tv First Ladies During Wartime CSPAN October 16, 2016 11:59pm-1:11am EDT
app from the app store or go -- google play. >> as the nation elects a new president in november, will america have its first foreign-born first later since louisa adams, or will have a former president as first gentleman? there more about the influence of america's first spouses, in c-span's first ladies. it gives readers a look into the personal lives and impact of every first lady in american history. it is a companion to c-span's well-regarded biography series, and features interviews with the nations leading first lady historians. each chapter also issues brief biographies, and archival photos. first ladies, in paperback, published by public affairs, is now available at your favorite bookseller, and also as an e-book. up next, a discussion about
first ladies during wartime. from martha washington visiting soldiers, to eleanor roosevelt shaking hands of an estimated -- of troops. the national archive hosted this event. it is a little over an hour. [applause] >> good morning, and welcome to my house. [laughter] the national archives was created by an act of congress in 1984. the mission to preserve the records of the united states government and make those records available so that every american citizen can hold its government accountable and learn from the past. today that collection is over 13
billion documents. miles of film a video and more electronicillion records. at valleyrds start forge and go all the way up to the techniques that are being created as i'm speaking -- the tweaks that are being created as i am speaking. we are a nationwide network of facilities, one of the busiest is the national personnel records center in st. louis which houses more than 56 billion veterans records. central responds to a billion requests each year and allows veterans to obtain a wide variety of benefits including medical treatments and security benefits. these 13 presidential libraries are not libraries in the typical
sense. they are archives and museums bringing together documents and artifacts of the president, the administration, the first later family withoutnd regard for political affiliations are affiliations. we will soon have another come of future obama library in chicago's historic jackson park. we are currently outfitting temporary storage space in chicago, and have hired our staff for the library and are hard at work collecting artifacts and prepared records for the move to illinois. january 20, 2017, we will have transferred hundreds of millions of textual electronic and audiovisual records -- january 20, 2017, we will have transferred records. the papers of the first lady's office are part of the collection of the presidential libraries. there are than 21.4 million pages of records and personal papers in our collection.
issues such as just say no, the anti-drug campaign of nancy reagan, rosalynn carter's campaign for health. the initiatives of laura bush, and michelle obama's let's move program aimed at raising a kids.tion of healthy in the 18th century, martha washington visited the troops at valley forge during the revolutionary war. today, first lady michelle obama is joining forces initiative, which ensures service members , veterans, and their families, have the tools to succeed drop -- throughout their lives. first ladies have had to meet personal and public demands to each has brought her own passions and personalities. we are fortunate to have their
legacies documented in our presidential libraries. now allow me to introduce my friend, anita mcbride. she is executive in residence at the center for presidential studies. she previously served as assistant to president george w. bush and chief of staff to first lady laura bush from 2005 to 2009. directing the stats work on a wide variety of domestic and global initiative in which mrs. bush was involved. anita's white house service spans two decades and three presidential administrations. including director of white house personnel under presidents ronald reagan and george h.w. bush and as director of the u.s. speakers bureau at the united states information agency. she is an advisor to the george w. bush institute, and a number -- member of several organizations, including the u.s. afghan women's council, and
the white house historical association. please join me in welcoming anita mcbride. [applause] >> good morning everyone. thank you for much. you're very very generous in your remarks. on behalf of american university and all of our conference partners, i want to welcome everyone, both here and the audience and on livestream, to today's conference, america's first ladies in service to our nation. i also want to thank you for hosting us in this beautiful national archives building. i was really delighted when you offered up your house as a venue to convene the conference. it is the perfect place to talk about our first ladies, as they are some of our most important figures in american history. you have a great team of people here at the archives, and they have been terrific to work with,
and i thank them. i also want to take this opportunity to thank all about terrific conference partners, the au library, the national archives foundation, the white house historical association, the george w. bush institute, and the white house joining forces initiative. along with all of our distinguished panelists and moderators, who will be introduced to you shortly. each of our partner organizations and their fantastic teams have played a vital role in helping to develop this very robust program that we want to present to you today. our experience will be announced by first-hand accounts from two women who have walked in these footsteps of history, first lady michelle obama and former first lady laura bush. i am so grateful to both of them for joining us later this morning. american university has a long history in recognizing the vital role that a first lady plays as a voice for change and for action in our country. i am proud to be the first
ladies initiative and conference series at american university school of public affairs, and what to thank the ascending team for their strong support of this project. over the last six years, the school of public affairs has presented a series of conferences at presidential libraries around the country, to examine the unique and evolving role of the president spouse. we view it as a partner to the presidency, with the power to shape societal attitudes and effect change. as a former chief of staff to a first lady and a white house veteran, i have had a front-row seat to their experience, and i'm delighted to be in a position to help shine a light on their work and sell their -- tell their stories. pat nixon called it the hardest unpaid job in the world. there is a lot of truth to that.
