Cover image for First mothers : the women who shaped the presidents
First mothers : the women who shaped the presidents
Angelo, Bonnie.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Morrow, [2000]

Physical Description:
x, 451 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E176.3 .A54 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
E176.3 .A54 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
E176.3 .A54 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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First Mothers tells the captivating stories of the mothers who played such large roles in developing the characters of the modern American presidents. The book covers a wide range of memorable personalities, from formidably aristocratic Sara Delano Roosevelt to diehard Democrat Martha Truman, from zealous pacifist Ida Eisenhower to family matriarch Rose Kennedy, nurturing Rebekah Baines Johnson, stoic Hannah Milhous Nixon, and courageous Dorothy Ford. From outspoken Peace Corps mother Lillian Carter to would-be actress Nelle Reagan, champion athlete Dorothy Bush, and gambling, hard-living Virginia Kelley Clinton, First Mothers invites us into the historic lives of these extraordinary women. Much has been written about First Ladies, but now Bonnie Angelo, a veteran correspondent and bureau chief for Time, has captured the daily lives, thoughts, and feelings of these remarkable mothers and the relationships between them and their sons. Angelo recounts stories of traditional family values nurtured to the fullest, examples that should resonate with today's parents. She blends these women's stories with the texture of their lives and the colorful details of their times, and creates much more than faded daguerreotypes in their family albums. Her enthralling personal anecdotes leap off the page to reveal brilliant, moving lives, up close and personal. Based on dozens of interviews with the president-sons and other living relatives of these remarkable women, First Mothers is a richly textured, in-depth look at the lives, the influence, and the patterns that can be identified in the special mother-son relationships that nurtured the modern American presidents -- the last eleven -- to the pinnacle of power.

Author Notes

In more than twenty-five years with Time, Bonnie Angelo has reported on the White House and the presidential families during eight administrations. As a Washington correspondent and bureau chief in London and New York, she has covered news-makers and major events in all fifty states and around the world. She lives in Bethesda, Maryland, and New York City

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Presidents are born, not made, right? On the contrary, claims Angelo, a veteran Time correspondent, who makes it clear that it's the cut of the apron and the strength of its strings that turn a son into a president. The 11 first mothers included in this illuminating and irresistibly readable bookÄevery presidential mother from Sarah Delano Roosevelt onÄall instilled in their sons supreme confidence and (with the exception of Sara Roosevelt) an awareness of social issues. Drawing on letters, interviews (including those with Presidents Ford, Carter and Bush) and historical evidence, Angelo paints vivid portraits of these "indomitable American women" whose gumption and drive to see their sons succeed were (with the exception of Virginia Clinton Kelley) very much steeped in what Tocqueville described as a 19th-century spirit of independence. In fact, while all these women were "highly individualistic," Angelo points out how much they had in common: all of them married late, and most of their marriages were marked by terrible trials and tragedies. Angelo explains that she started with the story of FDR's mother because his presidency marked "the beginning of contemporary America and the modern presidency, the prize that now can be won only by men of supreme self-assurance who are willing to withstand the grinding process and microscopic examination." While telling their individual histories, Angelo also draws fascinating parallels that indicate how the grounded philosophy and fighting spirit of the mother became that of the son (e.g., Lillian Gordy Carter learned from her father to treat blacks with careÄan attitude that was decried by their neighbors but had an enormous impact on Jimmy Carter's presidential focus on equality). 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. Agent, Lane Zachary. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Veteran Time correspondent Angelo examines how 11 dominant and influential women shaped the lives of their sons who later became presidents. The book begins with a staid patrician, Sara Roosevelt, and concludes with a flamboyant plebian, Virginia Kelley. Each chapter provides rich insights and anecdotes about the women's backgrounds, their courtships and marriages, and their relationships with their sons. Those mothers who lived long enough to see their sons inaugurated became indefatigable campaigners. Virginia Kelly even had the distinction of casting Arkansas's ballots for her son's nomination. Some of the mothers had an indirect imprint on important policies: Rose Kennedy's crusade for funding for mental health, Lillian Carter's views on racial justice, and Ida Eisenhower's fervent pacifism, each had an impact on their sons' administrations. Since this book was published just one month before the historic election of 2000, Angelo was left to speculate that Barbara Bush might become "the first woman since 1825 to be both First Lady and First Mother.. . ." It is clear that the author thinks all of her subjects, because of their strengths and despite their foibles, are First Mothers in their own right. General collections. R. Earnest Miller University of Cincinnati

