First ladies focus of Wareham Historical Society on President's Day

Feb 20, 2018

President’s Day is all about the commanders in chief, but the Wareham Historical Society paid homage to first ladies on Monday.

“A Tribute to the First Ladies” featured each of the women who were either married to a president or served as White House hostess. Held in the Methodist Meeting House, the event offered a glimpse into the lives of the women who shared the White House with everyone from George Washington to President Donald Trump.

Wareham Historical Society President Angela Dunham, who had to step in for the original presenter due to illness, ran down a list of firsts and accomplishments.

Abigail Adams, wife of second president John Adams, was dubbed “Mrs. President” by the press instead of the customary first lady due to her strong will.

“I guess you didn’t mess around with Mrs. Adams,” said Dunham.

She was known for encouraging her husband to “remember the ladies” while he was a member of the committee tasked with drafting the Declaration of Independence, said Dunham. Adams was also the first woman to serve as first lady and then become the mother of a future president. The second was Barbara Bush, George W. Bush’s mother and wife of George H.W. Bush.

Dunham noted that Dolly Madison, wife of James Madison, was the only first lady to earn an honorary seat in congress. Madison was recognized as a heroine in her day after saving a rare portrait of George Washington as the White House burned during the War of 1812.

Lucy Hayes, wife of Rutherford B. Hayes, earned the nickname “Lemonade Lucy” by the press. The reason? She banned all alcohol from the White House during her husband's tenure, said Dunham. Hayes is also the first wife of a president to receive a college degree, graduating from Wesleyan College with a liberal arts degree.

Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, had many firsts, noted Dunham. She was the first to hold daily press conferences, the first to write a regular newspaper column and the first to host a radio show.

Hillary Clinton’s accomplishments after her husband Bill left the White House include becoming the first first lady elected to public office. From 2001 to 2009 she served as a U.S. senator. She is also the only first lady to make a run for the presidency.

While first ladies were the focus on Monday, Dunham also briefly touched on the political career of Wareham’s Donald W. Nicholson.

Nicholson was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1925 and served as a member of the Massachusetts Senate from 1926 to 1947. During his last year in the senate he served as its president.

That same year, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, serving from 1947 to 1959. He then retired to Wareham and died in 1968. The Narrows bridge is named in his honor. Dunham noted that the Wareham Historical Society has many personal items that belonged to Nicholson either in its collection or on loan.

The next presentation by the Wareham Historical Society will be held on March 19 at 7 p.m. in the Methodist Meetinghouse, located at 495 Main St. The topic will be the town’s early history.