Laurence L. Cook researched, wrote about DAR connections
When the Johns Hopkins Hospital asked Caroline Scott Harrison, wife of President Benjamin Harrison, to help raise funds in 1890, she refused unless the hospital would agree to admit women to its medical school. Johns Hopkins agreed.
Before Warren G. Harding became president in 1921, he owned a newspaper in Ohio called the Marion Star. His wife, Florence, managed every aspect of the business, from story development to circulation to — ahem — occasionally spanking young newsboys whose work wasn’t up to her standards.
And, have you ever heard of Julia Boggs Dent? She defied her parents in 1844 by marrying Ulysses S. Grant, who had been her brother’s roommate at West Point. Neither family approved the match because the Grants were abolitionists and the Dents were slave owners.
Those are just a few of the historical tidbits you’ll encounter if you read “Symbols of Patriotism: First Ladies and Daughters of the American Revolution,” a new book by local historian Laurence L. Cook.
“I just talked to Rosalynn Carter two weeks ago and told her, her copy is on its way,” said Cook, who became friends with President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter after Cook and his wife, Diane, went to Plains, Georgia, years ago and attended a Sunday School class that President Carter taught.
Cook, who lives in Dallas and used to own an antiques business in Plains Township, Pa., credits the Carters with encouraging him to devote himself full-time to writing and research, and he has included Rosalynn Carter in his book, along with 11 other First Ladies who have been members of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
The list also includes Sarah Polk, Caroline Harrison, Julia Grant, Edith Roosevelt, Florence Harding, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bess Truman, Mamie Eisenhower, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush and Laura Bush, and explains their early American Patriot lineage.
Their heritage includes such connections as being descended, as Edith Roosevelt was, from a great-grandfather who served as a captain in the Connecticut Militia, having ancestors who served in the Massachusetts Militia, as Barbara Bush did, and having a “third great-grandfather” who was a delegate to the Continental Congress as well as president of the Georgia colony, as Eleanor Roosevelt did.
But it’s the details about their lives that humanize these women:
Bess Truman was a sports enthusiast who excelled at rowing and fishing; Rosalynn Carter is a class valedictorian who worked hard to overcome her shyness; Mamie Eisenhower noticed in 1953 that no Black children took part in the Easter egg roll at the White House and insisted for the next year’s event that all children should be welcome.
Through his research, Cook said, he learned that for many First Ladies, their position involved much more than serving as hostesses at White House functions.
“Sarah Polk took on the responsibilities of what we would look at as press secretary and chief of staff,” he said. “And she was not shy about expressing her opinions.”
Edith Roosevelt was also “a major advisor and confidant” to President Theodore Roosevelt.
And after Franklin D. Roosevelt was stricken with polio and his mother tried to convince him to retire, his wife, Eleanor, used her influence to persuade him to remain in politics.
“She boosted his confidence,” Cook said, “just the way her teacher had boosted her confidence when she was in school.”
As for Julia Grant, she may have saved her husband from serious injury or death when she convinced Ulysses S. Grant they should notaccompany President and Mrs. Lincoln to Ford Theater in April 1865. Perhaps she had a premonition of danger, Cook suggests, or maybe it was just that she and Mary Todd Lincoln were not the best of friends.
For more information about the book, contact Laurence L. Cook at [email protected] or through Facebook @larrycookhistorian/.