tv Women of the White House CSPAN August 23, 2017 2:42pm-3:50pm EDT
conservative factions from the late 1970s to present day. american history tv in primetime starts at 8:00 eastern. that's what's so wonderful to have the call-ins, that people can actually participate. if everybody can't make it to physically in washington, d.c., but to be able to view and participate with authors live while it's happening, i think that adds so much. and it gives everybody that experience. and they feel part of it. >> join book tv for the national book festival live from washington, d.c. saturday september 2nd on c-span2. next, presidential historians discussed first ladies, their relationships with their spouses, their influence and the challenges they faced in the white house. this is hosted by the new york historical society.
good evening, everyone. and welcome to the new york historical society. i'm louise mirrer, president and ceo, and i am thrilled to see all of you in our beautiful robert h. smith auditorium this evening. tonight's program, "women in the white house" is part of our bernard and irene schwartz speaker series. as always i like to thank mr. schwartz for his great and generous support, which is enabled us to bring so many fine historians and writers to this stage. [ applause ] i'd also like to thank and recognize members of the chairman's council in the audience this evening and to thank them for their great generosity and all that they do on our institution's behalf and of course my great and talented colleague, our vice president for public programs, dale
gregory. [ applause ] tonight's program is presented in collaboration with our brand new center for women's history. and we're grateful to our partners at hogan levels who are the corporate sponsor for women's history programming at new york historical. tonight's program will last about an hour, and it will include a question and answer session. you should have received a note card when you entered the auditorium this evening, but colleagues are still going up and down the aisles with note cards if you have not yet received one. you'll have the opportunity to write a question on the note card. they'll be collected later on in the program and used for the q and a session. following the program there will be a formal book signing this evening and copies of our speaker's books are available in our ny history store. we are pleased indeed to welcome
back to the new york historical society carol berkin. carol berkin is presidential professor of history at brew college and graduate center of the city university of new york. she's appeared in numerous television documentaries including the pbs special "al "alexander hamilton," author of several books including the forthcoming, a sovereign people, the crisis of the 1790s, and the birth of american nationalism, which she'll discuss in an upcoming public program here at new york historical on may 23rd. we are also thrilled to count on our panel this evening our own new york historical trustee annette gordon-reed. annette gordon-reed is the charles warn professor of legal history at american law school. in addition to her role at harvard law, professor gordon-reed is a member of the faculty of arts and sciences at
harvard, and she's a professor at radcliff institute for advance study. she's author of many books including pulitzer prize winning, and her latest most blessed of the patriarchs co-authored. we're also glad to welcome gil troy back to the new york historical society. gil troy is professor of history at mcgill university, weekly columnist for "daily beast" and editor of the revised edition of multivolume classic history of presidential elections. professor troy is also author of several books on political history including his latest, the age of clinton, america in the 1990s. our moderator this evening is leslie stahl. a correspondent for "60
minutes," prior to joining "60 minutes" she was cbs news white house correspondent during the reagan, carter, h.w. bush presidencies. also served as moderator on "face the nation" where she interviewed margaret thatcher, bor bor boris yeltsen. she has awards for interviews and reporting including a lifetime achievement emmy, her latest book is "become a grandma." as always, i'd like to ask you before our speakers begin to please make sure that anything that makes a noise, like a cell phone, is switched off. and now please do join me in welcoming our speakers this evening. [ applause ] >> i'm going to start by putting on the coolest pair of glasses you have ever seen.
so, when this topic was chosen quite a while ago, everybody, i mean everybody, was 100% sure that we were going to have the first woman president. first grandma president. so in a way tonight is kind of a consolation prize because we're going to be talking about powerful women who are close to the pinnacle. almost there. but for those of us who like to read about the presidency, and i think the whole panel loves that and you all probably do as well, we know that first ladies can wield an awful lot of power themselves. some are quite open about it. some kind of hide the fact. and we'll get to that. but let's start with carol, if we can, who's an expert in the 18th and 19th century era and
presidencies and ask how did the concept of first lady come about, and after you tell us that, give us your very best anecdote about a first lady. >> actually, they weren't called first ladies until some time in the middle of the 19th century. what's, i think, most interesting about this is they weren't particularly well-known publicly. they were well-known in circles of power among diplomats and congressmen. but until the invention of the photograph, they were not widely known. abigail fillmore is the first to be photographed. and from then on -- >> the famous -- >> yes. yes. this is a single claim to fame. she was more interesting than her husband.
from then on the public got to know these women. and it happened really rather quickly. francis visage, her face, her photograph appearing on advertisements saying the first lady of the united states uses our cleaning powder. of course she didn't, these were all bogus, but she was on calendars, she was on a memorial plate, she was on ashtrays. so really it is a technological development that makes the first lady a sort of household word. >> okay. best anecdote? don't leave us hanging. >> my favorite.
grover cleveland wasn't married when he began his first term, and so he, like any president who was a widower or was a perennial bachelor, as buchanan was called, or whose wife was a recluse or sick had someone come in. so cleveland has his sister rose come in to act as first lady, and she is a blue stocking. that is she is a writer, she believes in women's rights, she is an editor, and she really does not like this job. she's bored out of her mind and she records, she reports that reception lines were so boring that she used to conjugate greek and latin verbs in her head to keep herself occupied. now, as soon as she got out of the white house, she moved to utica and continues to be a writer and she buys a little house in naples, florida to get away from the winter. there she falls madly in love with another woman.
