She's Got Mail

Sunday, April 27, 2008

From envelopes with elegant cursive labels to e-mails sent to a whitehouse.gov address, the occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue have never wanted for a full inbox. The president gets most of the mail, but the first lady gets her share, too. The letters sent to the president's wife illuminate the many roles -- from champion of noble causes to nurturing mother in chief -- that a first lady is expected to play. The four letters reprinted here are a sample of the millions that have landed on the desk of every first lady from Martha Washington to Laura Bush, from famous names, angry citizens and even cartoon-character constituents.

Lou Hoover got plenty of hate mail after she entertained a black woman at a White House tea for congressional wives in 1929. This screed, from "The Women's League of Miami, Fla.," railed at the president's wife for disgracing the White House.

During World War II, the author Pearl Buck wrote Eleanor Roosevelt to express her dismay over the internment of Japanese Americans. In her reply, scrawled in the margins, the first lady deemed the government's actions unfortunate but necessary.

In 1990, after Barbara Bush called "The Simpsons" "the stupidest thing I've ever seen," she heard from the aggrieved matriarch of TV's most dysfunctional family. Writing as one wife to another, Marge told Bar they had a lot in common.

And in a 1998 note to Hillary Rodham Clinton, Eppie Lederer -- better known as Ann Landers -- predicted that the first lady would reach any goal she set her sights on. A decade later, the advice columnist's warmly worded affirmation is being tested.

-- Dwight Young

Dwight Young is co-editor, with Margaret Johnson, of "Dear First Lady: Letters to the White House."

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