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Remembering the Ladies:
A Century of U.S. First Ladies 1789 – 1889

Ann Covell

Average Review Rating Average Rating 9/10 (1 Review)
Book Details

Publisher : Outskirts Press

Published : 2010

Copyright : Ann Covell 2010

ISBN-10 : PB 1-4327-5402-5
ISBN-13 : PB 978-1-4327-5402-0

Publisher's Write-Up

Where did inspiration for this book come from?

During the period of the 2008 American presidential election, when the whole world was held spellbound, I overheard a group of British college students discussing their latest study project. They were required to write an essay comparing any modern American First Lady with one who had served within the first century of the presidency. They quickly discovered that the early First Ladies lived in a complex world and that their role in that era was difficult. Pulling the overwhelming jigsaw of facts together from internet research was proving to be laborious and wearisome. The students would have preferred one compilation of First Ladies stories from the 19th century, which could be discussed with each other and /or their tutor at anytime, anywhere. Enthusiasm for the project was dampened by an apparent dearth of such volumes and by the lack of time available to study long individual biographies. The idea for this compendium was born!

What's it all about?

In this 21st century, America's First Lady is as well-known as her husband due to world-wide modern technology. In the 19th century, however, it was difficult for the public to even know who the president's wife was. Even today it is not easy to call to mind those pioneering First Ladies, many of whom were burdened with more than their fair share of misfortune and some almost forgotten This book provides an insight into the lives of the 19th century First Ladies, in an undemanding, easy-to-read style, and aims to raise awareness of the historical significance of these women. Their abridged stories, sometimes joyful, sometimes sad, range from slavery, bigamy, duels, royal snubs, European conflicts, American wars, assassinations and suffrage, and demonstrate how the Ladies might be seen as victims of history. The text includes a basic review of the restricted evolution of the First Lady role during the first hundred years. The aim is that the book will encourage foundational study in colleges and schools, and inspire anyone who is interested in presidential history to deeper levels of publications and study.

Who's the author?

The author is an English woman, married to a dental surgeon, both of whom fell in love with America when they first visited the country in the mid-eighties She served as a Justice of the Peace in England for over twenty-five years, and also worked in the National Health Service for a number of years, serving on two Health Service boards as a non-executive director. She has written for various British regional magazines and newspapers; currently she is the editor of a bi-annual magazine for the Costa del Sol Decorative and Fine Arts Society in Spain. She and her husband divide their time between homes in England and Spain, and continue to visit America whenever they can (La Jolla in California is their favourite spot).

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Reader Reviews

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Review by Molly Martin (311217) Rating (9/10)

Review by Molly Martin
Book Source: Not Known
Rating 9/10

Ann Covell’s Remembering the Ladies: A Century of U.S. First Ladies 1789 – 1889 is a pleasurable work re-counting the lives of what may be to many, wide-ranging unknowns.

Beginning in Kindergarten and continuing on through high school, every student in the US has heard the names of many of our presidents, alternatively, few if any, have even heard, much less know something of the President’s wives or families.

Ann Covell’s delightful volume fills a need to stimulate interest for these ladies who generally marched gently into history for a short period and were rapidly forgotten by most other than by a genealogist here and there or a true history buff.

I personally have maintained a lifelong love for history, like people and have long wanted to know more about both. I find Ann Covell’s Remembering the Ladies to be very interesting as Reader’s find a snippet or two concerning these quiet women who, time and place dictated, were to continue in the shadow of their husbands.

One thought-provoking characteristic I found on the pages of Remembering the Ladies is the element that obnoxious, at times really fallacious, mean spirited and often groundless condemnation of the President’s wife is a very deep-rooted partisan fixture; it began with the founding of the republic and continues to this day.

While President Washington’s calm, unassuming wife was well received, not all wives were as demonstrated by the reproach of Elizabeth Monroe following the election of her husband. Knowing nothing of her; prevalent judgement was that Mrs Monroe was guilty of snobby social indifference rather than ailment, timorousness or perhaps other reason. Few were or have been cognizant that during the days of the French revolution it was Mrs Monroe who accomplished the release of Madame Lafayette from the gaol in which the lady was confined.

