Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies by J.B. West

Even though I don't consider this a "must-read", I did still find it fascinating to get a peek at life in the White House. Every First Lady had its own opinion and style of how the White House should be run and look. It was not uncommon for Usher West to flip the White House upside down with new renovations. The servants, as you might expect, have the busiest day on Inaugural day when the changing of the guard happens. So much is to be done in preparation for the new President. And each of the servants really have to be totally loyal to whoever comes into office. That's their job. 

Here are just some snippets I jotted down about each of the Presidents and First Ladies from his observations. 

-She was always running everywhere.
-She would invite guests for every meal-even those off the streets.
-She was a fierce advocate for Negro's rights and invited many to the White House (despite outrage from her mother-in-law).

-Bess Truman was in every major political decision.
-Tomboy through and through.
-Loved baseball and would listen to games on the radio every evening.
-White House was renovated completely from the inside so they had to live at the Blair-Lee House for the time being. 
-I didn't know that Truman was almost assassinated by Puerto Rican nationalists.

-Right away she went about fixing everything with furniture, layout, and telling servants not to use certain passageways and elevators.
-She was frugal and generous. She was the first (and I believe only one) who gave each of the servants a present for Christmas.

-She spoke softly but certain.
-She had a bit of a complex personality. She was one way in public but a bit irreverent in private. 
-She had strong opinions of style and performance of the servants.
-I would say she was a bit unusual in what she wanted at the White House: she wanted deer, peacocks to roam the yard.
-One time she requested Mr. West take her to the bomb shelter and was surprised to find men down there. She was hoping to use it for a basketball court!
-I love what she said just before she left the White House, "Mr. West, will you be my friend for life?"

-In more than one way, everyone was made certain that this was the Johnson White House. Pres. Johnson poked his head all the time in rooms, he was so concerned about electricity that he would be going about the house turning off lights. Funny though that at the same time, he was outraged with the shower pressure in the White House that plumbers spent thousands and thousands of dollars trying to make it just like his shower from the Elms. They didn't succeed by the time he left. 
-Mrs. Johnson felt she was last in priority to her husband and children and she made it clear that things were to be run like that. Sometimes they didn't treat her kindly.
-She formed the committee to preserve art at the White House.
-She spoke to her "talking machine" every evening as part of her journaling. Only one was transcribed for investigation purposes-November 22, 1963 when President Kennedy was assassinated. 

-West mentioned how sad he was that they took down the pool to make room for the press. The pool was used by every president, put in there by Roosevelt as a way to help with his polio. 
-He was only there with the Nixons for eight weeks before they had their own changing of the guard for the new Chief Usher. 

This book makes me curious about how things are run in the White House now. I wonder what has stayed the same and what has changed. It's interesting to read this just before the Inaugural day. As much as everyone will be thinking about the current President at the Capitol, I will most likely be thinking of how the servants are holding up at the White House. 

1 comment:

  1. Interesting! I never thought about what a servant's perspective.