The President's Partner: The First Lady in the Twentieth Century

The President's Partner: The First Lady in the Twentieth Century

The President's Partner: The First Lady in the Twentieth Century

The President's Partner: The First Lady in the Twentieth Century

Synopsis

Radical political and social changes, together with the development of radio and television, have dramatically altered the role of the President's wife since the early years of this century. Gutin's book examines the public and private personas of twelve presidential wives in the context of those changes. Focusing on the First Lady's public communications, Gutin looks at the roles that each of these women has filled, from ceremonial figure and White House hostess to presidential surrogate, campaigner, and independent advocate for special causes.

Excerpt

Florence Harding

Grace Coolidge

Bess Truman

Mamie Eisenhower

Is it accurate or fair to say that a First Lady is ever inactive as a public communicator? Any woman who occupies the White House is busy; even those who crave privacy have some responsibilities that simply cannot be ignored. The First Lady, whether in 1920 or 1988, was and is expected at the very least to be a visible presence and a gracious hostess.

Florence Harding, Grace Coolidge, Bess Truman, and Mamie Eisenhower were inactive public communicators. They gave no speeches, advocated no causes, and campaigned for no candidates. Their press relations, though generally cordial, were not productive. This group of women made no attempt to impress their respective views or images on the public consciousness.

Despite the enormous potential of the First Lady's position, these women either sought to be or were cast into the role of inactive communicators. Florence Harding enjoyed the ceremonial trappings that accompanied the First Lady's job, but she was not interested in addressing the public. Mrs. Harding attempted to focus her efforts on influencing her husband's decisions. Grace Coolidge might have been more active and engaged in more communication activities but was prevented from doing so by Calvin Coolidge. Bess Truman lived her life as she wanted, avoiding all but the most important public duties with the concurrence of her husband. Mamie Eisenhower was often physically unwell and, like Bess Truman, avoided all but the most significant events.

Florence Harding, Grace Coolidge, Bess Truman, and Mamie Eisenhower were figureheads who viewed their roles and responsibilities as strictly ceremonial in scope. All performed the expected First Lady role of entertaining, but did very little else.

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