tv The Presidency Pat Nixon Reconsidered CSPAN August 14, 2022 2:00am-2:50am EDT
-- cherry blossom festival in spring 1973. the first lady was taking time with every person she met. she gets up in a very special way, taking my hand and class giving it -- taking my hand and clasping it between hers. her eyes met mine and we exchanged a smile. in that moment, she would make you feel as if you were the only person in the room. it was a shining that lingered after the moment. i watched her for a long time that afternoon from a distance, as she treated each person she met with that distinctly genuine grace and generosity of spirit that she had shown me. misses nixon was never about power. the last person she seemed to concentrate on was herself. but she was very aware of the potential of a public position, and the means it contained for celebrating others, highlighting
their views, making every person with whom she came in contact know they were special. if you look at pictures from her white house years, often she nudges someone else toward the center of the photo, where she smiles at them instead of the camera. official pictures i like these visitors to the white house, underscoring her conviction that this is the people's house after all. the more i look at her life and her tenure as first lady, the more value it becomes to learn the circumstances of her birth and childhood. she knew poverty and grew up taking very little for granted. she could identify with those who may never have even dreamed of visiting washington or the white house, let alone shaking the hand of someone who lived there. she never forgot those with whom she grew up, talked, and worked alongside, what they valued and
needed. that was likely key to her ability to relate so beautifully to others. when i arrived at the white house in the summer of 1973, she was asking everyone to recall their favorite moment working in the white house. each person recalled a dinner on may 24, 1973. it was a star-studded, outdoor, white house lawn event. former prisoners of war met for the first time, some have been communicated through chains in the same prison. the president and misses nixon greeted all 1300 guests that evening, and invited them to stay at the white house as long as they waste, saying it was the least they deserved -- as long as they wish, saying was the
least they deserved. you can see from these pictures how much misses nixon valued contact with those in hospital, those in harm's way, and she would take messages back to their loved ones if at all possible. if it was something they wanted them to know, misses nixon would make sure she made the correspondence or phone calls personally. respondents was important to misses nixon. it reflected people were worth time and thought. she resisted the signature pen, preferring to sign her letters and in some cases wrote them in longhand. she had visited constituents is the wife of a white house at senate member and second lady for eight years, and she had signed presidents of the present -- signed photographs of the president and first lady. pat nixon cared for people, one person or a small group at a
time whenever she could. and even if it meant writing letters all day or hosting visitors four hours and shaking hands until the last guest, that was what she did. the white house stationary was provided by the taxpayers. we were not to make typographical errors or let a letter emailed with smudges ever. misses nixon had a way with people, children especially. her conversations with them were legend. one little boy with numerous health challenges doubted that she lived in the white house and when misses nixon inquired as to what, he said it was because he didn't see a washing machine anywhere. so, she gave him her hand and invited him to take a look at her washing machine. he returned, satisfied that she lived there, but the boy's parents were amazed. it was the first time ever that
their son had left them to accompany another adult in his young life. it was not uncommon for adult visitors to be overwhelmed in the presence of the first lady. misses nixon would respond with a hug. i saw her embrace a guest more than once as a gesture of understanding and warm welcome. but one time, it was so poignant that i started crying. misses's press secretary put her arm around me and i apologize for getting emotional but she responded, this is good for us to see. otherwise, we might take for granted what misses nixon does again and again. she was beloved by the white house staff. there were tears as she left the white house on august 9, 1974, profuse and heart-wrenching. i stood on a balcony in between
william simon and the white house chef, both in tears. members of the white house press corps, one of whom had been a former student of hers, privately confided abiding admiration and deep respect was something he held for her always. members of her staff lindsay, alan, when, susan, and cindy, were gems. misses nixon was a sparkling diamond. and each one was a facet. they knew what she hoped for and expected as first lady. daughters tricia and julie, like their mother, were unfailingly kind and gracious paid by the time she became first lady, mrs. nixon had observed the
activities of at least four first lady's. she had been second lady for eight years. she had been applauded for her gift of diplomacy, especially in hostile situation. the admiration continued when she traveled to the soviet union people's republic of many other trips. on a trip to italy with the president, she spent a quiet evening in her room so that the press pool assigned to her might enjoy an evening out on the town in rome. her keen understanding of public service, to celebrate others' gifts and accomplishments and daughter there hard work and dedication, keeping the long view of history in mind. >> thank you for the great introduction. i gave my presentation this title, but i have to confess that i don't think pat would have liked the title. because she did not choose a career in politics.
