics, and administration. This collective biography provides a digestible introduction to the 45 women who labored behind and beside the American presidents.--Flanagan, Margaret Copyright 2015 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Stories of Martha Washington knitting socks at the front, Elizabeth Monroe saving Lafayette's wife from the guillotine, and Grace Coolidge's soap-throwing raccoon offer an unusual perspective on the women who helped strengthen the country through social and diplomatic networking, personal projects, and other forms of support. Taken from a 2013-14 C-Span series, this chronological account engages pairs of historians-including the exceptional Carl Sferrazza Anthony-in discussing the personality, marriage, passions, and legacy of each first lady, resulting in a fluid, conversational style. These changing voices add depth and expertise, though they also have the occasional habit of refuting elements of previous chapters, especially in instances regarding symbolic "firsts," a term often shown to be subjective. While the public only paid attention to cyclical White House restoration projects and glamorous social events, the first ladies' sisterhood frequently included mourning deceased children and mentoring or otherwise supporting one another. This accessible account replaces stodgy depictions of stuffy, untouchable first ladies with the relatable, often tragic stories of the determined women who made it up as they went along, to the benefit of their husbands and country. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Selections from the popular yearlong C-SPAN series exploring the lives of the first ladies, each offering conversational, somewhat truncated viewpoints by various historians.C-SPAN history consultant and author Richard Norton Smith and moderator and senior manager Swain paired up to create the TV endeavor; this book is the severely edited version. Each first lady appears in an official picture circa her husband's presidential era, and two historians take turns delineating her biography, not necessarily chronologically. A final word from each briefly discusses the lady's "legacy." Due to the need to preserve verbatim the historians' remarks, the editing makes for clunky, disjointed reading, with the effectmore or less intentionalof a conversation rather than a history text. However, each historian offers a depth to his or her subject that helps flesh out these fairly mythical figures who inhabited the White House and give a sense of where she came from and what was truly important to her. These ladies were thrust into a national role, and how they used it to grow is fascinating: Abigail Adams was a prolific and significant writer of letters that provide enormous insight into the Revolution and early national period; savvy entertainer Dolley Madison had to "pinch-hit" as hostess in widower Thomas Jefferson's administration, laying the important connections she would need for her husband's subsequent presidency; Sarah Polk was unusually well-educated in her mid-1800s era and served as her husband's "genuine political partner" (the couple was also the first to be photographed); Lucretia Garfield was the first to keep a diary of her White House days and not to destroy her papers. Several were second wives, most had children, and many lost children, while all were "helpmates" in some fashion. Among the contributing historians are Edith Gelles, Gail Sheehy and David Maraniss. Though presented in a stilted fashion, all the portraits are rendered with sympathy and detail. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.