(Kansas City, Missouri) - Aristocratic and sophisticated, Edith Kermit Roosevelt, the wife of Theodore Roosevelt, ran the White House with a sure hand and figured prominently in how the institution of the first lady developed during the 20th century. But her reputation as a secular saint is misleading, says historian Lewis L. Gould.
One complication: her virulent racism.
Gould, the Eugene C. Barker Centennial Professor Emeritus in American History at the University of Texas at Austin, discusses the complex subject of his book Edith Kermit Roosevelt: Creating the Modern First Lady on Wednesday, April 22, 2015, at the Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St. The 6:30 p.m. talk is part of the Beyond the Gowns series co-presented by the Truman Library Institute.
Gould makes a case that Edith Roosevelt was the first truly modern first lady, orchestrating major White House renovations and repairs through the hiring of famed New York architect Charles McKim and leaning heavily on a social secretary, Isabelle "Belle" Hagner. Roosevelt also was a much more activist, politically aware "woman of influence" than commonly understood, reading four newspapers a day and serving as a back channel for relaying information to her husband.
But her legacy also entails a deep hostility toward African Americans and dim view of their place in American society. "Any mixture of races," Mrs. Roosevelt believed, "is an unmitigated evil," raising the question of what impact that bigotry might have had on the president's racial policies.
Gould, who holds a Ph.D. from Yale, taught at the University of Texas for 31 years and is the author of more than 20 books on politics, politicians, and first ladies.
The Beyond the Gowns series is made possible by grants from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to the Kansas City Public Library and the Truman Library Institute.
A 6 p.m. reception precedes the event. Admission is free. RSVP at kclibrary.org or call 816.701.3407.