evangeline simpson and rose cleveland lived together in naples until evangeline decides she wants to be respectable and she off and marries a 74-year-old episcopal bishop from minnesota. you cannot get more respectable than that. when he dies, the two women flee together to italy and live together openly and they're buried side by side there. i would give a million dollars to know what grover cleveland thought about this. >> that's great. [ applause ] >> all right. boy, the competition for good anecdotes is on. i'm going to ask gil to tell us, what makes a successful first lady?
what is the measure of that? and then your best anecdote. >> there's a notion that every first lady is allowed to be whoever she wants to be, and this is kind of passed on first lady after first lady. i argue it is not true. i think there are actually a whole series of dos and don'ts, invisible trip wires. when you're hilary clinton or a nancy reagan, very different personalities, two powerful personalities and you cross that trip wire, you get feedback, you get push back and you get demonized, often in the exact same way. hilary clinton was called lady macbeth, nancy reagan was called lady macbeth. it is deeply sexist, and so every first lady comes in saying, "i'm going to redefine this, i'm going to take it over, i'm going to feel empowered," and they often find they have to be quite traditional. we have seen michelle obama, laura bush, barbara bush
understand if i don't want to generate static, if i don't want to make trouble, i keep quiet, i keep traditional, i perpetuate the sense of the first lady as part of this patriarchal role and it works. it works for popularity. >> even today. >> i don't know what it does for the soul, but i know what it does for the polls. >> when i first met you which was at the reagan library writing about the reagans, you and i talked about how the public sort of pushes against unelected power, and when a first lady tries to wield power in terms of policy, the public pushes back. you had told me that. >> yeah, we're a nation forged in revolution, in revolution against executive power. you see it to a certain extent with men too, when there's a chief of staff considered to be too powerful it makes people nervous, a john sununu around george h.w. bush.
particularly when it is the woman, a wife, particularly when she is unelected and unfireable, although i would argue bill clinton fired hillary clinton from being health czar. but it is perceived to be unfireable. it triggers all of these anxieties. >> that's good. best anecdote? >> we talked about the named first lady so we have to mention jackie kennedy that lived not so far from here hated the term first lady. she thought it made her sound like a saddle horse. she wanted to smoke, jack didn't want her photographed smoking. she wanted to cuss, jack didn't want people hearing her cuss. but it gets really difficult when jackie kennedy, who loves to ride horses, gets a fleet of -- i don't know if you call it a fleet, a bunch of stallions from saudi arabia. >> a fleet? >> i'm not a horseman. gets a bunch of horses.
jack goes not to jackie because he's afraid of her, to one of his aides, oh, my goodness, the israeli prime minister is going to come and give me a $10 bible and i have to go how wonderful. meantime jackie is going to be off with these white stallions from saudi arabia. tell her to return them. he sends the aide to jackie and she listens and says, tell him i'm not doing it. >> that is really good. i should be taking notes these are so good. so annette, can you talk about -- i mean gil began this discussion, but tell us about first ladies today, in this era when we have women who are ceos of fortune 500 companies. what are the special restraints on a woman who had a career like michelle obama or hillary, to kind of rein it in. give us your concept of the role today. >> it is a strange role, because
it is a role that's actually a job, and it seems archaic, the notion you are somebody's spouse, and so therefore you have to become a hostess. anything that has like a chief of staff, it seems you ought to get paid for because it is a lot of work that's there. it is odd to think of people who are very, very accomplished and very ambitious in their own right being put to the task of something that sounds like something from the 18th century, exactly. so it is going to be interesting to see now with the first lady who is not playing the traditional role, and some people are upset about that and other people -- and i say, well, if you don't want to do that you shouldn't have to do it. what is going to happen next? what happens when you have maybe one day a man who is in that role, would there be an expectation that this person give up every single thing? it is a very strange and modern time to have this very, very traditional notion of what a woman should be doing.
>> yeah. all right. best anecdote? >> oh, well, this is tough because the person that i wrote the most about was a widower, and he was in the white house and sometimes dolly madison served as a hostess for him. i suppose the best anecdote is that while he's president that the person he is living with, having children with, an enslaved women, was the half-sister of his deceased wife. people knew that and wrote about it, and there was great consternation at monticello about this. and his daughters, at some point come to washington to play the role of the dutiful daughters and so forth and hostesses. and john quincy adams, who sort of had a weird relationship with jefferson over the years, wrote a series of poems anonymously
about thomas jefferson and sally hemings. and when jefferson is retiring, one to the toon of yankee doodle and others that aspired to be more classical. he wrote them like classical poems. when jefferson is leaving office, he runs into madison at the festivities, and he goes up and says, i want to thank you for coming. i just want to know, are you writing any more poetry these days? john quincy adams puts it in his diary and underlines poetry because jefferson knows, even though it was anonymous, who did it. and this was his dig at him and john quincy got the message. >> if it is any consolation, john quincy adams' wife had a lot of difficulty with him and also had a lot of difficulty with their children.
