First Ladies

According to many Americans, First Ladies usually play the normal roles of wives to their husbands, doing the regular activities that wives are supposed to do for their husbands. Such activities, of course, do not include the usual house chores such as doing the laundry and scrubbing the bathroom. These are left for their trusted maid servants. Apart from ensuring that the President’s suits have been nicely pressed, the First Lady will also be expected to accompany her husband during certain state functions of which she is required to.However, as Bill Alder reveals, the White House is not just a place to sit back, relax, watch TV and wait for Mr. President to come back home from a busy day. There are a few secret activities that go on inside and outside the chambers of the White House which would raise a few eyebrows when revealed. The following is a review of the book America’s First Ladies: Their Uncommon Wisdom from Martha Washington to Laura Bush by Bill Alder. It takes a deeper look into how these ladies are perceived by Alder and his personal opinions on their witticism and amusing undertakings in the White House.The following is an insight of some of these ladies’ lives. Mary Todd Lincoln In the book, Alder pits the wife of Abraham Lincoln as a big spender. When her husband was vying for the top seat in the country, Mary Todd once whispered to a friend of hers that if Abraham won, he would remain privy to her habit of spending wildly. On the other hand, Mr. Lincoln would have a hard time to digest the fact that his wife is a spendthrift if he won the presidency (Adler, 2002). During her childhood years, Mary belonged to the aristocracy of Lexington.Her association with a privileged class increased her love of elaborate and showy attire and accessories. Though she couldn’t settle for cheap clothing and would never have dreamt of getting married to a man who was way below her class, she somehow fell in love with Abraham Lincoln, a poor man who was raised in a log cabin. As soon as Mrs. Lincoln set foot inside the White House, she became a fashion symbol and was often under scrutiny by journalists. She was mostly criticized over the high costs of her dresses.Some media houses sometimes suggested that the state funds used to buy her dresses would have been used to send aid to American soldiers who were dying in the battlefield. By doing so, her spendthrift nature would have been curbed. Her redecorating of the White House raised many eyebrows including those of her husband. Her extravagance and explicit taste of fashion actually made some European fashion designers emulate her. French Empress Eugenie is one of the women who were spotted adorning similar dress designs as Mrs. Lincoln.Her extravagance was way too much as compared to previous First Ladies and her stay in the White House was a clear indicator of a change in pomp and glamor. Julia Tyler In 1844, John Tyler became the first American president to marry while holding office. He stunned Americans even more by marrying a lady who was thirty years younger than him (Adler, 2002). 21-year-old Julia Gardiner Tyler, another descendant of a wealthy family, however proved to the world that despite her tender age, she had the ability to play her role as First Lady.Much like Mary Todd, Alder describes Julia as an explicit extravagant. The First Lady was seen to preside over functions with a high-spirited attitude. Prior to her entrance in the White House, guests used to be received following procedures laid out by the Van Buren administration. But during her time, she totally changed the reception procedures. She adorned plumes in her hair as she received guests. In addition, her maids wore white dresses which was a new trend as far as observers were concerned. According to her, she made all the alterations to revive the White House in order to please her husband.Using her wit, she believed that President Tyler would gain a lot of satisfaction by watching people praise his young and vibrant newly wedded wife. Ellen Wilson Not all women who have lived in the White House are full of unprecedented drama. Ellen Axson Wilson is portrayed by Adler as a calm and composed motherly woman. Most Americans at that time viewed her as a sweet caring mother. Being a daughter of a church minister, her humble and serene background may have played a major role in developing such a character in her.She is also one of the few women who never saw what the big deal was in staying in the White House. She never showed great enthusiasm in being the wife of the president of the United States of America. However, Alde shows an interesting side of Ellen. Having known each other since they were kids, Ellen and Woodrow Wilson did not shy from showing how much they loved and cared for each other. During the course of their romantic relationship, they two are rumored to have exchanged more than 1,000 love letters (Adler, 2002). Despite giving it her all in showing romance to her husband, Ellen also had a soft spot for art.Her love of painting saw her put up a studio complete with a skylight erected inside the White House. She continued with her hobby unperturbed even after attending the weddings of her two daughters in a span of six months. Hillary Clinton Being among the most learned First Ladies to ever stay in the White House, Hillary Rodham Clinton made her presence felt in the most convincing way possible. In her years as an undergrad, she was a member of the National Honor Society. She also honed her leadership skills back then by being a student leader.By the time her husband, Bill Clinton, clinched power, she had already been appointed to the board of Legal Services Corporation by President Jimmy Carter. After President Clinton assumed office, she was given another official role of chairing the Task Force on National Health Care Reform. Despite all these roles, Adler shows how she still tried her best to balance between family, work and service. Conclusion The book does a good job in giving an insight into the secret lives of America’s First Ladies. It also reveals the goings-on that many an American are not familiar with.The book mostly contains anecdotes such as the antics of Mary Todd Lincoln. It also does a fantastic job in exposing how most of the First Ladies were major spendthrifts who did their best to leave a mark in the White House in terms of pomp and color. An example is Julia Tyler who completely revived the reception procedures whenever foreign personalities paid a visit. His extensive use of lengthy speeches can be commended and criticized as well. An example is the reproduction of Hilary Clinton’s address at Wellesley College. The letter sounds interesting at first but becomes dull soon afterwards.However, it suffices to say that Alder has done a tremendous job in putting together an insight into the lives of these women in power beyond their usual First Lady hats that American citizens see them wear. The fact that he has managed to engage the human mind in realizing that First Ladies indeed go beyond the stereotypes which regular citizens often associate them with makes this book a must read. References Adler, B. (2002). America’s First Ladies: Their Uncommon Wisdom, from Martha Washington to Laura Bush. Boulder, CO: Taylor Trade Publishing.


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