Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Pat Nixon

This is an interesting article that looks at Pat Nixon's role in her husband's political career and how she is often "caught between the housewives and the feminists."

Who was the real "Plastic Pat?"
Although the Republican party, and her husband, created the image of Pat as the perfect housewife and mother, the reality of her life had never quite matched that reputation. She was an excellent seamstress and decorator who put her personal touch on all of her homes. She was only a fair cook, but she could be a maniac about cleaning. She was also a doting mother who participated actively in her daughters’ educations and lives, volunteering at school, overseeing homework, and closely monitoring the girls’ activities. She could relate to the millions of women whose lives revolved around home and family.

On the other hand, in spite of her public image, like many women of her generation, Pat had worked her entire life. She lived in New York City for a few years, working at a hospital to support herself. When she returned to California, she held down several jobs to put herself through college. After graduation, she took a job as a teacher. After marriage, she continued working while Dick was away during World War II. When he returned from overseas and ran for Congress, she jumped on the band wagon. She was office manager, secretary, and jack-of-all-trades for his campaign despite being pregnant. Just hours after the birth of her daughter she was sitting up in bed typing press releases and doing research. She left her newborn with her mother-in-law so that she could continue to work. This campaign was more than just something she did for her husband, this was her new career, even if not the one she would have chosen.

During her time in the White House, feminism took off and Pat Nixon got caught in the middle:
Pat was not unsympathetic to the feminist camp, however. She lobbied her husband to appoint a woman Supreme Court justice and gave him the silent treatment when he failed to listen to her advice. She quietly voiced her support for the ERA. Pat pushed even the limits of fashion: she was the first First Lady to appear in public in pants. Importantly, her career as her husband’s representative to foreign countries such as Venezuela and Ghana established a precedent for future First Ladies.

Pat’s low-key actions were not enough to please the feminists, who characterized her as the epitome of the suppressed wife who did her husband’s bidding. What they overlooked was her choice to adopt the job of political wife and her efforts to expand that position. Housewives around the country who supported her and feminists who disparaged her efforts did not realize the part she was playing in transforming women’s place in American political life.

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