Biography of Julia Grant

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First Lady is a term used to refer to the hostess of the American White House. This position is normally occupied by the wife of the sitting president and is officially known as the First Lady of the United States (FLOTUS). However, there has been a few instances when the First lady was not the president’s wife such as Martha Jefferson Randolph (president’s daughter), Sarah Yorke Jackson (president’s daughter-in-law), and Harriet Lane (President’s niece). Such instances were necessitated by the president being a widower such as Thomas Jefferson, a bachelor like President James Buchanan or when the president’s wife was not able to fulfil her duties as the First Lady as in the case of President Andrew Johnson’s wife, Eliza. This position is not officially codified in the constitution of the United States, but these ladies have an office in the East Wing of the White House and official staff who assist in its running. The role of the First Lady of the United States is not clearly defined, but these women have proved and continue to be integral figures in the administration of all the American presidents. Their importance can be seen through the decisions of presidents to appoint someone to the position in case they do not have wives or their spouses are incapacitated to hold the position. This position is currently occupied by Melania Trump since 20th of January 2017. This research paper will focus on the biographies of Julia Grant, Grace Coolidge, and Lady Bird Johnson and show how these women contributed to the administration of the respective presidents and the betterment of the American’s lives.

Julia Grant

Julia Grant served as the US First Lady for eight years between 1869 and 1877. She was the wife of the 18th

president of the United States of America, Ulysses S. Grant, who was well known during the Civil War because he was an American General. Julia Grant became the first American First Lady to write Memoirs.

Early Life and Education

Julia Boggs Dent was born on January 26, 1826, in St. Louis, Missouri to Fredrick Dent and Ellen Wrenshall Dent. Julia grew at their home at White Haven Plantation and had seven siblings and was the fifth child in her family. Julia was born with strabismus, a condition that prevented her from lining both of her eyes in the same direction. At a young age, a surgeon offered to carry an operation on her to fix the issue, but Julia was not bothered and turned down the offer consequently growing with the defect. In her memoirs, she describes her childhood experience as "one long summer of sunshine, flowers, and smiles…" showing that she really loved her family and was always a source of happiness to her (The White House Historical Association). Julia's father was a farmer and a merchant who owned some slaves, and hence he belonged to the elite class. According to Pamela Sanfilippo, a historian at the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, the family's riches enabled Julia to attend elite schools such as Gravois School in her tender age with her siblings and Miss Mauros' boarding school where she would stay at the school on weekdays and go home during the weekends (C-SPAN). In her early life, Julia was a very active and enthusiastic individual who loved to read novels, play the piano, and ride horses.

Marriage and Family

Julia was introduced to her husband, Ulysses S. Grant, by his brother, Fred Dent. Fred was a student at West Point Academy and his compatriot, Ulysses, impressed him so much that he wrote letters to his sister informing her of this phenomenal student whom he wished to introduce (The White House Historical Association). Sooner than later, Ulysses started visiting the family as a friend of Fred and got to meet and interact with Julia. Immediately but slowly, the two started clicking and got engaged in 1844 when Julia was only eighteen years of age. The progress of their relationship was deterred due to the separation of these two lovebirds as Grant moved to serve for four years in the Mexican war. Julia had fallen in love with the lieutenant as she dreamt of him while he was away and started wearing the ring that he had given him before he left (C-SPAN). Grant finally returned to the United States in 1848 and took leave from his duties to prepare for his wedding with Julia. Consequently, Julia and Grant were married on 22nd

August 1848 to start their family together.

 After the marriage, Ulysses resumed his official duties in the army. He was dispatched to various missions which separated him from his family. Julia gave birth to their first born, Frederick Dent in 1850, and Simpson Grant in 1852. Determined to be with his family, Julia's husband resigned from the army in 1854 and moved to St. Louis. However, Julia's family faced all sorts of tribulations especially economic problems (The White House Historical Association). Her husband was not able to sustain the family following his resignation and soon fell into debts which he could not repay. The Grants had two more kids, Ellen Wrenshall born in 1855, and Jesse Root born in 1858. Despite all the challenges, Julia stood firmly by her husband's side. She was a loving and caring wife and mother. Ulysses was also involved in the American Civil War and rose through the ranks to the commander of the Union armies. Julia always supported her husband and even left her children to be with him in various missions boosting the morale of her husband.

