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Always a Lady

WEB-EXCLUSIVE: The Nixon Presidential Library & Museum honors the life and work of former First Lady Pat Nixon.

Bob Bostock

Pat Nixon Centennial
People Were Her Project
Through Sept. 3, 2012
Nixon Presidential Library & Museum
18001 Yorba Linda Blvd.,
Yorba Linda
714.983.9120 :: nixonlibrary.gov

The Richard Nixon Foundation celebrated the 100th birthday of First Lady Pat Nixon on March 16 by unveiling an interactive exhibit dedicated solely to her and the goodwill projects she undertook while in the public eye as the wife of a senator, vice president and president.

“She saw her role as supporting the president, not as being a public person in her own right,” says Bob Bostock, exhibit curator for the Nixon Foundation. “As a result, she didn’t get the credit that she should have gotten for so much of what she did. She wasn’t about getting credit; she was about getting stuff done. What we have tried to do with this exhibit is highlight certain aspects of her life that we think people are not aware of.”

Intimate family photos, awards honoring her many projects and volunteer programs, as well as letters of recognition from notable figures in history line the walls of the Pat Nixon People Were Her project exhibit, on display at the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum in Yorba Linda through summer. On display for the first time ever are Mr. and Mrs. Nixon’s private love letters. (Former President Nixon proposed to Mrs. Nixon in our very own Dana Point.)

Upon entrance, the exhibit showcases the former First Lady’s humble and modest upbringings in Nevada and the responsibility that was thrust upon her by consequence of her mother’s death when she was just 13 years old. A replica classroom holds yearbooks on loan from Whittier High School that present Mrs. Nixon in action in the classroom, teaching and helping students. A video provides testimonies from her previous students. Even more impressive is the crate on display that was used to transport one of the two infamous giant pandas China gifted to the United States while President Nixon was in office. The green crate is on loan to the Nixon Museum from the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. for the duration of the exhibit.

Caroline Kennedy, who is known to be a private and reserved woman, filmed a segment specifically for this exhibit honoring Mrs. Nixon for her warmth and hospitality when her mother, Jacqueline, and brother, John, visited the White House for the presentation of former President John F. Kennedy's and Mrs. Kennedy’s official portraits.

Additionally, six of Mrs. Nixon’s most prominent dresses are on display, including the suit she wore to the opening of the Nixon Library in 1990. Two pieces from the White House collection will also be on display, including a Phyfe armchair that has sat in the Green Room since 1971. Mrs. Nixon acquired more furniture, paintings and other decorative art than any other First Lady.  

Also on her list of accomplishments as First Lady, Mrs. Nixon was one of the most traveled First Ladies until Hillary Clinton. She was the first First Lady to travel to Africa and the first to be appointed an official representative of the President of the United States at an official state event. Mrs. Nixon made the White House more accessible to the American people by making tours handicap accessible, creating the White House Gardens Tour in 1972 and the White House Candlelight Tour during Christmastime.

Regardless of what draws you to the centennial celebration exhibit, there are numerous other components that will keep you interested in who Pat Nixon was before, during and after the Nixon presidency.

“All she did as a young woman was work,” Bostock says. “But she had an adventurous spirit; she knew she wanted to go places and was willing to work hard to get there.”

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