one son was an opium addict, who fathered an illegitimate child with a chamber maid. the other confessed to his mother that he had purient interests so he went to prostitutes. there's a karma there. >> there's another story about louisa and sally hemmings. jefferson at one point invites native american chiefs to the white house. typically that had happened before, but he did something different. he invited the wives. many of the women in washington were insulted by that, the white women, because it put them on par with them. louisa is writing in her diary and says, what next, maybe the magnificent sally will make her appearance. >> oh. >> so there was a lot of bad blood between the two of them. >> wow. let me ask this question, and anybody jump in. can you tell us stories of first ladies who strongly influenced the flow of history, who had a
huge impact on her husband's presidency and the direction that the country moved in her time? >> well, i could start with an influence that's a very interesting influence, the life of liza johnson, the wife of andrew johnson, who is periodically listed as the worst -- or next to the worst president who ever lived. in the year that i wrote the little biography about him, he actually made it to being the worst, you know. so she taught him how to write. andrew johnson did not learn to read until he was 17 or 18 years old, and he got married -- >> i have a crack to make that i better keep about who becomes president. >> his wife taught him how to write, to write actually. so in a sense, that's an influence you can't see in the white house. but just think about the kind of power that you had.
you married somebody who actually teaches you, who educates you. >> stunning. >> that is an amazing thing to think of that kind of influence. >> we can talk about the woman who was called madam president, edith wilson. >> that's who i was thinking of. >> woodrow wilson's second wife. woodrow wilson is married. his first wife dies while he is in office. on her death bed she says to people around her, make sure he remarries. he marries this widow who runs a jewelry store in washington d.c., and they become very close very quickly, so much so that they say when woodrow wilson proposed to edith, she was so surprised she fell out of bed. [ laughter ] >> that's early 20th century humor. >> that's pretty good. >> i also have to add there are a lot of complexities in the wilson family.
woodrow wilson has perhaps the most influential presidential son-in-law because his secretary of treasury, william macadoo, marries one of the wilson daughters. that's, you know, a son-in-law with a role in the white house. we can talk about that later. anyway, wilson has a series of strokes. and in those days, of course, you don't talk about those kinds of things. it is during the fight after the world war i which they called the great war, the treaty of versailles, the league of nations, and edith wilson doesn't want anyone to know. she ends up running the white house and running the wilson presidency and covering this up for a very long time, so much so you could almost say it is an act of treason or an act of loyalty. that we can leave to our philosopher friends to figure out. >> you know who else, verena howell davis, who was the fist and only first lady of the confederacy, when her and one of the most extraordinarily brilliant and interesting people i ever got to write about, when her husband was imprisoned by
the union and put underground literally, in a cell that was -- there was no light. they kept a light on in the cell 24/7. there were guards outside. he had terrible eye problems. and really he was in terrible circumstances. he had always told his wife in essence she was too uppity, she didn't behave like a good, obedient wife, but verena is the person who got him out of prison. she went, she broke every rule of genteel behavior you could possibly have. she went to men she did not know, which was a no-no in the 19th century. you didn't go talking to men. and demanded that they spend money to support his lawyer. she got him a lawyer from new york. she persuaded abolitionists, former abolitionists to sign a petition to get her husband
free, and jefferson davis -- not one of my favorite husbands -- jefferson davis, who had berated her endlessly for her autonomy, her individualism beforehand now says, "you go girl, this is wonderful, keep at it, keep going." she really -- had she not behaved in an unseemly fashion with incredible determination and political sense -- she knew who to go to -- he would have rotted to death in this prison. >> can i point out something interesting about this conversation? we are 25 minutes into it, and we haven't mentioned the word eleanor. >> i was about to say that. >> jump right in. >> to me that's actually a remarkable -- >> i have an eleanor question. >> 25 years ago when i wrote this book on presidential couples, all we talked about was eleanor roosevelt. you would talk about the first
lady of the moment, then eleanor roosevelt and jackie and lady bird johnson. it's interesting to see how the conversation developed. it's interesting to see i'm old enough to talk about 25 years ago. the group therapy session afterwards. >> i was about to jump in with that because there's nobody like that. >> i was going to bring up nancy reagan, who i think -- and no one is ever going to know because she never told and no one else has written about it, but i do believe she was far more powerful than we ever knew, and that she had great influence, particularly in the second term. we do know about her influence in terms of president reagan's softening on the soviet union and gorbachev, but i think she was influential even in domestic policy. i also think that she grew enormously while she was first lady, that she actually gained gravitas. she educated herself deeply. all right.
