Pat Nixon

“Even when people can’t speak your language they can tell if you have love in your heart.”

Pat Nixon, Former First Lady of the United States, 1912-1993

Thelma Catherine “Pat” Ryan Nixon was First Lady of the United States from 1969 to 1974. She became known as “Pat” because she was born the night before St. Patrick’s Day. She is remembered for her love of the arts (she met president Nixon when they were cast in a play together) and for her compassionate missions around the world.

Nixon was raised in California, assuming all her family’s household duties when her mother died when she was just 13. Orphaned at 18, she was determined to work her way through the University of California, taking jobs at a fashionable department store, as a movie extra, and as a driver. She met her future husband at the Little Theater in Whittier, CA, where she had taken a job as a teacher and where he was setting up his law practice. They married in 1940 and had two daughters.

During World War I, Nixon worked as a government economist while her husband served in the US Navy. After entering politics, Richard Nixon moved through the ranks relatively swiftly, running successfully for Congress and for Vice President in 1951. Pat Nixon became a household name during a famous televised speech in which Richard Nixon, defending himself of charges of having a slush fund, claimed she didn’t have a fur, only a “respectable Republican cloth coat.” He won the election. When Nixon became President in 1968, she accompanied her husband to 53 countries, including historic trips to the Soviet Union and China, and travelled alone to deliver relief to earthquake victims in Peru. She stood stoically by her husband’s side during the Watergate scandal that forced his resignation.

Although Watergate stole the headlines, Nixon was quietly making her own contributions as first lady. A lover of art and antiques, Nixon added 600 pieces to the White House collection through loans and donations so that common people could appreciate them. Famously inclusive before it was de rigeur, she opened the White House up to minorities and organized non-denominational church services there for hundreds of people. An avid gardener, she hosted the very first White House Garden tour in 1973, a tradition that is upheld to this day.  


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