The Best FLOTUS?: Background information when reading Louisa

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The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams

by Louisa Thomas

Louisa by Louisa Thomas X
Louisa by Louisa Thomas
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2016, 512 pages

    Apr 2017, 512 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite
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About this Book

The Best FLOTUS?

This article relates to Louisa

Print Review

In 2014, for the fifth time in 31 years, the Siena Research Institute conducted its survey of historians, political scientists and scholars, aimed at identifying the "best" First Lady of the United States. Each presidential spouse was ranked on a scale of one to five in ten different categories ranging from Background, to Courage, to Integrity, Being her Own Woman and Value to the President. Its headline finding was that Eleanor Roosevelt retained the top spot as America's best First Lady. Louisa Adams, subject of Louisa Thomas' biography, Louisa, The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams, placed 18th, a long way behind her mother-in-law, Abigail Adams, who ranked second. Jackie Kennedy completes the top three.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born in New York City in 1884 but after the early deaths of her parents she spent time at a school in England. In 1905 she married a distant cousin with whom she already shared a last name, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Her uncle, President Theodore Roosevelt, gave her away at the wedding in place of his brother, Eleanor's father. In 1933 Franklin D. Roosevelt began the four terms he would serve as President making Eleanor the longest serving First Lady: from March 1933 to April 1945. As First Lady, she is widely credited with shaping and defining the role. She embraced her duties of official entertaining and broke precedent by holding her own press conferences, embarking on her own lecture tours and writing her own newspaper column. After her husband's death in 1945 she retired from public life only briefly before becoming active in the United Nations, including overseeing the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Abigail Adams

Abigail The second First Lady of the United States was also the first Second Lady, when her husband John Adams was George Washington's Vice President. Moreover, Abigail Adams was also the mother of the sixth President, John Quincy Adams. No one, until Barbara Bush, has been both wife and mother of a President. That Abigail, who was born in Massachusetts in 1744, consistently ranks so highly in the Siena Research survey, speaks volumes. Despite the fact that she lived in a time where women's involvement in public life was extremely limited, Abigail is still remembered and recognized for her patriotism, promotion of women's rights and opposition to slavery. In Louisa Thomas' biography of Louisa Adams, the younger Mrs. Adams not surprisingly finds her mother-in-law intimidating at first, but as the years pass Louisa becomes very close to both Abigail and John Adams.

Jacqueline Kennedy

Jackie Jacqueline "Jackie" Kennedy (1929-1994) was the wife of the 35th President John F. Kennedy from 1961 until his assassination on November 22 1963. She grew up in the northeast United States and travelled in Europe as a student before graduating from George Washington University. She met then Senator John Kennedy while working as a newspaper photographer and they were married in 1953. Jackie Kennedy was much admired for bringing beauty and cultured taste to the White House, developing it as a museum of American History and decorative art as well as an elegant family residence for their children to live in. Her grace and courage after her husband's assassination was commended worldwide. Five years after Kennedy's death she remarried Greek businessman Aristotle Onassis. After his death in 1975 she lived in New York and worked as an editor for Doubleday. The Kennedys' daughter, Caroline, served as the U.S. Ambassador to Japan during President Obama's second term.

Beyond the top three, there are some interesting takeaways about some other First Ladies. Laura Bush tops the list of First Ladies who "could have done more" with her time in the White House. Michelle Obama makes the list for the first time in fifth place, pushing Hillary Clinton down to sixth. But when asked which First Lady would be "most capable of running the country," Secretary Clinton comes out clearly on top.

Picture of Eleanor Roosevelt from Library of Congress
Picture of Jacqueline Kennedy from U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
Picture of Abigial Adams courtesy of Benjamin Blythe

Filed under People, Eras & Events

Article by Kate Braithwaite

This "beyond the book article" relates to Louisa. It originally ran in May 2016 and has been updated for the April 2017 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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