First Ladies, An Intimate Group Portrait of White House Wives, by Margaret Truman


Margaret Truman, daughter of Harry S. Truman and Bess Truman, was born on February 17, 1924 in Independence, Missouri and died on January 29, 2008 in Chicago.

The Presidential Daughters book, “First Ladies”, is of course opinionated and takes the view that the importance of the women themselves are secondary to the President.

Compare this impression with a quote from an article “Daughter Knows Bess that was in the Washington Post: "Mother told her secretary, 'I don't give a damn what they want to know,' and the secretary translated that to 'She hasn't made up her mind yet,' " Margaret Truman says.

For the book protecting the President is her message of importance saying.  ``While I am heartily in favor of women achieving maximum opportunities and power, I doubt that the First Lady is the ideal symbolic vehicle for this ascent.''

With this yardstick it is not surprising to see Nancy Reagan presented in the book as the type of first lady that Margaret admires. The criticism that Nancy Reagan received in Ron Reagan’s first term due to her decision to replace the White House china, which had been paid for by private donations, doesn’t seem very heavy weight by today’s standards but Margaret likely would feel ok about it being bold enough.

Another First Lady that Margaret referred to as the “almost perfect First Lady” was Lady Bird Johnson. With the praise for these two First Ladies it is really no surprise to find Margaret take a shot at Jacqueline Kennedy saying she had a ``visceral repugnance for average Americans.''

Eleanor Roosevelt even though very accomplished on a personal level was judged by Margaret against what she termed as Eleanor’s ``tragic limitations'' as a wife.

What is clear from the book is that First Ladies find themselves in a job that is impossible to define, and just as difficult to perform. Margaret Truman brings her unique perspective and tries to reveal the truth behind some of the most misunderstood and forgotten First Ladies.