The First Lady a Nation Never Knew: Pat Nixon in Private Taped Phone Calls & 100 Pictures on Her Centennial

Pat Nixon, posed in the living room of the Fifth Avenue apartment where the family lived before moving to the White House

Pat Nixon, posed in the living room of the Fifth Avenue apartment where the family lived before moving to the White House

This weekend marks the centennial of First Lady Pat Nixon, whose story is as fascinating as it is largely unknown offering a dramatic example of triumph over struggle  that genuinely exemplified the idealized “American Dream.” It is told here through one hundred images to mark her one hundred years, video clips and some of her private telephone calls with President Nixon that were accidentally recorded on his secret Oval Office taping system.

The only first-generation First Lady

She was born Thelma Catherine Ryan hours before St. Patrick’s Day in 1912 in the town of Ely, Nevada, where her father, second-generation Irish-American Will Ryan had worked as a silver miner.

He migrated with his family to Orange County in southern California, buying a ten-acre farm which his children helped cultivate and harvest, the produce sold in town from the back of a truck. 

When Pat was 13 years old, her mother Kate Halberstadt (an immigrant from Essen County, Germany) died of liver cancer and Pat took  responsibility for the household while proving so diligent a student that she was able to skip a grade.

Not long after, her father contracted tuberculosis, and to cover his medical bills, she took a job at the farmers and dairymen Artesia First National Bank, rising early to clean the floors as a janitor, then returning after high school to work as a bookkeeper.

When Will Ryan died three months after his daughter turned 18 years old, she changed her name, explaining, “Patricia was my father’s favorite name… I was his ‘St. Patrick’s Babe in the morning.’”

Californian

1. The future First Lady's parents were a first-generation  German immigrant widow Kate Bender Halberstadt and second-generation Irish Catholic miner Will Ryan

1. The future First Lady’s parents were a first-generation German immigrant widow Kate Bender Halberstadt and second-generation Irish Catholic miner Will Ryan

2. Pat Ryan on her family's California farm with her Aunt Annie during her visit from Connecticut to Pat's father, then terminally ill with tuberculosis, 1929.

2. Pat Ryan on her family’s California farm with her Aunt Annie during her visit from Connecticut to Pat’s father, then terminally ill with tuberculosis, 1929.

She was also the original California girl, a lover of nature and long, solitary hikes and swimming in the surf of southern California. She knew the beaches and the best places to catch a wave to surf or avoid because of an undertow.

3. Standing at center, Pat Ryan spending a day at an Orange County, California beach with friends.

3. Standing at center, Pat Ryan spending a day at an Orange County, California beach with friends.

4. The First Lady, home in California, enjoyed pointing out to a surfer the best places for high-wave surfing.

4. The First Lady, home in California, enjoyed pointing out to a surfer the best places for high-wave surfing.

5. The Nixons walking on the San Clemente beach.

5. The Nixons walking on the San Clemente beach.

The first First Lady to earn a graduate degree and work full-time both before and after marriage

Pat paid her Fullerton Junior College tuition by working as a typist, accountant, and telephone operator.

After driving a couple cross-country during the Depression, she worked as pharmacist at Seton Hospital in the Bronx, New York; after taking a Columbia University radiology course, she became an x-ray technician there. 

Admitted to the University of Southern California on a partial scholarship, she conducted research for a psychology professor,  and worked as the university’s vice president’s clerk, cafeteria waitress, librarian, department store assistant buyer, beauty-product tester and movie extra. 

Pat Ryan received her bachelor’s of science degree in merchandising, the only First Lady to graduate cum laude, and a master’s in education, the first First Lady to earn a graduate degree.

6. Pat Ryan with her aunt Kate Ryan, a Roman Catholic nun known as Sister Thomas Anna, who helped secure her niece a job as an x-ray technician at New York's Seton Hospital.

6. Pat Ryan with her aunt Kate Ryan, a Roman Catholic nun known as Sister Thomas Anna, who helped secure her niece a job as an x-ray technician at New York’s Seton Hospital.


7. During World War II while Richard Nixon served on the Pacific front with the U.S. Navy, Pat Nixon lived alone in San Francisco, working as a federal Office of Price Administration

7. During World War II while Richard Nixon served on the Pacific front with the U.S. Navy, Pat Nixon lived alone in San Francisco, working as a federal Office of Price Administration

Finding work at Whittier Union High School, she taught typing, bookkeeping, business principles, stenography and adult night classes, served as student faculty adviser for student social outings, organized student rallies, attended all high school sports events and PTA meetings, and directed school plays.

While auditioning for a play in Whittier, she met the recent Duke University law school graduate Richard Nixon. Born and raised in Orange County, also of hardscrabble background, self-motivated and highly valuing both formal education and intensive reading as a means to success, they dated for some time before Pat relented in agreeing to marry. She loved Nixon – her doubts were about settling her life down. They married in June of 1940, just eighteen months before the U.S. entered World War II.

When Nixon entered the Navy, the couple lived briefly in Washington, D.C. where Pat Nixon worked for the Red Cross and then Iowa, where she worked in a bank. After being hired as a price analyst for the federal Office of Price Administration she lived in San Francisco, while her husband served in the Pacific.

Political Spouse

8. As Vice President's wife.

8. As Vice President’s wife.

In 1946, when the Nixons returned to Whittier after the war, he accepted an offer by local Republicans to run as their candidate for Congress and won;; four years later he was elected to the U.S. Senate and two years after that, in 1952 he was elected Vice President of the United States under Dwight D. Eisenhower and both were re-elected in 1956.

Although she had voted for Independent and Democratic candidates, Pat Nixon joined her husband’s Republican Party.

She never  grew comfortable with the profession’s viciousness but steadfastly advised her husband to fight against the push to dump him as vice presidential candidate in 1952 after press reports of an alleged secret fund broke. He did so in a famous televised “Checkers Speech” with Pat Nixon on screen, and made reference to her fighting Irish spirit, her respectable “cloth” coat and the fact that she wasn’t on his Senate payroll as many other such spouses were.

9. Beginning with Nixon's first campaign, Pat Nixon always focused on the volunteer forces, seeking to include them and respect their opinions.

9. Beginning with Nixon’s first campaign, Pat Nixon always focused on the volunteer forces, seeking to include them and respect their opinions.