next question, gil calls it the ivanka rule. this is about cases where daughters take over the function of first lady. do any of you have a good example? >> oh, there was -- >> lots i can see. >> -- several in the 19th century. zachary taylor's wife -- the story was that he was a general in the mexican war and she made a pact with god if he came home safely she would abandon all fashionable life and all society. sure enough, he came home safely and became president, and she spent much of his presidential term in her room. i mean she did not come out, and, consequently, the daughter took over the role of the mother. eliza johnson's daughters when eliza was terribly ill took --
eliza was terribly ill took -- ill took over the role of the mother. if it wasn't a daughter, it was a niece. buchanan had his ward and niece come in and be first lady. so there are any number of them in the 19th century, sort of a tribute to the fact that it was absolutely firmly believed that you had to have a hostess at any state affair. >> well, jefferson's daughter martha played that role after dolly did this a bit for a time. she would come up from monticello, reluctantly, but as i said before after the sally hemmings allegations, to create a united front. other times she came up with her kids and she resided -- jefferson had a policy of doing -- he did a lot of entertaining, and he did sort of single sex entertaining for the times that she wasn't there. so it would be men from the federalist party, men from the republican party, not mixing people. you sort of wonder about that,
whether -- because he did not have a wife that he could present, was it the idea is that everybody would come and it would be stag instead of having women there and it would be very, very obvious that he was by himself. >> the other woman who was very influential -- and we don't want to do too much away because we're doing a program on her -- is dolly madison, who really shaped informal politics in washington. she really understood that at social gatherings you could get men to agree to what the president wanted to do or get two warring factions together over ice cream and it would soften the ideological divide. she, i think, was also a very influential woman. >> all right. new topic. >> oh. >> new topic.
gil, how important is it to a presidency that he have a happy marriage? >> first of all, i would say that on the whole for most presidents and their wives, arriving in the white house has been very good for the marriage. how do you get to become president? first of all, you have to pass what david broader, the great washington reporter, called the looney rule. you have to be nuts to be out there. this applies to all of our leaders. the demand we put as a public on that individual to jump through all of these hoops to be so public -- >> and that marriage. >> right, and the marriage. it takes a huge toll on the marriage. what we often see happen is over the course of the political career, as you build the political career, or build the military career. mamie eisenhower talked about how she had to move to 33 military houses over the course of their lifetime together.
pat nixon was so broken by the checkers revelation when richard nixon gets on national television in the 1950s and shares every single detail of their financial details and she has to sit there as the little blond wife. so they played a huge cost to get to the white house. when they get to the white house, two things happened. first of all, they're living above the store, and for the first time they're home a lot. >> she can keep her eye on him. >> and the second thing -- and this goes to nancy reagan and ronald reagan, it goes to the obamas, to the clintons, many of the people we've already mentioned, being in the white house is so lonely. it is so isolating. you don't trust anybody because everybody around you wants something from you and is often intimidated by you. often that intimate relationship you have with your significant other, with your spouse and sometimes with your child can be the one time that you actually get some clear advice. so during the iran contra
scandal, nancy reagan keeps on bringing one powerful member of the republican party or the democratic party, of the republic to ronald reagan to say, you got to put your house in order. she says, all of these men crumbled before my husband. she's the one who keeps on pushing and saying, ronnie, you have to deal with this and ultimately he deals with it. >> you think of somebody like the johnsons who had a close relationship. you don't know whether -- who knows whether a marriage is happy or not. it is hard to see in somebody else's relationship, but there's wonderful tape where she is critiquing his performance after he has done something. you know, you did this right, you did the other, you know, you could work more on the other. it was fascinating because here is a person who intimidates everybody, right, the famous picture of him leaning over people and this towering figure. you know, there's lady byrd and she is going down the list of things about what you did right,
what you did wrong, he's like, yes, accepting of all of it. you see a sense of a team despite other stories about his womanizing and all kinds of things. >> yeah, but he intimidated her too, was pretty brutal to her. >> yeah, you can be a team without real affection. >> without affection, that's what i'm saying. >> i think there was some. like the happiest couple that i ever encountered was julia dent grant and ulysses s. grant. they were genuinely, genuinely devoted to each other. when he gave up his presidency, they didn't know what to do and so they took a trip around the world and reporters went with them. the reporters would record that at the end of the day ulysses -- she called him ulys, they would sit in the corner holding hands like young lovers. he stayed alive with throat cancer, in deep pain, to finish
his memoirs so that he could leave money to his wife, who by the way i must tell you was the dumbest human being. [ laughter ] >> if you don't believe ignorance can be bliss, writing about her was so difficult for me because she was an idiot and happy, happy, happy, loved by her husband. >> i love that, carol. i love that. >> so what strikes me in relation to this question about a happy marriage is that you can look at fdr and you can look at lincoln, and they did not have happy marriages and they're the ones up on mount rushmore. so i think -- i don't know. i always used to think it was really important, and then i look at those two situations and then i get confused by it. >> one of the things that fdr did was he was constantly finding surrogates.