she did work throughout her life beside and sometimes around her husband in his decades long career in government. while the world and the media perceived kurt traditional image -- perceived her traditional image, they focused on her image as a traditional wife and mother, somebody just participated in politics as an extension of her husband. they created this image of her as this plastic woman, plastic cap, -- plastic pat, who smiled on cue and didn't have any personality of her own.
i will offer examples to support my argument that she made government accessible to everyone. one was her behavior during foreign travel and the other was her white house west or ration -- white house restoration efforts. but i want to go back to something linda mentioned, that we need to understand where misses nixon came from. she came from humble origins. she was born in a miner's hut. she lost her mother when she was 13 at her father when she was 18. she worked her whole life. at one point in her career while she was trying to earn money to support her father and brothers, and later supporter brothers precollege and put herself -- support her brothers through college and put herself through
this background leads to where she understands what it is to be excluded, to be someone who was in a sense kept out of everything else. she never forgot that. when people would talk about her correspondence and be upset with her, she would say that she knew how much a letter -- she recognized the impact that could have. we can see this remembrance of how things are and her insistence on making everyone feel appreciated.
back to her efforts at home. when she came into the white house, one of the things she was determined was that she wanted the white house to become the people's house. if it was going to be the people's house, then it had to be all the people. she was very insistent that the white house was not just a place for the big shots to come in. it was for all of the people. how do you make the white house, how do you make the white house accessible to the people? she looked for different ways to say who is being excluded. one thing she was -- she felt there were all these people living in washington dc and they passed the white house every day and they never saw it so she had eliminated. in 1970, the white house was eliminated for the first time in the evening. then they opened up so the working people could come and
visit the white house. this is misses nixon leading one of the tours. she also revived of pre-world war ii event by opening it for one weekend in the spring and fall. it had been closed since pearl harbor. she revised the tradition in 1973. as you had seen in the previous pictures, misses nixon was very interested in trying to make children feel at home, to make for undignified -- dignitaries at home. we can't see the tour guides, but she is speaking to a group of tour guides. she was insistent that one of the things that the tour guides had to do was make sure that they spoke facing the people that the tours that they were leading because she wanted them especially if they were hard of
hearing to be able to understand what was going on. she wanted the white house to be open and accessible to everyone. you will notice in the picture on the left if you look carefully, the children all have gloves on. they have gloves on because all of the children are visually impaired. they are being allowed to feel the statute. they would do the same thing with the white gloves and take them away to let them feel some of the wallpaper and furnishings. when misses nixon got to the white house, she knew that no one in a wheelchair would be able to take advantage because there were no ramps. she insisted on putting ramps in and on the east wing and the north portico. she was determined that the white house was going to be accessible to as many people as possible. in doing that in making the white house accessible she also
wanted to show it off at the showplace. this is misses nixon with the committee for the preservation of the white house. this is someone who helped her with this process. these pictures you can see she is showing off some of the changes that they have made. they would go around and look for appropriate pieces of furnishings. they would try to get donations to get what they needed to get the proper furnishings to continue the process they had begun. one last slide. this was one of their greatest triumphs was getting the portrait of dolley madison which
had been removed famously when the white house was being burned in the war of 1812. to get it on loan to find and get it loaned back to the white house then eventually to be real to have it released to them. by the time she left the white house in 1974, she had added more than 500 pieces of american furniture artwork chandeliers to the collection. many were loaned, some were purchased with donations that she helped to create. she did not receive recognition for the media or public for her efforts abroad or at home. recognition was not her goal. her goal was to bring in people and make them feel that they were part of the government. to that extent, she very much succeeded. >> thank you so much, mary. want to thank blair for having
us and diana who coordinated a lot of this and could not be with us tonight. thank you nancy linda and mary. excellent presentations and they all pave the way for the last part. and what you talk specifically about misses nixon and women's issues tonight. i want to talk about what mary was talking about briefly about misses nixon's earliest life. she mentioned thelma catherine ryan later and was born in a two room minor shack in nevada in 1912. that's always so important in the formation of people's character. i don't think enough has been written about the frontier mentality and culture that pat nixon was born into or rather thelma ryan at that point.
