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First Families: The Impact of the White House on Their Lives

First Families: The Impact of the White House on Their Lives

5.0 1
by Bonnie Angelo

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What is it like to be America's First Family? In this wonderfully engaging book, Bonnie Angelo, Time correspondent and acclaimed author of First Mothers, probes two hundred years of American history to tell the story of real life within the White House walls—how presidents, their wives, children, and extended families worked to create a home


What is it like to be America's First Family? In this wonderfully engaging book, Bonnie Angelo, Time correspondent and acclaimed author of First Mothers, probes two hundred years of American history to tell the story of real life within the White House walls—how presidents, their wives, children, and extended families worked to create a home in an imposing national monument while attempting to keep their private lives from the public domain.

First Families chronicles exhilarating moments as well as dark days at the nation's most famous address, with fascinating, behind-the-headline accounts of picture-book weddings, gossipy love affairs, rollicking children, domestic squabbles, and tragic deaths. From activist wives Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton to reluctant occupants Bess Truman and Jacqueline Kennedy, to those such as Mary Todd Lincoln, Dolley Madison, and madcap debutante Alice Roosevelt, who embraced their new address and status, here is an unforgettable human portrait of our First Families and how they coped, stumbled, or thrived in the national spotlight.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Veteran Time correspondent Angelo (First Mothers: The Women Who Shaped the Presidents) makes the lives of those who either loved or loathed their sojourns in the White House as irresistible as a gossip column. Although some of her stories are well known-such as Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt's distant relationship and Nancy Reagan's devotion to her husband-Angelo has gleaned fresh nuggets from history as well as her personal contacts from a long journalistic career. Andrew Jackson, for example, gave an eight-year-old slave as a christening gift to a relative named after his deceased, beloved wife. President Taft was so fat he got stuck in the presidential bathtub. Lemonade Lucy Hayes banned alcohol at state dinners, but she was undermined by rum punch hidden in platters of oranges. Angelo is particularly skilled at describing the difficulties White House children, including Lyndon Johnson's daughters and Amy Carter, had adjusting to life in a fish bowl. Angelo does, however, ramble, with loosely organized subjects rather than a chronological narrative, and doesn't anchor less familiar figures, like the families of presidents Polk and Pierce, in historical context. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. Agent, Todd Shuster. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In her more than 40 years with Time magazine, Angelo (First Mothers: The Women Who Shaped the Presidents) reported on both the East and the West Wings of the White House. Now, with this collection of succinct and vivid anecdotes, she takes readers inside the lives of the presidential families. Instead of being organized by president, her chapters are thematic, starting with the impact of first moving into the White House, then covering daily life, what it was like for presidents' children to grow up in the Executive Mansion, the constant struggle to maintain some sense of privacy inside the fish bowl, gala special events, the styles and tastes of the various families, the relationships formed with other heads of state and their families, and, finally, the bittersweet farewells as the next presidential family moves in. Angelo refers to all 43 presidencies and uses her own personal contacts and past interviews when discussing recent administrations. This rich gathering of tidbits is a nice contemporary supplement to previous reminiscences and White House histories. Highly recommended for all public libraries.-Dale Farris, Groves, TX Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A sweeping panorama of family life on Pennsylvania Avenue. In order to amass this weighty followup to First Mothers (2000), veteran journalist Angelo, who covered eight administrations for Time magazine, mined a prodigious variety of sources, including insights from serious journalists and pundits across two centuries; recollections of presidents' family members; and tales tattled by White House employees. Most readers, once grabbed, will not care that some apocrypha and rank gossip surely holds together at least a few of these slices of life. The imagery is irresistible: The (Lyndon) Johnson girls barely moved in before trying to light a fire in the bedroom without opening the damper; Nixon, on the other hand, got cozy next to his mandatory roaring fireplace even when air conditioning was running full blast in the rest of the house. We learn that Harry Truman's wife gave a thumbs-up to a butler who, after two failed attempts at mixing an Old Fashioned for Harry, finally just poured a slug of bourbon over ice cubes, and that spare trunks, in sizes ranging from King Farouk's to Mahatma Ghandi's, hung in the locker room off the indoor swimming pool installed for FDR (the pool was financed by dimes contributed by American kids). Personal correspondence from some of the 39 first ladies (Martha Washington did not live there) indicates that the intimidation of living in a fishbowl was a common initial reaction; yet many-like the career-Army Eisenhowers, who had never before lived as long as eight years in a single house-were crestfallen when it was time to leave. Somewhat arbitrarily organized but constantly revealing and intimate, a must for any political junkie's personal bookshelf.

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Read an Excerpt

First Families

The Impact of the White House on Their Lives
By Bonnie Angelo

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Bonnie Angelo
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780060563585

Chapter One

Stepping into History

Washington sparkled like anicicleafterablizzard roared in as the 1961 inaugural celebrations were beginning. On any other day a snowstorm would have paralyzed the city, but on this day it was an opportunity to show the resilience, fortitude, and jaunty spirit of the New Frontier. At the White House the near-endless inaugural parade straggled by the presidential reviewing stand, the trumpeters in the marching bands struggling to make their fingers and the valves function in the brutal cold-while trying, like the thousands who lined Pennsylvania Avenue, to catch a glimpse of the new President and his wife.

