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tv   The Presidency First Lady Pat Nixon  CSPAN  July 7, 2020 9:30am-10:43am EDT

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if you enjoyed watching first ladies pick up a copy of the book first ladies influence and image, through interviews with top historians, now available in paperback, hard cover, or as an ebook. >> tonight beginning at 8:00 p.m. eastern, a look at the lives of betty ford and roselin carter. c-span? cooperation with the white house historical association produced a series coming their private lives and the public roles they played influence and image features individual biographies of the women who served in the
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role of first lady over 44 administrations. watch american history tv tonight and over the weekend. >> good evening, everyone. to all of our friends here and those watching by c-span and on facebook live. my name is stewart mclaruin and i'm the president of the white house historical association. it's my privilege to welcome you to decatur house and to the white house historical association. tonight's program is very exciting and we are honored to partner with our good friends at the richard nixon foundation. we would like to welcome dr. jim cavanaugh of the nixon foundation and his wife ester in the front row. hugh hewitt the president of the nixon foundation you will hear from in a few moments.
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we have many distinguished guests with us here, many former officials from the nixon and other administrations and staff and friends of the nixon foundation and we're honored to have you here tonight. this year marks the 50th anniversary of patricia nixon becoming the first lady of the united states. under her leadership the white house collection added over 600 paintings and furnishing elements to the white house collection which is the most of any presidency. the significance of this will be discussed in tonight's program, but it's very important to us here at the white house historical association as a core part of our mission which was inspired as most of you or all of you know by first lady jacqueline kennedy to be the private, nonpartisan for the beautiful state rooms in the white house, for the acquisition
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of items for the permanent collection at the white house as well, and for our education programs, programs like this, where we teach and tell the stories of the white house and its wonderful history going back to 1792 when george washington selected the site across the street where the white house is today and hired the architect james hoben. to commemorate the occasion of anniversary as first lady the white house historical association has also undertaken an additional partnership with the richard nixon foundation and this is where we have created a digital exhibit highlighting mrs. nixon's efforts to restore the blue room in 1972 to the original french empire style. photographs, documents, and video footage of her refurbishment project provide greater insight into her accomplishments as first lady and highlight her commitment to
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enhancing the white house collections for future generations. this digital exhibit can be found on our website starting today at white house and soon will be available on the nixon foundation website which is nixon tonight marks the third of four episodes in our quarterly programs for 2019, moderated by anne compton. our fourth program will take place on october 29th with former white house executive pastry chef roland mesnia who is a fan favorite along with jennifer pickens, another author. they both have two new books that will be out at that time and we'll celebrate. she'll be joining us october 29th and anne will have another program and we invite you to be back with us on that occasion. tonight, everyone in this room
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and those watching by c-span and facebook live are in for a real treat. anne compton, no secret to say, is one of my very favorite people in washington or anywhere. her role as a former reporter and white house correspondent as well as her being the first woman assigned to cover the white house for network television is known to everyone in this room. what may not be known or as well known, the extensive contributions that anne continues to make to organizations and missions such as ours, the miller center at the university of virginia, and many others. anne, i think it's also very fitting to acknowledge this particular week with tomorrow being the 18th anniversary of 9/11, your unique place in american history on that tragic day as you were the only broadcast reporter on air force one with president bush that entire day to report on behalf of the press, the american
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people. so thank you for your career, particularly acknowledging that special moment in history that we will acknowledge tomorrow. [ applause ] we have three other distinguished guests on our panel, anita mcbride who serves on our board of director at the white house historical association and in addition to being on our board of directors she chairs the education committee, our david m. rubenstein national center for white house history and chairs our presidential site summit committee wherer every two years we convene across the country, it will happen in september of 2020 in dallas, texas. she is the executive in residence for congressional studies at american university. anita is a leading authority on the role and history of first ladies. she herself has worked for four presidents and was chief of
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staff to first lady laura bush. we have patricia matson with us tonight who was a speechwriter and press assistant for patricia nixon and continued in the office of the first lady for betty ford and has had an extremely distinguished career in strategic communications including many years in senior roles at capital city's abc. and our dear friend betty who worked for 30 years retiring as chief curator. betty is a great colleague for us here at the association. she has worked with us and continues to work with us on many projects. she authored our book on major -- our major decorative arts in the white house book, available in our book shop. she's a consultant to our white house quarterly, our quarterly scholar magazine we're proud of and betty is a master of
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knowledge regarding the white house collection. we have a wonderful panel for you to hear from tonight. before anne examincomes up and panelist i would like to introduce hugh hewitt, representing the richard nixon foundation, hugh is president of the foundation and teaching constitutional law at chaplin college law school since 1995. you will recognize him as a frequent guest on many tv news networks and programs and he has written extensively for the "new york times", "the wall street journal" and "los angeles times." you will be very familiar with him as the host of the nationally sind cated radio program and served nearly six years in the reagan administration in a variety of posts including assistant counsel to the white house and special assistant to two attorneys general. following hugh's remarks and a very brief video presentation, our panelists will join us for
