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First Ladies and American Women: In Politics and at Home, Jill Abraham Hummer

Reviewed by Sara R. Kitsch

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First ladies present both scholars and the public with a paradox: unelected, unpaid, and unguided by the Constitution, they wield great power through their personal, social, and political efforts. Inextricably linked to American conceptions of womanhood, first ladies have helped define women's roles as citizens. As Jill Abraham Hummer declares, “American first ladies have acted” (p. 1). Her book First Ladies and American Women: In Politics and at Home offers a detailed account of how, why, and to what ends.

Hummer's book progresses both chronologically and topically. She covers three major historical epochs, each containing two semidistinct chapters that follow the same group of first ladies. The first era, “After Suffrage,” chronicles opposing dimensions of women's life from Lou Hoover to Jacqueline Kennedy. A focus on “Women's Citizenship” in Chapter 1 addresses how first ladies have advanced women's activities in the public sphere, such as Lou Hoover's support women's physical education, and maintained liaisons with women's groups, such as Mamie Eisenhower's receptions for Republican National Committee women. More intriguing, though, are the highly contextualized accounts of less active first ladies, including Bess Truman's role in helping postwar women feel appreciated. Cha

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