In thinking about my reading for 2023, I knew I wanted to have another targeted project similar to my Year of Historical Reading in 2020. However, I didn’t want the project to be all-encompassing of my reading, making sure to leave me plenty of room to read the books I want to read without the threat of missing a number target.
As I look at what books I am interested in and what historical sites I find the most compelling, three things stand out:
- I don’t read enough biographies even though I enjoy them
- I want to have a reason to visit more historical sites on my Presidential and First Ladies list
- I want to read about history that isn’t usually studied, not just focusing on the big events
A good way to combine these interests is my 2023 reading project, Booking It Through History: First Ladies. As part of this project, I plan to read two books a month, one fiction and one nonfiction, about a first lady, going in chronological order from Martha Washington through Jill Biden. At the end of the month, I’ll do a blog post about the first lady and highlight the historical sites associated with her (and hopefully I will get a chance to visit!).
Many of the first ladies will not have a fiction book written about them, so I hope to supplement with a book about the time period. Some of the first ladies are too obscure to even have a nonfiction book written about them, so I’ll have to read a biography about their husband. Out of our forty-five presidents, a few didn’t have a wife at the time of their presidency (Jefferson and Jackson were both widowers, Buchanan never married, etc.) so in those months, I’ll try to read about the female who served as their hostess, such as Jefferson’s daughter or Buchanan’s niece, or a biography about their deceased wife. And at least two presidents had two different wives during their tenure (John Tyler and Woodrow Wilson), so I will try to find out what I can about both wives. I’m not going to worry if it doesn’t work out one month – I’ll find a way to learn something about that particular first lady or presidency!
With over 200 years to cover, this project will take more than a year to do. In fact, it will take over three years to complete! Taking it slow and steady will allow me to keep reading the books I want to read in addition to the project. I usually read about twelve books a month so this ensures the two first ladies books will be a small percentage of my reading while still being impactful. For each first lady, I also hope to listen to history podcasts and will watch the C-SPAN First Ladies: Influence and Image program every month.
I am excited to learn more about these amazing women who were often more interesting (and intelligent!) than their husbands. These witty, smart, educated, and often politically shrewd wives knew how to handle their husband’s ambitions while making sure the causes they loved were championed, all while raising families in often difficult circumstances. They were efficient multi-taskers and had their own desires and goals, even though circumstances wouldn’t allow them to pursue a career in most cases. Their influence and actions mirror what was happening in the general population at the time, so by studying them, I’ll learn more about women’s history. These women weren’t perfect by any means but were extraordinary for their time and place.
I’m kicking off the project with a look at our first first lady, Martha Washington. This standard-bearer of what a political wife should be like was a wealthy widow when she married the man who would become “first in the hearts of his countrymen.” I can’t wait to learn even more about Lady Washington and will be sharing my insights on my last blog post of the month along with interesting tidbits throughout the month on social media.
Through the year, follow along at #BookingItThroughHistory. You can also follow me on Instagram to learn more about the books and you can check out my Bookshop.org shop (affiliate link) to purchase the books yourself.
If you have any suggestions of books I need to consider, I’d love to hear! Comment below with your recommended books or your favorite first lady and why!