Hummer, Jill Abraham. First Ladies and American Women: In Politics and at Home. Univ. Pr. of Kansas. Mar. 2017. 256p. illus. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9780700623808. $29.95. HIST
There is an unelected office in the United States that receives just as much scrutiny, if not more, than many elected offices—first lady. Hummer (political science, Wilson Coll., PA) draws from her experience as a political writer for The Hill and the Journal of Political Science Education, among other publications, to delve deep into the lives of prominent wives of the presidents, from Lou Henry Hoover to Michelle Obama. The author details their public personas, their actions during presidential campaigns, and the social causes they championed. By dividing the book into three sections, Hummer is able to provide an informative analysis of these varied aspects without slowing the pace of the narrative. Covering much of the 20th century, the work touches on notable first ladies such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Jacqueline Kennedy. By profiling each figure separately, the author successfully provides a solid perspective on who these women are and how they felt about the position they held. VERDICT Readers interested in presidential history will enjoy this look at the underrated but important role these women played in the rise of this country’s most powerful leaders.
Schwartz, Marie Jenkins. Ties That Bound: Founding First Ladies and Slaves. Univ. of Chicago. Apr. 2017. 416p. notes. index. ISBN 9780226147550. $35. HIST
Schwartz (emerita, history, Univ. of Rhode Island) addresses the rare mention of the integral roles of domestic slaves and their mistresses in the biographies of America’s founders. Martha Washington, Martha Jefferson and daughter Polly, and Dolley Madison managed endless household business as well as their staffs of domestic slaves. Schwartz explains the paradox that slavery was central to upholding the status of social and political elites who championed equality and liberty. This book details the attitudes of these Virginian slave mistresses toward slavery in general, and their domestic servants in particular (some of whom were their own half relatives), and outlines the complicated issues regarding emancipation. Schwartz outlines day-to-day household activities of mistresses and bound servants that supported the lavish lifestyle of three presidents. She addresses the complex and tense interrelationships that defined the drama of slaveholding: privileged whites did not regard black slaves as equal beings, and considered themselves kind masters who feared sabotage, insurrection, and worse. Slaves pretended to return their treatment with thankfulness, caring, and loyalty, but sometimes challenged authority by feigning illness, injury, forgetfulness, or taking flight. VERDICT This engaging and thorough examination of the relationships between first ladies and their slaves will be of interest to all readers.