Have you heard about Lady Bird? Poems about our First Ladies
By Marilyn Singer
New Arrivals Island
These short (and, admittedly, sometimes shallow) poems nevertheless introduced me to many of the lesser-known First Ladies. Everybody’s heard about Mary Lincoln’s Southern-leaning family during the Civil War and her later mental breakdown over the death of her sons; and of course we at least hear the headlines about the more recent ones, all the way up to Melania Trump. But I still learned a lot of unknown tidbits:
- How many of them died (or were married, or gave birth, or suffered silently or publicly with debilitating illnesses) in the White House. Then as now, the press was not kind to anyone who did not meet the time’s ideals regarding the proper role for the First Lady.
- The multiple careers of Florence Harding, who campaigned strongly for the vote before 1919 and later for women’s involvement in politics, and who might have been a more successful politician than Warren, if she’d lived decades later.
- The striking intelligence of Lucretia Harding, first lady for only about 6 months and admired greatly for her strength and decorum after her husband’s assassination.
The illustrations are sometimes comical, but little details (such as Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” button or Lady Bird’s flowers) or the overall dark ambiance of Jacqueline Kennedy’s poem after her husband’s assassination sometimes add meaning.
While many of them are primarily defined to the degree that they could support their husband in his more public role, rather than their own accomplishments, this slim book still serves as an age-appropriate peek into the unique characteristics of every First Lady. I wanted to read more in-depth biographies after browsing some of these, and did. If that’s you too, http://www.firstladies.org/ is a great resource!