Booklist Review

For readers who've wondered how a particular U.S. president could have possibly come to be the kind of person he is, good or ill, this fascinating book provides some answers. Angelo, a former Time White House correspondent, looks at 11 women, each of whom "put her stamp on American history" by raising a boy who would be a president. Angelo starts with Sara Delano Roosevelt, who objected to the marriage of her son, Franklin, and Eleanor, his fifth cousin once removed. Sara went on to meddle in the marriage, creating domestic stress and strain as a backdrop to momentous historical events. Angelo records Martha Truman's modest confession that she "never wished for Harry to be president some day, as all American mothers are supposed to do." Angelo details Rose Kennedy's strong hand at managing her brood while dealing with a philandering husband; the activism of Lillian Carter; the cheerful optimism of Nelle Reagan; the traditionalism and competitiveness of Dorothy Walker Bush; and the flamboyant Virginia Clinton, who described her life as being like a country song. This is an enthralling look at the women who've raised the men who've run the country. --Vanessa Bush

Library Journal Review

According to journalist Angelo (Time magazine), mothers have served as the "wellspring ofconfidence, toughness, and resilience" necessary to the success of the last 11 presidentsAfrom FDR to Bill ClintonAand this collection of thumbnail biographies has a relentlessly upbeat tone. Fun-loving and much-married Virginia Clinton Kelley takes the biggest hit: the author holds her responsible for Clinton's "personal character," which, she remarks, "is flawed." Richard Nixon's character, on the other hand, is not described as "flawed" but as "complex." His mother gets off scot-free, although Hannah Nixon never kissed or hugged her children (just as well, according to her son, who described the custom as "nauseating"), nor did she ever tell any of them that she loved them. But, Angelo concludes, the profound bond between mother and son "requir[ed] no reassurance through word or touch." A different analyst might have explored this relationship more trenchantly. This book will attract a lay audience, not a scholarly one.ACynthia Harrison, George Washington Univ., Washington, DC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