First Lady

Following his success in leading the Union armies as commander during the Civil War, Ulysses Grant was nominated among the contenders for the presidency in 1868. This development impressed Julia so much that she immediately started campaigning for her husband (The White House Historical Association). Her efforts bore sufficient fruits as Ulysses Grant was elected as the 18th president of America and Julia became the First Lady. As the First, Lady Julia was actively and publicly involved in the administration of America. She became the first American First Lady to be recorded on film.

Key Contributions

President Grant assumed the high office in a period when not only the four years of war were still fresh in the nation but also in the wake of assassination and an impeachment attempt. Julia attempted to bring unity in America and stabilize her husband's tenure through hosting dinners and making friendships (C-SPAN). She hosted Tuesday afternoon receptions for the general public to cement the position of her husband and anyone was welcome given that women put on hats and no man carried his weapon. Despite organizing lavish dinners with expensive bottles of alcohol, First Lady Julia was always keen to avoid superfluous expenditure.

Julia Grant will also be remembered throughout history as a staunch feminist for her efforts to fight for women's rights. During her tenure, she was very keen for the office of the First Lady to be officially recognized just like in European nations (The White House Historical Association). Julia was not a selfish individual because she also sought for the recognition and honor of the wives of other officials like members of the Congress, cabinet, and Supreme Court. Generally, Julia called for equality as far as the gender was concerned.

Life after White House and Death

Ulysses Grant decided not to contest for a third term in office and the Grants officially vacated in 1877. Though devastated by her husband's decision, Julia accompanied her husband on a two-year global tour to Europe, Asia, and America after which they settled in New York City. The Grants family soon became broke, and Ulysses Grant succumbed to throat cancer in 1885. Julia moved to Washington, D.C. where she wrote memoirs as a widow which were officially published in 1975. Julia died on 14th December 1902 and was buried next to her husband at the Grants Tomb.

Lady Bird Johnson

Lady Bird Johnson was the wife to the 36th president of the United States of America, Lyndon Johnson. She served as both the first and the second lady of the US the latter post having been assigned to her during the presidency of J. F. Kennedy until his assassination. She was an educated woman with wits that saw her manage her radio station. This move warrants her the title of a shrewd investor by turning an unproductive station to a successful endeavor that generated millions of dollars (Johnson). Her hard work and resilience helped her accomplish most of her achievements in the commercial world. Before getting to Congress, she served as a second lady since her husband was the vice president of the country.

Birth and Education

She was born Claudia Alta Taylor in Karnack, Texas to English descendants with Welsh Danish and Scottish ancestry. She was born and bred in a brick house that was purchased by her father who was a wealthy businessman. Her name Lady Bird was adopted during her birth, and it grew to replace her first name for the rest of her life. She was primarily raised by her maternal aunt after the demise of her mother which meant she spent most of her summers in Alabama, her mother's native home. She traveled a lot even during her school since there were no high schools in her hometown Karnack. Her academic achievements were stellar especially for a woman in her era, she was remarkable, and her results proved so (Roberts and Cokie). She studied up to the university and college where she graduated with two degrees within intervals of each other. Her college years boosted her confidence and helped her get rid of her timid youth behavior.

Marriage and Family

Lady Bird Johnson met her husband, Lyndon Johnson through a mutual friend and he proposed instantly. After only just one date, Lyndon proposed and the reluctant Lady Bird waited a couple of weeks before giving in to the proposal. They would later have two daughters whose initials matched those of their parents. When they met, Lyndon was into politics which only grew with time as he pursued his political career. As a supportive partner, Lady Bird took part of her inheritance and helped launched Lyndon's campaign which paid off as he was elected to Congress. In his absence, that is when he was away in the Navy during the Second World War, it was Lady Bird who ran the office (C-SPAN). She was a rational woman who even served as her husband's mediator on some occasions, especially when things blew out of proportion. She was her husband's support system on all events and served her role as a mother, wife and the congressman's wife.

Career and Investments

Her shrewd mind saw her initial investment of 41, 000 dollars grow into millions of dollars under the LBJ Holding Company. She bought a radio station (KTBC) with her inheritance and later expanded her investment by purchasing a TV station which increased their earnings as a company. She traveled back and forth to manage the radio station and improve its performance while still supporting her husband's political career. The LBJ Holding had business ventures such as banks, but only the radio station survived. Her dedication and resilience pushed her to commit to improving the performance of the radio station (C-SPAN). Even before Lyndon was elected to office, she had already made her first million. 