partially due to the more equal partnership demanded within this frontier culture western women had more rights during the settlement era than their sisters did back east. women achieved enfranchisement in the western states of kansas and oregon in 1912 the same year that misses nixon is born. her host state of nevada was not far behind recognizing women's right to vote in 1914. years prior to the passing of the national suffrage amendment in 1920. i wanted to point out that mining couples like her parents understood well what a congresswoman articulated that men and women are like right and left hands. it doesn't make sense not to use both. pat's family exemplified that
ethic in the way they lived and worked together. she and her family moved to california in 1913. her father rocked -- but a small farm there and raised vegetables. pat and her mother and two brothers work together to help him make the pharma success. she knew very hard work very early on. she also showed you pictures and mentioned other things that misses nixon did. she was a career woman, a self aid women -- woman before she met richard nixon. her mother died when she was 14 and her father died when she was 18. she helped raise her two brothers. eventually, she graduated from the university of southern
california. she had jobs all along in new york as an x-ray technician and in the hospitals for those with tuberculosis. she worked in los angeles as a clothing model and salesgirl. she worked in hollywood as an actress until she became a business teacher. i tell you this because she was raised to believe that women could do whatever they set their minds to. there was never a question in her mind that women should not be able to have a career and family together if that's what they chose. i wanted to point out that richard nixon's mother came from a long line of quakers. the presidents grandmother was a very strong female role model for him. the quaker religion that the
president was surrounded by made a very strong impression on him about women because women were preachers, teachers, sunday school leaders. his mother also worked in the grocery business. richard nixon saw that women could be strong leaders, community leaders as well as career women and others and wives as well as home. they can have it all. mrs. nixon and president nixon had that vision and modeling growing up. i wanted to talk a little bit about also his two daughters trish and julie who represented the younger generation of republican women who strongly believed that women should be able to do whatever they wanted to just like both of their parents did. women could be in the workplace and also at home to do it all.
they supported like her mother's , to elevate women in the government and working world. here we have president nixon with barbara hackman franklin and her job was to get more women into higher-level government positions. when barbara franklin comes into the nixon administration into the west wing to do her work, i will tell you more about that, context between barbara's move into the nixon administration as staff assistant to the president this assignment to get more women in government, keep in mind we had the advent of the birth control pill in 1960 freeing women up we have the
civil rights movement, the vietnam war, the feminist movement. we have all of these things swirling around creating a situation where women are beginning to be taken much more seriously to be much more of a voting rights group also. although they have had the vote for a long time. things are only starting to heat up in the 60's and 70's for women having more leadership roles in the government. in 1971, abra comes in as staff assistant to the president and her quote that she gave me was interesting. she said it was kind of a vacuum when i came in. there was a bit of force building up there or of a push for women in government. although the women's movement female reporters were trying to move women's issues forward, she also barbara franklin told me she thought that a few good
women hind the scenes gently pushed president nixon along. barbara's quote i think president nixon's mother hannah who i talked about earlier and mrs. nixon had a lot to do with this attitude and also his two daughters. there was beginning to be a rationale for supporting women's roles outside of the home. that is what we are beginning to look at. also, i want to set the scene when barbara comes on board. this was previous to her coming on board. president nixon's second rest conference, the washington bureau chief for former newspaper alliance ask the question of the president no one expected. mr. president in staffing or administration, you have so far about 200 high-level cabinet and
other appointments at only three have gone to women. you tell us if we can expect more equitable representation of women's abilities or are we going to remain -- the question was what pushed things along to get barbara franklin involved. to get her as staff assistant to the president to push for this. what happened was that barbara was extremely successful. she had attended harvard business school and she used objective based manager principles to find qualified women for high-level government roles and mid-level government roles by using talent based -- talent bank of women. it would also identify women for lower levels women's whose names we may not know but changed history all the same. female forest rangers, tugboat
captains, and fbi agent. without the support from the president and from mrs. nixon and the two daughters behind-the-scenes, barbara told me she did not think the advances that were made as barriers that were broken for women could never have happened at that particular time in our country. that was all going on behind the scenes with this is nixon, julie eisenhower and tricia cox pushing for these things and supporting our bread and the other women in the west ring -- supporting barbara and the other women in the neck -- west wing. i wanted to comment on mrs. nixon and the east wing west wing operations. she was fully in charge of the east wing and her staff despite numerous attempts from the west wing to take control of the east wing and minimize her operation.
