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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Who's that Lady?

This weekend I will be fortunate enough to travel to Washington, D.C. to represent the Mississippi Library Commission at the National Book Festival. I’ll get to tell people about all of the services we provide here at MLC and, I’m sure, meet some great people. This trip is especially exciting because I’m such a huge fan of history. I actually taught high school social studies for a couple of years and really enjoyed teaching young people about America’s incredible history. I remember telling one group of ninth graders that Abraham Lincoln was the first American president to pitch a perfect game in the World Series. Most of those little rascals were skeptical, but I think I tricked a few. Anyways, it seems that everyone knows something about former presidents, whether it’s real or made up by their teachers. Somehow though, our first ladies are often overlooked. I decided to check the stacks here at MLC and see if I could find some interesting information about our lovely first ladies.

The first book I checked out was The Presidents, First Ladies, and Vice Presidents: White House Biographies, 1789-2001 by Daniel Diller and Stephen Robertson. This book is useful, but because it covers so many topics, the information is pretty basic. I did learn, however, that Richard Nixon proposed to his future wife, Patricia, during their first date. Patricia was smart enough to demur that night, but she ended up marrying Tricky Dick two year later.

Robert Watson’s book, American First Ladies, is probably the most detailed resource we have on the subject. Watson’s book is much more detailed and even devotes some ink to discuss scandalous rumors that surround our past first ladies. My favorite rumor is that Florence Harding, wife of known philanderer Warren G. Harding, poisoned her husband. Watson explains that a book was published in 1930 that accuses Ms. Harding of murdering her husband. Although Watson argues that Harding’s death was more likely caused by his poor health and a severe case of food poisoning (tainted crab, gross), it’s always fun to speculate when a cheating husband turns up dead.

The last book I looked through was First Ladies Quotations Book by William O. Foss. This book features quotes from first ladies regarding everything from aging to welfare. Although every first lady is represented in the book, Abigail Adams consistently stands out as the most quotable. Here are a few of my favorites from Mrs. Adams. Abigail Adams on legs: “I think that a gentleman has no business to concern himself about the Legs of a lady.” On love: “Ever remember with the Tenderest Sentiments her who knows no earthly happiness equal to that of being tenderly loved by her dearest Friend.” And lastly, on being a wife: “No man ever prospered in the world without the consent and cooperation of his wife.” If you are interested in learning more about our first ladies, you should visit MLC and check out some of our excellent resources.

Diller, Daniel and Stephen L. Robertson. The Presidents, First Ladies, and Vice Presidents: White House Biographies, 1789-2001. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2001
Watson, Robert (Ed.) American First Ladies. Pasadena, CA: Salem Press Inc., 2002
Foss, William (Ed.) First Ladies Quotations Book. New York: Barricade Books Inc., 1999

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