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Letter #83 The Pioneering Pat Nixon

A letter to Washington Post editors points to First Lady's achievements.

Rennie Silva, Presidential Management Fellow at the U.S. Department of State, argues that First Lady Pat Nixon was overlooked in a Washington Post story about the wives of presidential contenders.

Tomi Obaro’s timely and well-written Sept. 4 Style article “The humanizers” overlooked one piece of history worth mentioning: the pioneering role of first lady Pat Nixon, whose speech at the 1972 GOP convention was the first by the spouse of a Republican candidate for president.

More so than any other first lady since Eleanor Roosevelt, Nixon helped pave the way for the practice of candidates’ spouses of both political parties speaking at national conventions. Her appearance went beyond simply humanizing her husband to showcasing what she called “personal diplomacy” around the world, one of the hallmarks of her public life. Nixon’s appearance drew attention to her official visits to earthquake-devastated Peru as well as to Liberia, Ghana, Ivory Coast and South Vietnam, as she had become the first first lady to set foot in Africa and to travel to a war zone.

Her speech and the groundbreaking accomplishments it highlighted earn her a place in the pantheon of first ladies who defied convention and helped shape political history. They deserve to be recognized.

First Lady Pat Nixon was honored at the 1972 Republican National Convention with a tribute video narrated by legendary actor Jimmy Stewart.