An Immigrant Ancestry Hillary Clinton Shares with Ann Romney

Ann Romney. (J.B. Nichols/Splash News)

This article is the latest in a series examining the unknown ancestries of First Ladies including Michelle Obama, Jacqueline Kennedy, Florence Harding, Eleanor Roosevelt and forthcoming ones on Edith Wilson, Pat Nixon, Eliza Johnson and Mamie Eisenhower. They can be found on this website under the category of “Presidential Families.”

The 2012 presidential election has already set a unique historic precedent as the first one in American history where both candidates are first-generation Americans, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney each being the son of a foreign-born parent (see the article on this website: http://carlanthonyonline.com/2012/06/15/foreign-born-fathers-of-obama-romney-makes-a-first-generation-historic-first/).

Ann and Mitt Romney both first-generation.

If Romney were to win, it would lead to another unprecedented historic first in presidential history: both a first-generation President and First Lady.

If Romney is defeated, his campaign has nonetheless already provided another historic first: unlike those before her, no previous candidate’s spouse has ever so openly discussed her immigrant roots.

Ann Davies Romney is the daughter of Edward Roderick “Rod” Davies who, in 1929, at the age of 15 years old, left his native country of Wales with his mother, sister and two brothers immigrated to the United States to join his father, who preceded them in search of work at the Ford Motor Company in Detroit, Michigan.

The Welsh mining village from which Ann Romney’s father immigrated to the US. (www.bbc.co.uk)

Anny Romney’s grandfather, David Davies, like many poor Welsh families, was from a long line of impoverished coal miners, born in Nantyffyllon, a small village, in 1882. Along with other men in his family of all ages, he walked about an hour each day to the coal mines of Coegnant Colliery. Like many coal miners, he developed “black lung” from the silica flakes there which were breathed in, but when a pit cart unexpectedly hit him, it crushed one of his kidneys and he was no longer able to work in the mines. He found some work as a tour bus driver, taking visitors on day trips to Porthcawl, a resort, from Maesteg, but when the work dried up, he was desperate for work to support his three sons, daughter and wife. He came to the U.S. in the early 1920s, becoming a factory worker at Ford Motors. By 1929, he had saved enough money so that his wife Annie could bring their four children from the tiny, two-bedroom, attached brick house in Wales to Michigan.

Edward “Rod” Davies, Ann Romney’s immigrant father.

During the 2012 presidential primary season Ann Romney made frequent reference to her immigrant roots, a reminder that, despite the lifestyle she enjoys as a result of her husband’s tremendous wealth she was raised with the influence of impoverished grandparents of the working-class:

“I am a coal miner’s granddaughter….I feel I am just one foot away from where that mine was and how close we all are, all of us, to the sacrifices of our parents and grandparents who tried to make a better life for us….His [her father’s] parents could only afford to send one child to college and they chose my father. He became an engineer and entrepreneur, a self-made businessman who ended up with a very successful family company.”

Mrs. Romney’s father managed to graduate in 1938 from the General Motors Institute of Technology, now Kettering University, in Flint, Michigan. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Navy’s corps of engineers, helping to craft the amphibious vessels successfully used in the D-Day invasion. He went on to found an engineering firm which not only serviced the auto, navy and space industries and later invented a wide range of automated items, ranging from high-rise window-washing systems to fishing spears.

Bakestones, also known as welshcakes.

“He was very proud to be Welsh,” one of his former employees recalled of Davies, a trait he passed on to his daughter.  In fact, on the campaign trail leading up to the Iowa caucuses, Ann Romney often cooked up the traditional Welsh coal-miner food staple known as “bakestones,” a currant-spiked griddle-cooked bread snack  from a recipe she’d been taught by her namesake grandmother Annie Davies.  Her grandmother also taught her the native Welsh language which Mrs. Romney can still speak.

“I am very proud of my Welsh roots and very tied to them. They are an extremely important part of who I am,” she told reporters in the winter of 2012. She also raised her sons with a sort of ethnic pride of being Welsh. Her youngest son, Craig, carries a shoulder bag which bears the national Welsh insignia of a red dragon. “Mom never let’s us forget we’re Welsh,” he told a [London] Sunday Telegraph reporter several months ago.

