By Paul F. Boller Jr.
As his previous books Presidential Anecdotes and Presidential Campaigns clearly proved, Paul F. Boller, Jr. has a remarkable eye for the telling detail that humanizes history and gives it life. In this new book, he brings that gift to bear on the women our Presidents married, and the result is a biographical feast--at once funny and poignant, dramatic and illuminating, covering every First Lady from Martha Washington to Nancy Reagan. In these vivid and entertaining pages, we encounter the trend-setter Dolley Madison's "unfortunate propensity to snuff-taking"--a propensity that soon had Washington's other women doing the same. We learn that Mary Todd Lincoln held such harsh opinions of some of her husband's appointments that he felt compelled to tell her, "If I listened to you, I should soon be without a cabinet." We meet Edith Wilson in a Red Cross canteen after America's entry into World War I, dispensing candy and cigarettes to the doughboys departing for France. We find Eleanor Roosevelt on the night of FDR's election to his first term, lamenting, "Now I'll have no identity," and then going on to become the greatest of all the "Woman Doers" to occupy the White House. And we hear Lady Bird Johnson's advice to her two young daughters prior to a State Dinner in honor of the President of Sudan: "Read all you can in the encyclopedia about the Sudan. And don't drink any of the wine at dinner." In the manner of his earlier books, Boller devotes a chapter to each of his subjects, featuring an incisive biographical essay followed by a selection of revealing anecdotes. The book portrays a diverse group of women--shrinking violets, passionate partisans, spotlight-loving hostesses, and devoted helpmeets who remained silent in public but actively advised their husbands in private. Once again, Boller delightfully demonstrates how much the institution of the presidency and all that surrounds it tells us about ourselves as a people and our life as a nation.