10. Pat Nixon making one of her first political campaign speeches, on behalf of her husband's race for the U.S. Senate seat from California

10. Pat Nixon making one of her first political campaign speeches, on behalf of her husband’s race for the U.S. Senate seat from California.

11. Pat Nixon appeared on national television as she sat and listened to her husband's famous Checkers speech.

11. Pat Nixon appeared on national television as she sat and listened to her husband’s famous Checkers speech.

As Vice President’s wife, she assumed numerous roles, besides raising her two young daughters through adolescence, Tricia born in 1946, and Julie born in 1948.

She helped to draft the Vice President’s public correspondence, organize his schedule and edit his speeches.  Her greatest public role was accompanying Nixon to 53 countries around the world, and was so effective a goodwill ambassador that President Eisenhower always sent the Nixons as a team to foreign nations. In an era of world travel and the increasing influence of television in the American culture, Pat Nixon helped to create the public role of “Second Lady.”

12. Mrs. Nixon grabbing some time from her official schedule as Second Lady to go supermarket shopping with her daughters in the 50s.

12. Mrs. Nixon grabbing some time from her official schedule as Second Lady to go supermarket shopping with her daughters in the 50s.

13. Pat Nixon and her family took the inaugural ride of the Disneyland Monorail, with Walt Disney in 1953.

13. Pat Nixon and her family took the inaugural ride of the Disneyland Monorail, with Walt Disney in 1953.

14. Pat Nixon with her husband, Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper and actress Tallulah Bankhead in Los Angeles.

14. Pat Nixon with her husband, Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper and actress Tallulah Bankhead in Los Angeles.

15. During a trip to pre-Castro Havana, Cuba during her years as Second lady.

15. During a trip to pre-Castro Havana, Cuba during her years as Second lady.

16. The Second Lady is welcomed by a child in Honduras, 1955.

16. The Second Lady is welcomed by a child in Honduras, 1955.

17. Straightening her husband's tie at dinner, on the campaign trail in 1956.

17. Straightening her husband’s tie at dinner, on the campaign trail in 1956.

18. On a 1959 trip to the Soviet Union, the Second Lady engaged its First Lady, Nina Khrushchev.

18. On a 1959 trip to the Soviet Union, the Second Lady engaged its First Lady, Nina Khrushchev.

First Lady Candidate

Nixon’s 1960 presidential campaign drew upon a marketing effort with the slogan of “Pat For First Lady,” intended to appeal to the demographic of 1950s housewives like Pat Nixon herself.. She publicly advocated that women assume a greater, direct role in politics for the party of their own choice.

The press attempted to create a “race” for First Lady between her and the Democratic candidate’s wife Jacqueline Kennedy based on their clothing costs and styles. The disputed win by Kennedy permanently dimmed Pat Nixon’s view of politics and after attending the Kennedy Inauguration, she looked forward to a new, private life home in California. 

Going against her advice, Nixon ran for governor of California in 1962, and lost. The family moved to New York City – ironically becoming a neighbor down Fifth Avenue from Jackie Kennedy, who moved there in 1964.

Pat Nixon was not eager about campaigning for the presidency again, when Nixon decided to run in 1968 – but was relieved, and thrilled when he won.

As she prepared for the Inauguration, and her daughter Julie’s wedding a month after the election, she also began determining how she might make an impact as First Lady.

19. The press pitted Pat Nixon against Jackie Kennedy . They had first met when Jackie as a single working reporter interviewed Pat.

19. The press pitted Pat Nixon against Jackie Kennedy . They had first met when Jackie as a single working reporter interviewed Pat.

20. Pat Nixon joined the incoming First Lady with outgoing First Lady Mamie Eisenhower and incoming Vice President's wife Lady Bird Johnson at the 1961 Kennedy inaugural.

20. Pat Nixon joined the incoming First Lady with outgoing First Lady Mamie Eisenhower and incoming Vice President’s wife Lady Bird Johnson at the 1961 Kennedy inaugural.

21. Mrs. Nixon received an honorary degree from her alma mater Univeristy of Southern California in 1961.

22. Before acquiescing to return to the political world she disliked, Pat Nixon relaxed during a cruise with her husband in Florida.

22. Before acquiescing to return to the political world she disliked, Pat Nixon relaxed during a cruise with her husband in Florida.

23. Pat and Dick Nixon as private citizens just prior to his announcement of his presidential candidacy in 1968.

23. Pat and Dick Nixon as private citizens just prior to his announcement of his presidential candidacy in 1968.

24. Camapigning, 1968.

24. Campaigning, 1968.

Pat for First Lady campaign buttons from the 1960 and the 1968 presidential campaigns.

25. Pat for First Lady campaign buttons from the 1960 and the 1968 presidential campaigns.

25. At her daughter Julie Nixon's reception following her wedding to David Eisenhower, grandson of President Eisenhower, with Judy Agnew wife of the Vice Preisdnet-elect December 1968.

26. At her daughter Julie Nixon’s reception following her wedding to David Eisenhower, grandson of President Eisenhower, with Judy Agnew wife of the Vice Preisdnet-elect December 1968.

26. Holding the Bible as her husband took the oath of office, January 20, 1969.

27. Holding the Bible as her husband took the oath of office, January 20, 1969.

27. The Nixons responding to crowds at the President's second Inauguration in 1973.

28. The Nixons responding to crowds at the President’s second Inauguration in 1973.

29. Mrs. Nixon in her 1969 Inaugural Ball dress, in the White House Yellow Oval Room.

29. Mrs. Nixon in her 1969 Inaugural Ball dress, in the White House Yellow Oval Room.

First Woman

The dissonant public discourse on so many dramatic social issues during the years Pat Nixon was First Lady are in large measure the reason why so much of what she said and did was neglected by the media.

A  superficial caricaturing  of a feminist as a bra-burning man-hater had taken hold, and there was no way the loyal wife and devoted mother that was now First Lady fit that stereotype. Through her own struggle to make her own way and long history of employment in a wide variety of workplaces, however,  Pat Nixon held personal convictions that made her a more authentic feminist than many others seeking to conform to the stereotype.