she strongly assisted those attempts and rammed her -- she ran her own show. she was often in conflict with the president's chief of staff over coverage of press events and how she was presented or not presented politically. she and her staff pushed back behind-the-scenes against this. sometimes a prevailed but sometimes not. mrs. nixon's popularity with the american public was massive and consistent not only during the time of both nixon administrations but also long after. she always retained the popularity. she was perhaps the greatest pr asset for the nixon white house. even so, the white house seemed threatened by her presence on the list and they did not promote her like they should have even when the president himself urged them to do so.
let's move on to the next slide. i love this slide because she is indeed the first first lady to wear pants in public. here she is at yellowstone national park in september 1972. i want to give you briefly run through another first for mrs. nixon that are pretty striking and very definitive for her time as first lady. she was the first incumbent first lady since eleanor roosevelt to address a national political convention. she was the first incumbent first lady to support the equal rights amendment. her quote i am for women, for equal rights and equal pay for equal work she said. she said i competed against and worked with men.
in 1972, she reflected it was time to formally recognize that women in employment and other areas deserved equal treatment with men. traveling in yugoslavia, she offered the opinion that it's parliament as well as the u.s. congress had too few women. pat nixon was the first modern first lady to sit in on a cabinet meeting as an observer who hoped to make women part of the administration. mrs. nixon was also the first first lady to use the word abortion in public. she said it in the context of being pro-abortion rights. she said i think abortion is a personal choice. she was the first first lady to call for a woman on the supreme court saying our population is more than 50% women so why not? a woman will help balance the court. she pushed very hard for women on the supreme court and was
annoyed when the west wing staff claimed they could not find qualified woman. the last two slides are personal given to me from east wing staff that i thought the audience would enjoy seeing just to show the warmth and the nature that -- how she interacted with her own staff. in this slide, we have the staff director and press secretary holding a press conference in 1973 and i hope you can see that mrs. nixon is casually sitting on the floor with the rest of her staff. i don't know a lot of first lady's that would be so cheerful and casual like that. i think that shows you that she
was not so formal. she was casual and relaxed with her staff. the next slide and the last slide is a wonderful picture from christmas 1973. mrs. nixon always made a point to have staff parties, christmas parties with her staff not only for christmas but other fun events like halloween. also nice meetings she would have with her east wing staff to thank them profusely many times for what they were doing. she would have meetings to just hang out, to give them baby gifts, birthday gifts, handwritten notes, it always made the staff feel appreciated according to all of the interviews i have done without exception. her staff also told me she wanted her staff to have great
experiences while they were there to be part of the history of the white house that they were sharing with the public. things like going on cruises on the sequoia. on the boats that the white house had. the yacht that they had to go around and enjoy. they would bring on children to the sequoia that did many events there. they would also meet celebrities, they would do all kinds of special things and she wanted the staff to enjoy that time. the last thing i will say a short story that her social secretary told me about mrs. nixon. lucy wilson the secretary had a little girl they called little lucy. she had a pet frog.
mrs. nixon took the time to go around the white house and collect flies for little lucy from some of the white house drapes that tended to attract the flies. she cut them up in a jar and gave them to little lucy to feed to her pet frog. i thought that was such a charming story and it showed again the love of children that she had. i thought that was truly above and beyond. i wanted to end with that and concur with mary and linda. there is no such thing as plastic pat. that is purely a media construct. that's a false narrative that needs to be corrected. thank you so much. >> one thing i did want to say we were talking earlier is prior to pat nixon being unheralded is
you have to realize she was the only first lady from misses johnson forward who did not do her own memoirs. later on, julie did a biography but she was very reticent about herself. that is another element. i also think that what the panelists were saying in terms of the west wing which is the president's staff and the east wing was true. she wasn't empowered in the way other first ladies were. we do have questions, i thought it was a fascinating panel. the questions one is asked -- talks about the east wing struggles it seems that the west wing staff overshadowed mrs.
