Lady First: Book summary and reviews of Lady First by Amy S. Greenberg

Lady First

The World of First Lady Sarah Polk

by Amy S. Greenberg

Lady First by Amy S. Greenberg X
Lady First by Amy S. Greenberg
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  • Published Feb 2019
    400 pages
    Genre: Biography/Memoir

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Book Summary

The little-known story of remarkable First Lady Sarah Polk--a brilliant master of the art of high politics and a crucial but unrecognized figure in the history of American feminism.

While the Woman's Rights convention was taking place at Seneca Falls in 1848, First Lady Sarah Childress Polk was wielding influence unprecedented for a woman in Washington, D.C. Yet, while history remembers the women of the convention, it has all but forgotten Sarah Polk. Now, in her riveting biography, Amy S. Greenberg brings Sarah's story into vivid focus. We see Sarah as the daughter of a frontiersman who raised her to discuss politics and business with men; we see the savvy and charm she brandished in order to help her brilliant but unlikeable husband, James K. Polk, ascend to the White House. We watch as she exercises truly extraordinary power as First Lady: quietly manipulating elected officials, shaping foreign policy, and directing a campaign in support of America's expansionist war against Mexico. And we meet many of the enslaved men and women whose difficult labor made Sarah's political success possible.

Lady First also shines a light on Sarah's many layers and contradictions. While her marriage to James was one of equals, she firmly opposed the feminist movement's demands for what she perceived to be far-reaching equality. She banned dancing and hard liquor from the White House, but did more entertaining than any of her predecessors. During the Civil War, she operated on behalf of the Confederacy even though she claimed to be neutral. And in the late nineteenth-century, she became a celebrity among female Christian temperance reformers, while she struggled to redeem her husband's tarnished political legacy.

Sarah Polk's life spanned nearly the entirety of the 19th-century. But her own legacy, which profoundly transformed the South, continues to endure. Comprehensive, nuanced, and brimming with invaluable insight, Lady First is a revelation of our eleventh First Lady's complex but essential part in American feminism.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Sarah Polk comes alive in these pages, with Greenberg expertly illuminating the intersections of the public and private, providing readers a refreshing new way to look at 19th-century American political and social history. This is a highly recommended work." - Publishers Weekly

"More social history than biography... [A]n in-depth, telling account of a largely overlooked woman who was able to effect profound influence while working within the constraints of her time and place." - Booklist

"Though largely forgotten, this concise but thorough biography brings [Sarah Polk] back into the light. An illuminating study of a nontraditional female powerhouse." - Kirkus

"A must read for those who wish to understand why elite women have always stood at the center of Southern conservatism. Amy Greenberg's remarkable biography of Sarah Polk will change the way we talk about political power...In assuming the role of a deferential female, Sarah Polk exercised greater power than any other woman of the antebellum era." - Nancy Isenberg, author of White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America and coauthor of The Problem of Democracy: The Presidents Adams Confront the Cult of Personality

This information about Lady First was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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Author Information

Amy S. Greenberg

Amy S. Greenberg is the George Winfree Professor of History and Women's Studies at Penn State University. A leading scholar of the history of nineteenth-century America, she has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Philosophical Society, among others. Her previous books include A Wicked War and Manifest Manhood.

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