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tonight's program. those of you on this side of the room no worries. this podium will be removed so you will have a clear shot and i can't end without a little self-promotion, our shop is open until 8:30 tonight right at the top of the ramp from the door where you came in and everybody here will get a 10% discount on anything that you would like to take home with you tonight. you can finish your christmas shopping tonight. thank you very much. [ applause ] >> thank you, stewart, welcome to all of you on behalf of the nixon foundation, which i became the president only in july and what a great event. i want to get out of the way of the experts and get them up here in a hurry. we all know the definitive biography of mrs. nixon was written by julie nixoniz
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eisenhower. i think you will enjoy listening to or reading again the book about mrs. nixon. i was very lucky 41 years ago to be asked by david eisenhauer to graduate from college and drive across the country and go to work for him and after three or four months i went over to work for president nixon at the western white house which dr. cavanaugh and barbara franklin will know so well. from their days serving the president. in their retirement there were not a lot of people around but i got to know mrs. nixon in her retirement in an unusual way. 22 years old, don't know anyone in california, thanksgiving rolls around and mrs. nixon invite mess invites me to dinner. the first many invitations in new york city. it was the first dinner i'm 22 years old and don't know what i'm doing and i'm surrounded by the president of the united states, former president, former
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first lady and their children and she was the most incredibly gracious person to me, a youngster who had no idea what they're doing, clueless as to the manner and protocol. five years later when my wife and i moved back to washington, d.c., and my wife's grandmother was living on the dresden on connecticut avenue and helen smith lived in the dresden and i got to know helen very well. we took over grandmother's apartment during the summer when she is all right thinking people did left town, helen would explain my graciousness i experienced for mrs. nixon was not unique to me. she was, in fact, gracious to every person she ever met in every capacity, young and small. she traveled the world relentlessly beginning in 1953 as the second lady, setting a pattern for the second lady which was unique and when she became first lady she was the
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first lady to visit africa as first lady but the first lady the first time to go to china and the ussr. every step she always insisted on seeing people, children, schools, orphanages because she wanted to get out of the diplomatic protocol and talk to people and it was there that she, again, exhibited on behalf of america the same kind of kindness i experienced firsthand. [ applause ] >> wasn't she an amazing first lady in so many ways. i want to start with patty matson, i covered when i arrived at the white house in the ford administration. patty your had already been hired as a speechwriter and a
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deputy press secretary for pat nixon and you told me that she had a keen eye for what was appropriate and she was very much shaped by that -- by her growing up, how hard she worked, that work ethic. >> it's one of the things that i think is so important about her. i had been in television, i had been in mix, i've known a lot of people who work hard, but this one takes the cake. she really was -- she was in full. the first thing i noticed really my first day on the job -- can you all hear me back there? when you sent something up to her that needed her input overnight, literally it was on your desk the next morning
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before you got in. it didn't matter if there had been a state dinner the night before, she had a job. she treated it as such. and the day-to-day really handling of constituents was so important to her. it was one of the first things she said to me in our job interview, that she considered people to be her project. she didn't want a pet -- >> cause? >> yes. that just wasn't her. she wanted to on a day in, day out basis make life better for people who came to visit the white house, people who really wanted to connect with their government. i used to watch her stand in some of these receiving lines
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and she was never one of these people who shakes hands and kind of pushes the people through, you know what i mean. you could see her looking directly at the person in front of her and meeting of minds and taking time to shake a hand and sometimes say a few words and she had all the energy in the world to do that because she understood how much it meant to people to have someone that cared about them in government in washington. and she felt it very strongly. it also went and spoke to how she liked all of us to make sure that requests got filled quickly, to make sure that mail was returned very quickly. she had a real feeling for being
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able to connect with people. and it was quite a gift. she used it for the presidency. it was a very rare gift and i was fortunate enough to see it. >> she had been in the public eye for so long before she actually arrived at the white house. why do you think that reputation of being kind of timid even in the video she seemed amused people thought she was shy. she didn't seem that way to you. >> you know, she had a reserve and i found that very attractive. she was a very elegant woman. she was of an era, the best part of an era, and we don't see so much of that anymore. she was not one that was going to -- i guess the going thing
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now is to unload yourself and confide with america on whatever is going through your mind. a little bit of that goes a long way, if you don't mind me saying so. she was appropriate always and she just had an innate ability to be that way. it was wonderful to behold. >> betty, let me ask you, because you were present for all of this period of time. thank you for all you've done for the white house as curator and the lasting legacy that you have helped create there. we think about first ladies and a more traditional role of worrying about the house and home but she felt strongly about doing more with the white house, including opening some of those doors. >> very much. in fact, i think the film mentioned her tours of the blind
