The autobiographies of America’s First Ladies give us a glimpse into the lives of politics through the women who have stood by some of the strongest men in history. Some autobiographies are just compilations of diaries and letters of some of these women while others are actual books written by the women chronicling how they saw the Presidency. In either event, these books give us a fascinating look into the minds and lives of American Presidents.
Lady Bird Johnson’s A White House Diary was originally published in 1970 and talks about her entire time during the Johnson administration through one of the most turbulent times of the modern era. Her take on Civil Rights, the Kennedy assassinations, and the Vietnam War give us a different look on American life from the White House. Her love of the environment lives on today in the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas, dedicated to her concern for the natural world.
Barbara Bush writes of her husband and children in Barbara Bush: A Memoir which was published in 1994 just after the elder Bush left office in 1993. It not only covers her life in Washington and being married to one of the most politically influential families in the United States but also her early life growing up before she met Bush, Sr. Her life is told through the people she met that influenced her thinking from youth to late adulthood and everything in between.
Laura Bush’s Spoken from the Heart is the newest addition to the autobiographies of First Ladies. Her life in the White House speaks volumes of the days of crisis after September 11th and then the struggles of two wars and talks about her work for children’s literacy and reading skills. I had a quasi-chuckle for the advertising in the book that claims Laura Bush is “one of our most beloved First Ladies” yet she hardly was out in public or talked about the issues much at all while her husband was in office.
Living History by Hillary Rodham Clinton was published a few years after Bush Jr. ascended to the White House. In a no-holds barred attitude, Clinton describes the life of politics from the unique view that she herself has political ambitions in addition to being a First Lady for two terms. She talks candidly about the Lewinsky affair and tries to claim that a right wing conspiracy tried to tarnish her husband’s aspirations. The juicy details from behind-the-scenes are what draws readers to Clinton’s book.
Rosalynn Carter wrote First Lady From Plains in 1984 and details her childhood in Plains, Georgia, all the way up to leaving the White House after defeat in the election of 1980 to Ronald Reagan. It is very interesting to see a chronicle of growing up in the south during the Civil Rights movement and being married to a small town farmer who turned into the President of the United States.
Eleanor Roosevelt’s Autobiography was published in 1961, just a year before her death. Along with her book My Day and also You Learn by Living, you get a glimpse into the psyche of one of the most active First Ladies in our history as a country. Roosevelt was strong by necessity as her husband not only dealt with some of the toughest crises to face our nation since the Civil War but also his debilitating health and eventual death while in office just as Roosevelt began his fifth term.
My Turn is the way Nancy Reagan took the spotlight and told the nation how she saw the events of her husband’s two terms in the 1980s. Like most memoirs, Reagan published her words just after her husband left office in 1989. Her strong will and candor lent well to a President who was either admired or despised and was almost assassinated. You can see glimpses of the woman she would need to become as her husband slowly ebbed away with Alzheimer’s disease during the last ten years of his life.
Michelle Obama: In Her Own Words is a bunch of reprinted speeches and comments that she’s made along the trail of her Commander-in-Chief husband. While not an autobiography proper, all 65 speeches made during Obama’s first year in office were released in a compendium by the Office of the First Lady and is 266 pages long. It is a good first step and I can’t wait to see how she writes her groundbreaking memoir after they leave the White House in 2017 (prediction mine).
Edith Bolling Wilson was the second wife of Woodrow Wilson and First Lady during the First World War. Wilson’s memoir was published in 1939 on the cusp of World War II and is only 35 pages long on her estate’s official website. While her book is not extensive by any means, her simple language gives contemporary Americans a glimpse into life at the turn of the 20th Century during the Victorian Era.
Times of My Life by Betty Ford chronicles her life and was published in 1978. She talks openly of alcoholism and how she founded the Betty Ford clinic and being the First Lady of the only President never to have been elected to a national office.