each first lady writes her own job description, and each of our conferences has focused on a different theme, and how they have used their platform to address important issues facing our nation. today's conference, the fifth in our series, will focus on a first lady as spouse of the commander-in-chief, and the actions they have taken throughout times of war and peace to support service members, military families and our country's veterans. we will hear from noted historians, authors, journalists, and our first panel, look at first histories through the sweep of history. later, and a moderated conversation with the first ladies, we will pay particular attention to the joining forces initiative launched by michelle obama and dr. jill biden five years ago. to military service initiative established by president and
mrs. bush at the george bush institute. these are great examples of using their platforms during and after their white house years. there are many organizations that are here that have been supporting joining forces and the military service initiative as well as service members and veterans and military spouses, so i thank you all for joining us today. with that, i would like to welcome to the stage dr. neil kerwin, the president of american university, to introduce our first distinguished panel. he became the american university's 14th president in 2007. in 1975 is a member of the faculty, then began the dean of public affairs, later the provost, and then the president. he is a visionary and a great leader, and was instrumental in encouraging me to develop this initiative as he watched with great interest the growing influence of the first lady in public policy, and politics, and
in global diplomacy. he came to have breakfast with me at the white house in 2009 to talk about the idea. at the time, i could barely put one foot in front of the other, and i was not thinking about what came next, but i knew he was serious when he accepted a 7:00 a.m. meeting time, and then told me he does not even eat breakfast. i got a job, and he got a glass of water. i want to look into the stage dr. neil kerwin. [applause] >> thank you, anita. i came out ahead on that deal. i am really pleased to be here, and to join with this distinguished group to discuss issues of great importance and
ongoing interest to the united states. i do want to thank anita for her leadership on this. your work for these many years has brought tremendous visibility to the role of the first lady and the scholarship associated with the first lady's work is increasing as a result of that. [applause] >> i want to think in advance first ladies michelle obama and laura bush for participating in today's panel discussions. we are especially proud to be participating in the conference that recognizes the service and sacrifices of americans in combat. military families, and the countries veterans. american university is very proud to have been recognized as a veteran friendly campus. we offer opportunities to our returning servicemen and women that we think are special and we
commend the other universities in the united states have stepped up as well. it is also our privilege to have for veterans in the audience from american universities student body and alumni core. we have a second year masters of administration and army veteran. a first-year mpa student an air force veteran. matthew, a second-year student in justice law and criminology, and, lieutenant julia lopez, 2010 graduate. please stand. [applause] >> i also want to thank the archivist for assisting and helping lead this terrific conference in this great facility. thank you very much david. now, i would like to introduce our panel.