First Mothers The Women Who Shaped the Presidents Chapter One To the Manner Born A man who has been the indisputable favorite of his mother keeps for life the feeling of a conqueror, that confidence of success that often induces real success.--Sigmund Freud A Restless young Franklin Roosevelt, under strict quarantine for scarlet fever in the Groton school infirmary, was startled by the scraping sound against the red brick wall, followed by a gloved tap on the window'and then the apparition of his mother, the regal Sara Delano Roosevelt, peering into the room. She was perched on a workman's ladder, risking her safety and shattering her dignity to circumvent the no-visitors edict. From that precarious roost, she talked with him each day and even read to him. When she learned of his illness she had rushed home from Europe to comfort him; from the day he was born her son had been her total concern. When he was a student at Harvard, she rented an apartment in Boston to oversee his social life. When he and his young wife needed a larger house, she provided it. When he was stricken with polio, she pampered and cosseted him, against his wishes. When he was president, she schemed to bring the White House up to her standards. And when he was contemplating divorce, she threatened (so it was whispered) to cut off his funds from the family fortune. Whether Franklin wished it or not, Sara Roosevelt was determined to do what she deemed best for him. Not that she always won. After all, she had shaped this son in her own mold'confident, determined, and pleasantly stubborn when it came to getting his own way. From the beginning she and her husband, James Roosevelt, created a world of privilege and principle, a secure little universe in which Franklin could grow up on the family estate at Hyde Park, covering hundreds of acres in New York's beautiful Hudson Valley. Shielded by his family's position, he was exposed to only a small circle of family, servants, the local gentry, and a few deferential shopkeepers in the village that bordered on Roosevelt land. The values and lifestyle of his parents were emblems of the world of a disappearing landed aristocracy. At first their relatives in the other branch of the family'the Republican Roosevelts'regarded Sara and James as an odd couple. It is unlikely that Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt, whose son Teddy was away at Harvard, had harbored any intention of matchmaking when she invited her daughter's good friend "Sallie" Delano to a dinner party that included, among other guests, cousin James, a widower of fifty-one, a rather formal man with muttonchop whiskers'and a son Sara's age. Sara was twenty-five, tall and graceful at five-foot-ten, and world-traveled. By the end of the evening, Sara had accepted an invitation to visit him at Springwood, his country home, properly chaperoned, of course. In May 1880 Sara arrived at Springwood; Hyde Park was abloom, and before the visit ended, so was love. Years later Sara wrote a nostalgic letter to her son, then the governor of New York: Darling Son: Just 51 years yesterday, the 7th, I came to visit. If I had not come then, I should now be "old Miss Delano" after a rather sad life! That Sara was still unmarried when she met James was astonishing. She was one of the five "beautiful Delano sisters," as New York society called them, daughters of another family in the Hudson Valley aristocracy. Numerous young men paid court to her, only to be rejected as not suitable by her father, Warren Delano II. (One such was Stanford White, a budding architect whom she found charming, but her father did not, ordering her to return his flowers with a cold letter that would end the friendship. Warren Delano was a good judge of character, at least when it came to this young man, who became a great architect'and a notorious womanizer who, in the great scandal of the times, was killed by a jealous husband.) When Sara fell in love with James Roosevelt, she chose'perhaps subconsciously'a man who was very much like the father she adored, a protective man, a gentleman of substance. When James proposed, her answer was a prompt yes. Then came the awkward moment when he had to ask his old friend and contemporary Delano for his daughter's hand in marriage. James gently reminded the reluctant Warren that when he married Sara's mother he was almost twice her age. With that, he won the point and the maiden. Only six months after their first introduction, Sara and James were wed under a canopy of flowers at Algonac, the Delano estate across the Hudson, downriver from Hyde Park. From that day forward, theirs was a happy life. A year after that first visit to Springwood, Sara was pregnant. She was a healthy young woman of twenty-seven, yet her labor was long'more than twenty-four hours'and harrowing. When the pain became more than her body could endure, the doctor administered chloroform, in much too great an amount. She lost consciousness. When the baby was finally delivered, he was limp, blue, and unresponsive. Only when the doctor desperately breathed into the tiny, quiet mouth did the infant begin to breathe. "It was nearly fatal to us both," Sara recalled as the son she had almost lost became president. Happily, mother and child came through the ordeal in good shape: "At quarter to nine," the relieved father recorded in his diary that evening, "my Sallie had a splendid large baby boy. He weighs 10 lbs., without clothes." To the new mother's eye, he was "at the very outset, plump, pink, and nice." Sara Roosevelt was never pregnant again. Perhaps the near-death experience was too frightening to risk repeating. Or perhaps she was so confident that hers was the perfect child, there was really no need to... First Mothers The Women Who Shaped the Presidents . Copyright © by Bonnie Angelo. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from First Mothers: The Women Who Shaped the Presidents by Bonnie Angelo All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. ix
1. To the Manner Bornp. 1
2. Be a Good Boy, Harryp. 40
3. Six Boys and a Pianop. 74
4. The Glue That Held It All Togetherp. 112
5. Dancing Lessons for Lyndonp. 155
6. Fifty Pies Before Breakfastp. 193
7. An Act of Couragep. 228
8. Mama's in the Peace Corpsp. 258
9. That's My Dutch!p. 293
10. Play by Mother's Rulesp. 332
11. My Life Is Like a Country Songp. 362
12. Passionate Attachmentsp. 403
Acknowledgmentsp. 423
Selected Readingsp. 426
Indexp. 438