he had women around him, but he also had this very interesting relationship with his daughter, shades of ivanka, anna rosa. anna is living in the white house at the beginning of the roosevelt administration, which goes on for four terms, and toward the end of the administration he invites her back in. there are two little moments. one is roosevelt is going to to meet with stalin and churchill, and she wants to go along and eleanor roosevelt wants to go along, and the daughter wins. >> there was only room on the plane for one person. >> and she later reports somewhat guiltily that she gets papers that were supposed to go to eleanor roosevelt and went to the daughter anna and she said, i took them because i wanted that moment. eleanor is quite upset with her, but not as upset with her as when franklin roosevelt is stricken and dies down in georgia and it turns out that
he's in the presence of his former lover, lucy mercer rutherford, and anna knew about it and facilitated it. >> right. >> ouch. >> ouch. >> and she said, lucy listened to my father. eleanor didn't. >> so much for happy marriages. >> well, yes, after he had betrayed her when she -- >> well, yeah. >> a small point. >> i wouldn't listen to him either. >> small point about that, after you've given somebody five kids, but never mind. that's another story. >> here is a little factoid off to the side over here. when anna moved into the white house when she got divorced, she brought her little kids. so there were these two little grandchildren, adorable, fabulous looking, beautiful children who lived with fdr. he would have his staff meeting every morning in his bedroom.
he would be in bed, and he would invite his grandchildren to come into the middle of the staff meeting, and they would jump up on the bed and there you would have the secretary of state, the secretary of the treasury standing there and he decides he's going to read the funnies to these grandchildren. he would read them, you know, act them out. so if there was a quote, he would play the woman and then he would play the man, and the cabinet would just stand there. why am i here? i think, carol, it was you who brought up the question, the issue to me of friendship between first ladies. >> there were some. abigail adams originally thought louisa adams was too foreign. she had been educated in france and in england and thought of herself in many ways as french, and abigail thought she's never going to make it. john adams and louisa were
friends. but as time went on, abigail came to really respect louisa and they developed a really close friendship. so that was both family and two first ladies. i'm trying to think of who some of the others were. >> maybe we can talk more interestingly about feuds between first ladies. gil, you had mentioned a couple to me. >> first, i wanted to emphasize that jackie kennedy was marvelous with hillary clinton in terms of coaching her on how to handle having a teenager in the white house and how to handle kids in the white house, which i think is an important thing to emphasize. you know, i think one of the things that often happens is because politics is a form of combat, right? you internalize, and the men sometimes get over it, and the
women hold onto the grudges. sometimes you see -- you see the feuds there. >> oh. >> i know that -- >> whoa, hold on. i know men who hold on to it more than women. >> that's the role they've often played, partially because they're taking it on. the men, one of the things you see with a nancy reagan and a hillary clinton is that ronald reagan and bill clinton were also mr. affable. they would take the negativity and put it on their wives and let their wives be the lightning rods. it is a form of exploitation of the women but it was a dynamic that occurred. one maybe feud we should talk about would be nancy reagan and barbara bush. >> yes. >> because it's 1980 and george h.w. bush and nancy -- and ron reagan run against each other. of course, this often happens, reconciliation, vice president george h.w. bush, president ronald reagan, but nancy reagan is constantly putting barbara in her place, is constantly
disrespectful to barbara, constantly disrespectful to both bushes but particularly to barbara. once barbara bush showed up at the white house in a similar colored dress, and nancy reagan makes it clear the event is not going to start until barbara bush goes home and changes. and they're fellow republicans. >> there's a similar feud between julia dent grant and mary todd lincoln. they're going to get into a boat to go into richmond to sort of lord it over the defeated south, and julia gets in the boat and she sits down in a seat and mary todd lincoln gets in and she says, you're sitting in my seat. get up. and she -- and julia got up. she never forgot this. and then when they had a carriage tour around washington to see all of the lights to celebrate the victory of the north, mary todd lincoln invites
her husband, ulysses s. grant to join her in the carriage and leaves julia sitting there. julia did not forget this. and when they were invited to the theater the evening that lincoln was killed, julia says to her husband, i'm not going to westbound that woman. and thank goodness she didn't, because her husband might have been killed as well. so there was a feud that turned out well for somebody. >> and holding a grudge, too. >> yes, and holding a grudge, yes. >> annette, do you have any stories of relationships between first ladies or first lady and other women? >> well, dolly madison and martha jefferson were actually close to one another. >> really? >> they shared a correspondence, and martha confided -- and dolly was talking to her sister and in talking to martha, martha said she didn't want anymore children. she was going to have a baby and was hoping this was the last one, and she had four more after
that. that's the way. so with jefferson, again, not having his own first lady, a person who could actually serve that role, it was friends and his daughter's friends who -- his daughter and their friends who tried to step in and to be helpful to him. but they were pretty close. madison came, james and dolly came to monticello quite a bit and martha was always there. they grew to be close. she didn't have her mother from the time she was, you know, 12 years old, and so dolly was somebody who she, you know, bonded with. >> yeah. who -- >> sometimes you can have a great family, to take someone -- you know, ivanka in some ways has shades of anna roosevelt in that -- in that she is going to have somewhat of an official role it seems, but she also has shades of alice roosevelt, teddy roosevelt's daughter, because there's also a celebrity. alice was a character.
she said, if you don't have anything good to say, come sit next to me. >> yes, and roosevelt says yes. >> and alice would literally put a tack under the cushion of a dignitary of the white house and watch him sit and blow up. she jumped into a pool when she was on a cruise and met her second husband that way. >> alice was very mean to eleanor. >> she was actually mean to many people. she wasn't mean to teddy roosevelt. he said, i have a choice, i can either handle my daughter or run the country. >> i can't do both. >> when he was governor and he wanted her to go to a conservative boarding school to control her, she basically said, i will shame you, i will embarrass you, you're not going to do this, and he knew she would. >> it was true. >> when the tafts move into the white house, and taft is teddy roosevelt's handpicked successor, they discover in the white house a little voodoo doll alice left for them.