Pat Nixon became the first incumbent First Lady to endorse the Equal Rights Amendment and the first to disclose publicly her pro-choice view on abortion in reaction to questions on the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision. Before she even began unrelentingly to lobby her husband to name a woman to the Supreme Court, she called for such an appointment publicly.  She became the second incumbent First Lady to address a national convention, (Eleanor Roosevelt was the first), speaking at the 1972 Republican National Convention.

Her belief in the necessity of involving women in their government extended overseas as well. In Yugoslavia, she remarked that both its parliament and the U.S. Congress should have more women members among their representatives. She encouraged women to run for office and even stated that she would support a qualified woman candidate regardless of her political party affiliation.

And while she was often frustrated with the press coverage of her husband, she was always available to the regular women’s press corps who covered her, often speaking of her respect for their tenacity in overcoming odds to get a White House assignment, often because they were expected to cover both East and West Wing activities.

30. Addressing members of the Department of Labor's Women's Bureau, June 13, 1970.

30. Addressing members of the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau, June 13, 1970.

31. An advocate of the Equal Rights Amendment, Mrs. Nixon speaks at a women's rally, 1972.

31. An advocate of the Equal Rights Amendment, Mrs. Nixon speaks at a women’s rally, 1972.

32. While the Women's Lib movement was caricatured as radical, Pat Nixon supported many of its intentions; here she joins a yoga demonstration during a women's health advocacy meeting.

32. While the Women’s Lib movement was caricatured as radical, Pat Nixon supported many of its intentions; here she joins a yoga demonstration during a women’s health advocacy meeting.

34. On a campaign trip to Michigan she made on behalf of US Senate candidate Lenore Romney, mother of current Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

33. On a campaign trip to Michigan she made on behalf of US Senate candidate Lenore Romney, mother of current Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

33. Pat Nixon was the second First Lady to address a national presidential convention, 1972.

34. Pat Nixon was the second First Lady to address a national presidential convention, 1972.

35. With the East Wing press corps which traditionally covered First Ladies, including Helen Thomas, Donnie Radcliffe, Fran Lewine, Candy Stroud, Sarah McClendon and Trude Feldman,

35. With the East Wing press corps which traditionally covered First Ladies, including Helen Thomas, Donnie Radcliffe, Fran Lewine, Candy Stroud, Sarah McClendon and Trude Feldman,

Nor was she the  fashion “square” many attempted to depict her as; she did reflect that after her first few months she decided not to wear some of the radical fashion styles she did try (like a mini-skirt) she decided to keep her choices more conservative. She did, nevertheless, became the first incumbent First Lady to appear publicly in pants and model them for a national magazine, reflecting the radical change in women’s attire that critics derided as masculine.

35. trary to popular perception, Pat Nixon also wore clothing that reflected popular trends - like the mini-skirt here, in 1969, during a presentation of a statue with her Inaugural dress.

36. Contrary to popular perception, Pat Nixon also wore clothing that reflected popular trends – like the mini-skirt here, in 1969, during a presentation of a statue with her Inaugural dress.

36. The first First Lady to be publicly seen wearing pants, Pat Nixon strolls with her husband along the Pacific shore, familiar to both since childhood.

37. The first First Lady to be publicly seen wearing pants, Pat Nixon strolls with her husband along the Pacific shore, familiar to both since childhood.

38. During a state visit to Saudi Arabia, Pat Nixon went about without a head covering - an unlikely scenario some forty years later.

38. During a state visit to Saudi Arabia, Pat Nixon went about without a head covering – an unlikely scenario some forty years later.

An Accessible White House

A primary intention of Pat Nixon’s was to make the White House as widely accessible to as many people as possible, including those who had found barriers of one type or another to fully enjoying it.

She arranged for tours to be given for those who were hearing or sight-impaired, and had the first ramps put in to let those in wheelchairs greater access. Booklets in foreign languages were written so those who didn’t speak English.  In the spring and the autumn, she arranged for the first tours in history of the gardens and grounds. For those working-class families unable to see the White House holiday decorations during daytime hours, she began evening “Candlelight Tours.”

To relieve the burden of those summer visitors who often had to wait in line for hours to get into the White House, she had a recorded history of the mansion placed at intervals along the fence in boxes. For those shuffling through the long ground floor lobby, there were illustrated panels and display cases placed along and against the walls.

Lastly, she also worked with engineers to  have the White House lit by floodlights at night, as Washington’s other monuments were – so those driving by on Pennsylvania Avenue or flying into or out of the nearby National Airport could glimpse it clearly. 

She also hosted traditional events – often with untraditional guests, ranging from the costumed “Big Bird” from the Public Broadcasting System’s Sesame Street children’s show which premiered during the Nixon years, to Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir – the first elected female head of state entertained at the White House.

39. Greeting a receiving line of women from Maryland.

39. Greeting a receiving line of women from Maryland.

40. A colorized newswire service photo of Mrs. Nixon showing off the fall flowers of the White House gardens; she initiated the first public tours of the grounds in the spring and fall.

40. A colorized newswire service photo of Mrs. Nixon showing off the fall flowers of the White House gardens; she initiated the first public tours of the grounds in the spring and fall.

41. A big fan of Christmas, Mrs. Nixon was the First Lady who initiated the tradition of an annual White House gingerbread house durng the holiday season.

41. A big fan of Christmas, Mrs. Nixon was the First Lady who initiated the tradition of an annual White House gingerbread house durng the holiday season.

44. President Nixon speaks at the November 1970 ceremony which marked the first illumination of the White House, an effort by Pat Nixon to let those unable to visit inside still see it at night.

42. President Nixon speaks at the November 1970 ceremony which marked the first illumination of the White House, an effort by Pat Nixon to let those unable to visit inside still see it at night.

42. Pat Nixon was the first First Lady to have characters from the PBS children's show Sesame Street, come to entertain children guests at the White House.

43. Pat Nixon was the first First Lady to have characters from the PBS children’s show Sesame Street, come to entertain children guests at the White House.

44. The Nixons with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, March 1 1973

44. The Nixons with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, March 1 1973

A National Constituency

For Pat Nixon, one of the great joys of being First Lady was getting out of Washington and traveling around the country and meet its diversity of people. 