Because it was a social faux pas to discuss child bearing, other than in the confines of the home, few realized Louisa Adams may have been facing total ill health and deep-seated despair; she experienced eleven pregnancies during 21 years of marriage, during which the first seven pregnancies were miscarried.

Many of the President’s Wives, openly articulated little wish on their part to be the wife of the President, nonetheless, once he was elected they set about to accomplish the role which had not been clearly well-defined other than the spouse was to be the official hostess for the President. In the case of the widowed Jefferson and the never married Buchanan others including, daughters, daughters-in-law, and other relatives were called upon to fill the role.

Even what to call the spouse of the President, Queen of the White House, Lady, Mrs President, and for Julia Tyler Mrs Presidentress, were used preceding President Taylor’s noting Dolley Madison as The First Lady during her state funeral. That was the appellation that finally stuck.

I enjoyed reading Ann Covell’s Remembering the Ladies: A Century of U.S. First Ladies 1789 – 1889 and learning something of these women who during the early days of our country gently took their place beside husbands; often without really appreciating what turn their life was to take.

The multiplicity of these women, some well-educated and others just barely lettered, creations of a broad array of backgrounds from dismal poverty to a childhood spent as the cherished child pet in a well-to-do home filled with luxury, some ladies were fluent in numerous languages, and came from diverse ethnic background from Dutch, Russian, English, German and other, some had parents who were honest, but are nearly unremembered today, to those whose ladies whose parents and grandparents are counted among the founders of the nation, all contribute to making Remembering the Ladies an enthralling read.

During those earliest years of our country universal education was not widespread, and in spite of the fact that many of spouses were well educated, wives wete expected to voice no belief of their own.

Women in those early days were expected to bear children without grievance, while having little to no control in the education of the children, or even proprietorship of their own hereditary property. Women were expected to quietly accede to husbands in all things.

While a political figure might welcome the endorsement of his spouse, her displeasure was her problem, and he ran for office whether the White House was in his wife’s hopes or not. Willing or not, healthy or not, she was expected to be the always agreeable and talented hostess for all White House functions, whether private or governmental.

Washington society was, and may well still be, unbelievably egotistical and thought-provoking, a theoretical gaffe, no matter how insignificant, could, and still may be socially damaging leading to public scorn and deriding. Margaret Mackall Smith Taylor, a cultured Marylander born into a politically influential family, whose affluent tobacco famer, father served the nation well during the Revolution, and was herself, well-educated for the time was often represented during the election campaign as uneducated, coming from a poverty stricken family, and vulgar and was cartooned as a hill woman smoking a pipe.

Each woman, spouse, daughter or other relative who came to occupy the White House alongside husband, father, in law, or other relative brought her own panache, élan and capability. Many of the wives were already deceased from child bearing, others were worn out and in failing health due to the near constant child bearing experienced by women in those early days.

Many of the ladies, well suited both in disposition and understanding, embraced the role with vigour, style and grace, others held back allowing daughters, in laws and other relatives to take on the role. And some, were simply not suited for the role into which they were thrust.

Beginning during the 1800s it became the norm for the Present’s spouse to take on a socially significant or benevolent cause, although not a political one, and that carries over into today.

One interesting point Ann Covell’s Remembering the Ladies: A Century of U.S. First Ladies 1789 – 1889 clearly defines, is the out-and-out pitiless and unpleasant behaviour of many in politics, society as a whole, and especially the Washington DC social scene have toward the spouse of a President or presidential candidate.

Education, upbringing, number of children, lack thereof, even hair style all are grist for the mongering.

I find Ann Covell’s Remembering the Ladies: A Century of U.S. First Ladies 1789 – 1889 to be a well-researched, highly readable work which fills in many gaps. While I have long read history, I found many narratives in this work that are new to me. I like expanding my knowledge.

I can see a real place for Remembering the Ladies in the High School library, for Home Schoolers, for history buffs and for those who enjoy a well written work illustrating some of the history of the United States. Happy to recommend.
Molly Martin (31st December 2017)

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