>> oh, how wonderful. i love her. >> and alice was banned from the taft white house, among other white houses. >> all right. we have some questions from the audience. so let me start first for you, annette. was sally hemmings ever freed from slavery after jefferson died? >> she was informally freed. she was done -- given her time, and she moved into charlottesville after jefferson died. if he had freed her, a couple of things, she was over 45. she was, you know, at this point she was actually 53 years old. any enslaved person over 45, if you freed them you had to -- first you had to petition the legislature to allow them to remain in the state, and then you had to say how you were going to take care of that person for the rest of their lives. you sort of imagine jefferson putting that in a document, asking the legislature to allow
sally hemings to stay in the state and then saying, also, here is how i'm -- it would have been an admission they had been living together for 38 and he wasn't going to do that. so she moves into charlottesville. she is listed on a census in 1830 as a free white woman, and then in 1833 they do a special census to ask free blacks if they want to go back to africa. she says no, and she is listed there as a free negro woman at that point. so it was informal freedom. sons, and then she dies in 1835. >> i have two questions that are virtually identical about teddy roosevelt. do you think that edith roosevelt was very influential? the next question is do you think theodore roosevelt would have been so successful as president if he had not been married to edith. who is good on this? >> i think she was very
influential to him. he loved her very, very much. i think it was a situation where -- but it was a traditional kind of thing. i mean it was not like she was there making policy or anything like that, but his affection for her and devotion to her i think certainly made him -- >> okay. but not -- here is another one. let me go here. this is a question about women first ladies who are married to introverts. the questioner brings up grace coolidge and pat nixon. what is the difference when the president is an introvert? >> wow. pat nixon, i mean she is a fascinating character. >> yeah, i agree. >> to me. there's sort of a mask that you never get behind. and i get -- from the things i have read, i don't know as much about them, but from the things that i've read, he was not a
womanizer. you know -- >> well, b.b. rebozo, the inflatable dolls, anybody know what i'm talking about? if you were around during nixon time, it was close to scandalous but he would go off on weekends with bebe rebozo on to a yacht or something in florida and there was an inflatable mannequin or something. anyway, i digress. >> all right. >> never mind. >> not with anybody alive. >> i don't want to picture that. >> don't want to think about this. >> he wasn't a womanizer with real women. >> oh, my gosh. i wasn't expecting to get to that. >> this is a heartbreaking anecdote about pat nixon, which is that -- first of all, if you go to the early campaigns, the 48th congressional campaign, the two of them -- it is called the pat and dick show. they have a lovely dynamic that is ruined over the years, it is
ruined by the tensions and his withdrawing further and further. now let's jump ahead to '73, 1973, and it's the worst spring of the nixon presidency. it is watergate. day after day revelations are emerging. day after day, john dean, aldermen, imploding. richard nixon one night is sitting there brooding and watching a movie in the white house. julie nixon turned to her dad and said, you know, you're not the only one suffering, mom is suffering, too. then julie feels badly she overstated, she shouldn't have done that. richard nixon comes back a day or two later and says, you know, you're right. it is a rare moment of humanity. it is the family that tries to keep nixon together during those moments when the president of the united states is falling apart, didn't have twitter to share his craziness. we now have stories about, you know, the drinking and the
praying and the raging. >> talking to the portraits. >> yes, anthony hopkins made him seem too crazy, but he was definitely going on the crazy-ville express. >> at the very end of the nixon presidency when the pressure was really intense but before anybody realized he was about to leave office, be run out of town, it was pat nixon's birthday and i was a relatively young reporter in the cbs news bureau in washington. word got out that he was taking his wife out to dinner for her birthday at trader vic's. >> oh, god. >> i was led to believe it was a cbs news exclusive. so i was sent to trader vic's with a camera crew. i arrive and there were about
10,000 reporters, cameras, the worst thing you have ever seen, pushing, shoving to get a picture. everybody crowds around nixon to ask him watergate questions. i was about 20 layers back, and i turned to my right and there's pat nixon, also out of the scrim, pushed to the side. i was with helen thomas who knew pat nixon quite well. so pat turns to helen, tears are streaming down her face and she says, "helen, can you believe with what's gone on he took time to take me to dinner?" i almost burst into tears. i wanted to say, you know, look what he's done to you. i wanted to say it but she was just overwhelmed that he had done this little, tiny gesture after all that he put her through. yeah. all right. so, gil, you mentioned that there are invisible trip wires for first ladies, and you
mentioned a couple. this person wants more trip wires. difficulties, expectations on first ladies. >> i can give you -- until about the 1830s it was the unwritten rule that a first lady did not go to visit anyone else. she had to wait until someone came to visit her, and this is one of the reasons why someone like louisa adams said being in the presidency is like being in prison, because the limit on your sociablity was such that you could not go calling. it wasn't written in a book anywhere but that was the rule. >> there was a concern about martha washington in the beginning, that she and george were a bit imperious. there was a sense that she would have people -- he would have levies and she would have people come. she was called lady washington and there was a concern that,
wait a minute, this is too much like british people. they were too grand in a way. for the first couple, the very first first couple, they had to think about how to prulgd thues themselves in a republican way. but it was really just that she was an aristocrat during virginia during that time period. it was not so much wanting to be english. she was just a very high status person. they didn't really know what to do. >> but she was a really fairly folksy woman. she would do in the winter to military camp, and she would be knitting socks for the soldiers. she was really a homebody. just wanted to talk about her children and never wanting to leave virginia, really didn't want to go to new york.