william steele is the author of white house historian. he is a nationally recognized expert in historic restoration and has published 15 books. he is serving currently as the editor of white house history, the journal of the white house historical association. catherine is professor of history and director of the american studies program at st. joseph's university of philadelphia. she is editor of a companion to first ladies. anemic dried -- anita mcbride has contributed to one of professor sibley's most recent works. she has published extensively including books including the first lady, lawrence harding behind the tragedy and
controversy and read spies in america, stolen secrets and the dawn of the cold war. susan swain is president and co-coo of c-span. she is moderator of first ladies, influence and image series. she directs programming and -- at c-span for three television networks and over a number of years has moderated and conducted on air interviews on a wide range of issues, susan tells us that she is not -- now currently covering her eighth presidential campaign. susan also heads up the publication of c-span books, the latest being first ladies. and our moderator, someone who needs no introduction but i will provide one just the same. cokie roberts. she is abc news commentator and a commentator on npr's morning edition. she is a member of the broadcasting and cable hall of fame. the american women in radio and
television selected her as one of the 50 greatest in the history of broadcasting. she is the author of four books, the most recent being capital gains, the civil war and women of washington. i now invite the panel to the stage and turn the panel over to cokie roberts. [applause]. >> good morning. this is a great location -- occasion as we convene here in what i consider a second home, the national archives where i have been on the foundation board since birth. our chairwoman is here and a wonderful leader of this organization. anita mcbride has done a fabulous job, and let us give her another hand. [applause]
>> she started these conferences in 2011 and they have been very instructive as well as often amusing in teaching america about what first ladies are all about. there is this myth that first ladies sat around tending to the tatting until eleanor roosevelt. and nothing could be further from the truth. so american universities were bringing their on starting this -- bringing her up -- american university's wisdom in bringing her on and starting this initiative and having it grow abroad and it's really spectacular. i want to take a romp through history through the centuries. i will start with martha
washington, david, our wonderful leader here at the archives referenced martha washington and valley forge, which is almost all people know about her if they know anything. martha washington spent every winter of the eight long years of the revolutionary war at camp with the soldiers. it was very hard for her. it was a dangerous, you would have to travel over horrible roads to get there. she was a prime target for hostagetaking. patriot wives were taken hostage and some were killed and she was the chief patriot wife. she thought she was leaving behind duty at mount vernon always and would just be torn about it all of the time. she would go because the general summoned her. she was frightened at the beginning. she said i shudder every time i hear a bullet. but she went because that is
where duty called and she went mainly because the general thought that she was absolutely essential to troop morale. and to keeping the army together, which was george washington's great genius but george washington would say he cannot do it without martha. and she would arrive at camp with foodstuffs and cloth, and all kinds of things that had been prepared at mount vernon over the summer. one of the many contributions that enslaved americans to the revolution. she'll be cheered into camp, lady washington is here and they loved her. she would cook for the soldiers and so for the soldiers and pray with the soldiers. she would put on entertainment for them. and that was a good thing -- it was a good thing she was on hand because george washington could be indiscreet and there is a
time that he danced for three hours straight to with a very pretty and flirty katie green. and good thing martha was there. she also had a wonderful sense of humor which she would never -- you would never know seeing her in that little mop cap. she named her tom cap hamilton. and that was appropriate. that was the winter at morris town. it was the winter of 1779, this one was that particular winter and it was a terrible time in the war. troops were threatening desertion by regiment. her presence was incredibly important. the british were also nearby. as was the congress which was moving around a lot, because they were traitors to the king, and all subject to behind to at hangedsubject to being
at any moment, so martha was sometimes in a precarious position and when british raves -- raids would occur, several troops would be assigned to guard her. one particular of these raids, george washington was away and a soldier was sent in an mount vernon found this letter and they rode home and said i am happy with the importance of my charge. as well as the presence of the most amiable woman on earth. but then he was very upset about the members of congress who kept coming around and kept trying to guard the first lady but she wasn't first lady yet, but the commander's wife, lady washington. and he wrote and he said about the members of congress, the rations they have consumed considerably over balance all their service done as volunteers. for they for they have dined with us every day almost and
drank as much wine as they would earn in six months. [laughter] but after she did become first lady, martha washington lobbied for veterans benefits, because she had been with the soldiers all of those years. so the notion that this was something new in the 20th century is so amusing but unfortunate that people don't know this history. she also would greet any soldiers who would come to visit, any vets who would come, and she would give them money, food, and reminisce with them. her grandson wrote that every holiday she cordially welcomed veterans as old friends. so this is a long tradition that we have had among our first ladies. and really what we hear about various ones of them over time, but bill, i actually wants to start with you, because that little note of the veterans. but since then and at the white house you have certainly seen that. one of the things that struck me
