From Classroom to White House

The Presidents and First Ladies as Students and Teachers

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About the Book

President Eisenhower, who was not always the best student, once wrote, “One cannot always read a man’s future in the record of his younger days.” Indeed, this review of the classroom experiences of presidents and first ladies from George and Martha Washington to Barack and Michelle Obama reveals that few made model students. Teachers reported that John F. Kennedy could “seldom locate his possessions,” found George H.W. Bush “somewhat eccentric,” and dubbed a sixth-grade Bill Clinton “a motormouth.” In addition to chronicling the school days of these historic figures, this volume also relates their teaching experiences, the educational issues they addressed during their White House years, and intricacies of education at their time in history, providing an informative overview of American schooling over time.

About the Author(s)

James McMurtry Longo is a professor of education and chair of the Education Department at Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania, and author of six other books.

Bibliographic Details

James McMurtry Longo
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 228
Bibliographic Info: 20 photos, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2012
pISBN: 978-0-7864-6486-9
eISBN: 978-0-7864-8846-9
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


Acknowledgments vii

Preface 1

Part One. Founding Fathers, Mothers, and Son

Martha Dandridge Custis and George Washington: “Illiterate, Unlearned and Unread” 7

Abigail Smith, John Adams, and the Remarkable Smith Sisters: “We Should Have More Learned Women” 12

Thomas Jefferson:“The Destinies of My Life” 17

Dolley Payne Todd and James Madison: “Three Hours Out of Twenty-Four for Sleep?” 22

Elizabeth Kortright and James Monroe: “My Plan of Life Is Now Fixed” 25

Louisa Johnson and John Quincy Adams: “I Hope I Grow a Better Boy” 29

Part Two. The Golden Age of Education—For Some

Rachel Donelson Robards and Andrew Jackson: “He Never Stayed Throwed” 37

Hannah Hoes and Martin Van Buren: “The Village Academy” 42

Anna Symmes and William Henry Harrison: “He Can Neither Breed, Plead, nor Preach” 45

Letitia Christian, Julia Gardiner, and John Tyler: “The Rebellious Former Student, Lived and Died a Rebel” 49

Sarah Childress and James K. Polk: “Her Occupation as a School Teacher Barred Her from Social Equality” 53

Margaret Smith and Zachary Taylor: “Of Very Ordinary Capacity” 55

Abigail Powers and Millard Fillmore: “A Very Rough and Uncultivated Place” 58

Jane Appleton and Franklin Pierce: “There Are Scores of Men in the Country That Seem Brighter than He Is” 61

James Buchanan: “Misconduct, Arrogant Attitude, and Disrespect for Teachers” 65

Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln: “The Most Important Subject” 68

Eliza McCardle and Andrew Johnson: “If He Can Only Educate Himself, He Has a Destiny” 72

Julia Dent and Ulysses S. Grant: “I Did Not Take Hold of My Studies with Avidity” 74

Lucy Webb and Rutherford B. Hayes: “Elections without Education … Must Always and Everywhere Be a Farce” 79

Lucretia Rudolph and James Garfield: “Outrages of the Schoolhouse” 83

Chester A. Arthur: “Pupils Are Altogether Separated from the Surroundings of Savage Life” 88

Frances Folsom and Grover Cleveland: “As a Student, Grover Did Not Shine” 92

Caroline Scott and Benjamin Harrison: “Abstain from Eating Cucumbers” 95

Ida Saxton and William McKinley: “No Startling Tales Are Told of His Precocity” 99

Part Three. The Twentieth Century

Edith Carow and Teddy Roosevelt: “We Call the Man Fanatic” 105

Helen Herron and William Howard Taft: “To Live and Die a Professor” 109

Ellen Axson, Edith Bolling Galt, and Woodrow Wilson: “To Transform Thoughtless Boys into Thinking Men” 114

Florence Kling and Warren G. Harding: “Naturally Smart” 119

Grace Goodhue and Calvin Coolidge: “A Professionally Trained Teacher” 123

Lou Henry and Herbert Hoover: “A Whole New World of Ideas” 128

Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt: “I Never Forgot a Damn Thing She Ever Taught Me” 131

Bess Wallace and Harry S Truman: “Nobody Thought That He’d Go Far” 137

Mamie Doud and Dwight Eisenhower: “A Lackluster Student” 140

Jacqueline Bouvier and John F. Kennedy: “If You Study Too Much, You’re Liable to Go Crazy” 145

Claudia Taylor and Lyndon Johnson: “Scars on the Hopeful Face of a Young Child” 150

Pat Ryan and Richard Nixon: “I Had a Saint of a Teacher” 155

Betty Bloomer and Jerry Ford: “We Do Not Need That Kind of Character in Our Girls” 158

Rosalynn Smith and Jimmy Carter: “Stretching Our Minds and Stretching Our Hearts” 162

Nancy Davis and Ronald Reagan: “The Last Kid Chosen” 166

Barbara Pierce and George H.W. Bush: “Faking His Way through Reading” 171

Part Four. The Twenty-First Century

Hillary Rodham and Bill Clinton: “I Want to Be a Teacher or a Nuclear Physicist” 179

Laura Welch and George W. Bush: “The Absolute Profession” 183

Michelle Robinson and Barack Obama: “The Chance to Succeed” 189

Bibliography 197

Index 211


Book Reviews & Awards

“the book is a bit of a departure from typical treatments of presidents, politics, and history…that is one of its attractions”—SciTech Book News.