Mary Lincoln's Flannel Pajamas
Feather Schwartz Foster
210 60th Street, Virginia Beach, VA 23451
9781633932180, $16.95 PB, 248pp, www.amazon.com
Feather Schwartz Foster's 'Mary Lincoln's Flannel Pajamas" is a charming book that adds delightful new material to what is known of the the lives and careers of U.S. First Ladies from Martha Washington to Mamie Eisenhower. The book gives fresh insight into their lives, accomplishments, and relationships with their husbands, and demonstrates how each woman developed the job of First Lady to meet her own needs and personality. Despite the fact that the book is written in an easily read, humorous, original style, it is an extremely well researched scholarly work .
What is most delightful about the book is that Foster makes human beings out of cardboard historical figures. For example. Martha Washington was not born and bred to be a fine lady, but was born gentry, who was expected to be a hands-on person, rather than one to be waited on. She never presented herself otherwise, and greeted new guests who included the creme of Norristown New Jersey in a coarse work apron. The colonies supported a non-importation pact, and vowed not to buy their clothes from Great Britain .Although the death of her first husband left Martha a very wealthy woman (which greatly contributed to Washington's election), she never wore finery, British or otherwise, and continued to make many of her own clothes. Her days were spent knitting and sewing for her husband and the soldiers and visiting field hospitals.
Who has ever given a thought to doing laundry in the White House? Well, Abigail Adams, for one. Unlike the wealthy Martha Washington, Abigail did all her own housework, and turned the giant East Room into a drying room. Foster states, "One can easily picture the First lady hanging out her bedsheets and petticoats and John's drawers.' (P. 28).
A similar White House story concerns Mrs. Herbert Hoover. When giving a bridal shower for her secretary, the First Lady hung a clothesline across the great East Room a la Mme Adams, and invited all her guests to hang their unwrapped gifts of linens, sheets, towels, etc. for all to see.
Foster's book gives many previously unknown facts, at least to me, the author of a number of books about First Ladies. Although Herbert Hoover was the first president of my life, neither I nor anyone else seemed to give a thought one way or another to his wife, Lou. To my surprise I...