when i was thinking about you writing history at the white house and histories of the white house is how, when you're in the white house you are really surrounded by military. there are members of the military everywhere, guarding the place, greeting you, the marine band of course wonderfully entertaining you. it is really part of the white house. >> well, not so much from the start. there were never many guards. there was a doorman back in the days of the adams and the call to porter, and then the later on, james monroe was very afraid. he had lived in france, and they
were very much afraid of the killed and assess dated -- assassinated, so sharpshooters paraded around the roof, hidden by the ballasts and they were told to shoot anybody who came by the house without order. but the military always crowded in at the big public reception. they had huge public receptions at the white house where everyone got to go. and in the 1850s they tried to stop that and it ended by invitation, but it didn't work. it got so big in the 20th century that the herbert hoover went fishing. on july the fourth. it was originally also new year's at the white house. the military was there but not so much until tyler. tyler was hanged in effigy of the park in front of the house. they became frightened. you had the metropolitan police formed, and that is the people
who guarded the white house, not the military. the military camps in the front grounds during madison and the war of 1812 and left with everyone else with the british. [laughter] >> and of course, monroe as i talked about, jackson had no guards. beyond a military policeman or so. but it really began in the 1840s with tyler during the mexican war. and also there are lots of military people at the white house during that time. >> i want to stop you there because i don't want to get ahead of ourselves historically. i will come back to you for the period after that. let's go to katie about dolly madison. because we have just talked about madison and the troops. this city was totally
undefended, and later historians say that she was the best soldier there was. so let's talk about her for a minute. >> i think many may know the story about the british attacking washington right during the war of 1812. this was a scary moment. dolly madison left and she took with her this portrait of washington and she left in her nightshirt. this was a very scary and exciting moment for her. she knew how important it was. the symbol of washington, like the great general, as you say, the great leader, she took this out of the white house and make -- and made sure it was protected. yes, dolly madison was also very political. if it weren't for her probably lots of deals would not have happened in washington. she was someone who is very tuned to politics. she brought people to, even during the jefferson administration to come and talk and meet with those they needed to know. like to make deals. on the other hand she always
knew the importance of symbolism and that this picture of washington needed to be saved during this war. >> it was equivalent to toppling the statue of vladimir lenin or saddam hussein. susan, you have found what was so interesting, when you are doing this series on first ladies, and this is new and our -- in our history writing. you found that there was someone for every first lady who had written about her. >> in terms of scholarship. that is really the thing that those of us who recognize the important contribution of women to our nation's history perhaps understudied over the decades can take some hard inches i -- heart in.
i think it is been a phenomenon of the last 20 years or so that first lady scholarship has been taken so seriously. of course we have wonderful first ladies in canton ohio. in terms of scholars like katie who are studying at universities and teaching it to next generations of students and writing biographies, it's relatively new. we did a year-long series. each first lady has their own biography. some are more rich than others. there is a propensity for early first ladies to burn their papers. >> i would like to kill them again for it. >> we managed easily to find 50 historians for our series and biographers. but i also loved about it, those who know c-span, we also make our programs interactive with calls and tweets. there was a genuine group of women watching at multigenerational. eight-year-olds would call in watching it with their moms, and women in their 30's with their
moms and grandmom's in different cities, and tweeting with one another on facebook very i think what i was realizing is there is a hunger for this history to be told. i'm sure you've experienced this with your books that people want to know the history. so it's exciting that so much is happening. >> you talk about burning the letters, thomas jefferson burned all of his correspondence with his wife martha jefferson said he was brokenhearted and he cannot stand having them around. i don't think that's what you do when your brokenhearted, but the one extant letter of martha jefferson's that we have, one is a letter when she was first lady of virginia. it was calling on the woman of -- women of virginia to raise funds for the troops. because what had happened was in this year that i referenced
earlier, this 1779, 1780. before the french showed up basically, situation for the troops was terrible. the woman in philadelphia started a drive and the women of philadelphia went all around. the first lady of pennsylvania got the other first ladies of the state to do the petition drive. they raised, by the way $300,000 in a period of six weeks. but mrs. jefferson's letter says that mrs. washington has written to me and asked me to make sure that we raise money for the troops. so that is how involved they were that early. >> you'd told so much richness
of the martha washington story aired the affectionate use of lady washington, many people think that is where the term first lady came, and that was a great mark of honor by the troops. she was a woman of society, and yet there are many stories of her being in the cap sitting and knitting uniforms. she gave $20,000 of her own money as a contributor, which is quite a lot. these letters are hard to find. >> the women were horrified the troops were camped there.
