PREFACE

Presidential Wives completes the trilogy of books about the Presidents that began with Presidential Anecdotes ( 1981) and continued with Presidential Campaigns ( 1984). The format is the same: essays and anecdotes. The essays focus on the backgrounds, characters, outlooks, and personalities of the women the Presidents married, the lives they lived, public and private, as wives of political leaders, and the conceptions held by those who got to the White House of the duties and responsibilities of the First Lady of the Land. The stories accompanying the essays -- some of them amusing, others dramatic, and still others on the sad side -- illustrate, underline, and expand on the points made in the essays.

Stories about the Presidents' wives are harder to come by than those about the Presidents themselves. Until the twentieth century the wives of the Presidents, with a few notable exceptions, maintained low profiles and attracted little public attention. It did not occur to James Monroe or Martin Van Buren to mention their families in their autobiographies; nor did biographers of the Presidents, until recent years, feel obliged to spend more than a perfunctory page or paragraph or two on the President's wife. "A lady's name should appear in print only three times," said Edith Kermit Roosevelt, First Lady from 1901 to 1909; "at her birth, marriage, and death."1 The explosion of the mass media during the twentieth century, together with new notions about the place of women in American society, changed all that. It gradually got so that the wife of a President couldn't stay out of the news even if she wanted to.

Five of the women appearing here died before their husbands became President: Martha Jefferson, Rachel Jackson, Hannah Van Buren, Ellen Arthur, and Alice Lee Roosevelt. Three of them -- Letitia Tyler, Caroline Harrison, and Ellen Axson Wilson -- died while in the White House, and their husbands went on to remarry: John Tyler (Julia Gardiner) and Woodrow Wilson (Edith Bolling Gait) while still President, and Benjamin Harrison ( Mary Scott Dimmock) after leaving office. Five women were widows at the time of their marriages ( Martha Washington, Martha Jefferson, Dolley Madison, Mary Scott Harrison, and Edith)

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1
Sylvia Jukes Morris, Edith Kermit Roosevelt: Portrait of a First Lady ( New York, 1980), 525-26.

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