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and the deaf, which julie was very instrumental in participating in as well. she was the first first lady to open the grounds for garden tours in the spring and fall and those have continued to the present time. the christmas candlelight tours in the evening. the public could come in and see the house during the holidays, all light up and beautifully decorated. another legacy that endures today is the lighting of the exterior of the house. she had gotten a lot of inquiries from people talking about how the house is so dark when they brought tourists by the house in the evenings, and when she and the president would come in on the helicopter, they couldn't even see the house it was so dark. very early using inaugural funds from the first inauguration
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worked very closely with the national park service in having the engineers design and plan and implement the lighting of the house. that is the legacy that endures today. >> the idea that she brought in more works of art than any other first lady has ever, how did that moment in history happen? >> well, i think it happened when she and president nixon had gone to the state department to the diplomatic reception rooms there in 1969 and had seen how beautiful those rooms were and a year later in the early 1970s, she called the curator at the state department and asked if he would be willing to come over and be the curator of the white house. he had a job at the state department. he worked in the office as well as in the diplomatic reception room, but mrs. nixon invited him to the white house and they walked through all of the rooms from the third floor down to the ground floor through the private
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quarters and the state rooms and he thought about it for a few days and decided to accept it. she was a very strong supporter of this program. the of this program. the rooms had been left refurbished in the early '60s in the denied administration. but there had been tremendous visitation and reception in the '60s and things needed to take shape. and she was a very energetic and ambitious person who knew how to raise funds and appeal to donors and mrs. nixon would often write letters to donors and have receptions and teas for people that were potential donors from museums. it was hung in 1971 and then
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finally purchased by the association here for the collection. but she was a big supporter. she in fact did go up to philadelphia to the pennsylvania academy to thank them for lending that painting, and she put herself out a great deal and became very attached to a consulting architect who worked on many of the projects and became very good friends with him and his family. and second what patty says about her graciousness. we were not directly part of her white house staff but i do remember once she invited her staff to go out on her yacht. and another time we got a gift of a guilted french chair that belonged to the blue room suite,
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and it was mrs. nixon's birthday, and we invited her to our office to show her the chair and had a little birthday celebration her friend was there and some of the butlers and household staff came in. and there's a wonderful photograph of her looking at something that says you're not quite 49 on the placard. but she was a very strong supporter. she as patty said had a lot of energy and was extremely gracious to people visiting the white house and to people who would contribute in some way to the collections. >> you have worked over a period of several presidents, and you've got to see threads today that were begun by pat nixon. >> oh, sure, absolutely. first of all, i have to say it's just an honor to be here with
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these two wonderful women who had the opportunity. one, i wish i had always had and always say the one first lady i would have had to love and sat and had dinner with was pat nixon. because of her love of the house, her incredible privilege that she felt to be a steward of the white house. and anybody who works in the white house knows the impact or sees the impact. you read about the impact. you see it on the walls of things they've been able to acquire for the collection that make it, you know, part of the beautiful museum and gift to the people that it is. and patty mentioned about correspondence i sort of chuckled a little bit on that, too, because i've worked for several first ladies and correspondence was incredibly important to them. and one of the things about mrs. nixon and her focus on correspondence is she came from a small town. and she really understood that if somebody got an envelope from the white house that the
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president of the united states, what that would mean to receive in their mailbox, and that's why she was relentless about having her mail respondents, too, and anybody that looked to her would get a letter from white house and how much that means and still means to this day, of course. but the fact, you know, she took that so personally is one of her great legacies, and there are people here in the audience who work as volunteers in correspondence right now. and thanks to mrs. roosevelt, eleanor roosevelt who really established the first formal correspondence office at the white house, and she was the eyes and ears for her husband anyway. but she really understood what that connection to the american people would be. the mail they wrote to her or
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wrote to president, and then they would get a response. so that's something talk about the thread of history is a really wonderful example, the connection to the constituents, and you can never forget that. >> what that reminded me of is she had a mind-set that was almost like a member of congress. in terms of having a constituency. and the people across america were her constituency. and she understood them because she had grown up with them. she was an incredibly hardworking person from the time she was 13 years old and her mother died. she was up working on the farm in the morning, taking care of her older brothers, really raising her older brothers and coping for them and to start working really as a teenager and sometimes holding two and three jobs. so she was a prauofessional for
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very long time. but the main thing is she understood how people felt about something like the white house. and it was very important to her to have them leave feeling bett better about themselves and about what was going on. >> opening up the white house at night would also mean that people who had day jobs where they couldn't just take off and go look at the white house that would give them an access as well. and patty, i remember from my years, i covered seven presidents starting with gerald ford and all the way through president obama, and i remember a sign that probably all of them wanted on their desk but i think it was ronald reagan who had "there's no limit to what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit." that was pat nixon. >> yes, she lived that. really, she was the embodiment of that. and you could see it.
