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Southern First Ladies


Southern First Ladies

"Southern First Ladies: Southern Belles, Washington Balls, and Dixie's Reach: How Southern First Ladies Changed America's Compass"

First ladies have long been influential in the White House and beyond; they set a public tone, reflect –or sometimes resist –certain expectations about their gender, highlight critical problems based on causes they engage with, and often facilitate solutions. Behind the scenes, they have influenced White House operations as much as any appointed adviser. Southern first ladies have only amplified these tendencies, as from the very beginning, Southern presidents were the chief inhabitants of the White House. Even after the civil war, the South as a place further shaped the first lady’s position, given the sharp split in the country this region perpetuated.

From Martha Washington to Laura Bush, in policy and culture, behind the scenes and in front of cameras, Southern women have profoundly influenced presidents and American history. Whether Southern by birth or by marriage, these first ladies have had an outsize influence on the White House, fitting the way in which their region’s culture and politics have affected the nation, well beyond its population, size, or wealth—to this very day.

Conference organizer Katherine A. S. Sibley has assembled a group of fifteen historians to explore the role of the Southern first lady. Each presenter will highlight a particular woman and her contribution in influencing the nation, as well as related themes, from activism to ideas of Southern womanhood. Their talks will show how these first ladies clearly shifted America’s compass.


8:00 AM: Guest Registration

8:30 AM: Welcome: Jeffrey A. Engel (SMU) and Katherine A.S. Sibley (St. Joseph’s University)

8:40 AM: Introduction: Catherine Allgor, Massachusetts Historical Society

8:45 AM: Panel 1

- Martha Washington — Diana Carlin (Saint Louis University)
- “Dolley Madison: Virginian Hospitality, Old School Etiquette, and the Power of a Kind Word” — Merry Ellen Scofield (Princeton University)
- “Reclamation of a First Lady: Julia Gardiner Tyler’s Pursuit Of A Government Pension” — Christopher J. Leahy (Keuka College) and Sharon Williams Leahy (History Preserve)

10:15 AM Panel 2

- “Mary Lincoln, Elizabeth Keckly, and the Perils of White House Friendship” — Sylvia D. Hoffert (Texas A&M University)
- “Portrayals of Mary Lincoln’s White House Role during the American Civil War in Historical Biography” — Laura Mammina (Kalamazoo College)
- “Press Portrayals of Confederate First Lady Varina Davis” — Teri Finneman (South Dakota State University)

12:00 PM: Luncheon Speaker

- Laura Bush: Texan by Nature — Anita McBride (American University)

LUNCH PROVIDED for all registered guests.

1:15 PM: Panel 3

- “Ellen Axson Wilson: A Progressive Southern First Lady” — Lisa M. Burns (Quinnipiac University)
- “Lady Bird Johnson — A Journey of the Heart” — Nancy Kegan Smith (Independent Archival Consultant)
- The Lone Star Yankee as First Lady: Barbara Bush of Texas — Myra Gutin (Rider University)
- A Southern Primer: Hillary Clinton Goes to Arkansas — Janette Kenner Muir (George Mason University)

3:00 PM: Panel 4

- “Diplomacy First: Rosalynn Carter as Diplomat” — Kristin L. Ahlberg (Office of the Historian, U.S. State Department)
- “Southern Roots of White House Life” — Nancy Beck Young (University of Houston)
- “Twentieth Century Southern First Ladies as Activists” — Katherine A. S. Sibley (Saint Joseph’s University)

4:15 PM: Program Concludes

Registered educators can receive CPE credit for attending, but must sign in before each session to receive credit for that session.

Parking will be available on the SMU campus. FREE passes will be emailed to registered guests before the event.

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