Tuesday, June 19, 2007

First Lady Pin Money

Sometimes all a woman needs to complete an outfit is a carefully selected pin.

My mother had several. Your mom probably had several as well.

It is believed that English women began wearing pins after they were introduced by Catherine Howard, one the many wives of King Henry VIII, and as most fashion trends usually begin, Queen Catherine borrowed the custom from the French. In the beginning much like any hot item pins were very expensive, and many women began to receive extra money over and above the normal sum given to them to run the household so that their pins could be purchased. The term “pin money” was born.

The practice was so popular that men began including provisions for pin money in their wills even though it was not a common practice to leave a woman something outright unless it was controlled by a man. The Testamenta Eboracensia---a selection of wills from the Registry of York, 1542 includes this selection from one will, “I give my said doughter Margarett my lease of the parsonadge of Kirkdall Churche…to by her pynnes withal.”

Eventually the price of pins came down, more ladies could afford them, and the original purpose of pin money changed to include any extra little luxury or treat a lady might want to purchase.

Fastforward to 1912 and the will of Henry G. Freeman, Jr. made provisions for pin money---pin money for the First Lady to be exact. Mr. Freeman, a wealthy real estate investor from Philadelaphia, felt that the salary of the U.S. President ($75,000 at that time) was not large enough to provide for extras. The will set up a trust that would provide the sum of $12,000 for the first lady’s “own and absolute use” and the payments “shall continue in force as long as this glorious government exists.” The distribution of the money would not begin until Mr. Freeman’s last heir had passed away.

Seventy-seven years would go by before there would be any distribution from the Robert J. Freeman Trust. Many a First Lady would live in the White House and not benefit from the pin money during that time.

In 1961, Jacqueline Kennedy bought the pin you see in the pictures presented with this post from an antique store in London. The sunburst pin is platinum plated and contains 211 Swarovski crystals. The website WB Jewelry Chest presents reproductions of Jackie Kennedy’s jewelry for sale, and advises she wore the sunburst pin on dresses, jackets, coats, blazers, and even in her hair. Of course, JFK had the resources to purchase his wife’s extra little luxuries and treats as have other residents of the White House which makes the Freeman Trust such an interesting throw back to times past.

During the administration of Georgia H.W. Bush the last Freeman heir passed away and the trust fund become active in November, 1989. A fairly recent article by John Yang from MSNBC mentions the fund and how it has been spent. First Lady Barbara Bush donated a portion of the money to charity and also used it for “something nice for my grandchildren.” First Lady Hillary Rodam Clinton and First Lady Laura Bush also have benefit from the fund, however they have both disclosed they donated the entire amount to charity which is a great tax write off since the money is taxable. (Mr. Yang’s article was not able to specify how Mrs. Bush has spent the money, but another updated source stated she had donated the money to charity as well.)

As I researched this small bit of presidential trivia I couldn’t help but wonder how I could use this information with my students. I believe the Freeman pin money is a perfect example to use with students to show them the changing thoughts and attitudes concerning husbands and the care of wives going all the way back to the 1600s.


Jennie W said...

This is an awesome story! I'd never heard of this before and it really is very intriguing!

elementaryhistoryteacher said...

Thanks Jennie! I would imagine if we really sat down it pondered over the implications of the whole thing we could prepare all sorts of interesting things for students to connect and learn with concerning women's rights, attitudes towards women, etc.

Anyone out there is welcome to post their ideas here in the comments....

M said...

Excellent post!

I wonder if a First Man would qualify for the pin money which was designated for First Ladies? Bill Clinton may have a nice slush fund to use in 2009.

elementaryhistoryteacher said...

M, I sincerely hope not....no telling what he'd spend it on. :)

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that first lady Abigail Adams used the pin money when she actually sold pins when they were in short supply durning the Revolution.