I like to read this Tumblr called Suri’s Burn Book. It’s gossip and snark in the voice of Suri Cruise and it’s pretty hysterical.
Recently this photo was posted with the caption, “Yes, please. This is how I like America to be represented abroad.” And I thought again how refreshing it is to have an attractive, well-dressed First Family in the White House, particularly a stylish First Lady like Michelle Obama.
You see, unlike folks who were around in the 1960s and were blessed with the sartorial splendor of Jackie Kennedy, I grew up with nary a White House style icon to be found until Michelle Obama came around.
|You see what I mean.|
Here are the other First Ladies that have been in office during my lifetime so far, and a brief assessment of their fashion panache or lack thereof:
Betty Ford– “… had a … fashion sense that embodied late-seventies mod during a time when it was easy to wear clothes that looked like couch covers.”
Rosalyn Carter– “The dedicated mental health activist didn’t have much interest for bold fashion, and focused her attention to policy initiatives that represented her own interests and those of the President.”
Nancy Reagan-The worst of the 80s, right? Superskinny, usually clad in rooster red, Dynasty-era ruffles and pouffy football-helmet-hair.
Barbara Bush– I never could get past that SNL skit when Nora Dunn’s talk show hostess made the mistake of thinking Barbara was George Sr.’s mother, not wife.
Hillary Clinton– Mistakes were made. Headbands. That gold inaugeral ball cape. Always seemed uncomfortable in what she was dressed in until she discovered pantsuits.
Laura Bush– I genuinely can’t remember anything she ever wore, which tells you all you need to know.
Now, of course, there’s more to the First Ladies than just their appearance. Many of them contributed greatly to our country and women’s history in general. Some are my own personal heroes like Eleanor Roosevelt, admired for what they accomplished in spite of the restrictive and rather low expectations the public had of them. Others seem to have ended up just footnotes in our history or tangential asides. Or inside jokes.
When Brett and I lived in Northwest Ohio, it was a long, boring 6-hour drive home to see our families. To pass the time, we listened to music and made up band names or trivia team names. Some were clever, most were puerile, some just riffs on alliteration. One time, overtired, giddy with too much caffeine and quite possibly experiencing a bout of temporary insanity, I got stuck on alliteration with Pat Nixon’s name. Pat Nixon’s poothole, specifically. I was cracking myself up, coming up with gems like “Pat Nixon’s Poothole Prefers Personal Pan Pizzas” and “Poking Pencils Past Pat Nixon’s Poothole” and “When Prodded, Pat Nixon’s Poothole Plays Possum.” I have no idea where any of this came from, and why, if every word in the phrase had to begin with P, I didn’t come up with a celebrity whose initials were P.P., like Pablo Picasso or Peter Parker. Why Pat Nixon, I really don’t know. I can’t say I even knew that much about her at the time. (And her name wasn’t even Pat! That was a nickname! Her real name was Thelma!)
(Sidenote: Apparently, while I was yammering on about Pat Nixon’s butt during that drive back to Western NY, Brett was trying to think of a way to propose to me. I didn’t realize how preoccupied he was; I just thought he erroneously did not find Pat Nixon’s poothole as awesomely funny as I did.)
Although as a child I was fascinated with the US Presidency, it’s only later on that I’ve learned more about the women of the White House. So here are my top ten favorite bits of trivia about the First Ladies, Pat Nixon excluded. I think I owe her a respite from the spotlight, along with my apologies. (Although she was the first First Lady to earn a graduate degree. And the first First Lady to wear pants in public. Yeah. I had to read that one twice. What the hell.)
|Friends, THAT is a hat.|
1. Abigail Adams urged her husband to “remember the ladies” when he was writing the nation’s Declaration of Independence in 1776. She also was the first to live in the White House.
2. Elizabeth Monroe ended the custom of a president’s wife making the first social call on the wives of other officials in Washington – and the insulted women boycotted her White House receptions. (Bitches, man.)
3. Louisa Adams was the only first lady born in a foreign country—England. She played the harp, wrote satirical plays and raised silkworms.
4. Sarah Polk forbid dancing and card playing in the White House.
5. Eliza Johnson taught her husband how to spell and pronounce words properly, but tuberculosis prevented her from being hostess, a role assumed by their daughter Martha Patterson, who milked cows at the White House every morning.
|She also owned slaves,
so I don’t feel bad about this.
6. Julia Grant was cross-eyed.
7. Lucy Hayes was the first to ban all alcoholic beverages from the White House. She also hosted the first Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn.
8. Florence Harding was first first lady to vote, fly in an airplane, operate a movie camera, own a radio, and invite movie stars to White House. She also was accused of poisoning her husband, who died during his third year in office.
|Lou inspecting one of the cannons at a
Chinese fort that shelled the community of Tientsin
during the Boxer Rebellion. Badass.
9. Grace Coolidge worked as a teacher of deaf students, and became the first first lady to speak in sound newsreels.
10. Lou Hoover spoke Chinese fluently.
(and wins for Most Dr. Seuss-esque First Lady’s Name.)