Never in its long history had the White House welcomed a presidential couple as storybook young and glamorous as John Fitzgerald and Jacqueline Kennedy. He was forty-three, the youngest elected President; she was thirty-one, mother of an infant son and three-year-old daughter. Together they made a family who would beguile the nation. The new President, whose mop of sandy hair was the cartoonists' delight, wore-or at least carried-a top hat, in deference to tradition and the hatmakers union; the new First Lady instantly set a new threshold of chic, from her pillbox hat-copies would be in department storeswithin days-to her old-fashioned fur muff and fur-trimmed ankle boots.

At the inaugural ball that evening Jackie was a generation apart from Mamie Eisenhower's full-skirted, sequin-studded gowns. Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy was sophisticated elegance in a stalk of white silk softened by a cape of fluttering chiffon. She owned the night; it was her debut as a megastar, and she infused the White House with a magic she would never lose.

Theirs was the ultimate changeover at the Executive Mansion. In the finest presidential tradition, the transition was courteous and circumspect, even though Kennedy knew that Ike considered him a young whippersnapper and Eisenhower was aware that Kennedy viewed him as a symbol of the past. As the youngest couple arrived, the then-oldest President and his wife, the much admired Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower, were departing after eight happy, conventional years. They were an aging army couple retiring to their Gettysburg farm, giving way to a growing family that required a nursery.

The Eisenhowers represented success born of bedrock middle-American beginnings, the comfort of the familiar, a nation basking in good times. The Kennedys brought a sweeping reordering to the White House-a new era and a new generation; a change of political party, of style, of goals; the dashing war hero replacing the legendary general who had masterminded victory. In a matter of hours the White House would have to adapt to those differences.

Both the incoming and departing First Ladies felt some reluctance on Inauguration Day. Mamie, lighthearted, sociable, a popular favorite, was sorry to leave the home she and Ike had lived in longer than any of the thirty in their thirty-seven years of marriage, the beautiful house she had made her own, with its well-trained staff to do her bidding and a social life she had enjoyed to the fullest. She had made it a second home for her grandchildren, who lived close by, and the regular meeting place for her canasta group. From her first day as First Lady, Mamie, the five-star general's wife, was not intimidated by the White House.

Jackie entered her new life in the White House with a sense of dread, a fear that she would be caged, that her children would be harassed, their childhood spoiled. With her elite pursuits and standoffish manner, she had been targeted as a campaign liability. Already she had learned that she could not even control her own name: she wished to be "Jacqueline" outside her select circle of family and friends, but she had become "Jackie" to all. She disliked "First Lady" asatitle-"Itsoundslikeasaddlehorse," sheprotested-but nonetheless she was tagged "First Lady." Later she reflected, "I felt as if I had just turned into a piece of public property."

That was only a slight exaggeration. From the moment a new First Lady crosses the North Portico and enters the White House on Inauguration Day she becomes a public figure, whether she likes it or not. The White House is at the juncture of its family's personal lives, their private joys and sorrows, and the life of the nation they represent; family moments and historic events are intertwined.

In addition to managing her children and the inescapable day-today planning, the First Lady is required to be chatelaine of the world-famous mansion and is expected to appear supportive of her husband-or at least not damaging-as he wrestles with the world's most powerful position. The White House is a home, a museum, an institution, a symbol-and for the families who live there, it is both a palace and a prison.

Even Hillary Rodham Clinton, a lawyer long involved with public issues and for twelve years a governor's wife, was taken aback by all her new position entailed. "I don't think anyone is prepared for the whole role that comes with being First Lady," she said in retrospect. "It is not a 'job'-it is an intense, overwhelming experience. There is no guidebook to tell you what to do."

Literally overnight, the new First Lady wakes up to find herself a different person, one she may not recognize or wish to be. Without her consent she is transformed from private helpmeet into a front-page figure. She quickly learns that in return for its many perks and four-star services, the White House makes its own demands on its residents; while it enhances their status it curtails their lives and imposes unwanted duties. Even before the inauguration, Jacqueline Kennedy had received invitations to attend almost three hundred events and more than a thousand requests to lend her name to every kind of organization. She declined almost all, which, her staff director, Letitia Baldrige, well remembers, led to anger and pressure.


Excerpted from First Families by Bonnie Angelo Copyright © 2007 by Bonnie Angelo. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Bonnie Angelo is the author of First Mothers. During her more than twenty-five years with Time magazine, she has reported on the White House and has covered newsmakers and events across America and the world. She lives in Bethesda, Maryland, and New York City.

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First Families: The Impact of the White House on Their Lives 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
the_librarionCW More than 1 year ago
This book was an excellent source to learn about the daily lives of the First Families once they took command of the White House. You will be surprised at the actions and reactions of most of the individuals involved. It brings these people into focus in a very humane way.