Copyright © 2004 Henrietta W. Hay
First Rate First Ladies
September 3, 2004
Every four years we elect a president. There is nothing in the Constitution about electing a spouse, but that doesn't stop us from looking each potential one over very carefully, hunting for even the tiniest flaw we can find.
We have had four years to talk about Laura Bush, but now we have fresh meat for the gossip mill --Teresa Heinz Kerry. And what a great target she is.
She has money -- and I do mean money; her fortune is conservatively estimated at $1 B -- and that upsets people. It's OK for the President to have money, but not his wife. And -- horrors -- she speaks her mind,
which, by the way is a very good one. She doesn't take guff from anyone
and she told a reporter to shove it. Of course, she still isn't in the Vice-President's class, since at about the same time he told some Congressmen to "F off."
Teresa Heinz, who grew up in Mozambique will offer a refreshing and worldly perspective for a First Lady. Highly educated, she is fluent in five languages. She has ten honorary Doctorates and received the Albert Schweitzer Gold Medal for Humanitarianism. She married John Heinz in 1966, and inherited his fortune when he was killed in an airplane crash in 1991. She and Kerry were married in 1995. She is a woman who will bring distinction to the White House.
Presidential wives have been a varied lot. Abigail Adams, wife of one President and mother of another, was an early feminist. She deplored the notion that the American Revolution was supposed to be a stag affair. She is the one who wrote to her husband at the Constitutional Convention to
"remember the ladies." Of course he didn't.
Probably the most influential First Lady in our history was Eleanor Roosevelt. As my friend the philosopher put it, "she had nothing to offer the country but brains," but oh, what she did with them. While Franklin worked out the New Deal, Eleanor traveled the country gathering data on the quality of American life, especially working toward the elimination of racism, sexism and poverty. Franklin received detailed reports of all her fact-finding adventures. At one point he implored, "Dear God, please make Eleanor a little tired." After she left the White House she continued her many causes, and was for a time a delegate to the United Nations.
Rosalynn Carter was another early feminist. She said "I do have definite ideas and opinions," and she certainly did The New York Times called her the most influential First Lady since Eleanor Roosevelt.
Nancy Reagan spent $900,000 on a deluxe White House makeover and $200,000 on a new china set while her husband was cutting the welfare budget. But she brought tears to lots of people as she mourned her husband many years later.
Barbara Bush was a strictly down to earth woman who kept most of her opinions to herself. But she did make one famous public comment when she referred to the Democratic vice-precedent candidate, Geraldine Ferraro as a "four million dollar .....I can't say it, but it rhymes with rich."
And of course we have Senator Hillary. Her name creates more approval or antagonism than most. But admire her very much. When looking for inspiration I often look over at the autographed of picture of Hillary that I received for my 90th birthday and that hangs in a place of honor.
Hillary for President!