Becoming the First Lady of America

J. F. Kennedy chose Lyndon as his running mate for the 1960 election this automatically placed Lady Bird Johnson on the political framework of the presidency. It was during this period that she was expanded the role of the second lady in place of Kennedy's wife who was expectant at that time. She graced the position with utmost dedication by traveling for miles for the campaigns and different states to make appearances on official events and functions (C-SPAN). They won the elections, and Lady Bird continued with the second lady position until Kennedy's wife recovered where she assumed her official position. This experience prepared her for her most prominent role yet, as the first lady of the most powerful country in the world. Upon the assassination of J. F. Kennedy, Lyndon was sworn in as the president and Lady Bird Johnson as the first lady of the United States.

Key Contributions to the Presidency and Americans

Lady Bird Johnson was an environmentalist and a nature enthusiast who believed in beautifying the nation. She has notable contributions towards the country’s environmental progress through most of her campaigns. She started the beautification project with the aim of improving the physical state of Washington D.C for the tourists as well as the residents. She was bent on planting flowers along the roads for the sake of improving the image of the town. She even went as far as advocating for the implementation of the Highway Beautification Act which was meant for planting flowers on the roadsides and limiting billboards (C-SPAN). She was the first in this position to have the press secretary and chief of staff. She appointed the first ever newswoman to be a press secretary which was the start of new changes in the white house. She traveled to different states to promote the Civil Right Acts.

She not only pushed her husband towards reaching his maximum potential in his presidential race but she was also concerned for his health. Towards the end of his second term, President Johnson's health seems to be deteriorating and for that reason, raised a lot of concern to the first lady. Lady Bird Johnson was not just the First Lady; she was a homemaker who was concerned for the sake of her family and her husband’s health (Johnson). She balanced her life like the boss that she was and managed to thrive in all areas in her life. She was by her husband’s side until his death in 1973.

Even after the death of her husband which was well after his second term as the president of the country, she still remained in the public eye. She attended events in the white house and continued with her projects in most organizations that she worked with. She founded the National Wildflower Research Centre in Austin Texas along with an actress known as Hayes. Through most of her recordings, which she made as diaries, she portrayed her feelings and emotions on various experiences that helped shaped her to the woman that she is (Johnson). She advocated for sexual equality along with three other former first ladies.

She left an outstanding legacy that was upheld even after her death. President Richard Nixon dedicated a piece of land to Lady Bird Johnson for the effort to preserve nature. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Gerald Ford; she also received a Congressional Gold Medal making her the first wife of a president to win it (Johnson). She was also ranked the third most important and influential first ladies in the history of US.

Death

In 1986, her health began deteriorating when she suffered her first fainting episode; she later suffered a stroke too. Her health gradually failed her starting from the fainting spells that then led to a stroke and became legally blind as a result of macular degeneration (Johnson). She suffered a more severe stroke in 2002 that significantly affected her speech and motor ability. She was later admitted to Austin hospital for Bronchitis, a few years later she became blind as confirmed by one of her daughters. In 2007, she died from natural causes after suffering from a low-grade fever and spending as a couple of days in Seton Hospital in Austin.

Grace Coolidge

Grace Coolidge served as the First Lady of America to the 30th president of America, Calvin Coolidge, to whom she was married. The two served in the White House between 1921 and 1923. Grace Coolidge is well known for her interest in the education sector as she was a teacher for the deaf.

Early Life, Marriage, and Family.

Grace Coolidge was born in January 3rd, 1879 in Burlington, Vermont. Her parents were Andrew and Lemira Goodhue. She met her husband, Calvin in 1904, while she was watering her flowers outside her garden when she just saw him looking at the window. The best proposal to Grace ever disclosed by Calvin; ‘I am going to be married to you' and they married the following year on October 4th, 1905 (C-SPAN). They were blessed with two children, John and Calvin. Grace had a solid connection and relationship with her family, especially the children. In 1922, she wrote a letter to the head of the Mercersburg Academy, Dr. William M. Irvine where her two sons were studying, asking whether Calvin Jr. could be given a health permit. In 1924, Calvin Jr. also wrote to her parents to express complains over his health. Immediately after his letter, Calvin Junior died, and many people sent their heartfelt condolences to the Whitehouse specifically to the family of the President and the First Lady, who later on acknowledged their sympathy (Greyfield). John Coolidge, the elder son, lived to old age and was very close with his mother. At some point, he wrote a letter to her mother wishing her a happy birthday. John and Grace had a unique connection. Grace avoided politics as her husband advanced in it. She chose to remain with her children to take care of them.

