Modern Fzrst Ladzes: Thezr Documentary Legacy. Compiled and edited by Nancy
Kegan Smith and Mary C. Ryan. Foreword by Don W. Wilson. Introduc-
tion and afterword by Lewis L. Gould. (Washington, D.C.: National Ar-
chives and Records Administration, 1989. Pp. viii+ 184. Foreword, intro-
duction, afterword, black-and-white plates, notes, contributors, index. $12.)
Students interested in examining the lives of twentieth-century first ladies
will find a gold mine of inspiration, along with practical information, in this
collection of essays. With the recent rush of attention to these women, their
documentary legacies have become increasingly valuable records of their styles
Eleven chapters are bracketed by brief, well-crafted comparative essays by
Lewis L. Gould. The five modern first ladies who left the most meager written
records (Edith Roosevelt, Nellie Taft, Ellen Wilson, Florence Harding, and
Grace Coolidge) are discussed in a single chapter. The other ten are subjects of
The volume's chronological order creates a clear picture of the emergence of
the first lady as a person with an identity entirely her own. Each brought to the
position a unique personality and a lifetime of experiences, which defined the
contours of her celebrity. As the century has progressed, presidents' wives have
been less content to limit their roles to those of supportive partner and hostess.
The model of an activitist first lady, emerging full-blown in Eleanor Roosevelt,
has continued with Lady Bird Johnson, Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter, and
As the activities of the first lady have proliferated, the amount of paper and
other documentation generated by an ever-expanding staff in the East Wing of
the White House has also mushroomed. This book is useful in leading the re-
searcher to the most useful sources among the millions of pages and hours of
videotapes, filed in a variety of locations, which form the collections for several
recent first ladies.
More helpful, perhaps, are the clues that the authors provide as to which
lines of inquiry might prove fruitful. Mamie Eisenhower's tenure in the White
House has been neglected, for example, and Bess Truman's reticence has
yielded few publications. On the other hand, scholarship on Jacqueline Ken-
nedy, Pat Nixon, Rosalynn Carter, and Nancy Reagan will be delayed until
more of their papers are open to researchers.
As with all multiauthor collections, the essays are uneven in quality. Frances M.
Seeber and Karen M. Rohrer should be singled out for weaving nicely balanced
fabrics of themes, reference hints, and anecdotal material. A number of the
contributors fail to mention documentation of these women's lives prior to their
White House years and the availability of audiovisual materials.
Overall, the authors have written in clear and sprightly fashion. Because of
the introductory nature of this volume, however, it will appeal primarily to
those needing a preliminary survey of this rich and vast body of raw materials.
JANET G. HUMPHREY
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117153/. Accessed May 6, 2015.