Chelsea Clinton’s NBC Job: Presidents’ Daughters Evoking Their Father’s Legacies

Chelsea Clinton

There’s something new – and something old, in the news that former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton has been hired by NBC Nightly News as a special correspondent for its frequent “Making a Difference” segments which focus on volunteers striving to improve the lives of others confronting difficulties.

Barbara Bush developed her own politcal views some of which diverged with those of her father President George W. Bush.

What’s new is that those women whose fate happened to make them daughters of Presidents of the United States have increasingly assumed professional work in the widest spheres of public service and communications.

What’s old is that the nature of their focus reflects their unique experiences and is often tied to the legacies of their Chief Executive dads.

The larger objectives of the Clinton Global Initiatives of her father’s foundation in his post-presidential years have been domestic and international relief efforts following crises like those which hit Indonesia, New Orleans and Haiti which depends on voluntarism.

Jenna Bush at a book-signing in 2008.

Her White House “successors,” the twin daughters of George W. Bush, Barbara Bush and Jenna Bush both pursued careers which built on experiences gained during his presidency involving education and AIDS education, prevention and medical treatment in Africa.

Barbara Bush went on to create a nonprofit group focused on global health and Jenna Bush now works for the “Today” show on the same network that Chelsea Clinton will.

First Daughters entering “lifestyle” journalism careers has a long tradition, be it in radio or television broadcast or newspaper or magazine writing.

Amy Carter has illlustrated two of her father's books.

Like Chelsea Clinton who also recently helped promote her father’s latest book, Amy Carter, daughter of former President Jimmy Carter, made rare public appearances with him to promote his children’s book about a seamonster, The Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer (1995) and memoir Christmas in Plains (2001), both of which she illustrated.

Alice Roosevelt Longworth was the most famous of all the First Daughters, offering her biting wit and political assessment on Presidents up until Carter. She died in 1980.

Chelsea Clinton is one of the few presidential daughters not to have written a memoir, in some form or other, either about her own personal life or a family story told through the biography of a parent.

Alice Roosevelt in a yellow gown - despite her popilarizing a light blue that became known as Alice Blue - about which a song was later written

The first “First Daughter” to do so was Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt, wife of the Speaker of the House Nick Longworth and “Princess” in her own right, as she was dubbed by the press during her outrageous antics as a beautiful but tart-tongued teen in the White House. Alice’s memoirs Crowded Hours was published in 1933, almost a quarter of a century after her father’s presidency ended but the very year the presidency began for her nemesis and distant cousin, the Democratic Roosevelt, Franklin Delano and his wife Eleanor – who was Alice’s rival and first cousin (their fathers were brothers).

A rare early color photography of Nell Wilson during her father's presidency 1913-1921.

Noting a good thing when she saw Alice do it, Eleanor “Nell” Wilson McAdoo, the eldest of Woodrow Wilson’s three daughters, followed suit, writing a family memoir The Woodrow Wilsons (1937) only sixteen years after leaving the White House. She went on to publish a volume of her parents’ love letters, The Priceless Gift (1962) before her own death five years later.

Three presidential daughters, one political family the twin daughters of George W. Bush and their aunt, his sister, Doro Bush, only daughter of George H. Bush.

Anna Roosevelt, Margaret Truman, Caroline Kennedy, Julie Nixon, Maureen Reagan, Patti (Reagan) Davis, and Doro Bush have all written some form of family biography or memoir.

In 2008, Jenna Bush wrote Ana’s Story, based on a true story of a young woman struggling with AIDS, a direct result of the presidential daughter’s own work with the United Nations effort to combat childhood AIDS.

Helene Taft.

Earlier in the century, Helene Taft wrote a scholarly study on Quebec military history, making the total number of non-White House related books authored by First Daughters still minute. President of Bryn Mawr, a leading advocate for safe workplace policy, following the 1912 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire – she was also a Democrat and discreetly refrained from commenting on policies advocated by her brother Robert, the U.S. Senator known as “Mr. Conservative.”

Nell Wilson started her own new tradition for author-First Daughters – the thinly-veiled semi-autobiographical novel. In 1946, she penned Julia and the White House about “An American girl [who] finds herself in the exciting yet sobering limelight of the White House.”

Patti (Reagan) Davis.

Patti Davis, daughter of Ronald and Nancy Reagan wrote Home Front (1986) during her father’s presidency about a troubled political daughter, the first of numerous books, most of which have been non-fiction and related to her parents.

As Governor Franklin Roosevelt with his eldest child and only daughter Anna and her two children Sisty and Buzz as they were popularly nicknamed.

Anna Roosevelt, daughter of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, wrote the children’s book Scamper, the White House Bunny, during her father’s incumbency but without identifying the Roosevelts as the White House family.

Anna Roosevelt in 1945 seated between the British Ambassador and FDR advisor Harry Hopkins during the Yalta Conference, to which she accompanied her father as aide, and met Stalin.

By World War II, Anna Roosevelt Dall Boettiger had become her father’s constant companion and even hostess for private cocktail parties and dinners, while her mother was often away, even overseas. It was Anna Roosevelt who accompanied her father for his famous meeting with the Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin and England’s Winston Churchill during the famous Yalta Conference.

Margaret Truman made no apology for her own love of the limelight.

After her own White House memoir, Souvenir, Margaret Truman went on to give her name as author to a series of ghostwritten murder mysteries all in settings around Washington she knew well. In recent years, Susan Ford has also done so, thus far with two books.

Margaret Truman practices a routine with Jimmy Durante and Maurice Chevalier 1951.