When she made trips with the President, she went into the “field,” inspecting public works projects that illustrated issues that the President was simultaneously addressing in private meetings. While he attended a Chicago environmental meeting, for example, she spent the day visiting a land reclamation center, an example of thermal pollution, and several conservation projects in that city. In promoting “Legacy of the Parks,” which turned federally maintained lands over for community recreation, she helped transfer some 50,000 acres, and advocated for new recreational areas to be developed near urban communities for those unable to visit national parks.

Knowing the value of her support to various projects, she made frequent visits to various volunteer organizations. On February 18, 1969, she announced her “national recruitment program” to enlist thousands of volunteers to carry out a wide variety of community services and made her first domestic trip to inspect ten such regional programs. Pat Nixon became closely aligned with National Center for Voluntary Action, and advocated passage of the Domestic Services Volunteer Act of 1970.

And sometimes, she agreed to make appearances – just for some fun, like the time she went to Baltimore Memorial Stadium on October 11, 1971 for game two of that year’s World Series. She tossed the ceremonial “‘first pitch”and became the first First Lady to throw the ball for a major league baseball team.

45. October 12, 1970 where she helped dedicate an Italian-American History Center in Stamford, Connecticut.

45. October 12, 1970 where she helped dedicate an Italian-American History Center in Stamford, Connecticut.

46. The First Lady hammers a grandstand at a D.C. Recreational Camp in August 1970, in Scotland, Marlyand.

46. The First Lady hammers a grandstand at a D.C. Recreational Camp in August 1970, in Scotland, Marlyand.

47. With Girl Scouts at a convention.

47. With Girl Scouts at a convention.

48. In September of 1972, the First Lady visited Seeing Eye, Inc., a company whch trained dogs to help guide the sight-impaired.

48. In September of 1972, the First Lady visited Seeing Eye, Inc., a company whch trained dogs to help guide the sight-impaired.

49. Trying out the new San Francisco Bart subway system.

49. Trying out the new San Francisco Bart subway system.

50. Mrs. Nixon in Williamsburg, Virginia..

50. Mrs. Nixon in Williamsburg, Virginia..

51. Always game to participate in native customs, the First Lady joins a Hawaiian traditional dance, 1972.

51. Always game to participate in native customs, the First Lady joins a Hawaiian traditional dance, 1972.

52. On public view as the center of attention.

52. On public view as the center of attention.

“Blessed Aloneness”

Although she enjoyed meeting the hundreds of thousands of people that her position allowed her to, Pat Nixon also needed what she called some “blessed aloneness.”  She was always especially liberated during the presidential working vacations at their peaceful “Western White House,” a 1930s Spanish-style house in San Clemente, California which overlooked the ocean she had known and loved so well as a young woman. She especially enjoyed landscaping the property and walking the beach whereas their other getaway, at Key Biscayne, Florida was smaller and limited her free movement.

Through all the years when Pat was conflicted between her political obligations and those to her two daughters, the younger women showed a remarkable understanding of her situation. Consequently, she often shared some of the more joyous privileges of the presidential life with them and they fully participated in helping both her and their father. Unusually close for a political family,  the 1971 White House Rose Garden wedding of daughter Tricia Nixon to Edward Cox was perhaps the personal high point of their time in the national spotlight.  Also often included in family gatherings was the widowed grandmother of Julie’s husband, former First Lady Mamie Eisenhower.

53. The Nixons in their San Clemente living room, January 13, 1971.

53. The Nixons in their San Clemente living room, January 13, 1971.

54. Pat Nixon at the Florida White House, in Key Biscayne.

54. Pat Nixon at the Florida White House, in Key Biscayne.

55. Besieged by the press, the First Lady shops with daughter Julie.

55. Besieged by the press, the First Lady shops with daughter Julie.

56. The Nixons and Mamie Eisenhower attend Easter Services near Camp David in Thurmont Maryland, April 11, 1971.

56. The Nixons and Mamie Eisenhower attend Easter Services near Camp David in Thurmont Maryland, April 11, 1971.

57. Pat Nixon and the President a their daughter Tricia June 1971 White House wedding to Edward Cox.

57. Pat Nixon and the President a their daughter Tricia June 1971 White House wedding to Edward Cox.

58. The Nixons with their daughters and sons-in-law in the White House Family DIning Room.

58. The Nixons with their daughters and sons-in-law in the White House Family DIning Room.

59. Aboard the presidential yacht Sequoia, Pat Nixon attends to First Dogs King Timahoe the Irish setter and  Vicki the poodle.

59. Aboard the presidential yacht Sequoia, Pat Nixon attends to First Dogs King Timahoe the Irish setter and Vicki the poodle.

60. Pat Nixon was often joined by her daughter Julie at many campaign and poltiical events, seen here with Vice President Spiro Agnew.

60. Pat Nixon was often joined by her daughter Julie at many campaign and poltiical events, seen here with Vice President Spiro Agnew.

61. With former First Lady Mamie Eisenhower and daughter Julie Nixon Eisenhower at the Kennedy Center, during its opening festivities 1971.

61. With former First Lady Mamie Eisenhower and daughter Julie Nixon Eisenhower at the Kennedy Center, during its opening festivities 1971.

62. Pat Nixon greets actress Dorothy Lamour with the President at a reception they held for Hollywood actors at their San Clemente estate, La Casa Pacifica.

62. Pat Nixon greets actress Dorothy Lamour with the President at a reception they held for Hollywood actors at their San Clemente estate, La Casa Pacifica.

63. In a rare moment of fun, Pat Nixon was joined by her husband and daughters and son-in-law David for a ridfe at Disneyland's Small World ride (disneytoptenlists dot blogspot dot com)

63. In a rare moment of fun, Pat Nixon was joined by her husband and daughters and son-in-law David for a ridfe at Disneyland’s Small World ride (disneytoptenlists dot blogspot dot com)

Globetrotter

64. Deboarding Air Force One on one of her many international trips.

64. Deboarding Air Force One on one of her many international trips.

Pat Nixon held the record as the most world-traveled First Lady until Hillary Clinton and was given the unique diplomatic status of “Personal Representative of the President.”