Ann Romney’s Welsh ancestors her father at lower left, her grandmother Annie Davies behind him.

Ann Romney has numerous second cousins in Wales with whom she keeps in touch and returned on numerous occasions to visit since an initial visit there with her father. She has since brought her husband and sons back with her. One of her brothers also joined the Romneys on a trip to Wales, all of them descending into a coal mine for a first-hand sense of what their grandfather’s working life had been like. “It was extremely emotional as we realized quite how horrible life was for men like my grandfather below ground,” recalled her brother, also named Rod. “We just felt amazing gratitude that this was not our life now and deep respect for the men who had done that.”

Ann Davies, before she married Mitt Romney, learned to speak Welsh at home from her grandmother and cook traditional Welsh food.

Several of Ann Romney’s Welsh relatives have shared her family’s story, from which this article is derived, with British newspapers including  The Sunday Telegraph. and the Evening Standard.  According to them, her father and grandmother possessed some of the forlorn ambivalence about leaving their native land that is still often common among later-age immigrants to the U.S.

Her grandmother Annie Davies, according to an elderly relative who knew her, “didn’t want to leave her family behind.” The grandson of Mrs. Davies’ sister added that, “You could tell she missed Wales. I remember her and my grandmother being very upset when she left because they knew it might be the last time they ever saw each other.”

Her grandfather David Davies never returned to Wales.

Despite his great success in the U.S., Mrs. Romney’s father had also felt conflicted about immigrating, according to one of the relatives: “…he didn’t want to leave all his family and friends behind in order to find a new school and new friends in a new country.”

In coming to the United States, however, Rod Davies nevertheless exercised the American freedom of religion to, in fact, chose no religion at all, breaking from his family’s strict Welsh Congregationalist faith to become a “staunch atheist” or, as Ann Romney refers to him, her “great agnostic father.”

Ann Davies, while dating future husband Mitt Romney.

According to many who knew him, he “became strongly opposed to all organized religion,” calling it “hogwash.”  As he told one of his employees, “I’m a scientist, show me the proof.”

When he learned that his 17-year old daughter Ann was preparing to convert to the Mormon faith of her 20-year old boyfriend Mitt Romney, instructed by his father George, it was “reportedly against the wishes of Mr Davies,” according to the Sunday Telegraph. His two sons, Jim and Rod, also converted to Mormonism. The latter was later quoted in that paper as remarking that their father “considered people who were religious to be weak in the knees.”

As also printed in the paper, George Romney wrote a March 6, 1967 letter to his son, then in France, documenting the conversion by Ann and one of her brothers: ‘I was thrilled to stand in for you in connection with Jim’s baptism….’This makes two converts here that are certainly yours so don’t worry about your difficulty in converting those Frenchmen! I am sure you can appreciate that Ann and Jim are each worth a dozen of them, at least to us.”

Ann Romney’s mother, Lois Pottinger Davies, daughter of a Canadian immigrant.

Ann Romney’s father remained an atheist until his death in 1992. Ann Romney’s mother Lois Pottinger Davies, the daughter of an Ontario, Canadian immigrant, died a year later.  Just before her death, however, she also converted to Mormonism.

According to the British newspaper reports drawn from accounts on ancestry.com and other genealogical databases, Mrs. Romney’s atheist father was posthumously converted to Mormonism by “proxy baptism,” at the faith’s temple in Salt Lake City, Utah, on September 13, 1993. with family members standing in for him.

The strong influence of her Welsh immigrant grandmother on Ann Romney is shared by another contemporary political figure – as dissimilar as they may otherwise be.

Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Hillary Rodham with her Welsh grandmother Hannah Jones Rodham and immigrant English grandfather Hugh Rodham, Sr.

“As an American of Welsh descent, I have always had a special place in my heart for Wales,” Secretary of State Clinton remarked in 2010, “both the beauty of its land and the determination of its people.” Her grandmother Hannah Jones Rodham was born in Pennsylvania in 1882, but her parents were Welsh immigrants. Although she was five years old when her grandmother Hannah died, Hillary recalled her as “formidable,” and long years later could recall her grandmother’s siblings as “black-haired Welsh coal miners.”