so some of that must have been a tremendous burden on her as well. even though she certainly was -- part of the virginia aristocracy. i picture her subscribinging to ladies home journal. really down to earth. i think they were struggling how to impress foreign diplomats. that they weren't just country yokels, how to meet the demand of the republic. >> a pretty tough person. i actually interviewed erica dunbar armstrong, who has written this book, "never caught" about an enslaved woman who had been her personal maid who runs away. she goes -- we don't have her letters but gorge is constantly
talking about martha, his wife, insisting this woman be found. and they never managed to find her. even after she's married and has a place for herself and, you know, martha has other enslaved women to serve as her maid, she's still trying to track this woman down and bring her back to monticello for slavery. but they don't succeed in that. >> but wasn't there a lot of pressure on the washingtons in that era to create a monarchy, and that they fought against that? >> well, there were some people who wanted that. there were people who become supporters of jefferson, the republican party, who are totally against that. >> the washingtons were against it. >> no. the washingtons were definitely against it. but i can say the people who were opposed to -- you're absolutely right.
they're trying to figure out how to set themselves up. you know the quote, martha said the two worst days of her life were when washington died and when jefferson came to visit. >> they actually offered basically a kingship to washington on several -- and he said absolutely not. i didn't fight eight years in independence to create a republic to become a king. but they were in a difficult circumstance because european powers, there was a lot of aristocratic behavior on the part of the diplomats, so they were trying to feel their way into how properly to behave. >> i think jefferson had a wife -- there was a scandal when the ambassador from great britain comes, anthony marry and jefferson greets him in a
bathrobe and slippers. like who are you, essentially. he's sending a message. and i think if he had a wife, put some clothes on. >> there's a real influence of the women. well, we have a request for us to talk about michelle obama as first lady and how she handled the role and how she helped develop the obama presidency, the image of the obama presidency. >> well, i think it's pretty clear they were a team, and she having been sort of a high powered person herself, turned that into -- brought that energy into being first lady. very outspoken. i think there might have been some tripwires for her. >> i'd say.
wearing a sleeveless dress apparently. >> i know it was a tripwire. i think in some ways her role as physicians lady was more astonishing than barack as the president. because the idea of a black woman, the notion of being a lady, i mean so much of what slavery was about was to sort of strip african-american women from a notion of femininity, a notion of being a lady. it was something they were not supposed to be. so i think culturally it was harder for people to accept her than it was to accept him. you're used to men as leaders in other places. but the idea of a lady and having black children in the white house as the first family, that sort of domestic arrangement i think was more jarring to people than him as president. >> and they presented such a traditional middle class american family. >> yeah. >> for the 1950s almost.
>> yeah, she came on television and did comedy routines with ellen and jimmy fallon and so forth. >> fairly mixed messages. on the one hand michelle obama was supposed to be an equal partner. she first met barack obama interviewing him, she had the job before he did. then the message again and again, this goes to one of those invisible trip wires, do not upstage the talent. and the talent was the president. so i think she navigated that -- >> very deliberate. you get the sense she understood the tripwires and was not going there. and therefore, for instance, someone like me tried desperately to get an interview with her, and she would only go on those shows where it could be light and talk about family and food and things like that and wouldn't go on any show where policy questions would be asked.
>> and there was another tripwire for her particularly which was the stereotype of the angry black woman. and she had to be extremely careful, especially, because early on in the 2008 campaign, she crossed those wires. and she saw that stereotype being shoved in her face. so after that, i think that's part of the reason she was careful to avoid substance. then after eight years she came back. so to talk about the unfairness and the degree to which she handled that with calm and cool and dignity, extraordinary. >> when it did come out, i don't know about you, but i got the feelinge oh, my god, look at what we've missed, because she was so internal and determined to be. the next question is about laura bush and what impact she had on that presidency. >> well, i liked laura bush. i met laura bush about three months ago down in texas at the
george bush library, and she's a lovely person, a librarian. >> a woman of substance. >> dresses beautifully. >> very kind and gracious person. i think remembering she softened him. and she was the person that you wanted to see. she started the national book -- you know, she was very involved in the national book festival, reading. i think, as i said, she was sort of the pleasant part. not that he wasn't pleasant, but i was glad for her presence there. >> these days we forget how angry people were at george w. bush. she was kind of a normalizing presence. someone from the audience said, she stopped him from drinking. avenues party boy, really out of control. i think it was her influence and presence that calmed him down
and gave us the george w. bush presidency. >> such a sly role for a woman to be the moral influence on her husband. >> like the steadying anchor. >> i have a very sly question. i know you're going to remain anonymous, but i like this question because it kind of relates to what's happening right now. was there ever a first lady who did not live in the white house with the president besides right now? >> eliza johnson didn't go at first to the white house. >> no, she came at some point but spent most of her time -- >> first of all, i was going to so martha washington because there was no white house. >> trick question. >> but bess truman hated being in the white house. she wanted to be back home in missouri as often as possible. she sent her laundry back to
missouri to kind of show she wasn't really buying this -- she -- >> what he put up with. >> she burned all the letters she had written to him over the years. she said, best, what about history? she said, that's exactly when i'm thinking about. she felt he had joined history, she didn't want to. there was a lot of back and forth. the nice thing they wrote, so we can at least see harry's side of the conversation. but he's often in the doghouse with bess. this is post '45. you're trying to manage being president and the cold war and worried about best just unhappy that she's there. >> i think we'll be getting the hook pretty soon, so let me ask my question that i care a lot about. grandmother first ladies. there have been several, right? do we know anything because i have a good story.
