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Lady First: The World of First Lady Sarah Polk
January 22, 2020 @ 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm
This recording is the property of the SMU Center for Presidential History and may only be used for research and teaching purposes. It cannot be copied or reproduced for profit. © 2020
While the Woman’s Rights convention was taking place at Seneca Falls in 1848, First Lady Sarah Childress Polk was wielding influence unprecedented for a woman in Washington, D.C. Yet, while history remembers the women of the convention, it has all but forgotten Sarah Polk. Now, in her riveting biography, Amy S. Greenberg brings Sarah’s story into vivid focus. We see Sarah as the daughter of a frontiersman who raised her to discuss politics and business with men; we see the savvy and charm she brandished in order to help her brilliant but unlikeable husband, James K. Polk, ascend to the White House. We watch as she exercises truly extraordinary power as First Lady: quietly manipulating elected officials, shaping foreign policy, and directing a campaign in support of America’s expansionist war against Mexico. And we meet many of the enslaved men and women whose difficult labor made Sarah’s political success possible.
Sarah Polk’s life spanned nearly the entirety of the 19th-century. But her own legacy, which profoundly transformed the South, continues to endure. Comprehensive, nuanced, and brimming with invaluable insight, Lady First is a revelation of our eleventh First Lady’s complex but essential part in American feminism.
Amy S. Greenberg is George Winfree Professor of American History at Pennsylvania State University. She has published five books, all of which antebellum America and the relationship between the United States and the world.
This event is co-sponsored with the George W. Bush Library and Museum.