In another genealogical similarity to Ann Romney, Hillary Clinton’s maternal ancestors also immigrated to the United States from Canada, some of which included early French settlers of Quebec, Native-Americans and Scottish immigrants.  She also has Dutch ancestors who were colonists of New Amsterdam, later to become New York.

Secretary Clinton at the State Department, December 2011. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

Unlike Ann Romney, it is only in recent years that Hillary Clinton had publicly discussed her Welsh heritage. Several months ago, the Secretary of State elaborated on it in a statement she made on St. David’s Day, a national holiday in Wales, also celebrated by Welsh-Americans like her grandmother Hannah Jones Rodham, and great-grandparents John and Mary Jones:

Secretary Clinton arrives in Portugal, 2011. (Getty/Peter Macdiarmid)

On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I am delighted to send best wishes to the people of Wales as you celebrate St. David’s Day this March 1. This is an opportunity to reaffirm the strong bonds that unite us and to reflect on the rich and varied contributions Welsh people have made to America over the centuries. Several of our founding fathers – including former Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams – were able to claim Welsh ancestry. Today, almost two million people living in the U.S. can trace their roots back to Wales. I am proud to say that I am one of them. But there is far more to our enduring relationship than our heritage. Today, we enjoy shared values, extensive cultural exchange, and benefit from a vibrant trade in goods, services and knowledge. As we continue to deepen these ties, our friendship will only grow stronger. As you celebrate this special day with family, friends and loved ones, know that the United States is committed to strengthening our partnership as we work together to build a more peaceful and prosperous future for all our people.

The Welsh national flag.

Earlier this year, a spokesman for the National Welsh-American Foundation quipped that “We look forward to seeing St David’s day celebrated in the White House.”

He did not specify whether that hope was invested in Ann Romney.

Or Hillary Clinton.


Categories: Diversity, First Families, First Ladies, First Ladies & Ancestral Identity, History

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9 replies »

  1. Interesting. Ann Romney really is the personification of the American Dream. Her grandfather worked in the coal mines of Wales, dirt poor. Ann Romeny may become the First Lady. Either way, she lives in a world of the wealthy. It was good to learn her story from you. Thanks for sharing it.

    • Thank you Lisa. From my perspective, what is interesting is how radically different having an immigrant parent is now perceived; although I have not yet posted the story on Pat Nixon’s background, she too was first-generation and what a different societal attitude there was in 1960, and even then again in 1968 and 1972 when her husband ran. Hopefully that will be one of the next several articles. Thanks so much for the comment.

      • With the exception of the Native Americans, we as a nation are all from immigrants. Instead of making us all separate because of the fact that we are from different backgrounds, if we CHOSE to become Americans, and not hyphened Americans, we can all share a common dream. I love that. I pray that the move for diversity doesn’t destroy the unity that we can share as the children of immigrants.

        I always learn something from your columns Carl and I do enjoy reading them.

        • I think its a fascinating paradox. America is not just a nation but an idea – and it still draws so many of “those kids,” that one person in a family who wants to take the biggest chance and move to a whole new culture and country and leave everything behind – whether out of desperation or a sense of adventure or an intention in life. The paradox is that to be “American” really means to be part of this utter blend of every nation and culture. it may take a few generations before the St. Paddy’s Day parade, the pizza and the pita, the Scottish in the Scotch, etc. etc. simply become another colorful fabric in the national cloth, but it utterly becomes a blend at some point. This series on First Ladies ancestries which I’ve been doing has been interesting to me as I’ve discovered, for example, that there was once a crazed bigotry against blondes – on the ignorant presumption they were “Huns” – so every group (except the English who were the first and largest immigrant group) has been through the typically “American” process of bigotry – and then time passes, decades, centuries and so on.

          • I’m not saying that this nation is perfect…no nation is. But the concept of E Pluris Unum (sp?) is what I believe ultimately has made this nation great. Sooner or later, we become one people…a different people. Thus, it doesn’t matter if your family tree starts out in Spain, Greece, Mexico, or England. Sooner or later, usually (but not always) within a generation, Italians are marrying Irish and having kids, WASPs are marrying Columbians, etc. Their kids are American first, although they all enjoy certain aspects of their parent’s heritage. When all is said and done, we all celebrate Thanksgiving together, we all celebrate the 4th of July together, and we love this country. Yes, you don’t have to be Irish to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and it doesn’t matter if you are an Italian or not…if you are in NYC, you go to the Feast of San Genero (sp?). But the kids are ALL AMERICAN first. That is why I think we are a people…it has nothing to do with your race, former country, etc. It is more about what you will contribute to your new nation. If you work and want to contribute, you are an American. I don’t want to hear that you are an Italian-American, a Japanese- American, a Mexican-American, etc. The more we become hyphenated Americans, the less we become a melting pot and a unified people. I am an American…end of story.