when she was setting the example itsitting and knitting, portrayed all the rest. now there is the civil war. we have jumped over. >> you don't want to hear about what dolly madison already did. >> she had taken out of the frame. >> congressmen and senators stayed in their own political taverns. it was really bad. dolly madison began to have her reception, and she would ask nice ladies and young women in town to come there, they were guests. and they would mix with the crowd, and in those days, women sat on stools and the men moved behind them.
well, everybody came, the whole congress came every week. and she served hot coffee, wine, and then she served what really was grog, heated whiskey in cups. everybody loved it. [laughter] william seale: and madison used the green room to get in the ones he needed to, two men, one from each party. it was very useful, nobody forgot her for that. dolly was a bit of a street angel and a home devil -- [laughter] william seale: she very cleverly did that. as katie was saying, notes survived where she brought issues to the attention of the president, mainly through wise that came to her for their husbands. that is what she did, and that was extremely important at the
time. she clung to that story all their life. and finally, probably wrote a letter which she claimed was original, which was written while everything was going on, but it very likely wasn't. and then some people -- at the time, someone had come through the press and had said that the story wasn't true about the painting and all, and she got in touch with everybody she could to write letters and say it was. cokie roberts: at the time of the civil war, there were actually troops in the east room. talk to us a little bit about -- william seale: kansas volunteers camped in the east room at the very beginning, lincoln made a call to volunteers, and then they were gotten out of there, and there were troops in the ground-level war, mainly on the south but some inside.
and there were guards that patrolled the long cross hall across the white house going east to west, and they patrolled that hall. family quarters run the west and offices on the stand. on both floors, there were guards patrolling constantly during the civil war. that was the sort of protection they had. the interaction between the family and the troops was very personal. ted lincoln was made an officer and got his uniform. they were like family. cokie roberts: and particularly the lincoln cottage. william seale: actually, there was a prominent lincoln cottage -- mrs. lincoln was coming to town and the carriage fell
apart, someone had sabotaged the carriage, and she could have been seriously hurt, but she did not pay much attention to it. mrs. lincoln herself went to the hospitals and camps around washington and greeted the soldiers who were wounded and brought things from the kitchen at the white house and was for a friendly. she was a woman who had terrible difficulty with the press, she was the first first lady that ever became red meat for the press. she did not understand it, and she did not understand why washington considered her from the sticks. she suffered a lot of that. she was very sensitive, and all these wonderful people were the stars of age. they were also glamorous, and she wanted to be, and that did not happen. but naturally, the interaction of the troops -- lincoln repeatedly tried to send her to new york, and she would not go. she insisted on remaining with him. cokie roberts: you want to pick that up? katherine sibley: it is very interesting about mary lincoln, what a sad story in so many ways, losing so many children,
particularly willie, their favorite, in the white house. and some were even more empathic toward the soldiers. of course, unfortunately later after her husband died, she thought she suffered more than any other family that lost someone during the civil war. she could take things sometimes to extremes, but she had great empathy, exactly as you are saying, for the soldiers' suffering that she had experienced herself. i also want to pick up on something which you had talked about with your show and how the development of first lady scholarship, and it is so interesting. they are today very focused and excited about this topic, but this was not the way it was for a long time. i'm glad many of us have spoken to friends and family about our work, and they say, first ladies?
