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Schedule of lectures
“Prisoners of State,” 4 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 16
“Mary & Her Sisters,” 7 p.m., Monday, Feb. 17
“The Wilsons & the Roosevelts,” 7 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 26
“Trailblazers & Traditionalists,” 7.p.m., Thursday, Feb. 27
An upcoming lecture series hosted by the Dole Institute of Politics will look at the lives of the country’s first ladies.
The series, which kicks off Sunday, will bring in prominent historian Richard Norton Smith, an assistant professor of history at George Mason University and the first director of the Dole Institute.
“If you’re a lifelong student of the presidency, it’s hard to overlook” the importance of first ladies in history, Smith said. “They are very vivid parts of our popular culture.”
As Smith notes, first ladies often have higher popularity poll numbers than their husbands and their books outsell those of the presidents.
The Dole Institute talks will focus on historical periods and the women who changed the White House and the role of the first lady most dramatically.
Presidential wives have always filled a “multiplicity of roles,” Smith said. “The 19th century first ladies were not only wives and mothers in the Victorian sense, but also stewards of the White House,” he said.
Modern first ladies often face a paradox in a public that expects them to advocate for causes, yet can sour if First Ladies take part in the political process or are seen as partisan, Smith said. “They are popular, and they are politically invaluable, as long as they don’t become overtly political.”
The talks are partly timed with a C-SPAN series on the first ladies, a followup to a previous series on the presidents. A series on the first ladies is an idea “whose time has come,” Smith said.
“Forget politics, forget academic theorizing, just on the biographical level, these people deserve to be reintroduced and appreciated,” he said. “Every single one in her own way tried to do her best for the country.”
The lectures, titled “The First Ladies: Intimate Sacrifice, Honored Post,” are part of the Dole Institute’s 2014 Presidential Lecture Series. The first lecture is Sunday at 4 p.m., followed by a 7 p.m. lecture on Monday. Two more lectures are scheduled for the following week. All programs are free and open to the public.
For more information, call 785-864-4900.