First Ladies – Cokie Roberts


When my brother and I were very young, my parents threw us in the back of the Family Buick and off we would go on a road trip.  The two top spots on the their list of  places were Washington DC and Williamsburg. DC was a magical place for me and I vowed that I would live in the city when I grew up which and that is exactly what happen.

Two of my favorite tourist attractions were the Smithsonian American History Museum and the White House.  Back in the day visitors were allowed to see much more of the White House then now and it was a thrill to be walking the halls in a house where so many people that I had read about had walked before.  The first ladies interested me the most and it was with great pleasure when I discovered the ongoing first ladies collection in the Museum of American History.

I found this audio book in the library. It is really not a book in the true sense of the word but it is an audio copy consisting of interviews with very interesting people such as Joseph Ellis a historian and writer of such books as First Family: Abigail and John Adams and Sally Fields who discusses Mary Todd Lincoln. This audio book is an NPR production narrated by Cokie Roberts who has done much research on this and other topics relating to women in history. It discusses the influence the first lady had on their husband while in office.

When you think about it, the First Ladies are the most influential non-elected figures in the United States. Back in the day, many of these women were very political in their own right but were unable to voice their opinions due to the times. It was not until the 19th amendment to the constitution was ratified that women gained the right to vote. So women needed to find other ways to make their opinions known.  For example even though there was no social media women before the American Revolution women spread the word to boycott establishments that did not necessarily support the “correct” political views.  This significantly effected these merchants livelihood. First Ladies worked through their husbands.

The thing I loved about this audio book was how the stories that were told peeled back some of the layers surrounding the Ladies so that you got a glimpse of what they were really like.  Martha and George Washington wrote many letters to each other however only three survived because they destroyed them but through extensive research bits and pieces of what she was like are discussed.

John and Abigail Adams wrote at least 1200 letters that survived because they chose not to destroy them so her story and who she was is well documented. For much of her marriage to John Adams they were apart held things together at home allowing John to be who he ultimately was.  Would he have been able to do what he did had he married someone different?

Florence Harding is discussed.  I knew very little about her but apparently she had many great causes she was passionate about and she was a very intelligent woman. Unfortunately, Warren Harding was such a womanizer and I will just say this skank that all the great she did while first lady was overshadowed by scandal surrounding her husband.

I enjoyed this book so much that I went out and bought Cokie Roberts’ book on Founding Mothers that I look forward to reading.


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