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it was never about her. i ran into a quote, and it was a barbara bush quote. pat nixon didn't seek credit -- >> barbara bush was definitely not shy. >> barbara bush didn't seek credit which may be why she's not as fully appreciated as she should be. she never sought recognition for herself. but those of us who knew and admired her always wish she had received the appreciation she earned over a lifetime of service. mrs. nixon always wanted the work to speak for itself. she didn't care about getting credit, and she genuinely did not. >> anita, you once told me that the role of first lady adapts to the woman as much as the woman adapts it. how does that work? >> right, and someday it'll be a man. i think that's the white house in general, right, throughout our history. that the occupant adapts to the
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office and the office adapts to the occupant. but i think mrs. nixon like all first ladies through our history the thread that binds all of them together is there's no person that cares more about the success of the president and the presidency than the president's spouse. that is their single focus, and that is something really that does bind all of them together and what they share. as the single person who has experienced the ups and the downs and who at the end of the day is not like any other advisor. they are a different confidant. and i think, you know, mrs. nixon doesn't get the credit for just what an incredible political mastermind that she was. this is the hardest working
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person on the president's campaign if you think about it and richard nixon's campaign in sik six years saw him go from congressman to senator to vice president of the united states in all of these campaigns, some were very, very difficult. 1952, okay, running for the vice-presidency when the scandal on the finances erupted and how that person wounded her so much because it was a challenge to their integrity not so much challenge to policy and projects but to their integrity. so this famously, you know, shy person or quiet person -- she didn't have the be the loudest voice in the room -- was wounded by that and you can understand why. >> i was watching, again, this wonderful tape that was done and i was watching it and thinking
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oh, i wish she could have seen that. and then i thought get a grip, she never would have let you do something like that. never in a million years. she was much too modest to ever, ever think about letting you do something like that. >> the one thing she has not gotten adequate credit for is the pandas. who can tell the panda story? >> great story. >> she is going with her husband to the break through opening to china, a remarkable -- i mean really a seminal moment for american relations, and they add her to the trip and the hairdresser. she's at the state dinner. >> at the state banquet. >> at the state banquet and there is a package of cigarettes sitting there.
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somebody tell the story. >> i don't know the story. >> i don't know that either. >> -- these are so wonderful you should have them. and he said oh, cigarettes, and she said no, pandas, and he said i'll send you two. >> i heard it a wonderful story. i don't know tonight if i could share that. >> the actual cartridge of cigarettes is an artifact you will now have at the library, the cartridge, the little pack of cigarettes actually was found. and i thought isn't that terrific because that's a great way to tell the story about this incredible diplomatic skill of
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mrs. nixon and her gracious and very quiet and lovely way of saying, oh, i like those. and here we have this national treasure at the national zoo of the pandas. and, again, you can imagine at the state banquet so much pressure tension and preparation that went into that visit. no presidential lady could have scripted that that would be the outcome of that visit, but look at the legacy that it's left behind. >> lucy winchester, mrs. nixon's secretary told me a wonderful story one time about the logistics of getting those pandas to washington. i hope they've got an oral history about that incident. >>ia know, one thing i know pertained to mrs. nixon and is
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in the same subject of how hard she worked, i think people don't realize whether it's a state dinner or whether you're doing a foreign trip for years there were no jet airliners, so you can imagine what it was like going to some of these places. but the other thing is the amount of time and work that goes into making sure you're appropriately briefed and, you know, you read the guidance because if you're sitting next to a head of state you're talking to that person on their own level. and you have to know what you're talking about or what you're not supposed to be talking about. so it requires a lot of -- you cannot phone it in. you have to, you know, very c concontioniously know those briefing books.
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she was someone who worked very hard on that to understand the nuance of why you had to do that. there were so many things to admire this woman for, and she just took it in stride. it was a part of her job, her unpaid job. and she excelled. she was comfortable talking with heads of state. she was very comfortable -- for example, the trip mentioned earlier when there was that terrible, terrible -- yeah, the earthquake in peru. she landed in a mountain and met the wife of the president there, and they walked for 5 hours through the muck and everything that had been involved in that.
