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The Georgetown Ladies' Social Club: Power, Passion, and Politics in the Nation's Capital

The Georgetown Ladies' Social Club: Power, Passion, and Politics in the Nation's Capital

4.6 5
by C. David Heymann

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In this definitive portrait of the political and social life of Georgetown, bestselling biographer C. David Heymann chronicles the dinner parties, correspondence, overlappings, and underpinnings of some of the most influential women in Washington's history.

"The Georgetown Ladies' Social Club" — a term coined by Ronald Reagan — comprises a list of


In this definitive portrait of the political and social life of Georgetown, bestselling biographer C. David Heymann chronicles the dinner parties, correspondence, overlappings, and underpinnings of some of the most influential women in Washington's history.

"The Georgetown Ladies' Social Club" — a term coined by Ronald Reagan — comprises a list of formidable and fascinating women, among them Katharine Graham, Lorraine Cooper, Evangeline Bruce, Pamela Harriman, and Sally Quinn. Their husbands, government officials and newsmakers among them, relied on the ladies for their sharp wit and sensitivity, refined bearings, and congeniality. In a city characteristically and traditionally controlled by men, the Georgetown wives were, in turn, afforded an abundance of behind-the-scenes political clout.

Filled with intriguing and often startling insights into Washington life, from the latter days of the Kennedy and Truman administrations to the Clinton era and the advent of President George W. Bush, The Georgetown Ladies' Social Club is a compelling testament to the sex, lies, and red tape of American politics.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
The Toronto Sun An informative and entertaining book — like the women it profiles.

The Washington Post Think Entertainment Tonight does Georgetown.

Liz Smith New York Post One juicy story after another. Mr. Heymann doesn't hold back. I couldn't put this book down....Don't miss it!

Toronto Sun
An informative and entertaining book—like the women it profiles.
Washington Post
Think Entertainment Tonight does Georgetown.
New York Post
One juicy story after another. Mr. Heymann doesn't hold back. I couldn't put this book down....Don't miss it!
—Liz Smith
Publishers Weekly
Heymann, bestselling biographer of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Barbara Hutton, offers a captivating chronicle of the female power behind American politics in the latter half of the 20th century. In a time when men wrote the rules of the political game, he writes, five formidable women greatly influenced who won and who lost: Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham; Lorraine Cooper, wife of Kentucky's Sen. John Sherman Cooper; Evangeline Bruce, wife of U.S. ambassador David Bruce; Democratic Party fund-raiser (and later ambassador) Pamela Harriman, married to the powerful and wealthy Averell Harriman; and Sally Quinn, Washington Post writer and wife of the Post's former executive editor Ben Bradlee. While they had husbands in high places, these women wielded a vital political influence in Georgetown by organizing the parties where momentous meetings took place and decisions were made. These women were so compelling not only for their professional and political accomplishments and legendary dinner parties but for their dynamic, and often clashing, personalities and ambitions. Heymann deftly explores these personalities through interviews with family, friends, enemies, admirers and detractors. The resulting anecdotal social history of Georgetown is a winning combination of sex, scandal and political escapade. It also provides a complex portrait of its subjects. "What the Georgetown Five ultimately share is their ability to maintain a public pose, to protect the image they sought to create, no matter what the cost, no matter what the burden," writes Heymann, whose earlier books have become award-winning TV miniseries. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. Agent, Owen Laster. (Oct. 28) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Heymann, a writer of popular "candid" and "intimate" biographies (e.g., A Woman Named Jackie), asserts (repeatedly) that in the second half of the 20th century, Georgetown dinner parties, run by women, mattered to the nation. This several-hundred-page gossip column fails to demonstrate his claim: a consequential exchange occurs at most every hundred pages. The rest of the tome recounts the lifestyles of the rich and politically well connected, including their adulterous escapades and the names of their fashion designers, as well as other excruciating trivia. (From what store in Chevy Chase did Ambassador Ardeshir Zahedi buy a wardrobe for Elizabeth Taylor in preparation for her meeting with the Shah?) Purportedly focusing on "Kay" Graham, "Vangie" Bruce, Lorraine Cooper, Pamela Harriman, and Sally Quinn, Heymann throws in chunks about Liz Taylor and Jackie Kennedy, subjects of his previous works. This book will hold precious little interest for Washington insiders, and none for those outside the city who have never heard of Lorraine Cooper. Nevertheless, the publisher will be conducting a major publicity blitz, so public libraries should be prepared to tell at least a few disappointed patrons that they'll have to buy this book themselves.-Cynthia Harrison, George Washington Univ., Washington, DC Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Dogged diva biographer Heymann (Liz, 1995, etc.) purports to show that governments rose and fell by the promptings of those in DC's glittery ghetto. From his report, however, the signal events were simply what Susan May told Missy and what Oatsie said about Rip and Adlai. Five Georgetown duchesses-Katherine Graham, Lorraine Cooper, Evangeline Bruce, Pamela Harriman, and Sally Quinn-headline, supported by a large cast of featured players, including Liz Taylor, Warren Buffett, Ben Bradlee, and JFK. There's Capote and his wretched Black and White caper for Kay Graham. Were these the best and brightest? Is this how Dolley Madison did it? Amid the clatter of teacups and tumblers of scotch, we hear the piercing clank of dropping names. It's a toast to the sort who "liked pleasure and . . . had great fun with it." Heymann informs us of loves, feuds, and peccadilloes. The tittle-tattle covers the fortunes, talents, connections, alliances, dalliances, table manners, looks, wardrobes, sleeping habits, and mental aberrations of yesteryear's Georgetowners. CIA spooks, a mysterious murder, Joe Alsop's sexual orientation, and Phil Graham's madness all come up for discussion. Some of it is patently questionable. Did a hostess really revive Alan Greenspan with an oxygen tank she "happened to have on hand"? Did "everyone come dressed as a ground hog" to a Groundhog's Day fête? It's all cold dish, largely enclosed in quotation marks, an inflated and fetid hodgepodge suited to a tabloid's party report. Admittedly, contrary to all decency, this sort of thing can become addictive and may even find a solid audience-but what's the point? Shallow and nasty enough to make readers queasy. (16 pp. b&w photos, notseen) Agent: Owen Laster/William Morris