>> many in the 50s at least in the 19th century, many of them became first ladies at 52, 56. and so they did have grandchildren. >> and besides what i told you about fdr, did they live in the white house? it was something i always wanted to write about but i couldn't find out. here is my -- >> the first grandchild born in the white house, would have been the president's house, was jefferson's grandson james madison. >> while he was president. >> born while he was president. yeah, the first child born in the white house was the child of a slave owner jefferson had brought from monticello. the herns. jefferson's grandchildren did live for a time in the president's house. a slave owner -- >> there's a famous picture of george h.w. bush and barbara
bush in the bed in the white house with all the grandchildren scampering around. he was having trouble saying the word i because his mama wouldn't let him. that had a way of showing they were warm and human. >> barbara bush once gave a small group of reporters a tour of the living quarters. and i was in the group and went into the lincoln bedroom, and i'm not making this up, toys everywhere. toys everywhere. they really had their grandchildren around quite a bit. but my grandmother story in the white house is about eleanor roosevelt. and everybody knows that she and her mother-in-law had a very tense relationship. but i picked up a book by one of the grandchildren, and i discovered eleanor was a very cold grandmother.
and sarah, the great-grandmother, was the real grandmother. she was a typical grandmother. whatever they wanted. gave them presents, overindulged them. and just to make sure everybody was understanding what was happening, they called sarah, all the grandchildren, granny. and guess what they called eleanor? >> mrs. roosevelt? >> gromare. not making that up. in fact, i told that story here one night. one of the grandchildren stood up and said, oh, yeah. remember? my husband is here. it was astonishing. that was one of the stories you wish you had heard portfolio you wrote your book. >> exactly. >> well, i'm dale gregory, vice president for public programs. we're always thrilled to have you, a great audience. and i want to give a special thanks to lesley stahl. i don't know how many years we have been doing this women in the white house panel.
she shows up every time and she wants to do it, and she does many other programs with us. so keep your eye out for lesley. she's always coming back. [ applause ] >>, you know, this is why new york is great because you can come to a place like this, get out by about 7:30 for dinner. it's just great. >> carol, annette, gill. thank you so much. [ applause ] >> and just another announcement of another program. i think louise is talking about carol burkeman's program in may. we also have annette gordon-reed coming sunday march 19th to be speaker viewed by the philanthropist and historion dale rubenstein.
so come to that as well. come back for more. thank you all so much. [ applause ] tonight american history tv on the salem witch trials. this year marks the 325th anniversary of those trials. salem state university took an in-depth look into the history of salem and how those 1692 events continue to impact that massachusetts town today. can you see those programs and more tonight on american history tv beginning at 8:00 eastern on c-span3. >> tonight former presidents george bush and bill clinton on leadership. >> i always thought i would have
a better life if i could help somebody else have a better life to and i loved it. all these people tell you born in a log cabin they built themselves are full of bull. >> thursday 8:00 p.m., the budget something for congress to handle, we'll look at pending proposals for the budge. friday profile interview with agriculture secretary sonny purdue. >> my political history was i tell people when i was born in 1946 in perry, georgia, they stamp democrat on your birth certificate. i made a political decision, i call it truth in advertising in 1998 to change parties and became a republican at that point in time. >> followed at 8:30 p.m. by a conversation with black hat and def confounder jeff moss. >> no jobs in security. only people doing security were maybe military or banks. so this is really a hobby. as the internet grew, and there were jobs, and people are
putting things online and there's money at risk, all of a sudden hackers started getting jobs doing security. >> watch on c-span and c-span.org and watch and listen using the c-span radio app. now a conversation on first lady florence harding and the influence she had advocating for causes such as veterans assistance and animal rights. we'll hear from historian katherine sibley. her book is "first lady florence harding behind the tragedy and controversy." southern methodist university in dallas hosted this event. >> let me introduce our guest tonight dr. katherine sibley. dr. sibley director of american studies program at st. joseph's university in philadelphia, pennsylvania. she teaches women's history, american diplomatic history,