Susan O's Reviews > Lady First: The World of First Lady Sarah Polk

Lady First by Amy S. Greenberg
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really liked it
bookshelves: pres-polk, presidents-and-first-ladies, us-first-ladies

"Although Sarah Childress Polk rose to political power by crossing boundaries, skillfully manipulating both men and women, and analyzing politics with a focus nearly as intense as that of the husband who worked himself to death, in public memory Mrs. James K. Polk was celebrated as something quite different, a First Lady who was a lady first whose politics had been driven by love and by a widow's responsibility to protect and cherish the memory of her lost husband. It wasn't untrue, but nor was it the whole story." (emphasis mine)

Sarah Polk was the most well-educated first lady of her time and a companion to her husband it every way. She worked beside him politically, reading about and discussing issues of the day, corresponding with politicians, and reaching out for favors when necessary. She preferred to be with the men in the parlor after dinner than with the ladies in the drawing room. Franklin Pierce said that he would rather discuss politics with Sarah than with her husband. In spite of this, she managed to do all these things with a deference to her husband the men around her that prevented giving offense.

Greenburg paints a thorough portrait of Sarah with all the nuances that come from being an intelligent, ambitious woman of the South in the 19th century. Yes, Sarah had many admirable qualities, but she was also a slave owner. Her relationships with the enslaved people in her life are also discussed, as well as her time of maintaining a "neutral" stance during the Civil War.

While Greenburg's biography of Sarah Childress Polk was well-written and well-researched, it was somewhat dissatisfying. Partly this was due to the lack of information about Sarah, but also the epilogue seemed somewhat removed from the narrative and unnecessary to Sarah's story leaving a strange impression at the end. Overall, it was well worth the time and I do recommend it for those interested in the lives of the First Ladies of the US.
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Reading Progress

February 3, 2019 – Shelved
February 5, 2019 – Started Reading
February 8, 2019 –
page 120
30.0%
February 10, 2019 –
page 165
41.25%
February 10, 2019 –
page 242
60.5%
February 11, 2019 – Finished Reading

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