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it was something. and it all happened because we read the stories to begin with and the government said we're playing with some things and three weeks later she noticed all the coverage of it really had stopped, and she went to the president and said i'd really like to be helpful here. i'd really like to do something. and within a week she was on a plane headed for peru. and she was -- in fact, she had to sit in a makeshift chair in the front because it was obviously a plane that was taking as much -- as many things as they could load up into the plane. >> cargo. >> yeah, exactly. and the wife of the president met her, and then they walked
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for 5 hours through all of this muck. and then the rest of the day she spent -- there were 50,000 people that died in this earthquake. and something like 800,000 people who were without a home. it was wrenching. and she spent the day talking to everyone that she could, you know, see and hugging them. and it had -- it had this consequence. the diplomats were very nervous about it because the president of the country had gotten -- had made some overt overtures to the soviets so it was one of those moments you didn't know what way it was going to go. and by the end of the day he had heard everything that had happened with mrs. nixon and how everyone adored her and what she had gone through to actually
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initiate this and go over there with all of this. and, by the way, not even a week later the soviets sent 60 planes of materials to help these people. so it was not only her own government support, but the irony was it also ended up in getting them more support from another country. >> the times in which she was in the public eye were such dramatic ones. and by the time they got to the white house with the civil rights movement, with the war in vietnam, with the womens rights movement, pat nixon walked that kind of careful line without getting overtly political into her husband's decisions. yet she would stand up, she and
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her successor betty ford would stand up and say yes, you should pass the equal rights amendment. my daughter and my kids don't even know what the ekewit rights amendment is. but she would talk about that, and she would talk about women running for office, women getting involved in politics. remember when they were in the white house the ivy leagues were still all male universities. women did not have -- sandra day o'connor couldn't get a job right out of law school except for a secretary one -- >> because barbara was running the office of womens issues. i know. i'm going to tell your story. mrs. nixon knew how she worked in the white house office, the
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departments that were there thanks to leadership with you and armstrong and others that were very conscious of this burgeoning womens movement. and mrs. nixon realized the republicans were losing some ground on this. the democrats proposing led legislation and bills to support women, and she worked very closely with the office of womens issues and the white house to help get more appointments of women in the federal government. and she spoke publicly about women, a woman for the supreme court. she was disappointed that was the president's decision of course and may have expressed that privately to him. but publicly she supported the president, and again that was her character and the appropriate way to do it. but she was responding to what was going on in the country.
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>> can you come on up and join us? we've got a chair up front for you. i'm sorry, go ahead, patty. >> no, i was just going to say make no mistake about it. she's what i would call quietly politically astute. she wasn't about to brag about what she could do or not do. she was very quiet about her sophistication in terms of doing things that were appropriate politically. >> the times she lived in were dramatic ones, but there are some things that don't change. there's always in the years i covered the white house over an arc of 40 years, there has always been for every administration i've covered a bit of tension between east and
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west, east wing and west wing. and does it come with the territory? >> it's natural. it's constantly evolving. i mean, my experience with working in the white house and working both west wing and east wing -- it comes from the leadership at the top, and this is the way for mrs. nixon, the way she comported herself that she was there to support the president of the united states. she was going to take her personal interests and her own character and integrity and do what she could do be a representative of the president and a representative of the american people and i think people respected that in the white house. and it's just constantly an
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evolving relationship between east and west wing. and sometimes in some cases it's better than others. but i think -- i don't think it's any secret that mrs. nixon was frustrated at times of whether her position would be heeded or not. but it didn't stop her from doing what came natural to her and what she felt she could do to make a contribution. so i would say my experience too with mrs. bush was the same way. the first thing she said to me is i'm not here for myself. i'm here for george and because of george. that helped me as the chief of staff get access to things i needed to help her help him, and people knew that. and for that reason, too, we had a successful run --
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>> at some point you and maybe the others got the title assistant to the president, which is the highest ranking position within the white house, top staff level. so there was some recognition the east wing had a voice -- >> and had a role to play that's invaluable. >> during the early nixon days kate anderson brower who wrote the book called "first women" three years ago writes that no first lady had a more fraught relationship with the west wing than pat basically because -- wanted to run everything. now, patty, you came to the white house after mr. halderman or mr. eric had gone i think. >> i miss them. >> i'm so sorry. but there were those in the administration who clearly saw
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how important she was. chuck carlson who had an interesting career path of his own actually wrote to the president at some point saying that pat nixon on a foreign trip had broken through where we failed to project a more human side of the administration. "parade" magazine wrote just five years ago despite his reputation for being a neglectful husband dick was a sentimental partner, and they write in 1969 he summoned winchester to a meeting in the white house to help plan a surprise party for his wife. he was so excited during the meeting he sang the entirety of "has been birthday to you." and he described his details for the event.