In June 1970, Pat Nixon decided within a few short hours to fly to Peru and lead a major international humanitarian effort. She flew along with some ten tons of donated food, clothing and medical supplies gathered by volunteers and relief organizations that she had solicited for the Peruvian people, reeling from a devastating earthquake that took 80,000 lives and left another 80,000 homeless. The Peruvian Government gave Pat. Nixon the highest decoration their country can bestow, and the oldest decoration in the Americas – The Grand Cross of the Order of the Sun; she became the first North American woman to receive this award. One Lima newspaper declared that she had radically improved previously strained U.S.-Peruvian relations with the trip.

She made an important January 1972 trip on her own to Africa, visiting Liberia, Ghana and The Ivory Coast, not only touring those nations and meeting a cross-section of their societies as a goodwill ambassador, but also meeting with those nations’ leaders to discuss U.S. policy on Rhodesia and human rights issues in South Africa.

In 1974 she made a third extensive international tour, to Brazil and Venezuela to attend that nation’s new president’s inauguration; it was particularly gratifying in light of the fact that some twenty years earlier she and her husband, then Vice President, had been dangerously attacked by anti-American protestors in their car.

Pat Nixon also made news on those foreign trips she took along with the President. Famously, she toured the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China with the President during his historic 1972 trips to those communist nations and became a living symbol of the U.S. government. While Nixon was in closed-door meetings most of the time with officials in China, the international media followed Pat Nixon in her bright red coat as she met with workers, students, dancers, farmers and others living everyday lives.

One foreign country that Pat Nixon knew well and had visited many times was  just several dozen miles south of her home in California. It was during a brief day excursion from San Clemente to the border between the Unite4d States and Mexico that she declared her personal opinion that the barbed wire and other forms of physical barriers should be removed.

65. Pat Nixon conceived and led the US humanitarian relief effort in Peru after its devastating 1971 earthquake.

65. Pat Nixon conceived and led the US humanitarian relief effort in Peru after its devastating 1971 earthquake.

66. Pat Nixon receiving an award in Lima for her humanitarian effort towards the Peruvian earthquake victims.

66. Pat Nixon receiving an award in Lima for her humanitarian effort towards the Peruvian earthquake victims.

67. Pat Nixon inspects the first 747 jet.

67. Pat Nixon inspects the first 747 jet.

68. In lappa cloth, in Ghana.

68. In lappa cloth, in Ghana.

69. Mrs. Nixon in a Ghana hospital on January 6, 1972.

69. Mrs. Nixon in a Ghana hospital on January 6, 1972.

70. Mrs. Nixon speaking with craftsmen in Africa.

70. Mrs. Nixon speaking with craftsmen in Africa.

71. Watching a ceremony in Ghana, January 6, 1972.

71. Watching a ceremony in Ghana, January 6, 1972.

72. Past Nixon becomes the first, American First Lady to address the parliament of a foreign nation, here in Liberia January 6, 1972.

72. Past Nixon becomes the first, American First Lady to address the parliament of a foreign nation, here in Liberia January 6, 1972.

73. Being welcomed by children in Brazil.

73. Being welcomed by children in Brazil.

74. Attending the inauguration of Venezuela's new president in March of 1974.

74. Attending the inauguration of Venezuela’s new president in March of 1974.

75. Meeting the Queen of England, 1970.

75. Meeting the Queen of England, 1970.

76. The Nixons meeting with Pope Paul, 1969.

76. The Nixons meeting with Pope Paul, 1969.

77. Mrs. Nixon in China.

77. Mrs. Nixon in China.

78. With Chinese Premier Chou En-lai and President Nixon at a Bejing sporting event.

78. With Chinese Premier Chou En-lai and President Nixon at a Bejing sporting event.

After telling the Chinese Premier Chou En-Lai how fascinated she was by seeing the nation’s giant panda bears in the Beijing Zoo, he impulsively told her he would make a personal gift of two such pandas to her. When they arrived, Mrs. Nixon turned them over as an official state gift from China to the National Zoo in Washington. Here is a video tape of that ceremony:

79. Pat Nixon at the barbed wire border fence between the US and Mexico which she asked to have removed.

79. Pat Nixon at the barbed wire border fence between the US and Mexico which she asked to have removed.

80. Pat Nixon shaking hands with Mexican citizens over the border fence.

80. Pat Nixon shaking hands with Mexican citizens over the border fence.

A Wartime First Lady

The Vietnam War dominated the Administration and Pat Nixon stated that the active servicemen or those recently returned knew the situation better than anyone else at home. While she voiced her husband’s running of the war as a defense of freedom, she also supported amnesty for those men who had left the U.S. to avoid the draft. Joining the President in his 1969 trip to South Vietnam, she became the first First Lady to visit a combat zone, flying just 18 miles from Saigon in an open helicopter and accompanied by Secret Service agents draped with bandoleers.

81. Pat Nixon engaged honestly with college students on campuses about issues they raised, like the draft and amnesty.

81. Pat Nixon engaged honestly with college students on campuses about issues they raised, like the draft and amnesty.

82. Pat Nixon in Vietnam - the only First Lady to enter a live combat zone, 1969.

82. Pat Nixon in Vietnam – the only First Lady to enter a live combat zone, 1969.

83. The First Lady visited a wounded soldier in an evacuation hospital just outside of Saigon in July, 1969.

83. The First Lady visited a wounded soldier in an evacuation hospital just outside of Saigon in July, 1969.

Pop Culture Pat

Whether it was the Vietnam War or Roe vs. Wade, Pat Nixon did address important and controversial issues before the public, but perhaps because of her own ambivalence about assuming too high a profile, the public generally responded to her as a traditional First Lady. Like Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Kennedy and Lady Bird Johnson before her, Pat Nixon also became a Pop Culture figure, her image showing up on playing cards, as a cut-out doll, as a ceramic head for those who created clothes for dolls, on plates, mugs and salt-and-pepper shakes with the President.

85. Depicted as the Queen of Hearts in a novelty deck of political playing cards.

85. Depicted as the Queen of Hearts in a novelty deck of political playing cards.

84. Pat and Dick Nixon salt-and-pepper shakers.

84. Pat and Dick Nixon salt-and-pepper shakers.

Like Mrs. Kennedy and Mrs. Johnson before her, she was also parodied by a dead-on Pat Nixon voice impersonator who captured her subtle California accent on the comedy record album, I Am the President.  The real First Lady was even seen in a brief, two-second news clip inserted into the feature film Cold Turkey (1971) about a small town’s entire population pledging to quit smoking for $25 million from a tobacco company.It can be seen at the 9:20 point in the following video clip:

85. A caricature of the President and the always smiling First Lady.

85. A caricature of the President and the always smiling First Lady.

Watergate

86. At a Nixon 1972 campaign rally on Main Street in Flushing, Queens, New York with Governor Nelson Rockefeller, and US Senators Jacob Javits and James Buckley.

