FIRST LADIES: The Saga of the Presidents' Wives and Their Power 1789-1961 by Carl Sferrazza Anthony

FIRST LADIES: The Saga of the Presidents' Wives and Their Power 1789-1961

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The first of two volumes that will attempt to provide ""the first full chronicle history of the first ladyship""; from a former Nancy Reagan speechwriter who has written on the institution for Vanity Fair, The Washington Post, and other publications. This engaging combination of political analysis, social history, and biography examines the White House years of each First Lady from Martha Washington to Mamie Eisenhower, in addition to the early lives of the recent group beginning with Jackie Kennedy and ending with Barbara Bush. For those who think that powerful First Ladies first came co the scene with Eleanor Roosevelt, Anthony convincingly demonstrates that previous occupants of the position played far more than the subservient hostess role so often ascribed to them. In fact, First Ladies have made much of their undefined roles and often sparked controversy by championing causes, encouraging their spouses' ambitions, and even displaying far more canny political instincts than their elected mates. Such strong political partners as Dolley Madison, Sarah Polk, Mary Todd lincoln, Julia Grant, Edith Wilson, Helen Taft, and Eleanor Roosevelt get the lion's share of attention here, but even seemingly more apolitical partners are treated as shrewd women who became their husbands' best campaign assets, such as beautiful Frances Cleveland and vivacious Grace Coolidge. Anthony also considers ""the sorority"" of ex-First Ladies, in addition to the quirky side of the Presidents' distaff partners (e.g., Julia Tyler, Mary Lincoln, Julia Grant, Edith Wilson, and Florence Harding consulted astrologers or mediums long before Nancy Reagan). Although he rarely analyzes how society's changing perceptions of women have affected the First Ladies, he does offer vivid portraits of these talented, strong-willed women who wielded steel fists inside velvet gloves. Overlong and sometimes lacking literary grace, but staggeringly well researched, richly sympathetic, and teeming with human interest.

Pub Date: Sept. 27th, 1990
Publisher: Morrow