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Book Review:
Love Letters from the White House

Are You Prepared for the Storm of Love Making?: Letters of Love and Lust from the White House

Dorothy and Thomas Hobbler, 2024

I was interested in reading, "Are You Prepared for the Storm of Love Making?: Letters of Love and Lust from the White House," by  Dorothy and Thomas Hobbler, in part by the book's title which is taken from a letter of Woodrow Wilson to his first wife after ten years of marriage, and by a story in a review of the book about Dolly Madison's practice of carrying her husband, James, on her back in romps around the house during his later years of life.


I began the book hoping for more humorous stories of Presidents and their spouses and lovers. There are some but not enough for my taste.


One of the funniest stories concerns the coded way Warren Harding referred to his penis in love letters to his mistress, Carrie Phillips, i.e., as "Jerry." He wrote in a letter from 1913: " ... When I got home, I was too tired to sleep, but I rested, and you were summoned in finally. And you came - a vision vividly plain, a goddess in human form ... clad only in flowing hair and you were joyously received, and Jerry came and insisted on staying while we retrospected in the happiness of a Sunday in Richmond."  According to the Hobblers: "Carrie's sex organ was dubbed "Mrs. Pouterson."  Unfortunately, no explanation is provided of why this particular name was chosen. Hopefully, it's not a play on "pouty." 


The big surprise in this book is not the humor; it's the romantic nature of many Presidents' letter to their wives, both before and after marriage. A number of Presidents fell in love with their future wives when they (the wives) were children or adolescents and pressed their romantic overtures for years before their beloved said "yes" to a proposal of marriage, e.g., Rutherford Hayes who met his future wife, Lucy Webb when she was fourteen and he was twenty-five.  In some instances (e.g.  Truman, Tyler) the young women with whom future Presidents fell in love were of a higher social class. In these instances, it was only persistent romantic overtures that overcame lengthy resistance to marriage proposals. Nevertheless, the romantic prose of many of these letters both preceded and followed marriage, even after many years: 


  • Ulysses Grant to his fiancé, Julia Dent, in 1845: "Your letters always afford me a great deal of happiness because they assure me again that you love me still. ... for my own part, I would sacrifice everything earthly to make Dear Julia my own forever."  

  • Andrew Jackson to Rachel Donaldson Jackson in 1796: "With what pleasing hopes I view the future period when I shall be restored to your arms, there to spend my days in Domestic Sweetness with you the Dear Companion of my life, never to be separated from you again .." Of course, Jackson was frequently separated from his wife during his military campaigns and his Presidency. 

  • Rutherford Hayes to Lucy Webb during 1851:  "To think that that lovely vision is an actual, living, breathing being, and is loved by me and loves in return, and will one day be my bride -- my abiding, forgiving, trusting, loving wife ... I cannot be vain enough to think that love will blind you my deficiencies and faults ... In future I am your pupil ... I think of you constantly, and the more I think of you the deeper I am in love with you." 


A number of future Presidents idealized their future spouse and expected that constant association in marriage would help to correct their character flaws. Similar romantic sentiments often followed lengthy marriages:   

  • John Adams to Abigail Adams, one of the smartest and most capable First Ladies in US history: In 1781: “But one thing I am determined on. If God should please to restore me to your fireside, I will never again leave it without your Ladyships Company. … I would give a Million sterling that you were here (i.e., in Europe).  John and Abigail Adams exchanged more than 1100 letters during their marriage during which they were frequently separated. 

  • Theodore Roosevelt to his first wife, Alice Lee Roosevelt, 1883: "My own tender true love, I never cease to think fondly of you and oh how doubly tender I feel to you now! You have been the truest and tenderest of wives ....”

Alice Roosevelt died in 1884, two days after giving birth to their first child, a daughter. Theodore Roosevelt's mother died on the same day. 

A few Presidents seem destined for marital happiness. Teddy Roosevelt was blessed in this way, as was Woodrow Wilson. Roosevelt was remarried to his childhood friend, Elizabeth Carrow, in 1886. In 1909, he wrote to Elizabeth: "Oh, sweetest of all sweet girls, last night I dreamed that I was with you, and that our separation was but a dream ... you have made the real happiness of my life ..." Woodrow Wilson wrote to his first wife, Ellen Axson Wilson in 1893: "… You seem to contain in your sweet person and your sweet nature, everything that is worth living for in the world -- besides duty."  And "The sort of love I have for you has no age; it is a much a young man's love as a mature man's."  Wilson was married to Edith Gault in 2016. In 2015, during his courtship Wilson wrote to the woman he loved: "I cannot think of happiness apart from you. You fill my thoughts and my life." Edith Galt became virtually the acting President after Wilson's two strokes. She controlled access of persons to his bedroom during the months he was bedridden.   


Inevitably, some future presidents became creeps or creepy after they were married.  Re LBJ and Lady Bird Johnson, the Hobblers assert: "After their honeymoon, their relationship changed. According to ... Robert Caro, Lyndon told his new bride that he wanted her to serve him coffee in bed, along with a newspaper. She also had to lay out his clothes, fill his fountain pen and cigarette lighter, put them with his handkerchief and money into the proper pockets of his suit, and finally shine his shoes. In addition, Caro asserted that "he made sure everyone knew that she was performing these chores, loudly reminding her about her duties in front of other people." 


According to Caro, LBJ referred to his penis as “Jumbo.” The Hopplers write: “Johnson, ever jealous of his predecessor, was said to have claimed to “have had more women by accident than Kennedy did on purpose.” If true, that’s a lot of accidents as JFK once informed British prime Minister, Harold McMillan, that if he went without sex for more than 24 hours he had headaches. Seemingly. sex worked better than aspirin for pain relief.


James Garfield, a philanderer, gaslighted his wife Lucretia when she confronted him about one of his affairs: “ … I should not blame my heart if it lost all faith in you.  I hope it may not, indeed I am not going to let it, but I need not to be forever telling you I love you when there is evidently no more desire for it on your part than present manifestations indicate.”


There have been a few Presidents’ wives who were more ambitious than their husband. Florence Harding, widely known as “the Duchess,” credited herself with making Harding president. “A political cartoon drawn after he became President, showed the couple with the caption, “The President and Mr. Harding.”


This book includes several highly unlikely stories of marriages that seemed to turn out well despite the odds. John Tyler was thirty years older than his bride, Julia Gardiner, who allegedly responded to his first offer of marriage with the words, “No, no, no.” Instead of being crushed, he persisted by proposing several more times before she said “yes.” The Hopplers state that Julia gradually fell in love with Tyler, but add, “Every time there was a White House ball, she received an invitation and gradually fell in love.” With Tyler or the White House? Nevertheless, Tyler and Julia had seven children after Tyler had eight children with his first wife. The Tylers lived to become strong supporters of the Confederacy.   


The Hoppers assert that there has probably been only one gay President, James Buchanan, the only President who never married. 


This book is sadly lacking letters from Bill and Hilary Clinton, or from Laura and George W. Bush. Laura Bush stated in her autobiography that she and George Bush were apart only one day during their courtship. If Hilary Clinton kept old letters to or from her husband, perhaps they spontaneously combusted.                                  

-- Dee Wilson

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