86. At a Nixon 1972 campaign rally on Main Street in Flushing, Queens, New York with Governor Nelson Rockefeller, and US Senators Jacob Javits and James Buckley.

While she continued to feel a deep ambivalence about the cost of politics to her personal life, Pat Nixon enthusiastically supported the President’s run for a second term in 1972 because she hoped to see congressional action on his welfare reform, environmental and health care reform proposals.

at Nixon first learned about the criminal actions that came to be cumulatively known as the Watergate scandal and soon engulfed the Administration through media reports – her husband had specifically left her uniformed of the direction he and his staff took in response to the growing scandal. While she fully believed her husband was honest and innocent, she became deeply disturbed by how isolated he became within a small circle of advisers.

She had never had a good working relationship with his Chief of Staff Bob Halderman, and his aide, John Ehrlichman, who had both, at times, sought to overrule decisions of Pat Nixon and her staff; she was relieved when they both resigned in the spring of 1973.

When the First Lady first comprehended the potential damage that the President’s secret tape recordings could create, she offered the unsolicited advice that he destroy them while they were still legally considered private property – advice he did not follow. In fact, Pat Nixon’s conversations with the President were also recorded, among them are two samples below.

The first one, from 1972, occurs after the First Lady has held a reception for underwriters of the renovation of some rooms on the state floor, an event which the President could only briefly attend, as he had to return to the Oval Office, awaiting news updates on the shooting just an hour earlier of Alabama Governor George Wallace:

Only thirty seconds, the second secretly recorded telephone conversation between the Nixons is the call he made to tell her that the U.S. involvement in Vietnam War was over:

86. Even when Cabinet wife Martha Mitchell Attorney General began calling the press with sensational and damaging accusations as the Watergate scandal unfolded, Pat Nixon never alienated her

87. Even when Cabinet wife Martha Mitchell Attorney General began calling the press with sensational and damaging accusations as the Watergate scandal unfolded, Pat Nixon never alienated her

97. Generally spared the pop culture parodies that sharply caricatured her husband, in one rare cartoon she was featured as submitting her resignation as First Lady to the President.

88. Generally spared the pop culture parodies that sharply caricatured her husband, in one rare cartoon she was featured as submitting her resignation as First Lady to the President.

Resignation

When the threat of impeachment became real in late July of 1974, Pat Nixon advised her husband not to resign because of the blanket criminal indictment that might ensue, suggesting instead that he fight each individual article of impeachment. Once he decided to resign, however, she began packing their possessions and making the immediate arrangements for their return to California. He resigned on August 9, 1974.

88. Pat Nixon lsitened silently behind the President as he gave his farewell speech to the staff the day of his resignation. Not told ahead of time, she was upset to learn it was being televised

89. Pat Nixon lsitened silently behind the President as he gave his farewell speech to the staff the day of his resignation. Not told ahead of time, she was upset to learn it was being televised

89. Pat Nixon kisses her friend and successor Betty Ford before boarding the helicopter which took her and President Nixon from the White House - she never returned.

90. Pat Nixon kisses her friend and successor Betty Ford before boarding the helicopter which took her and President Nixon from the White House – she never returned.

Life After the White House

The immediate years following Nixon’s resignation and the couple’s return to San Clemente were difficult. In July 1976, Pat Nixon suffered a stroke, resulting in the temporary loss of speech and use of her left side. Through a rigorous physical therapy routine, she was able to rehabilitate full use of her motor and speaking skills.

She most enjoyed the years following 1980 when she and the former president relocated to the East Coast where they were able to spend time with their four grandchildren. Although the former President visited the White House during the Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton Administrations, Pat Nixon never accompanied him. She never returned to the White House.

The former First Lady made only four public appearances: the dedication of Pat Nixon Elementary School (1975), a return trip to China with her husband (1976), the Richard Nixon President Library dedication (1990) and that of Reagan’s (1991). 

The Reagan Library dedication proved to be the last time Pat would see the natural beauty of southern Californian that she’d loved for so much of her life. Having smoked for much of her adult life,  she developed variously related health problems. She died, surrounded by her family,  on June 22, 1993, one day after her 53rd wedding anniversary.

90. After her 1976 stroke, the former First Lady is wheeled from the hospital by the former President.

91. After her 1976 stroke, the former First Lady is wheeled from the hospital by the former President.

94. Pat and Richard Nixon on their 50th wedding anniversary with their children, sons-in-law and grandchildren, 1991.

92. Pat and Richard Nixon on their 50th wedding anniversary with their children, sons-in-law and grandchildren, 1991.

95. Moving back to New York City, the former First Lady visits actors Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller backstage after taking in their show Sugar Babies on Broadway.

93. Moving back to New York City, the former First Lady visits actors Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller backstage after taking in their show Sugar Babies on Broadway.

96. The first of only four public appearances she made as former First Lady was to dedicate an elementary school named for her in her native Orange County, California.

94. The first of only four public appearances she made as former First Lady was to dedicate an elementary school named for her in her native Orange County, California.

97. Pat Nixon visits a Chinese school as a former first lady.

95. Pat Nixon visits a Chinese school as a former first lady.

The former First Lady and President with their first granddaughter during a visit to Lenore Annenberg at Palm Springs estate Sunnylands.

96. The former First Lady and President with their first granddaughter during a visit to Lenore Annenberg at Palm Springs estate Sunnylands.

Pat Nixon in 1991 during the days of the Nixon Library dedication

97. Pat Nixon in 1991 during the days of the Nixon Library dedication

98. Gently guided by her husband, Pat Nixon is about to visit his restored childhood home on the grounds of his presidential library, 1990.

98. Gently guided by her husband, Pat Nixon is about to visit his restored childhood home on the grounds of his presidential library, 1990.

