The First Ladies
Feather Schwartz Foster
c/o Sourcebooks, Inc
P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, IL 60367-4410
9781402242724, $12.99, www.amazon.com
Dr. Alma H. Bond
The First Ladies From Martha Washington to Mamie Eisenhower: An Intimate Portrait of the Women Who Shaped America, written by presidential scholar Feather Schwartz Foster and published by Cumberland House, is a very nice little book which absorbs the reader from beginning to end. It charts the lives of our first 26 First Ladies in a revealing if concise manner (It is surprising how much information the author can squeeze into one chapter), and provides accurate and authoritative information about their personalities, their relationships with their husbands, and what made them unique among presidential wives. In an unusual addition to each chapter, a Postscript sheds light on the path taken by each First Lady after she left the White House.
The book begins with the portrait of our first First Lady, Martha Washington, and the comment that "the best political decision George Washington ever made was to marry the Widow Curtis" (p. 1). Martha was the ideal colonial wife and hostess, reasonably cultured, and superbly skilled at household management. She was the perfect wife and helpmate of our first president, and served brilliantly as the supervisor of the numerous slaves and cottage industries that made up their successful plantation. Without the backing of Martha, George Washington may never have become president of the United States. It was the Curtis wealth that helped him obtain his seat in the House of Burgesses. It wasn't until the Washingtons had been married for ten years that George was able to increase his own holdings to include acreage as far west as the Ohio Valley, and to enlarge and renovate their Mount Vernon home. In discussing Martha's legacy, Foster tells us that everything the genteel and efficient Martha Washington did set the tone for future First Ladies, and that she has gone down in history, along with her illustrious husband, as above reproach.
One of my favorite First Ladies, at least after reading this book, was Julia Grant. The Grants were the most popular presidential couple since the Washingtons. Of course, after the war-torn Lincoln presidency with a disliked First Lady, it was not too difficult to be popular. Julia was poorly educated, and no beauty. Short and stocky, with a crossed-eye condition, she nonetheless possessed a very...