Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Frank by Annette Dunlap

This is a biography of Frances Cleveland. It was a quick and fun read and I really learned a lot about Frances Cleveland from it. I can’t say I knew much beyond the “basics” about Frances Cleveland before this and this book really brings to light her contributions and her life.

Unlike Julia Tyler, Frances Cleveland comes off as very mature when she marries Grover Cleveland. You can also see that before they have kids, there are some bumps, in the “out of presidency” years. Frances was very involved in the arts, something Cleveland really had no interest in. Yet, overall, she mirrored his politics, seeming to accept them as her own. It is in her second marriage that we do see more political activity, yet she still maintained against suffrage and overt female political roles. Her second husband, Preston, shared more of her interests and seemed fine with her involvement (versus Cleveland who was against it). You can definitely see a different Frances at each point in her life.

The book also highlights Frances’ problems with the press and her antipathy to it, much like we see with Jackie Kennedy in the 1960s. The public had the same fascination with the Cleveland kids as they would with the Kennedy kids and also with their young mothers. Frances, with no protection, was also subject to constant use in advertising, without her consent, and something Congress refused to act on.

Frances was heavily involved in charity work and we see her work with the establishment of kindergardens and the Needlework Guild as two, but many more were discussed as well.

I have two grips. First, the authors switches – with seemingly no rhyme or reason – between Frank and Frances. Pick one! Or have a reason for it! “Frank” is her personal nickname, so there are reason to use it….not arguing….just don’t like the random switching! Second, the quotes all seem to come from the Gilder manuscript collection (so letters Frances wrote to the Gilders, who were close friends). I’m assuming this is where the best material was, but it seems, given she was big into getting all his letters into the LOC, that we should have a little more variety. But I don’t know what the entire research body is, so this might be justified. I just noticed it as I was reading.

I recommend this book – I really had fun reading and getting to know Frances. I know I personally learned a lot and Frances went from the “public image” to a true person.


Book_Writer said...

Thanks for your review of the book "Frank." A couple of pieces of back story to address your critique: I varied between Frank and Frances depending on the time in her life and whom she was communicating with. Mrs. Cleveland went by Frank until she married Cleveland, then assumed the more formal Frances with the public, while remaining Frank with intimates. I agree with you about the heavy reliance on letters from the Gilder collection. Had I not found those letters, there would have been no book. Mrs. Cleveland's most personal letters are in the family's possession, and her descendants have honored her request not to share them with the public. The Gilder material gives the only consistent glimpse of her personal side available at the time of the research. - Annette B. Dunlap

Jennie W said...

Thanks so much for your response! I appreciate knowing why there was the switching and about the letter situation!