The position of First Lady is often a thankless one. A surprising number of presidential wives, usually citing health, were all but recluses during their husbands' administrations, brooding out of sight like something out of Jane Eyre.
Others have been more public, but they lived their lives in fear that the public would learn a certain something about them they desperately wanted to keep private.
The top five First Lady secrets:
5. Florence Harding: Belief in astrologer/clairvoyant Florence Harding, Warren G. Harding's "Duchess," was a hard-headed, commonsense woman to the public. In private, she was a devoted client of Madam Marcia, Washington D.C.'s most famous astrologer. Harding would have a Secret Service agent deliver her to a discreet White House entrance. Marcia later claimed credit for having told the presidential candidate to run a front-porch campaign, and for predicting he'd die in office.
4. Edith Wilson: She ran the country Edith Bolling Galt married Woodrow Wilson (very shortly) after Wilson's wife died during his first term. In 1919, while on his doomed nationwide campaign to get the Senate to approve the creation of the League of Nations, Wilson suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed to a degree no one is sure of. What is known is that very few people got to see Wilson for the remainder of his term, and even then only in small doses. Every matter went to Edith Wilson, who went and "conferred" with her husband and returned with his decision. No one believes the "conferring" was anything but one-sided.
3. Eleanor Roosevelt, lesbian No one in America who gave it much thought believed FDR and his wife were much of a romantic pair by the time they took office. Roosevelt's pre-polio cheating had crushed his wife, and historians think any sexual relations between the two ended shortly thereafter. Eleanor was often away from D.C. touring the country on her husband's behalf, often in the company of Lorena Hickok, a former wire service reporter.
"I wish I could lie down beside you tonight & take you in my arms," she wrote to Hickok once. Another time she wrote of "the feeling of that soft spot just north-east of the corner of your mouth against my lips."
2. Nancy Reagan, another astrology junkie Anyone who read The Peter Lawford Story, the (often unintentionally hilarious) memoir of Peter Lawford's ex-wife, might be excused for thinking that what Nancy Reagan wanted most hidden was the fact that she "gave the best head in Hollywood," as Lawford proclaimed. But maybe she was proud of that.
One thing she wasn't exactly proud of was her devotion to astrology, if her attempts to keep it secret are any indication. Nancy ordered Ronald to schedule presidential trips and even such things as his gubernatorial inauguration according to what the stars said. (Reagan was inaugurated as governor shortly after midnight, with aides putting out the lame excuse "he wanted to get right on the job.")
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It all stayed secret until his presidential chief of staff and Nancy's bitter foe, Donald Regan, wrote a tell-all. Now it's such common knowledge President-elect Barack Obama joked about it publicly (and later called up Reagan to apologize).
1. Harriet Lane: My uncle, the president, is gay Harriet Lane, the niece of President James Buchanan, served as First Lady in his administration because Buchanan never married.
Why didn't he marry? He was perfectly happy living with William Rufus King, a man called "Miss Nancy" by Andrew Jackson.
Now of course it's possible it was a strictly platonic thing, but, you know, unlikely.