While few First Daughters have forayed into the edgier aspects of elective office, many have found their perspectives useful in reporting on some aspects of political life. It began when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt got a newspaper column, My Day, and her competitive cousin Alice Roosevelt Longworth began her own newspaper column to rival it. Longworth’s didn’t last as long.

Susan Ford presides at a 2009 keel laying ceremony for an aircraft carrier to honor her late father.

Nell Wilson served as a consultant to a biopic about her father in 1942, and then did some radio news coverage of the 1944 presidential election. Anna Roosevelt co-hosted a short-lived radio show with her mother in the 1950s.

After giving up on her opera singing career, Margaret Truman tried “celebrity” guest appearances on the radio show hosted by Tallulah Bankhead and television show hosted by Jimmy Durante, and even once substituted for Edward R. Murrow’s CBS show Person to Person in which she nabbed a television interview with her parents, the former President and First Lady, in their Missouri home.

Although Julie Nixon (fourth from left) was more outspoken with the press during her father's presidency, her more reticent sister Tricia Nixon (far left), who married at the White House in 1971, has more frequently served as a representative of her late parents at public ceremonies in recent years.

In the 60s and 70s, First Daughters Lynda Bird Johnson and Julie Nixon wrote articles as contributing editors of Good Housekeeping and Ladies Home Journal, while Susan Ford did photography work for various publications. Patti Davis has occasionally penned thoughtful and well-wrought editorials on a variety of cultural and political subjects for publications including Newsweek and Time, with relation to her late father, former President Reagan.

Martha Jefferson Randolph a vociferous defender of her father against the charge that he fathered children by her half-aunt and the family slave Sally Hemings.

If assiduous loyalty to their fathers dooms First Daughters to fail as entirely objective journalists, many have played private roles that were far more critical to their fathers’ presidencies. Martha Jefferson Randolph was so close to her father that she insisted he – and not her husband – name each one of her twelve children.

In 1803, as gossip about his slave Sally Hemings being his mistress began to hit the anti-Jefferson newspapers of the era, Mrs. Randolph brought several of her children up from their Virginia home to be with the President in the White House and made a strategic appearance with him at Sunday religious sermons to bolster a family image.

Letitia Semple was her widowed father's devoted companion and White House hostess when he eloped with a woman younger than her; she resented her stepmother until she died 62 years later.

Similarly, to the end of her life, the embittered Letitia Semple railed against her younger stepmother, the Union Army and the Whigs in defense of the Administration of her father John Tyler.

Betty Bliss as a young White House hostess in the 1840s and widow in the 1870s assumed the role of correcting and protecting her father's legacy until her death a half-century after his.

Betty Bliss made all the necessary appearances as White House hostess with her father Zachary Taylor, when her mother made it clear she would not assume the lead public role among the women of the First Family. Through Reconstruction, the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era, she penned editorial corrections whenever she read or was sent an article which depicted him in a less than glowing light, despite time’s dimming of his memory.

Martha Patterson rather anonymously assumed a front row seat in the visitor's gallery to take in some of the Senate impeachment trial of her father.

Martha Patterson, married to a U.S. Senator, not only looked but was said to even “think” like her father Andrew Johnson and during his impeachment trial, often took in the daily proceedings, taking notes on who said what against him, only once being spotted – and drawn – by a newspaper illustrator.

In more recent decades, Presidential Daughters have maintained their prerogative as greatest defenders of their fathers’ legacies through the foundations established to help maintain the federally-run presidential libraries where the papers and objects are preserved and displayed for the public.

Caroline Kennedy presents 2011 Profiles in Courage Award to Egyptian independence leader Wael Ghonim.

Although just five years old at the time of her father’s assassination, Caroline Kennedy has initiated various efforts, including the annual Profiles in Courage Award to keep her father’s belief in the importance of public service alive.

Lynda Bird Johnson and her sister Luci Baines Johnson; while both remain dedicated to the LBJ Library and their father's Great Society legacy they are the rarest of First Daughters for neither has written a family memoir.

Both Lynda Bird Johnson and her sister Luci Baines Johnson are fully engaged in programming, fundraising and other activities of the LBJ Library.

Susan Ford and Chelsea Clinton have also both increased their involvement with their fathers’ presidential libraries.


Categories: Barbara Bush, First Families, George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, The Wilsons

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3 replies »

  1. oh please… This woman has yet to even grant an interview much less do one.

    • I think that the days when television network news departments strictly hired only on-air commentators who’d worked in regional news divisions of local television stations or even freshly graduated journalism students seems to be a victim of the market-driven phenomena of info-tainment news. I even read an interview where Anne Curry of NBC was complaining about having to serve too much dessert and not enough vegetables. That said, I think that Betty Furness or was it Bess…hmmm,. I forgot her last name, but she was a television network news morning show anchor – had only been a Miss America back in the 50s and was hired for her visual appeal over her journalism experience – so perhaps it seems more apparent today, but there’s always been an internal conflict in the news bureaus between those wed to professional journalism and substantive reporting and those looking strictly at the business of news and what draws advertising dollars and profit and which on-air “personalities” will drive more of it for them. It’s another variation on that old ‘art-versus-commerce’ conundrum.

  2. You’re thinking of Bess Myerson, I believe.

    Susan Ford also wrote a “diary” for Seventeen magazine while her father was President. I was myself a teen-ager at the time, with a MAJOR crush on Susan. The diary lasted for less than a year as I recall.

    And has anyone ever been credited with actually being the writer of Margaret Truman’s mystery novels? She did a funny appearance on Hollywood Squares once. It wasn’t meant to be funny but Paul Lynde ended up trying to explain to her that you were supposed to bluff an answer and not just say, “I haven’t got any idea.” Just no sense of humor from Miss Margaret.

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