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Author's Note

The White House, Capitol Hill, the Pentagon, and the Supreme Court immediately come to mind when considering the major spheres of influence in the nation's capital, but the true seat of power in Washington, D.C., may well be Georgetown, a tiny, picturesque, eighteenth-century village cozily nestled in the oldest section of the city. Lyndon Baines Johnson, while serving in the Oval Office, noted that "every student of Washington's political process ought to know that the business of government is often transacted during evening hours, sometimes over a drink and sometimes over a meal — but almost always in Georgetown."

What President Johnson did not say is that these evening transactions are largely conceived, created, produced, and directed by women. On the pages that follow I attempt to trace and chronicle the evolution, over the last fifty years, of female power in Georgetown through the public as well as the personal lives of five women — Katharine Graham, Evangeline Bruce, Lorraine Cooper, Pamela Harriman, and Sally Quinn — and through the lifestyles of a sizeable constituency of supporting players — both male and female.

This is the story then of a group of highly motivated and independent women who all happened to reside in the same place at roughly the same time. They pursued common goals and common interests. Their paths frequently intersected and overlapped. They socialized with many of the same people. They were married to well-educated, successful, power-driven men whose careers in almost every instance took precedence over the careers of their wives. Marriage and children aside, these women were bound together not only by their hard-won successes and victories but also by their losses and defeats. At the center of each of their lives can be found secrets so deep and dark that they threaten to destroy everything these women worked so long and diligently to achieve. What these Georgetown ladies ultimately share is their ability to maintain a public pose, to protect the image they sought to create, no matter what the cost, no matter what the burden.

"The Georgetown Ladies' Social Club" was actually a term coined by none other than Ronald Reagan to identify an elite corps of prominent and powerful Washington women whose connections, courage, wealth, vision, intelligence, and ambition afforded them an abundance of social and political clout in a town traditionally and historically run by men. Richard Nixon, brought down by one of them, referred to all as "a shadow conspiracy of women." The description is biased but apt. The ladies in question emerged from the shadows into the light. Their parties, their personalities, and their presence forged change and lent shape to the human drama of the twentieth century and are still being felt in the twenty-first century.

