Just posted on the National First Ladies’ Library Blog is the first compact history of former First Ladies getting out on the presidential campaign trail on behalf of candidates other than their husbands. But it was still, largely, a family affair.
In two cases, it was for their sons. Another was for a brother-in-law, another for a grandson’s father-in-law. And one campaigned on behalf of a candidate who was running against her niece’s husband.
Maybe the most surprising example was that of Lucretia Garfield.
Six years before her death and eight years before women were finally granted the equal right to vote by constitutional amendment, she was driven by horse and buggy into Los Angeles from her magnificent Craftsman-style mansion in Pasadena to appear on a campaign rally stand endorsing Theodore Roosevelt’s presidential candidacy.
What made it all the more curious was that he was then a former president and running not as the 1912 Republican candidate, the party of her late husband, but as a third-party candidate on the Progressive Party ticket.
There’s another unusual, more recent example: Mamie Eisenhower, usually considered a strictly unpolitical figure.
In many respects, Mamie Eisenhower proved to be even more loyal to her late husband’s former Vice President Richard Nixon when he sought the presidency in 1968, and then again in 1972, than the President had been when Nixon ran and lost in 1960.
And she was involved in that election too, behind the scenes.
This was quite apart from the fact that her grandson David was married to Nixon’s daughter Julie.
She felt an especially strong duty to Nixon following his close loss to John F. Kennedy during the 1960 presidential campaign.
That year, she had tearfully phoned Pat Nixon in secret, revealing that President Eisenhower’s health was more precarious than was publicly known and she feared that his determination to get out on the hustings and commit to a strenuous campaign speaking tour on behalf of his Vice President’s candidacy could further harm his health, especially his heart condition.
Mrs. Nixon revealed this to her husband and Vice President Nixon then turned down the offer of the President to campaign for him, a fact Eisenhower found bewildering. He apparently never learned that his wife had been behind the decision.
In fact, on behalf of Nixon’s second term candidacy, Mamie Eisenhower even taped a campaign television ad. It is one of the few recordings made of her voice.
Here it is: