PN – pictured at the Miami Beach Convention Center in August 1972 – was the first Republican First lady to have a keynote speech at the Republican National Convention. (Photo Credit: Life Magazine)
In 1984, First Lady Nancy Reagan addressed the Republican National Convention, arguing that her husband was still the right man to occupy the Oval Office. Barbara Bush did the same in 1992, Laura Bush in 2000 and 2004. Now regularly at the front of the public eye, the role of a candidate’s spouse has altered from that of quiet bystander to one of national prominence. It was Pat Nixon who popularized the now-common tradition in which presidential spouses speak on behalf of their husbands at their party’s national convention. Mrs. Nixon spoke at the Miami Beach Convention Center in August 1972, becoming the first Republican First Lady to address a national convention.
In addition to starting that tradition, her efforts on behalf of her husband in the 1972 campaign (depicted left on the cover of Time Magazine with Eleanor McGovern in October 1972) were replicated by her successors (and those who desired to be her successors, Republican and Democrat). Her lengthy, solo campaign trips are now common for a candidate’s spouse. Take — for example — this rare footage as a small sample of Mrs. Nixon’s 1972 campaigning.
There is no doubt that Mrs. Nixon exercised an influence upon those First Ladies who followed in her footsteps, and contributed to their ever-evolving role in the White House.
Needless to say, President Nixon’s campaign was triumphant, achieving a resounding victory in November over Senator George McGovern. At the inauguration in 1973, Mrs. Nixon broke with a 108 year tradition when she chose not to wear a hat during the swearing-in ceremony.
In his candid 1983 interviews with Frank Gannon, RN reflected upon a 1952 campaign trip in which Senator Harry Darby introduced Mrs. Nixon to large crowd gathered at a rally. In the words of RN, Darby said: “Our candidate for Vice President, Senator Nixon, he’s controversial – but everybody loves Pat.” As one of the most admired women in the world from 1958-1962 and 1968-1979, her achievements, influence, and remarkable ability to connect with the American people speak for themselves.
PN, pictured with Chief Justice Warren Burger, as RN accepted the Oath of office on his second inauguration in January 1973.