Copyright © 2003 by C. David Heymann

Meet the Author

C. David Heymann (1945-2012) is the author of several New York Times bestselling biographies, including Bobby and Jackie, American Legacy, The Georgetown Ladies' Social Club, and RFK: A Candid Biography of Robert F. Kennedy. He lived in Manhattan.

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The Georgetown Ladies' Social Club: Power, Passion, and Politics in the Nation's Capital 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
fun,facts and a fast read
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have had this book on my 'To Read' list for a while, and the other week when i was in Barnes and Noble i saw it and picked it up. From start to finish the book is entertaining. At times i laughed out loud and other times felt as though i had never reaad anyhting so heart breaking. I love the book not only becasue the writing is smart and concise, but also becasue it was a mixture of politics, wealth, and glamour which one would be hard pressed to find else where. Heymann suceeds in presenting both sides of the story and allowing the reader to take it form there as far as the formation of their own opionos go. But the book owes all of it's power to 4 truly amazing women, the like which no longer exist.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had previously read Katharine Graham's memoir and some limited information about the other four ladies, but I had never put them into the context of political Washington. It was an interesting read. Who says that women don't have power? Not me, after reading this book.
Joyachiever More than 1 year ago
¿The Georgetown Ladies Social Club¿ by C. David Heyman is an incredible book that explains some of the powerful women who have indirectly/directly shaped past political elections. The following are some excerpts of entertaining details featured in this interesting book: Chapter Eight Page 161: Mary Meyer was allegedly one of President Kennedy¿s favorite mistresses. He included her in many of his political dealings because of his admiration for her beauty and intellect. To further add to the controversial scandal, there was talk that both the president and Mary were sometimes high on acid while being intimate with each other. Mary Meyer supposedly obtained her drugs from Timothy Leary. It is listed that Mr. Leary was a full-time faculty member of the psychology department at Harvard University. Chapter Nine Page 182: Kay Graham looked to Averell Harriman and Alice Longworth as human models of aging gracefully. She chose to read more and abstain from drinking in order to emulate them. Chapter Nine Page 199: President Nixon¿s decision to distance himself from the Georgetown crowd may have affected him politically. Washington hostess Anna Chennault was purported to be one of the few women that he opened up to on a friendship level. In addition, it was discussed that Kay Graham was instrumental in leaking the Watergate story. Chapter Nine Pages 202-207: Kay Graham was purportedly a charming women who at one time simultaneously attracted the affections of Warren Buffett and Robert McNamara. The book lists how a close friend by the name of Polly Fritchey was aware of the love triangle, and was quoted as saying, ¿Kay adored Mr. Buffett but loved Bob McNamara.¿ Chapter Ten Pages 208-240: Sally Quinn¿s combination of attractiveness and charisma played a pivotal role in her success as a reporter for the ¿Party Section¿ of the Washington Post. I wish to refrain from judging, but Sally Quinn¿s popularity was not without controversy. The chapter discusses the reasons why her and Jackie Kennedy were distant from each other. In addition, Sally Quinn became known hosting New Year¿s parties that become one of the most sought after events in the D.C. area. It is listed why she had to explain that she was masterminding the events out of no other ulterior motive but to have fun. Chapter Twelve pages 269-320: Compelling information is included on a past marriage between late Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor and Republican politician John Warner. The chapter discusses how Elizabeth Taylor wanted so much to fit in with the Georgetown crowd. On page 287, Pamela Harriman indirectly implied the expectations that she had of Elizabeth Taylor. I was incredibly shocked to read that wealthy women such as Georgette Mosbacher and Arianna Huffington were also trying their best to fit in with the members of the Georgetown elite. Before this chapter, I really thought that women of high wealth had an easy pass into the prestigious ranks of ¿The Georgetown Ladies Social Club.¿ On the other hand, I do have to admit that this chapter enlightened me on why I must take certain social games less personally. There are actual pictures of these women included between the pages of 246-247. Chapter Fourteen page 335: Kay Graham was mentioned as saying that Pamela Harriman helped get Bill Clinton elected. In addition, Bill Clinton expressed his appreciation by selecting Pamela Harriman as United States ambassador to France on January 20, 1993. There
Anonymous More than 1 year ago