99. Two years before she died, Pat Nixon attended the Reagan Library dedication with other First Ladies, sitting next to Lady Bird

99. Two years before she died, Pat Nixon attended the Reagan Library dedication with other First Ladies, sitting next to Lady Bird

100. The statue of Mrs. Nixon at the Cerritos, California park where her childhood home stood until the late 1970s.

100. The statue of Mrs. Nixon at the Cerritos, California park where her childhood home stood until the late 1970s.

(The photographs of numbers 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 9, 10, 16, 18, 42, and 51 are from the biography Pat Nixon (1986),  written by her daughter Julie  Eisenhower, the  most accurately detailed account, drawn not only from personal recollections but documentation)


Categories: First Ladies, History, The Nixons, Today in FLOTUS History

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26 replies »

  1. What a fantastic posting. Very informative and loved the photos!

  2. Thank you Carl, for the great essay and the wonderful photographs.An excellent tribute!

  3. Wow, ask and ye shall receive! Thanks for doing this, it must have taken a huge amount of time!

    I loved the picture of Pat meeting the Queen, she looks so natually charming, actually, both of them do. For so long, I think Pat Nixon’s image has been so wrapped up with that of the President. She wasn’t the stiff, unnatural, doe-eyed poitical wife people have always made her out to be. Having read Juliue Eisenhower’s book (a long time ago), I never really got the impression that she was the victim that sh’e been portayed as, either. Certainly her life couldn’t have been easy, but there seem to be so many revelations of a very, very story marriage that don’t appear to fit the reality.

    Those calls were telling. There’s always the suggestion that they were a very cold couple, but their conversations sound perfectly normal and like two people totally comfortable talking to, and over, each other. It almost seems that writers and “historians” see her as a blank canvas on which they can paint all of the perceived ills of Richard Nixon, if that makes any sense at all.

    Thanks again for another great piece.

    Jake

  4. Thank you so much for this wonderful tribute to Pat Nixon, a gracious first lady whom too few Americans remember nor appreciate her many contributions to the nation.

  5. One of the best pieces of writing I have read in a long, long time. Great illustrations as well. Thank you Carl, thank you ever so.

  6. Dear Mr. Anthony,
    Thank you so much for a wonderful and thoughtful essay on Mrs. Nixon. I have always felt that she never was never given the accolades she so deserved as First Lady.

    If I am correct, she too refurbished the White House adding more then Mrs. Kennedy-Onassis.

    I hope that this blog will be seen by her daughters Mrs. Cox and Mrs. Eisenhower, along with her grandchildren. What a wonderful testimonial to a gracious, thoughtful, and kind person.

    Thank you for all you hard work – much appreciated!

    David

    • Thanks for reading the piece and your response – I always thought of Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon working in tandem on the White House collection – Kennedy conceived and established the entire system to solicit, accept, purchase and interpret the objects for the house, Johnson established a solid collection of paintings for it and Nixon established, widened and deepened the collection of furniture. I know when Onassis came back to the White House for the one and only time while Pat Nixon was there, she praised the work she had continued and liked the changes she made, never believing it should be set as a museum.

  7. Mr. Anthony, among the many things I admire about Mrs. Nixon was her post-White House dignity. No Larry King, Barbara Walters tell all for her. I remember reading in her daugher’s biography that she would not writie a memoir because, having received so many confidences from other famous people during her public life, she would never risk betraying any of those secrets. “I don’t tell all” was the phrase she reportedly used. She seems to have shared Mrs. Kennedy’s instinct to hold back part of herself from fame’s glare.

    As you mentioned in your wonderful profile, having been, in effect, politically evicted, Mrs. Nixon never went back to the White House, displaying just the right sort of pride (amour propre).

    She has been mostly forgotten until lately. Do you think that there is a Pat-revival in the making in terms of her historical reputation? Truly, a class act. Best, John.

    • I think she didn’t mind doing interviews initially, but became quite aggravated with the B.S. of politics and media. I also think she and Jacqueline Kennedy were more alike than dissimilar – internally, speaking. Curious that one began as a Democrat and ended up Republican and the other a Republican who became a Democrat. On the other hand, I’m not sure either of them was stridently partisan – just not the sort of way they saw the world. They were both optimistic-realists. I think that Mrs. Johnson, Mrs. Nixon, Mrs. Ford and even Mrs. Carter will be coming into their own, historically speaking, now that nearly a half-century has passed since their tenure. Mrs. Kennedy was different largely because the assassination generated a dark fame and a fascination with her that eclipsed who she really was as a human and that newer works will now see her within context as well. We are too close to the Reagan, Bush and Clinton era to genuinely perceive those First Ladies (and Presidents) dispassionately. It is childish for people to continue to “hate” or “love” a President simply because of people’s youthful memories, as opposed to understanding these figures as human beings with attributes and deficiencies. I know someone who still refuses to acknowledge that Nixon established the EPA and provided more federal funding for the arts and humanities – and someone else who refuses to believe that JFK truly did not wish to escalate the Cold War. I think that President Nixon’s strong commentary – uttered as private conversation on the first tape excerpt I added – about the horror of humans killing or attempting to kill political figures speaks to the real man – this was his remark to Mrs. Nixon about what a terrible thing it was when any violence is committed, in this case against George Wallace – regardless of one’s political views of that person. But thank you for some indepth feedback – you can see I find it almost as engaging as researching and writing the articles. Cheers.

      • Ironically, the full Nixon is obscured by our having– “thanks” to hise tapes– too much information. There is a Nixon on tape for every side of an argument.

        Few people can survive, in terms of reputaiton, the taping of their dinner conversation and he, of course, figuratively taped breakfast, lunch and dinner. The new “Watergate” novel by Thos. Malone suggests that thePresident, in part, did himself in by pretending to know more about Watergate than he really did. After all, the boss has to sound like he is on top of the game.

        I agree that time should provide more objectivity in undestanding all our presidents. But I fear that time also allows historical cliches to harden, Who cares if Marie Antoinette never did say, “Let them eat cake”. She’s historically branded with it. There is the danger that Nixon is our stock villain.