they don't understand why this is a compelling topic. it is interesting when it came about, when did it become something that people cared about. as far as i can tell, it really began to spark at the betty ford library back in the mid-1980's, around the time nancy reagan was first lady, and perhaps because she, like mary lincoln, was vilified by the press -- horrifically vilified, you may remember, for her clothes, the china, all these stories. in the end, she turned the tables and dressed up in secondhand clothes and did a funny show for the press, which everyone was amazed about, such a sense of humor about herself and how she was portrayed. i think this negative focus on her drew a lot of interest in the position of first lady, and mrs. carter had just written her biography as well, so a lot of interest in that. so had her husband. so there was this new interest, and more people came to the gerald ford library than anyone had expected, more than 200 people, including some presidential members of families, the daughters of lady bird johnson, etc. it really began to spark. you also had great books coming out at that time. you begin to see more scholarly work being done, and a number of big compendiums, people like
carl anthony and robert watson, so it is becoming a big field. it is really interesting. and then first's begin to be categorized in certain ways. are they players, activists, silent types? so these are things that we wrestle with today and how we categorize them. as you will see in the course of our discussion today, somebody who would be considered a subdued first lady today, if there is such a thing, was so much more involved earlier in the 20th century, when it was much more difficult. even someone like florence harding, who i love very dearly, she did not speak to the press directly. she did not want to be manipulated against her husband. we can't really imagine that today with the first lady, so
things have changed in an interesting way. cokie roberts: we will have a treat a little while from now to meet laura bush, and she said when she came in, everybody said to her, are you going to be hillary clinton or barbara bush? she said, i thought i would be laura bush. one of the reasons that people have gotten excited about this is because they are good stories. why don't you tell us the story of lucy hayes? >> when you look across first ladies through the lens of the military, one of the things you notice is how often our nation is at war. the real job of the first lady is to support the office and a family legacy. when the commander-in-chief is acting in that role, it is natural for the first lady to be involved with the military and veterans issues. lucy hayes -- for me, the ones who really stand out on this issue, martha washington, lucy hayes, florence harding, eleanor roosevelt, are the real,
committed beyond believe personally, because in many cases of family circumstances, and lucy hayes is one of those. this civil war was declared when rutherford hayes in ohio was 40 years old, and he and lucy already had children. they decided as a couple that he should fight, despite the fact that they had children at home, because they believe so much in the cause of the union. so he went to war, and he was in pitched battle, and was seriously wounded five times -- almost lost his arm. and as the story with martha washington, it was common for the wives to go out to the battlefield to support the husbands, provide more out for important generals, so they
would have that family connection. lucy spent a great deal of time -- at great personal risk -- and one of her children was born just before she went to the encampment. the child died, and they had to bundle up the body and send it back for burial, and they just had to keep going on. lucy's brother was a surgeon, and lucy hayes participated regularly in battlefield surgeries, assisting with amputations on the battlefield. except for perhaps mary lincoln, she saw more upfront of the horrors of war than any other first lady, i believe. when she came to the white house in that famous contested election, she brought this concern for the soldiers to the white house, and really became an advocate for them while she was there. she was one of the first first ladies to recognize the mental aspects of war. there was a term that was developing at that time called shell shock, which she was very aware of and began to lobby for. cokie roberts: ptsd. susan swain: exactly.
she began to lobby for concern and care for veterans, not only for physical wounds, but for mental wounds. she brought soldiers and their families to the white house. and one of the most touching stories, not told by her, but told by the british ambassador -- there was an event at the white house honoring good relations after the war of 1812 when the british ambassador was invited. and there was a very old soldier from the war of 1812 he was invited to take part, and he had had his uniform sent separately and was just aghast to find that he had arrived without his stripes on the arm. she sat on the floor of the white house, got her needle point out, and stitched the soldier's stripes onto the uniform so that he could be properly attired before he met the president. the british ambassador saw this and told the story. she gets the nickname of lemonade lucy, that is all we
really know her for. it was really her husband who is the temperance person. she got stuck with the nickname. but she is really so much more interesting and had so many layers of her own care and concern about issues, veterans being an important one. cokie roberts: the rutherford b. hayes library has just reopened in ohio, and her story is coming more to light. susan talked about the people who saw were up close. another one was julia grant. when she came to the white house, she had a wonderful time. william seale: she did, she loved every minute of it. she had married him for love. they came back and married, and they had a pretty hard life. she lived in army quarters, good
places and that places, he drank a lot. in the 50's, he became very despondent and quit the military, only to rejoin in the civil war and become a hero. when he was elected president, mrs. grant, it was her turn. she moved in, she had a welcoming party later on for lucy hayes. she loved every reception, every overcrowded event that served only ice water, they play a ladder up to the east room so the guests could get out early if they wanted to. and she was very happy. she knew the military, her friends were military people. if i could go back to the past and do -- there was a billiard room. they turned it into a billiard room, grant did. generals would come in and play
billiards, and then they would drink and relive the battles of the civil war. they would go on until 2:00 in the morning, argue over this and that, what did you do, what did jones do. of all the things that happened in the white house, i would love to witness that. julia presided over all. cokie roberts: she was really mad he did not run for a third term. william seale: she fell on the sofa and started screaming and crying and banging her fists because she did not want to leave. susan swain: he was despondent over the fact that julia did not write to him often enough. he needed her letters to keep them going on the battlefield.