nixon's achievements and our efforts toward equality. how does history rectify that issue? i wonder why tricia and julie have not publicly written about their mother as a person driven by principles of equality? that is from our own. heavy disappeared? could you please put your video and audio on? >> >> i am on. >> i am on, too. >> you are not showing. if you could put your video on. >> i think it is good to have an
outside person talking about some of this because it is difficult if you are a daughter to talk about your mother. that is a hard task to put on them. i think it is our job as historians. mary talked in her wonderful book about issues of equality. that is something i am very interested in. i plan to go deep on equality issues. i think mrs. nixon felt very strongly. i think she moves the needle forward and betty ford is able to run with it. she does all the teeing up for that issue. not only by supporting the e.r.a., but all other things that were groundbreaking. including things that may not seem groundbreaking now, but
things like wearing pants. simple things like that. pushing for a woman on the supreme court. i will have a lot in my book about this. she was very upset that did not happen. she publicly wanted that to happen. barbara franklin and her talent bank, that was one of the first things they tried to do, find an appropriate candidate. they were able to set that up so 10 years later sandra day o'connor, who was identified by barbara's talent bank under reagan, became the first female supreme court justice. a lot of what mrs. nixon does is the teeing up of these issues. from what had been at a low boil on the jfk and lbj administrations.
she moved the needle quite a bit. >> having worked with misses johnson, i do feel for women at a high level. civil rights and beautification and environment heated up. misses --mrs. did not push for a woman on the supreme court. she pushed for the environment in a way very few people did. it was a revolutionary process. i had a question for the panel.
what was nearest and dearest to mrs. nixon's heart? linda, do you want to comment? one of the things mrs. nixon cared about was her nearest and dearest to her heart. can you unmic? >> she was quoted often as saying, people are my projects. one thing she would have been most gratified by, the number of people who gained access to the white house who may never have been able to visit before. those who had health challenges, she was able to bring in. there is a notary -- coterie in
washington of public servants who regularly visit the white house. it can be key. she wanted to bring people to the white house who had never been there before and would talk about it to their children and grandchildren. she wanted to make that possible. however long they would be in the white house, mrs. nixon really wanted to make it available to as many as possible. she also cared about historic preservation. then, there were those she knew would treasure a visit to the white house for different reasons. when the portraits of president and mrs. kennedy --
[no audio] mrs. nixon put her reputation at extreme personal risk. i saying if mrs. kennedy and her children wanted to come, she would give them complete privacy and not even tell the press they are going. so that she did not compromise her press secretary helen smith, she kept it a secret from helen. she and the president and her daughters greeted and hosted dinner for mrs. kennedy, caroline and john, junior after seeing their parents portrait. mrs. kennedy, caroline and john rose three individual letters to mrs. nixon about finally getting to see where they had spent their young years in the white house. mrs. nixon said it was one of
the greatest days of her life and she had dreaded it because she did not want to face the press. she wanted a private visit and mrs. nixon made it possible, at great personal risk. it was really a coup on mrs. nixon's part. that was the extent she was willing to go to honor people who wanted to be there, needed to be there. she thought she owed it to them, she really did. conscious of the fact she did not want to cause trouble for her husband as president and for the west wing staff. she was not out on a cause that would prove contentious. that was not her thing. people were her project.
that was a long view of history. there were things that she knew over time that would wear well. >> that was a fascinating answer. we are running long because of technical difficulties. there is one more question. any of you can answer it. how much do we know about relationships of mrs. nixon between judy agnew and betty ford? mary? >> i am afraid that i can't answer that question. i think others might be able to do a better job. betty ford -- judy agnew i do not know as much, but she and betty ford were dear friends
that had known each other many years and that came up in washington. they had a very close relationship even after she left the white house. a very different personality, kind of night and day. that is what i found so interesting in researching them both. i see mrs. nixon as teeing women's issues up and betty puts them in the spotlight. mrs. nixon was very private, did not like the spotlight. i think mrs. ford perhaps enjoyed the spotlight more. an interesting contrast because they were dear friends even though they were quite different. >> i think -- we could go on. we may do this again in a non-problematic way.