Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Eyewitness: First Ladies

Eyewitness: First Ladies

Amy Pastan
Nonficiton  Series
For ages 8 and up
DK , 2008   ISBN: 978-0756649425

Many people are familiar with the quote “behind every great man there’s a great woman,” the idea being that men in power owe a good deal of their success to the women who support and help them; their wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters. This is certainly true of the first ladies who have, over the centuries, supported, encouraged, and even pushed their presidential husbands.

In this excellent title readers will get to meet forty-five first ladies from Martha Washington to Michelle Obama. For each first wife we are given a brief biography, a picture of the lady, annotated photos of objects that she owned or that were relevant to her life, and background information about the roles she played and the time she lived in.

In the case of Martha Dandridge Custis Washington, the very first presidential spouse, we find out that she was “a simple and dignified woman” who was happiest when she was managing her husband’s household on his country estate, Mount Vernon. However, Martha knew that her husband needed her by his side and so she followed General George Washington from place to place when he served as the commander in chief of the colonial army during the American Revolution. After he was chosen to be the first president of the United States, she went with President Washington to New York City, which was the first capital of the new country, where she entertained important guests in a relaxed atmosphere.

Abigail Adams, the second first lady, also supported her husband during hard times, but in her case she took a more active role. During the Revolutionary War she ran the family farm while he husband was away serving the American people. Abigail was a very opinionated woman and did not hold back when it came to sharing her views with his husband and others. In fact some people even felt that she “had too much political influence” over her husband. Alongside the text describing Abigail’s life we are given portrait of her, and photos of  her locket, slippers, and curling iron.

Eleanor Roosevelt was another woman who was on the receiving end of a certain amount of criticism. She wrote articles in newspapers, gave radio broadcasts, and served as her husband’s ambassador, going to places that he could not visit, and connecting with people from all walks of life. She was eager to find out how Americans were faring and encouraged her husband, sometimes quite forcefully, to implement policies that would improve the lives of the poor and disenfranchised. She believed in civil rights, and openly supported African Americans at a time when it was not wise to do so. On her pages in this book we see photos of clothes she wore, of a quilt that was made in her honor, and of the desk that served her well. There are also many period photos showing the first lady at work and with her family.

This is the kind of book that children and adults will enjoy dipping into. It is packed with fascinating facts and stories about the first ladies of the United States, and it also gives readers a sense of the changes that took place in the United States from one presidency to the next.