Wild Women in the White House

by Autumn Stephens

Mary Todd Wild Women in the White House, subtitled "The Formidable Females Behind the Throne, on the Phone, and (Sometimes) Under The Bed," by Autumn Stephens is part portrait gallery, part expose, but mostly a tribute to America's first ladies, and to women like Victoria Woodhull and Shirley Chisolm, who aspired to the presidency.

    It also includes a look at women like Margaret Mitchell and Eartha Kitt, who gave the presidency hell.

    Starting with the "Mother of our country," Martha Washington, Wild Women in the White House takes a light, and enlightening, look at the first ladies and some first lady wannabes.

    Each chapter is a short vignette of these women, focusing on their personalities and their contribution to the presidency.

    For most, the information in Wild Women probably will be a revelation, given the lack of data about women in the usual historical accounts of the lives of the presidents. But long before Hillary Clinton was reviled for involving herself in her husband's presidency, for example, Abigail Adams, the wife of second president John Adams, was held in contempt for her feminist views.

    As far back as 1776, Adams asked her husband and our other founding fathers "to remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors!" and to support equal education for all.

    I always thought that Mary Lincoln was as loopy as they come, and that she was nearly committed while in the White House.

    But according to Wild Women, there was nothing wrong with Ms. Lincoln's mental health that a little Prozac would not have fixed, although she was temperamental and self-indulgent.

    While the rest of the war-conscious country scrimped and saved, Lincoln went on dress-buying sprees which put her $30,000 in debt by the time her husband was assassinated.

    Besides first ladies, the book details presidential paramours. Starting with Maria Halpin, who almost cost Grover Cleveland his election, "other women" have played a part in presidencies. This trend is particularly evident after the 1940s, as almost every president, starting with Franklin D. Roosevelt, had a less-than-secret affair.

    There is a full chapter devoted to the many female friends of John F. Kennedy, who enjoyed his daiquiri and skinny dipping parties at the White House.

    But not all of our recent presidents have cheated; it seems that Jimmy Carter did only lust in his heart, and Richard Nixon had no one but Pat.

    The book also takes a look at wild daughters in the White House. Theodore Roosevelt's daughter, Alice, was among them. When he took office in 190l he proclaimed, "I can be President of the United States or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both."

    And who can forget Patti Davis?

    Wild Women includes White House visitors, such as astrologer Joan Quigley, Cher, Grace Slick (who wanted to lace Nixon's drink with LSD), and Joan Crawford. And it has stories about women like Anne Royall, a reporter, who came across John Quincy Adams' clothes while he was taking a dip in the Potomac. Royall, as legend has it, sat on the clothes until the president granted her an interview.

    Wild Women in the White House is a fresh look at the presidency, a worthwhile read for anyone who thinks that Dolly Madison is only a brand of snack food.

    Jeff Yungman is a social worker and bookstore owner in Mt. Pleasant who is will ing to arm wrestle David Beasley anytime, anyplace.


© Copyright by POINT, 1997
Last modified 3/20/97