First Seminar 101, Section 27: “America’s First Ladies”



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First Seminar 101, Section 27: “America’s First Ladies”

Professor Paula A. Treckel

Fall 2012

TTH 9:30-10:45

Arter 212
Course Description & Learning Outcomes:

From Martha Washington to Michelle Obama, Presidents’ wives have played an important role in American life. Objects of both public adoration and vilification, their lives have reflected the conflict and controversy that surrounds the undefined, unofficial job of America’s “First Lady.” While some have embodied the American public’s views about women’s proper role, others have served as role models for change. This seminar explores the history of the presidential couple and its evolution as an “ideal” in American life. Special attention will be paid to modern presidential couples from Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt to Barack and Michelle Obama. Methods of evaluation will include the writing of two short papers, an annotated bibliography on a First Lady of your choice, leadership of two class discussions and participation in all other class discussions, and a research paper on a First Lady of your choice. (See Course Requirements, below).

In this course, students will:


  • Study how First Ladies have reflected and transformed women’s roles and the American Presidency.

  • Learn how to participate in and facilitate class discussion.

  • Conduct library research on their First Lady.

  • Write two short papers exploring their views on the role of the First Lady in American life.

  • Compile an annotated bibliography on their chosen First Lady.

  • Write a research paper outlining the importance of their First Lady in American history.


Required Readings:

Caroli, Betty Boyd. First Ladies.

Gould, Lewis. American First Ladies: Their Lives and Their Legacy. (coursepack)

Troy, Gil.. Mr. & Mrs. President: From the Trumans to the Clintons.


Reference Work:

Hacker, Diana. A Writer’s Reference (6th Edition).

Sprague and Stewart. The Speaker’s Compact Handbook.
Additional Sources:

First Ladies’ Library: www.firstladies.org

The White House: www.whitehouse.gov
Discussion Topics and Reading Assignments: Caroli Gould Troy

8/28 First Ladies: An Introduction

8/30 Women’s History and Presidents’ Wives

Class visit by Honor Committee and SJB

9/4 Library Tour

9/6 Presidential Couples (Ass. #1 due)

9/11 “Dearest Friend”: Abigail Adams Ch. 1 2-68

9/13 First Lady of Controversy: Mary Todd Lincoln Ch. 2, 3 174-190

9/18 Time Management and Study Skills Workshop

9/20 “Teddy’s Wife” & “New Women” in the White House Ch. 4, 5 294-320

9/25 Edith Wilson Ch. 6, 7 341-367

9/27 Lou Hoover 409-421

10/2 First Lady of the Century? (1st Draft of Ass. #2 due)

10/4 ER 423-448

10/9 Fall Break (No class)

10/11 “The Boss” and “Mamie” 449-475 1-90

10/16 The Media and the Kennedys (Ass #2 due) Ch. 8 476-495 91-132

10/18 “Jackie”

10/23 Gator Day (no class)

10/25 “Lady Bird” 496-519 133-167

10/30 ACCEL Workshop

11/1 “Plastic Pat?” 520-535 168-206

1l/6 Election Day!

118 Post-Election Recap

11/13 A Feminist First Lady: Betty Ford Ch. 9 536-555 207-235

11/15 Rosalyn Carter: Steel Magnolia (Library Form due.) 556-582 236-272

11/20 Nancy Reagan: The Power Behind the Throne? 583-607 273-310

11/22 Thanksgiving Break (no class)

11/27 Barbara Bush: First Lady and First Mother 609-629 311-343

(Annotated bibliography due.)

11/29 The Clintons: A Presidential Partnership Ch. 10 630-650 344-388

12/4 Laura Bush Ch. 11

12/6 Michelle “O” (Research Papers due.) 389-396

12/11 The Future of the “First Lady?”

Course Requirements:

You must attend all classes (attendance will be taken), read all assigned works by the date indicated, participate in all class discussions, and attend all scheduled workshops. You are required to write two short papers (each worth 1/7 of your final grade), an annotated Bibliography (worth 1/7 of your final grade), a research paper on a First Lady (worth 2/7 of your final grade), and assist in leading two class discussions with a classmate (each worth 1/7 of your final grade). There is no final exam in this class.



Office Hours:

Arter 203 Office Phone: 332-4309

M: 1:00-3:00 Cell Phone: 330-606-5006 (M-Th)

T : 8:00-9:30 Home Phone: 330-677-2323 (Th-Sun.)

W: 8:00-11:00 email: paula.treckel@allegheny.edu

Th: 8:00-9:30 & by appointment



First Seminar 101, Section 27: “America’s First Ladies” Assignments
Below are the writing assignments for this course. Each assignment must be completed by the date indicated on the syllabus. No late papers will be accepted. All assignments should be submitted in hard copy with your signature indicating compliance with the College’s Honor Code

Assignment #1: due in class on 9/6 .

This First Seminar is devoted to studying the lives of America’s First Ladies. The First Lady’s public and private life are under tremendous scrutiny by the media and the American public. What do you believe is the role of the First Lady in America today? What duties do you think she should perform? What responsibilities should she assume? Do you think the First Lady should play a partisan role in the White House? Influence public policy? Why? /Why not? Who do you believe has been the most significant First Lady in American history? Why?


This paper should be approximately 3 to 5 pages long.


Assignment #2: First Draft due in class on 10/2. Final draft due in class on 10/16.

You have read about the lives of First Ladies from Martha Washington to Eleanor Roosevelt. Analyze how these women embodied the ideals of “American womanhood” during their times, addressing the following questions: How has America’s image of the “ideal” woman changed from the 18th to the 20th century? Which First Ladies do you believe best reflected those ideals? Which of these early First Ladies created the greatest legacy? Why?


This paper should be approximately 5 to 8 pages long. When you turn in your final draft of this paper, please attach the rough draft to it as well.


Assignment #3: due in class on 11/27.

You are to develop a selective bibliography of the sources available on “your” First Lady. It must include primary as well as secondary courses, articles in historical journals as well as books. List them using appropriate bibliographical form (The Chicago Manual of Style), and include a short description of the contents or thesis of the work. You should also note whether the Pelletier Library has these materials or if they are only available through interlibrary loan.


The length of this bibliography will be determined by the availability of resources on your subject.


Assignment #4: due in class on 12/6.

The research paper on “your” First Lady should be more than a biographical sketch. It should contain a thesis—an argument about her motivation, a thoughtful critique of her behavior or her beliefs, for example—as well as an assessment of her importance in American history. It must utilize accepted methods of historical citation (footnotes or endnotes using the Chicago Manual of Style) and include a bibliography.


This research paper should be approximately 10 to 12 pages long.


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