            BTW, the blond jokes are still out there. No, we are not perfect…but we leave our scars for all to see so that we will see them and we will not repeat them. We could erase or minimize what has happened that is disgraceful like some cultures have done, but then we learn nothing from those mistakes. Yes, those scars are ugly, but they are a constant reminder never to behave in that way again.

  2. President Clinton explains Mitt Romney’s $5 trillion tax cut and how middle class families with children will get an average tax increase of $2,000 to pay for $250,000 in tax cuts for multi-millionaires.

    As President Clinton shares:
    “In the first debate, Governor Romney said that he wasn’t really going to cut taxes on upper income people—he only
    wanted to cut taxes for middle class people. That’s not true.”

    • I’m not sure if that was a spam comment, but I will let it appear. I generally don’t engage or encourage partisanship in commentary here because it can be found practically everywhere else – but I also don’t believe it fair to censor contributions of thought which writers like yourself wish to state.

  3. As many have written I’m not sure Thelma Ryan Nixon was particularly proud of her past. I think it was quite painful for her. She was thrust into motherhood when her own mother died. I think her father had health and other issues (I don’t wish to malign the man because I didn’t know him). From all accounts she lived in terror that she might once again become impoverished. I think her Irish heritage reminded her of that desperate poverty. Those of us from Manx and Irish heritage know well the sting that intense poverty had for our ancestors. My own left the Isle of Man, like J. Danforth Quayles’ own ancestors, in search of something – anything better than the coal and peat cycle of poverty they experienced there in that wretched, cold, wet craggy place. My maternal grandmother’s people landed in London, Ontario – maybe they thought London, Ontario would be a good place. They ended up all the way up in Grey County where it was also cold and made a living in the budding photography business far from the hand-to-mouth existence they had lived in before. Mrs. Nixon was a very confusing woman – I’ve never really understood her. Cold, steely, taciturn, a demanding mother who appeared to “manage” Dick Nixon, and despise him at the same time – I never really understood her. J. B. West spoke of midnight runs into local Washington for cottage cheese – which was difficult to find after hours – in those days. Pat Nixon seemed to me to be painfully shy – entirely unsuited to the Hurley-burley of politics of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Unlike David Eisenhower’s grandmother, Mamie Geneva Doud, Pat wasn’t much of a party girl. And then there’s the duality of Richard Nixon – a Quaker who drank (heavily), swore like a sailor – and I suspect was mentally abusive to Pat. Though she may have gave as good as she got – as they used to say. I think of all the First Ladies Pat Nixon is a person I will never really understand. I saw the pictures you posted Mr. Anthony – of her in Ireland – and you can tell that it’s as if she’s been forced to swallow lemons – skins and all. She’s absolutely miserable – the cold, the wet weather, the fact that she didn’t know these long lost relatives – and the sense that she really didn’t care to know them. And let’s face it Pat Nixon liked elegance, she liked the finer things in life despite the Checkers speech 20 some years prior. Pat Nixon’s old coat so famously portrayed in the movie “Nixon” was in fact a mink. And it was a mink because there was no way Dick Nixon was going to make her move to cold, wet New York without one. I often wonder – Freudian though it may sound – whether or not Pat wasn’t a mother figure for Richard Nixon. And she was ill equipped I think to be anyone’s mother. I think she had one thing in common with Nancy Reagan – Nancy wanted to be an actress – and so did she!

    • Kevin – I am permitting publication of your comment in the fairness of an open forum. I have never so thoroughly, completely and utterly disagreed with anything which anyone has ever submitted here. I find it harshly judgmental and demeaning, but it is your right to your opinion. I won’t further engage on this but I also completely respect your right to form and express your view here. Period. You are clearly well-read, and each one of us individually can study the same material and see it all through our own filters and with our own viewpoints.

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