Lady First : The World of First Lady Sarah Polk
by Greenberg, Amy S.

The acclaimed author of A Wicked War now gives us the little-known story of Sarah Polk: remarkably influential First Lady and brilliant master of the art of high politics-a crucial but unrecognized figure in the history of American feminism.

At the same time as the women's rights convention was taking place at Seneca Falls, New York in 1848, First Lady Sarah Childress Polk was wielding influence unprecedented for a woman. Yet, while history remembers the women of the convention, it has all but forgotten Sarah Polk. Now, Amy S. Greenberg brings her story into vivid focus. We see her father raising her on the frontier to discuss politics and business as an equal with men. We see her use savvy and charm to help her brilliant but unlikable husband ascend to the White House. And we see her exercising truly extraordinary power as First Lady: quietly manipulating elected officials, shaping foreign policy, directing a campaign in support of America's expansionist war against Mexico. Greenberg makes clear that though the Polk marriage was a partnership of equals, Sarah firmly opposed the feminist movement's demands for then far-reaching equality. A riveting biography-and a revelation of Sarah Polk's complicated but essential part in American feminism.

Amy S. Greenberg is the George Winfree Professor of History and Women's Studies at Penn State University. A leading scholar of the history of nineteenth-century America, she has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Philosophical Society, among others. Her previous books include A Wicked War and Manifest Manhood.

Few lists of influential first ladies include Sarah Polk, the wife of James K. Polk, eleventh president of the U.S. In this extensively documented account, Greenberg (A Wicked War, 2012) asserts that, despite her current anonymity, Polk was once the most powerful woman in America. She was held up as a paragon of her sex, despite being childless in an era of large families. She was a recognized public figure in a culture in which wives were supposed to be nearly invisible. She was known for her popular and unabashedly political entertainments at a time when government affairs were thought to be far beyond the grasp, let alone the business, of females. More social history than biography, the text traces Polk's steadily growing expertise in charming, manipulating, and exerting pressure to abet her husband's political career, which made for lasting change in Democratic Party policies. This is an in-depth, telling account of a largely overlooked woman who was able to effect profound influence while working within the constraints of her time and place. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.

A sturdy biography of Sarah Childress Polk (1803-1891), who revolutionized the amorphous role of first lady while her husband, James, served as president from 1845 to 1849.By today's standards, Sarah, who preferred to be known as "Mrs. James Polk" after marrying when she was just 20, was no feminist—of course, women could not vote during her lifetime, nor could they own property in most states—but she always found ways to become a force in electoral politics despite the legal and societal limitations she faced. Born into an enlightened, financially comfortable Tennessee family, Sarah received more formal education than most women of her era and became comfortable conversing about politics in rooms dominated by men who usually excluded women. She originally met James Polk through her older brother. As Greenberg (History and Women's Studies/Penn State Univ.; A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico, 2012, etc.), a leading scholar of Ma nifest Destiny, shows, James saw in Sarah not only a domestic partner, but also a behind-the-scenes manager for his political ambitions. His career progressed from the Tennessee legislature to the House of Representatives to the Tennessee governorship to the presidency of the United States when he was age 49. Sarah and James worked together to expand the geographic reach of their nation, waging a bloody war against Mexico to accomplish their goal. James did not desire to build a long-term political dynasty; he promised to serve only a single four-year term. After the presidency, he planned to return to his slaveholding Southern estates to increase the family wealth and enjoy his childless union with Sarah. Instead, he died the year he left the White House. Sarah lived another four decades as a slaveholding businesswomen, never leaving Tennessee even once but also never retreating into isolation. Even during the Civil War, she managed to support the Confederacy while maintain i ng influence with Union politicians. Though she is largely forgotten, this concise but thorough biography brings her back into the light. An illuminating study of a nontraditional female powerhouse. Copyright Kirkus 2018 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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