Last week I shared Part I of my review of First Mothers, The Women who Shaped the Presidents by Bonne Angelo. Here is a rest of my review with 3 more commonalities that the presidential mothers from Sara Roosevelt to Virginia Kelly all shared.
3) Each presidential mother wanted an education for herself as well as for her children – especially the sons who went on to becoming president. Some of these women went out of their way to get an education during a time in history in this country when educating women was not valued.
About Rebekah Johnson (1881-1958): “From childhood she was set on going to college, and though her decision was slightly less astonishing than that of Martha Truman and Ida Eisenhower decades earlier, the number of girls in higher education in Texas at the turn of the century was minute. It is impressive, and significant, that these nineteenth-century mothers of contemporary presidents place such important on higher education, which scarcely figured in the thinking of most young women in those days.” (page 174)
It is very impressive that of the 11 mothers, 6 attended college, two went to European finishing schools and two received nursing degrees. This is especially remarkable given how few women were being educated in the USA at that time.
Further education opened doors for these women, which in turn opened the eyes and minds of their sons. Note: only Nelle Reagan had no formal education beyond elementary school, and Barbara Bush dropped out of Smith College after her freshman year.
Was your mother educated? Was your grandmother? How about your great-grandmother?
4) Each of the 11 presidents has a very Special Relationship with their mothers. Fact is they each could have been called ‘Mama’s Boys.’
From a 2001 with the author:
“The younger brothers were proof — to me — that there was something special between the mother and the son who would become president. Billy Carter, Sam Houston Johnson, Don Nixon and most of all, Roger Clinton, conducted themselves in a way that embarrassed their brothers….The mothers would never acknowledge that they had a favorite child — but when one son shines and achieves so brilliantly, there had to be a greater feeling of pride on the part of the mother. His success was her success.”
Margaret Truman Daniel, author and daughter of President Harry S. Truman is quoted as saying:
“The enormously strong intellectual and emotional bond between Dad and his mother – the sort of bond which, I have discovered in my delvings into presidential lore, has existed between an astonishing number of presidents and their mothers.” (Page 433)
According to the author it is a key ingredient to the makings of a self-confident man who is able to withstand the rigors of a presidential campaign and then the office of the presidency. What do you now think of the expression ‘mama’s boy?’ Is it an insult or a compliment?
5) Each of these presidents had a weak or poor relationship with their father—or at the least they were not nearly as close as they were with their mother.
From the 2001 interview:
“Most of the fathers were disappointments to these mothers — failures or feckless or abusive. To compensate, the mothers poured themselves into these sons — he would be her fulfillment and her monument.
Yes, Joe Kennedy, particularly, had great influence, but it was his first son, his namesake, who was the apple of his eye. Joe Jr. was the Kennedy he expected to see in the White House. Jack, a sickly youngster and quite different from Joe, was closer to his mother. And, yes, the senior Bush had an influence, but the new First Lady, Laura, says her husband is much more like his mother: “They are both feisty; they both are funny.” And they share a much more outgoing personality than father and son. Says George W: “I got my looks from my father and my mouth from my mother.”
From the book:
“Some were weak or feckless, even outright failures….And some were never there at all. Even two of the most successful and powerful fathers, Joe Kennedy and Prescott Bush, were absent a great deal in pursuit of their careers [and/or] lifestyles.” (Page 432)
Did these sons feel the need to make up for the shortfalls of their fathers?
When I reread the book recently I read the 2008 version that now includes a chapter on George Walker Bush. A side tangent: When the author was preparing this revision, during the 2008 presidential election, she actually did research on both George Walker Bush and Al Gore. She found that Gore and his mother, Pauline, LaFon Gore also fit the patterns! And I think President Obama also fits the patterns, but I have not read anything directly on his relationship with his mother nor about her relationship with her father.
Bottom line: Each chapter of the book presented a different president and his mother, chronologically. I have since also read her other book, First Families, which I can not recommend as much. But if you are looking for an interesting read, insights into the past 12 presidents, reflections on the mother-son relationship and thoughts on how to help mold a self-confident, high achieving young man you will enjoy reading this book.
Click here to read First Mothers Book Review Part I.
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