Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Prizes for the First Ladies of the United States

(Retrieved from Blogjob, where it was tagged with: Anna HarrisonDolley MadisonFirst Lady of the United StatesHarriet Lane,Hillary ClintonJane Pierce,Julia TylerLaura Bush,Margaret TaylorMartha JeffersonMartha WashingtonNancy ReaganSarah PolkU.S. history.)

It's been a long, discouraging day of hack writing. Anything that comes to my mind at this time in this day is probably best not published. So, here's a batch of fun facts I put together several years ago. Some of the more obscure ones came from this book:
1. Best Adjusted to Her Job: Dolley Madison. Many of our First Ladies seem not to have liked their job. Martha Dandridge Washington said it was “more like [being] a state prisoner than anything else.” Margaret Smith Taylor called her husband’s election a plot to shorten his life. Dolley Madison, however, loved being First Lady. She played hostess for Thomas Jefferson before her husband became President, and for Martin Van Buren after James Madison died.
2. Worst Adjusted to Her Job: Margaret Taylor. Margaret Smith Taylor liked fresh air. Though born into a very rich family in Maryland, she escaped early and never complained about camping with Zachary Taylor in the wildernesses of Florida and Mexico, or about their children being born in army camps. She did complain, bitterly, about having to live in the White House.
3. Myth-Makers (jointly): Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton. Those who recommended that Laura Bush bleach her hair “so she would look more like other First Ladies” didn’t know what they were talking about. Of course, only twentieth-century First Ladies have had their looks preserved in photographs showing what they looked like by the time their husbands were elected; our first First Ladies are remembered by paintings of the way they looked in youth. Presumably most First Ladies have always had grey hair...and most of them had black hair, once. Hillary Clinton, who has always been blonde, was an exception.
4. Most Embarrassed by Her Hair: Martha Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson's daughter had hair concerns that went beyond the question of silver versus gold. Nobody really knows what Martha Wayles Jefferson looked like. The painting of her that survived was an artist’s composite of verbal descriptions by people who had seen her during her short life, and was generally considered inaccurate. She did have red hair, and Sally Hemings had an African grandfather, but everybody guessed that Sally and Martha were half-sisters. Oddly enough, Martha Jefferson Randolph, the daughter of red-haired Martha Wayles and red-haired Thomas Jefferson who sometimes served as her widowed father's First Lady, had black curly hair and dark eyes.
5. Not Even Married to the President: Dolley Madison...but several of our first First Ladies were either blood relatives or political allies of unmarried Presidents. Andrew Jackson identified the wives of two nephews as his First Ladies. Grover Cleveland’s sister served as First Lady during his first term. The idea that male politicians should be judged partly on their respect for women coincided with the struggle for voting rights for women.
6. Never Seen at the White House: Anna Harrison. William Henry Harrison was married, but Anna Symmes Harrison never came to Washington. At the time of the inauguration, both the President and Mrs. Harrison had flu. She stayed home in bed during the festivities. He made it to the Inaugural Ball, caught pneumonia, and died before Mrs. Harrison felt well enough to come to Washington for the funeral. Upon recovery Mrs. Harrison gave her husband a second funeral back in Ohio, where she lived for several years after him.
7. Barely Half His Age: Julia Tyler. John Tyler was the first President who openly admitted an interest in younger women. Fifty-three when the first Mrs. Tyler died, he married a 23-year-old debutante later that year. Each wife had seven children. What was remarkable, in those days, was that all fourteen lived to grow up.
8. Nerdiest: Sarah Polk. Although she was the youngest first wife ever to serve as First Lady, Sarah Childress Polk was known as a puritanical intellectual snob and blamed for her husband’s social failures. For example, the Polks probably deserved some sort of prize for the most disappointing Inaugural Ball. They had enough supporters to throw a $10 ball and a $5 ball. The more expensive party was of course intended for the wealthier supporters and diplomats, the less expensive one for White House staff...but some loyal staffers bought tickets to the $10 ball, to which someone forgot to invite the diplomatic corps, who went to the $5 ball instead. At one point an embassy wife was shocked to find herself dancing with the Polks’ gardener. Mrs. Polk was not blamed for that...because when she finally showed up, very late, at the $10 ball, she made people stop dancing and stand in a receiving line.
9. Most Depressing: Jane Pierce. After her son died in a railroad accident, Jane Means Pierce became an invalid, generally considered a psychosomatic invalid, who was said to have “banished all animation in others.” Franklin Pierce was known as a heavy drinker.
10. Most Morally Questionable: Harriet Lane. James Buchanan never married; rumor consumers never made up their minds whether he was homosexual, or unofficially married to Harriet Lane, a much younger relative he presented as First Lady. Americans officially recognized Lane as Buchanan’s niece or cousin, but in Europe she was introduced as Mrs. Buchanan. Nevertheless, she found a young man to marry shortly before Buchanan died.