one of the reasons we believe she did not write as much is that she was born with one eye that was off-center, and she had a very difficult time writing. so she resisted writing letters because it was a difficult. the sense is that he left because he missed her so much, and she was also part of encouragement to get him back into military service again. i am doing an event next week at the lincoln cottage, and it is a book on lincoln's generals lives. the point made is that julia's respect and affection for lincoln is one of the reasons why his career advanced when he was brought back into the military. cokie roberts: she invited the lincolns to city point when the troops were trying to get to richmond, and they had a nice
time. and then after richmond fell, mary lincoln came back and said, i don't have anything to do with julia grant. they're on adjoining boats and mary has a party, julie is not invited, so she hires a band and goes up and down the james, playing you will miss me when i am gone. [laughter] cokie roberts: okay, we got to the 20th century because we're going to run out of time. katie, florence harding. katherine sibley: if i could just make one mention about letters in the early 19 century -- thomas jefferson, his daughter martha kept him going with letters. it's really interesting about letters. florence harding is a fascinating woman. i am very biased, that she really was. she is certainly one of the most underrated first ladies. hopefully, that will change as more and more of us learn about her role with the military. as a senator's wife, she was in
the senate during what were i, so she was very concerned, as many first ladies would have been, including edith wilson at the time, with the war and what was happening. but she had a special connection, kind of like mary lincoln, because she herself had suffered great physical pain. she had a terrible kidney ailment, so she had been in and out of the hospital. she felt a connection with the soldiers and the military and what they were dealing with. she really felt called to help them. immediately, as smith began in the white house, she looks for opportunities to honor the soldiers. for instance, the tomb of the unknown, which is dedicated the first year they were in the white house. it was a body chosen from france, and is still member today in arlington national cemetery. she also was apparently quite concerned about the opportunities, just as our first lady today is, of jobs for former veterans.
she apparently prevailed on her husband, who signed an executive order to make sure that the former military candidates and applicants for positions got five points added to their score and that they were able to use their military service as time allotted toward their positions in these government jobs. it was very forward thinking. even more perhaps poignant is that she was so concerned about the treatment of these veterans, especially ones who are in pain and suffering. because many of them were. many of them were in wheelchairs and blind. she would have gatherings at the white house, and they would, and she would entertain them. various bands would play, and she would allow them to touch her, the blind ones. she signed autographs for them, she had a connection with them. she was particularly concerned that they be well taken care of in their needs. the first veterans bureau was set up at the time for these world war i vets. it was run by a very qualified man, a good friend of the hardings in the senate he had been in hawaii at the time, they connected with him.
that was charles forbes. he was extremely the wrong person for this position. oh my gosh. in the end, he took about $2 million in kickbacks for setting up hospitals. he took supplies that were meant for the suffering soldiers and sold them at a profit. he had people who did this for him as well. one of them later exposed him and shot himself. it was really a scandal. how did this come about? when florence heard about this, because she had contacts in these hospitals, including her close friends. she knew about what was going on, but she did not know how bad it was. when she found out, there was a lot of pressure on the president.
the president was right there, he was furious, he apparently tried to a throttle forbes. he sent him away and accepted his resignation when he came back. many of us remember the hardings for scandals and we think, they just didn't care. they cared, and especially in this case, florence had a role in trying to protect those soldiers. susan swain: it is an important point what role first ladies had throughout history. when she visited hospitals, she was not just shaking hands, she was helping. throughout history, it is through the first ladies can find themselves interacting with the american public in waste presidents can't. cokie roberts: it is so true. when i need a called me about this conference and told me what the subject matter was, i said, that is so perfect, because first ladies listen. both mrs. bush's troops to teachers initiative and mrs. obama's program to get states to waive licensing time periods for people, those are direct result of listening to people. presidents go in and make speeches, first ladies go in and listen. that is a way that change can happen that is completely different from the presidential
role. i must say that the cartoons of the time we were talking about said the president and mr. harding. [laughter] >> but she had great hats. cokie roberts: she did have great hats. we then saw eleanor roosevelt actually in uniform, right? bill, do you want to talk about that? william seale: only that she became very involved during the military during the war, and there was a lack of the -- she made endless trips everywhere, military installations, horrible all night trips in old airplanes. wherever she went, there was cheering. when she first went to the white
house, the protesting soldiers were still out in the park together camping in a park on the parkway. she went up to see them, and the whole thing broke up. she saying, she had lunch with them. and she went out and talked to them and saying -- sang. she got started early on that, and during the war, she was really heroic, she was a presence. she attracted news forever she was. it seemed so strange at the time, but she did it.
