If you watched the political conventions, you know that both Ann Romney and Michelle Obama are scene-stealers. We wondered when speeches by candidates’ wives and first ladies at these conventions became such game-changing moments in presidential campaigns. When was the turning point? When did First Ladies move into the realm of cultural icons, and perhaps, even “cool”? We learn that Eleanor Roosevelt set the bar quite high as the first woman to speak at a convention; that First Ladies might be more alike than different; and that First Ladies past might not have been able to endure the media scrutiny of today. And in non–First Lady news, Barbara Grufferman redefines “crone” and Lynn Povich tells us that not much has changed for women in the newsroom since her Newsweek days in the 1970s.
Image via Leo Reynolds via Flickr
Setting the Bar for First Lady Speeches: Eleanor Roosevelt
The folks at The Eloquent Woman tell us that although “wifely testimonials” became a staple at conventions when Barbara Bush gave her speech at the Republican National Convention in 1992, we have Eleanor Roosevelt to thank for setting the bar high. At the 1940 Democratic National Convention, Roosevelt became the first woman to address a national presidential convention when she gave a speech in her husband Franklin Roosevelt’s absence. While many pundits now argue that the role of the political wife in these speeches is to “humanize” their husbands for the public, Mrs. Roosevelt, using a single page of notes, went beyond those traditional confines. Instead, her speech was very political, speaking for the President of the United Stages (not about her husband) in a time when war was looming. According to The Eloquent Woman:
Eleanor had long played a role as FDR’s eyes, ears and presence as an emissary in public appearances he could not manage with his disability, giving frequent speeches. But none had as direct and dramatic effect as this impromptu assignment.
First Wives Club: Are Presidential Candidates’ Wives All the Same?
Speaking of First Ladies and their speeches, Libby Copeland of Slate is not impressed with what she sees is a predictable narrative. In her article, “First Wives Club: Why Are Presidential Candidates’ Wives All the Same?” she argues that from Laura Bush onward, we have seen candidates’ wives as “. . . reluctant and self-sacrificing, a private person who’s stepped forward in duty to her country to channel a natural warmth and charm on behalf of her husband.” It’s an interesting article that frames these women’s roles as formulaic: they must “humanize, soften, and ground” their husbands and they must almost always make public their distaste for politics. Whether or not you agree with Copeland, what she is hinting at is that we (the American public, the media, the political machine) have boxed in these women, perhaps forcing them to sell themselves short. Copeland writes:
[T]his narrative has become a sort of fool-proof formula for contemporary presidential candidate’s wives . . . [S]pousal reluctance has become a requirement, a kind of necessary modesty. That it’s so pervasive, despite the nagging voices in the back of our heads telling us it’s all PR, says a lot about what we still believe, or want to believe, about the modern first lady—how much we expect of her, and how little.
Image via FirstLadies.org
Love, Marriage, and U.S. First Ladies
How would the First Ladies of the 19th and early 20th centuries have fared under the scrutiny of today’s mockery-prone press? In NYcitywoman.com, Rona Cherry invites you judge for yourself. Some of these women were steely; all of them were respectable except Edith Bolling Galt Wilson (“What did Mrs. Galt do when the President asked her to marry him? She fell out of bed”). Cherry points to an ongoing “First Ladies” fashion exhibition at the Smithsonian. Click over also for the fashion show: the beautiful beige gowns of Julia Gardiner Tyler and Edith Wilson vs. the horrors-in-black of Ellen Axson Wilson, Helen Herron Taft, Eliza McCardle Johnson, and Anna Tuthill Symmes Harrison (she of the frightening bonnet).
Image via NYCitywoman.
We love when to see women taking back a word that has been used to denigrate them and instead, turn it on its head, redefine it, and claim its new identity proudly! For Barbara Grufferman, that word is “crone.” She shares in her latest blog, “The Croning of America: How Post50 Women Are Learning to Love Their Inner Crone,” for The Huffington Post, the roots of the term. It turns out, says Grufferman, that croning is a time where women:
. . . embrace aging with joy and dignity. And while it’s more about the act of becoming a wise woman and accepting your rightful place in the world, it’s also very much about sharing your knowledge and wisdom with other women.
Read on as she tells us how more and more women are embracing their inner and outer crones.
Lynn Povich, author of “The Good Girls Revolt,” says Things Haven’t Changed Much
In an interview for her new book, The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace, Lynn Povich shares with NPR why women agreed to take the menial jobs, knowing how inherently discriminatory they were; on recruiting in the ladies’ room; and why she believes things haven’t changed much.
“I think it’s more difficult for young women now, because it has the air of equality, but when you look under the surface, of course, there [are] still hostile work environments; there’s still not equal pay for women. . . [M]any of us indeed thought these rights were secure that we had won, and yet you see how threatened they are, both in the work world and with reproductive rights and violence against women. I mean, vigilance is necessary.”
Hers is a brave (and depressing) statement; but Povich would be the expert on what really has changed, given her struggles when she was appointed the first female senior editor of Newsweek in the mid-1970s.