This year I’ve reread a book, First Women The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies By Kate Andersen Brower, which I enjoyed very much when it came out in 2016. Much of the book happened before I was born, such as Mamie Eisenhower or Jackie Kennedy in their White House days. What I knew of Lady Bird Johnson was from being a resident of Texas in the late 1980’s, where she was very much loved, and her wildflower project is a lasting legacy.
My mother was a fan of the Nixons and as a child I wished to be called “Tricia” like their daughter, but I had never heard of her being called “Plastic Pat” and finding it rather shockingly mean, asked older ladies in my book group if that nickname had been commonly known. It had, as she put on a happy face, whatever happened (and there were a lot of worries for first lady Pat Nixon).
Some of my book club friends did not enjoy this book as much as I did, saying it read more like People Magazine than a serious non-fiction book. They were annoyed that the book was not chronological, and thought it would have been better to have a chapter on each person with the accomplishments of each first lady. Personally, I enjoyed tidbits like hearing that Betty Ford was a former Martha Graham dancer, the story of Nancy Reagan and the Communion wafer, the cross-party friendship between Laura Bush and Michelle Obama, the kindness of Pat Nixon to Jackie Kennedy and her children. My favorite part was the mostly cordial stories of the soon-to-be “Former” first ladies inviting the “First Lady Elect” to tea and tour of the white house. My friends who didn’t enjoy this book, loved a complimentary book, which I reviewed on GoodReads, as follows:
This book will teach you an amazing amount of modern American history, including many things you might wish you had learned in your high school American History class. It is far more interesting than a dry history textbook, with its theme of what presidents do together after their time in the White House is over. Although it’s good at documenting when things happened and generally follows the order that it happened, the chapters are pairing of presidents, starting with Truman and Hoover, “Blood Brothers” Johnson and Eisenhower, “California Boys” Nixon and Reagan, then on to when there were only three presidents, followed by “Six Presidents: The Golden Age of the Club,” more pairings of presidents, before finishing with “Obama and his Club: The Learning Curve.”
The friendship between presidents a great concept that is not widely known: former adversaries becoming friends and advising the acting president, patriotic men with differing ideas who have all done the job before and understand the experience better than anyone else. In a world where we can search anything on our phones, reading this book of how our former presidents worked together was a great experience.
I recommend both of these books, The Presidents Club and First Women, and hope more people will read them and learn how these ladies and gentlemen, while they often disagreed, were friends, worked together and wanted the current president (and first lady) to succeed. I appreciate our new president’s reverence and his attitude of working together for good. I think the ladies’ choice of purple for Inauguration clothing, rather than the typical party blue was a great gesture of goodwill. Jill Biden’s inaugural ball gown was not only beautiful, but with every state flower embroidered on it, another message of unity, hope and inclusion. (And, as a seamstress, I can’t help but admire it!)
The success of the president reflects the success of the government. God bless President Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, and God bless the USA.