cokie roberts: people don't realize how charming she was. they think of her as being stern. william seale: she was also a very old-fashioned lady. the teacup was not unfamiliar to her. and in a way created a nice transition between her and everybody, because you could respect her for that. but then, her interest in other things made her an interesting character, and everybody was fine with it. >> we talked about the fact that eleanor roosevelt's empathy for
military began with world war i. what was so tragic about world war i, she saw soldiers' bodies piled up like cordwood. when war was declared, it was a natural for her. two small side bars -- i don't know if the president minded her being out of washington, she was quite controversial, as you know. she took three major trips to combat zones during the war, and the second one of those the south pacific. she traveled for many, many hours in uninsulated military aircraft, and it actually shattered her eardrum. she was left with no hearing in that year for the rest of her life. when she got to the bases, she walked 50 miles to see and shake almost every hand that she could, so much so that her arches fell and she had to wear
special shoes for the rest of her life as a result of that trip. two small things about the personal commitment that eleanor roosevelt and many first ladies make. it is estimated that by the time the war was over, she had shaken 400,000 hands of members of the military, about 10% of the entire fighting force. this war was personal for her, and she brought back her knowledge of what she learned to the white house, to the president, and that was an important function. >> you have described this so well, but there is even a little more. she broke the mold. one of the amazing things -- you are talking about how moved she was by these trips. she wrote in her diary about how she was trying to find a way that things could be settled without force. later, when she leaves the white house, she will be instrumental in helping to draft the universal declaration of human rights based on the things she had seen and experienced. to really did bring about such great changes.
she also tried to change life at home during the war. i think many of you have heard the stories. she was contacted by a man who was on a base in new mexico, a black man who reported on the fact that there was a 1000-seat theater, but only 20 seats for blacks, in the back. and they were not allowed to use transportation on the base, and all kinds of other discriminations. she heard about this, and she tried to change these policies. she wrote to general marshall. she did not have much luck, at least there. but the point is that she raised the issues, she cared about racial equality, something that was not a very popular stance. she was a really interesting woman that took in all the soldiers and their difficulties and wanted to report on them and study them. >> her support for the tuskegee airmen, and even flying in their planes as a way to demonstrate her interest in advancing equality in the military.
? the tape of best truman? >> one of the things we can note is that beginning with florence harding, the media began to be part of the first lady and white house stories. florence harding has the early movies, and they began to record things that we can actually see. as the 20th century progresses, film becomes more part of it. i have brought along -- every time i have brought a panel, i have brought this. it is fun, and also your heart breaks. this is bess truman. her husband had been on the front lines in world war i, and they wrote letters constantly, so this was a very personal thing for her as well. the end of world war ii and the korean conflict, there is ample opportunity for her to be involved in the military. her first public act was
involved with the military. it was at national airport, just across the river. let's show you what happened. >> navy and army, ready to be christened by mrs. harry s truman, who with her daughter margaret will do the honors in her first public appearance. mrs. truman is in for a surprise. by an oversight, the champagne bottle has not been properly prepared to break on impact. now, mrs. truman, unaware that her bottle is not prepared -- [laughter]
let's see how her military aide fares. [laughter] [applause] >> that could never happen today, because staff work for the first lady has greatly improved. the sad thing is -- history thrust her into this role. she was happy being a senate wife, and she was very reluctant to be in this big -- she spent much of the time back in
missouri. this was her first public event. they were flying medical airships, an important cause. she looked pretty game, but she was thoroughly embarrassed and never did another large public event after that. consequences. however, her devotion to the military continued in less public ways. they were living in blair house because the white house is under construction, and she had almost weekly gatherings at blair house, social functions, bringing in veterans and their families to enjoy the blair house.