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pat once told the reporter of the associate press -- pat told the reporter, quote, he's very dear personally. i don't think i would have stayed with him otherwise. and there were others. there's other interesting voices that come up about that need to have a first lady seen as a partner. and you'll recognize the name roger ales who was a nixon media advisor who says in a memo to mr. halderman on may 4, 1970, pat nixon -- he wrote to halderman saying please tell the president to talk to her and smile at her, and halderman wrote back, you tell him. but she had backbone, patty. >> she definitely had backbone.
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just to back up for a minute there had to be a genesis for the word "man-splaining" and i think it may have originated in the west wing. get it? she just continued on with what was on her agenda. she didn't get bob halderman deter her or even slow her down. she was gracious as always and then went ahead and thought what she thought she should do. >> i think in the early '70s it's hard to imagine now but there was a white house east wing press corp of women that covered the first lady. it was a very different time and they looked it as a much more traditional manner since i think. the first press secretary used
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to do briefings for the press for a few years. patty, you can speak to that, correct? >> it was very gradual. you couldn't even give it a date. but in the beginning, yes, it was just a core of maybe four or five women. and then she started doing international trips. remember in the vice presidential days she would already done 53 foreign trips. i mean, that's unbelievable. >> it is unbelievable. >> she may have been the best prepared woman to be first lady that there's ever been in history. she had so much experience and so much experience at a young age. she was very, very confident of the things -- of the things that she needed to do and could enhance the position and also
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enhance the role, too. >> i was going to say the acceptance of her constituents in the presidency -- so many of you who were involved with the reagan -- with the nixon foundation. we're going to open this up to questions in just a moment, and i want to ask all three of you did pat nixon come back to the white house? did she come to visit, or did she once they left and went back, did she kind of leave that behind? >> i don't recall that she ever came back to the white house. no, another first lady did, and
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i would give a lot of credence to mrs. nixon for her graciousness towards mrs. kennedy -- >> tell us about that. >> i think it was the early '70s when these two portraits of president kennedy were completed, and mrs. nixon wrote asking what she would like to do about a ceremony, and she wrote back and said she really wasn't up to a ceremony. so mrs. nixon then invited mrs. kennedy and her children to come back for a private viewing. and i remember they locked down the -- the house was locked down that day when she was coming back. nobody could enter through the east or west wing into the residence area. and they invited mrs. kennedy and the children to look at the portraits. we had hung them on the locations they're going to be,
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and then invited them up to the private quarters and julie and trisha showed the children the rooms they had been in when the kennedy children were young. and then president nixon invited them for a lovely, private dinner and i thought that was one of the most gracious things they could have done at that time to preserve her privacy and give her the one time she ever came back to white house. >> and mrs. onasis wrote the most touching and beautiful letter you could imagine saying that the nixons had made the day she most dreaded a wonderful experience for her and her kids. and it just -- it would bring a tear to your eye to see this letter. she was also very complimentary to mrs. nixon how the white
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house had been improved. she said there were no dark corners anymore in the white house, that she would done a beautiful job. and she also complimented their ability raising the two lovely daughters that you have and that she was -- she said to raise young women like that who are in the public eye their entire lives is a very difficult thing to do, and you did a beautiful job. and she was so happy her children got to meet the nixon's children. >> there's a portrait of pat nixon. tell us about that. >> well, it's a very poignant, extremely beautiful portrait i think. and it was painted out in san clemente in 1978 and he went out to paint her in the house, mrs.