Education and Occupation

Grace began her early training at the age of five at a local public grade school in BURLINGTON. She joined high school in 1893, where she studied French and Latin, as well as other sciences. She received her Bachelor Degree in Philosophy at the University of Vermont in 1902. She was the first woman to go to an educational college according to Richard Norton Smith, a presidential historian (C-SPAN). She supported herself for three years after which she became a teacher of the deaf at the Clarke School. Grace was very dedicated and passionate about her job of teaching the deaf. As a First Lady, she gave a speech in sign language; these skills made her gain fame and became popular with her humor, humanity, and contrast at large.

Becoming the First Lady

Calvin Coolidge began his White House position as the President just after the death of Warren Harding. His wife Grace planned well for the new administration’s social life as her husband unpretentiously wanted it. As a First Lady, she was a famous hostess and became the premier First Lady to speak in a sound newscast. The two were a very ardent couple, although Calvin played a silent role on some matters towards Grace. She had no definite idea of him not seeking re-election in 1928 until he announced to the public (Greyfield). As the First Lady, she received a gold medal from the National Institute of Social Science. Additionally, she was chosen among the most magnificent twelve living American women in 1931.

Key Contributions

Grace Coolidge was instrumental in the administration of her husband. She planned for the new administration's social life as her husband Calvin wanted it (Greyfield). She used her courage and bravery before the camera to reach to the public and drum support for her husband through complimenting him. Grace organized for the creation and change of the Whitehouse, through the renovation of the solarium based on her idea that the Whitehouse could be given a unique look of a museum. Above all, she had great intentions of holding some special forums and meetings just within the vicinity. Accordingly, these made her grow more popular.

Grace Coolidge will also be remembered due to her dedication to the education sector, especially to the deaf. She trained as a teacher for the deaf and following his assumption as the First Lady, continued to deliver her speeches in sign language. This actions created inclusivity of all groups whether disabled or not. She became the first woman to receive an honorary degree from the University of Boston.

Lastly, Grace was also influential in championing for the rights of the women. As a first lady, she was the one who opened the first Women’s World’s Fair held between the 18th and 25th of April 1925 in Chicago at the American Furniture Mart Building. The purpose of the fair was to merge women's ideologies, works, and products primarily for the twentieth century. 

Grace’s Life after Whitehouse

After their term had come to a quick end, Grace and her husband purchased "The Beeches" in Northampton and retired there (unfortunately, President Coolidge suddenly succumbed to a heart attack at this place on the 5th of January 1933). Due to her passion, Lady Grace continued with her teaching of the deaf. She also extended her big heart and developed interests in the Red Cross, defense, and World war II. She and her husband had special side meetings and handwork services in Plymouth Notch, Vermont which was the Presidential State Historic Site according to William Jenney, a regional historic site administrator (C-SPAN). She would also spend time walking along the cemetery area. With the help of her husband, they went for cleaning at the sanitary square too. After the death of her husband, Grace decided to move-on and pushed through life by traveling long distances via airplane, reading a lot and trying to know much more about life in another era. She loved so much jewelry ornaments, and she had a closet in which she kept a collection and samples of them. She used to keep most of them being gifts each had some fine symbolic structures. She was a great fan of baseball. At the University of Vermont and used to be a coach of one of the teams where she has kept a number of season displays (Pietrusza). She also got an international certificate on the same footage. Grace Coolidge died on the 8th of July 1957 aged 78 and was buried by her husband in Plymouth, Vermont.

Works Cited

C-SPAN. First Ladies Influence and Image. The White House Historical Information, National Cable Satellite Corporation, 2013-204,  http://firstladies.c-span.org/. Accessed November 14, 2018.

Greyfield, Donald. Find A Grave Memorial 8622: Grace Anna Goodhue Coolidge. Find A Grave, database and images, 2 March 2000, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/8622. Accessed 14 Nov. 2018.

Johnson, Lady Bird. A White House Diary. Vol. 17. University of Texas Press, 2007.

Pietrusza, David. Grace Coolidge: First Lady of Baseball. Davidpietrusza.com, http://www.davidpietrusza.com/coolidge-grace.html. Accessed 14 Nov. 2018.

Roberts, Cokie, and Cokie Roberts. Founding Mothers. Harper Audio, 2004.

The White House Historical Association. Julia Grant. White House History, https://www.whitehousehistory.org/bios/julia-grant. Accessed 14 Nov. 2018.

November 13, 2023
Category:

History

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14

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3753

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