        • Bingo on that – I’ve always said it was important to get the full truth out fast. History is written by the victors they say. I just finished writing Ida McKinley’s biography – wow, what an eye-opener – and she was never given the time of day because even in her day she was never given the light of day – especially since her seizure disorder essentially served her husband’s emotional sense of purpose and his almost savage political ambition. I think Gerald Ford and Laura Bush are two others whose works and efforts were not captured and given some shine at the time they were in the global spotight and both may suffer for it. And another good book recommendation by you – thanks for these thoughtful comments – stirring ideas.

        • Mr. Anthony, look forward to reading your book about Mrs. McKinley. I’ve always associated her with Jane Pierce–neurotic and much to be neurotic about. Sounds like there is much, much more to Ida.

          In terms of class, President McKinley’s exclamation after being shot, “[c]areful how you tell my wife” is right up there with (again) Marie Antoinette asking her executioner’s pardon for accidently stepping on his foot: “Monsieur, I did not mean to do that”. John.

          • I’ve concluded that Ida McKinley was a witty, intelligent and compassion person; if anything “the Major” was quite a put-on.

          • Dear Mr. Anthony,
            I am incorrect or has the blog on Mrs. Nixon gotten more responses then any of the previous one’s? I was surprised but happy to see some very insightful comments on this little known late 20th century first lady. I totally agree with you that it was Mrs. Kennedy (Onassis), Mrs. Johnson, and Mrs. Nixon who completed the White House – and that Mrs. Nixon opened the WH up to garden tours, the handicapped, etc. I think it was Helen Thomas who said she felt Mrs. Nixon was the most genuine of all FL’s that she knew.

            On a seperate note, I hope that you are correct the President Ford, Mrs. Carter, and Laura Bush will be given the credit due them when historians (and writer’s…) look back – they are all desirve it.

            Can’t wait to read about Ida! Your tease about her already has me interested. All I have ever read about Mrs. McKinley was she was “infirmed” , liked diamonds, lost both her daughters, and knitted alot. When will the book be out? Will you be doing a book tour?

            Best wishes -

            David

          • I will have to check that – because it is a “rolling” website where comments are not closed after a certain period, it is always hard to determine. Sort of like the way they do royalty accounting for books. I think people will be shocked by the material about Ida McKinley – it will entirely smash the misperception of her held for over a century. I’m in the very final edit now, so not sure what I will do but book tours are expensive and only if an organization or bookstore covers travel, etc. for an author, most no longer do the tours. Perhaps in cities key to her life like Canton, Columbus, Washington, San Francisco and Buffalo. I believe it is scheduled for June 2013.

  8. Pat Nixon always held a warm place in my heart because she always reminded me of my Mom, both in looks and personality. My hope over all these years was that she would eventually be given her due for her outstanding performance as First lady. Thanks to you Carl that hope is coming to fruition! Excellent essay!!!

    • One of the more startling facts I’ve learned in my work is how often people who were well-known at a certain point in time are entirely “lost” or forgotten and then other people down the road get credit for what they did – the fact is that old line about “history is written by the winners” is very true – that if people’s legacies are not solidifed, publicized and infilitrated into the imagination of the masses then and there, they are so easily and often forgotten no matter how much good they did – one reason for this blog with people like Duke Kahanmoku, Pat Nixon, etc. I hope the article here will help – it seems to have risen rapidly to the top of Google.

  9. This is excellent Carl. Its a pity that people werent more aware of her accomplishments when her husband was Vice-President and President. She really was ahead of her time.

    • Thank you very much Bob – yes, so much of what determines whether an historic figure is fully appreciated at the time they’re in power is the context, those circumstances beyond their control, how much they “seem” to exemplify their era, what else is going on in the news. It’s not too late, however, and I know of at least one historic biography being written about her at the current time -

  10. What a wonderful write-up on Mrs. Nixon and the photos were very enjoyable too. I think of Mrs. Nixon as being a kind of “every woman” during her time in public wife, a devoted wife and mother who was also very much interested in participating in and living life. She was a very private woman as well and I remember feeling so bad for her during and after Watergate. I believe her post-White House years in New York surrounded by her family was her best time in life. Thanks again for your tribute to Pat Nixon. I was proud to have her as our First Lady.

    • Thank you John – very much appreciate your taking the time to not only read the story but to write. I seriously appreciate it. While it would have been nicer for her I believe – and even for President Nixon – if people had fully appreciated her during her White House tenure, or even just her lifetime, it is never to late to credit those whom history has not done well by. Thanks.

  11. Beautiful Pat Nixon as The First Lady of USA in 1969-1974! I always liked Pat Nixon. But his husband Richard Nixon was not attractive, old fashioned and looked old. Pat Nixon was a very glamorous, cheerful and pleasant woman, with a impeccable fashion style. Look the famous fashion style during the visit to China in February 1972 with her red coat among people dressed in dark and dull colors. She is older than him by one year. She died at 81 on 22 June 1993 the day after her 53rd wedding anniversary (21st June 1940). Richard suffered greatly after his wife’s death. He died 10 months later after his wife’s death on 22 April 1994, same age of 81.

    • Thank you Dan. Sorry for delayed response. I always point out that almost half of their married life was spent after the White House, when he gave more time to her than in the years previous when he was focused on gaining the presidency and politics.

  12. I am so glad that I found this article. All the details were great to read and I loved all the photos and the video with the pandas. I always thought that Mrs. Nixon was a wonderful First Lady and now I know more about her many accomplishments. I was surprised to read that she was the first First Lady to have a graduate degree. I am sure that I have heard that to be attrbuted to other First Ladies and not to Mrs. Nixon. I think that she flies under the radar for many reasons including what you cited and her personality was not “out there.” And of course there was Watergate. I think she was an intelligent, hard working woman who was humble. I really like learning about what makes these people (the Presidents and First Ladies) tick and find out more about the whole person and not just the two sentence caricature that follows them so i do appreciate your work. When is your new book about Ida McKinley coming out? It seems to be delayed.

    • You are very welcome. That was one of the most enjoyable articles I worked on. I do believe, however, that as time goes on she will be more fully understood and appreciated, particularly as her papers and those of her staff, held in limbo for so long due to the uncertain status of materials seized by the National Archives at the time of her husband’s resignation, are open to the public. Thanks for the response to this. The publication date for Ida McKinley: Turn-of-the-Century First Lady Through War, Assassination & Secret Disability is November 1.

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