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nixon there. but i have a quote from a note sent to julie about her impression of her mother while she was painting this portrait, and i'd like to read a little bit of it because it's so -- i think so beautifully provocative about who mrs. nixon was. she said above the bridge of a nose that's almost greek your mother has eyes that are like no one els. the eyes reveal an unusual spirit. they are the eyes of a 16-year-old girl, an expression of great sweetness. and in that expression occasionally the doors close and the lights go out for there is a wistfulness in your mother's beauty. always the feeling of something beyond, a desire for the unattainable. she has maintained a kind of fragile beauty about her life. when she looked out at the
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window at the hummingbirds, and there's a hummingbird in the painting -- i like the expression then in her eyes that she still believes despite injustice. i just thought that was a beautiful tribute. >> ladies and gentlemen, let's hear from you. we have a microphone. and i think another microphone over here. could we bring a microphone down to bobby kilberg? >> i'm going to try to stand but i broke my hip so it's a little difficult. you talked about mrs. nixon's support of human rights and there was one story that all of a sudden flooded back to me and that was 1972 at the republican national convention. they had a platform committee obviously to decide public policy. for the first time it had to be 50% men and 50% women. and the majority on that
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committee want to do something about child care -- the majority of men did not want to and it got very feisty and fairly tense, and then all of a sudden all the tension went away and they supported funding for federal child care. and i asked why and people just looked at me and said the east wing just said it was time. >> this is lively crowd. over here in the third row, please. thank you. >> thank you all. your story was amazing tonight. is there another you would like to share with us, please? maybe even your favorite. >> i don't know it's a favorite. i think mrs. nixon was very interested in portraits of first ladies particularly and
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presidents. she also hosted a very large reception at the time that the adams family gave the portraits of louisa adams. and she gave a wonderful reception and invited many, many adams descendants to that reception at the time. so i think -- and i remember too mrs. johnson had worked on trying to acquire a purge of james madison. she invited mrs. johnson back to the ceremony when that was available in 1970 i think it was. i do remember when the blue room was unveiled in 1972, and that was a major, major project. and mrs. nixon had gone to a
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historic house here to look at plasterwork which has been copied and replicated for the blue room. so they were having this enormous reception going to be held, and it happened to be the evening george wallace was shot in the maryland suburbs, but they went on with athe receptio and i remember the president and mrs. nixon speaking at that reception that night. >> thank you. good question. right here. >> mrs. trump recently went to an active combat zone and i don't think she got very much coverage, but what really surprised me is how these commentators mentioned mrs. nixon going to one and mrs. bush, and it seemed to be a very rare occasion, and i was hoping you all could tell us a little
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bit what it's like for a first lady to do that and did mrs. nixon get much press coverage at the time because i couldn't find much about it. and the story about her first time being in an open helicopter. >> that was one of thirst things i learned about mrs. nixon was the fact she was the first lady to go to an active combat zone. and i'll tell you where i really learned this. and it was while dwri was worki for mrs. bush and we went to the national constitution center and there was an exhibit about first ladies. what struck me that i didn't know at that time and still to this day is the most traveled lady in history to 81 countries. and no one has eclipsed that. and then really studying more and peeling back the layers of the bravery to go to an active
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combat zone -- >> she was fearless. >> fearless. but in terms of coverage at the time, jennifer, i'm not sure. but i will say this. i think that the nixon foundation in this last couple of years we're seeing so much more attention paid to the contributions of this woman, this extraordinary woman and how much that she did not only the white house but the impact she had on our politics, the impact she had on women and women rights. and the fact she was the only -- she is the only first lady that was given the title of personal representative of the president. so as a global diplomat no one comes close. and i traveled to 77 countries before bush and it's a remarkable achievement that she headed to afghanistan, the middle east, all over. and we had a difficult time
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getting coverage. we didn't have a press corp that traveled with us. we really had to beg people to come on our trips. and i don't know what it was like for mrs. nixon. >> the other thing to note is that it isn't as if she had never been in frightening situations. she and president nixon i believe when he was vice president had gone to south america, and they were in the middle of a riot that was so close. we didn't know for a number of years because they weren't told how close they were to death. so she had had close calls before this, and she was going. you know, she was undeterred. >> we have a question right over here. there's a microphone coming right from behind you. and this is television.
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>> it's interesting moo me. i've read a few quotes and i would like to hear from each one of your panels telling me exactly because she was quoted as saying, she gave up everything that was precious and dear to her to support the president. but listening to you ladies and watching the video that doesn't seem to be the case, but she was quoted as saying that. >> the thing that was most dear to her was her privacy, and she did certainly give that up for her husband. >> and i highly encourage everyone to watch it you can find it on youtube and she spent a period of days with virginia sherwood of abc.
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it was a wonderful interview, and she was asked that question about what bothered her the most in all these years of public service, all the places she's traveled, what bothered her the most. and she said to always have to be so guarded all the time and be surrounded all the time, again, giving up the privacy. and i think anyone in public life would say that's a pretty hard thing to do. >> but i think it's why she made a house a home they could have that family time. >> that sanctuary around her. the other thing that came out in that particular interview virginia sherwood asked her why aren't you talking about everything you're doing to redo the white house? you know, you're totally doing it a whole-scale project. and we don't see anything around
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about it. and mrs. nixon just explained that she didn't think comparisons on that were relevant, that she was very grateful to mrs. kennedy for really bringing the nation's attention to the white house and lifting it up and having people understand how important it was. but she didn't want to get into making comparisons with other first ladies. >> and remember, too, when jacqueline kennedy did so much to improve the white house then we went through a period of intense -- i remember i was in college at the time, kind of the fabric of america was fraying under the pressures of the war in vietnam, political opposition, civil rights strains. and it wasn't the time when decorating a white house was
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considered an important priority to promote. during those years when it wasn't much of a priority, did mrs. nixon come in and find a white house i think the story was lucy winchester would go around with little man cure scissors in her pen bag and snip little strings off the furniture. >> that was part of it that it need today be refurbished and so forth. >> she worked hard at that project and gave it her full support to do that. i do recall there were press when a room was refurbished and a painting would be donated there was press coverage, but it didn't seem to get much out of the white house, unfortunately.
