Betty Boyd Caroli
Book Speaker
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Betty Boyd Caroli

Fee Range1: $ 5000 - $7500

The First Ladies


AuthorHistorySpouse ProgramsWhite HouseWomen in Society


New York


Betty Boyd Caroli

Betty Boyd CaroliThe First Ladies

Betty Boyd Caroli is the author of The Roosevelt Women (Basic, 1998; 1999); America’s First Ladies (GuildAmerica, 1996) Inside the White House (Abbeville, 1992; expanded ed., GuildAmerica, 1999); Immigrants Who Returned Home (Chelsea, 1990); First Ladies (Oxford University Press, 1987; 1988; expanded eds., 1995, 2003, 2010). A different version of First Ladies was published (in both regular and large print editions) by Literary Guild (later BookSpan) in 1988, 1995, 2001, and 2009.

Caroli also authored Italian Repatriation from the U.S. (Center for Migration Studies, 1973; iUniverse, 2008); co-authored with Thomas Kessner, Today’s Immigrants: Their Stories (Oxford University Press, 1981, 1982) and co-edited with Robert Harney and Lydio Tomasi The Italian Immigrant Woman in North America (Multicultural History Society of Ontario, Toronto, 1978).

Frequently appearing on national television and BBC to discuss the role of presidents’ wives in American politics, Caroli has been a guest on Today, The O’Reilly Factor, Lehrer NewsHour, “Book Notes” with Brian Lamb, and many others. 


A graduate of Oberlin College, Caroli holds a master’s degree in Mass Communications from the Annenberg School of the University of Pennsylvania and a Ph.D. in American Civilization from New York University. A Fulbright scholar to Italy, she also held fellowships and grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, the Hoover Presidential Library, and others. After studying in Salzburg, Austria and Perugia, Italy (but before joining the faculty at the City University of New York), she taught in Palermo and Rome, Italy.

She currently resides in New York City and Venice, Italy.




First Lady: The most demanding, unpaid job in the world

A President’s wife could once get high marks for doing little more than smiling sweetly and giving teas. But then five women broke the “hostess” mold and  turned the job into what now looks  like the CEO of a major company.  One became an international fashion sensation; another functioned as the president’s “eyes and ears.” Two testified before Congress, and one had  weekly  “working lunches” with the President and represented him in South America.  The presidents’ wives who transformed the job developed their own loyal fans, and they employed large, savvy staffs.  This talk explores how they redefined the job of First Lady   and the reasons they could do what they did.


Walking the First Lady Tightrope

Gone are the days when the wife of a presidential candidates could hide.  Now we want her to throw herself  into the campaign, no matter how much she regrets  the loss of privacy for herself and her family. We want her to tell us all about the candidate, but not where he leaves his dirty socks.  We want honesty, but not full disclosure.  Once she moves into the White House, we expect her to serve as model for all women,  but not get stuck up about it and parade in expensive sneakers that the rest of us cannot afford.  We want her smiley and nice, but not too touchy-feely, like patting the Queen of England’s back. We don’t mind her having a little fun, but we draw the line at nights out with her husband in the Big Apple and vacations  in Spain.  We want a smart First Lady, who has ideas of her own, but we  want her to keep those ideas to herself if they differ from our own. We want her to stand up for her husband ALWAYS, but not when he treats her badly and lies about his relationship with a White House interne.  In short, we want  a lot from a President’s wife, and this talk explores how different women have dealt with our contradictory demands.


The Women They Married

Washington, D.C. was once described as “full of interesting men and the women they married when they were young.”  But that description, so dismissive of the women,  no longer holds, at least for presidents’ wives, and this talk tells why.  Marriage patterns have changed, and so have women’s lives.  Recent presidents do not have a record of marrying up,  into families wealthier than their own, as George Washington did when he married  “the richest widow in Virginia.”  Now we expect  our First Ladies to be energetic campaigners, confident public speakers, popular fundraisers, and leaders  in important causes, such as  literacy,  conservation,  and health care reform.  TV and social media have helped make their names known round the world,  and  with graduate degrees and ambitions to match their husbands, they are no longer content to stay  in the background.


The Way They Were—And How We Know

This talk explores how we study presidential couples by looking at the rich records they left.  For Abigail Adams, we have her letters  to show how really angry she got at critics—not those who found fault with her, but those who attacked her children.  The wife of Abigail’s son, John Quincy, revealed how little she thought of herself when she titled her autobiography,  Adventures of a Nobody.  Some of the women who followed the Adamses  became the subjects of campaign biographies, often embellished to make their husbands look good.  Eleanor  Roosevelt told us what she was thinking, in her newspaper column, “My Day.” Television brought presidential couples into our homes,  with interviews and press conferences, and because much of the coverage was recorded, we can still watch the White House tour that Jacqueline Kennedy conducted fifty years ago.  The Johnson White House recorded phone calls, even between the President and First Lady, and they are accessible on Internet with a couple clicks.  With the trove of presidential records  available,  we are learning more about presidential couples all the time.


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