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>> those were the days when there were three televisions. there was no internet and no twitter. >> i don't think pat nixon would have gone on twitter. we have two questions over here. let's go to the way back. okay, gentleman here and then i'll get to you next, sir. >> i had the privilege of interviewing bess able, this is johnson's social secretary and she told me a story how it's protocol for the outgoing social secretary to leave a gift and a note for the incoming social secretary which in this case was lucy winchester, and she said she was very surprised that mrs. winchester never responded to her note. she said she only found out several years later that she had
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been informed not to respond to the note under the threat of termination. you can pretty much guess what mrs. able's reaction to that was. you can use your own imaginations. my question was what do you think pat nixon would have thought if she had found out that this had occurred? >> i find that very surprising because i have to say one club of people who are pretty close are social secretaries. and those that are still around all get together very regularly. >> question way in the back, please. yes, sir? >> good evening. thank you for the presentation. it's most enjoyable. i'm a history buff, and i want your input if you know the answer to this. in one of his books president nixon wrote in 1940 he was a
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trustee at whittier college in california. and at the same time he was the trustee -- herbert hoover's wife was also a trustee, and i'm wondering if any of you know if the two first ladies ever met. >> i don't, but i'd like to find that out. >> we'll try to google. we'll have to do a little research on that talking to the right people. >> we've got time for two more questions way in the back. it's tough for me to see but there is a hand there. thank you. >> you were speaking about mrs. nixon jealously guarding her privacy. i'm surprised you haven't brought up how she had to give that up for one of the biggest events of their family life,
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trisha's wedding at the white house. how did she handle all of those preparations and opening that event to the world? >> good question. it was trisha's desire to have it in the garden. and she went with it. and i can only say that i'm certain that she handled it very graciously and certainly with all the photos i saw subsequent to that she looked radiant, and she made it look easy. what can i say? >> white house weddings are big events as you know. and i remember when president george herbert walker bush and barbara bush's daughter was going to get married at camp david. and i saw mrs. bush and i said, so what can you tell me, and she
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said absolutely nothing. there are some things that first ladies and the family -- let's end on this point. every president who serves brings a family that also finds itself in the line of fire, in a very, very public glare of public life. and how the nixon daughters and son-in-laws and their children have flourished so despite what they went through especially in the last couple of years of the administration. >> i do remember working a lot with julie when she was living -- i think he was overseas or something. >> he was in the navy. >> yeah, and she was living in the house at that time but she became very involved in the
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projects and i remember trying to review her scripts and things like that she was writing. she was very active and interested in people like her mother, you know, very outgoing. trisha was much more reserved. she did tutor a student, but she wasn't there for too long. >> and it would be good to note that at their first possible moment they all got out of town. you know, they all chose a place to live where they would have the privacy and had no one around them in terms of standing there when they're eating dinner or going out to a movie or that kind of thing. so you do what you need to do to get through a period, and they did it graciously in the white house, but it wasn't what they chose to do for the long haul. >> some families -- there had
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been families that become political dynasties, but that wasn't the mold for the nixon family. >> no, of course not. and i think even for any family, though, whether there are multiple generations in politics it's still very hard to see any of them hurt or wounded or challenged. and i do remember president bush 41 saying even after all he had been through, all his campaigns and the very difficult way he left in 1993 still would hurt him the most were the attacks on his son. and george w. bush would say everything he went through what hurt him most were the challenges and the attacks on his dad. so i just think that's ultimately at the end of the day family is family. that's the sanctuary, that's who
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you depend on, your backbone, your strength. that no matter what your political life is it's, you know, your personal life that lives on, not the politics. >> well, we hope this has shown some new illumination on the very fascinating time in american history. hard to believe it's been 50 years. please thank this remarkable panel. [ applause ] >> if you enjoyed watching "first ladies" pick up a copy of the book "first ladies, influence in imening" featuring profiles of the nation's first ladies through interviews of top historians in paper back, hard cover or as an e-book. tonight on american history tv beginning at 8:00 p.m. eastern a look at the lives of betty ford and roselyn carter.
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c-span produced a series on the first ladies on their private lives and public roles they play. features individual biographies of the women who served in the role of first lady over 44 administrations. watch american history tv tonight and over the weekend on c-span 3. >> physical education is part of the training for the lightweight


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