Biography of First Lady Pat Nixon

First Lady Pat Nixon Biography

Pat Nixon Biography

The Early Years

Patricia Nixon, wife of President Richard Nixon, was born on March 16, 1912, in Ely, Nevada. Her mother, Kate Halberstadt Ryan, had originally named her Thelma Catherine. Her father, William Ryan, learned of her birth after coming home past midnight from his work in the mines, and called her his “St. Patrick’s babe in the morn.” She was to be “Pat” to him always.

Before Pat Nixon was a year old, Kate Ryan persuaded William Ryan to give up mining. The family then moved from Nevada to California, 20 miles southeast of Los Angeles on a small farm in Artesia. Today, the site of this home in what is now Cerritos, California is Pat Nixon Park.

The future First Lady’s early childhood was marked by tragedy when her mother died in 1925. At the age of 13, Mrs. Nixon took over the household duties for her father and her brothers. Two years later, when she was attending Excelsior High School, her father became seriously ill. She cared for him until his death in 1930. By age 18, Pat Nixon was a high school graduate and completely on her own.

Her first ambition was to receive a college education. She enrolled at Fullerton College, paying for her tuition by working part time as a janitor in a local bank. She was able to fulfill her second ambition of traveling in 1931, when elderly friends of her family asked her to drive them to the East Coast. She drove them to New York where she stayed for two years. She first worked in a hospital as a secretary, and later as an X-ray technician, after taking a Columbia University summer course in radiology.

In 1934, she returned to California to enroll at the University of Southern California. During her college years, she worked as many as 40 hours a week, both on and off campus, while majoring in merchandising. In 1937, she graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in merchandising and a certificate to teach at the high school level.

Her first job following graduation was teaching business education courses at Whittier Union High School for an annual salary of $1,800. Whittier Union High School was located on the main street of the quiet Quaker community at the foot of La Puente Hills.

Pat and Richard

Pat’s interest in drama began during her working days at USC when she earned $25 for a walk-on part as an extra in the movie Becky Sharp. In addition to directing high school plays, she joined the Whittier Little Theater group. It was there that she met Richard Nixon, a young lawyer who had recently graduated from Duke University Law School in Durham, North Carolina. They were given the leading roles in The Dark Tower, a mystery drama by George Kaufman and Alexander Wolcott.

They were married on June 21, 1940, in a Quaker ceremony at the historic Mission Inn in Riverside, California. The couple left for a honeymoon in Mexico, driving to Laredo and then south along the Pan American Highway to Mexico City. They returned to Whittier and settled in an apartment over a garage while Mrs. Nixon continued teaching and Richard Nixon was in private law practice.

One year later, they moved to Washington, DC, where Mr. Nixon was an attorney in the Office of Emergency Management. He then volunteered for naval service, spent two months at Quonset, Rhode Island, and in March 1942 was commissioned into the Navy as a lieutenant. He received his first active-duty assignment to Ottumwa, Iowa, as an aide to the officer in charge of setting up a Naval Air Base. Mrs. Nixon worked in a bank in Ottumwa; when her husband was assigned to duty in the South Pacific, she moved to San Francisco, California, where she worked as an economist for the Office of Price Administration. After 14 months in the South Pacific, Lt. Nixon returned and they moved to Baltimore, Maryland. While there, he handled contract terminations for the Navy.

Pre-Presidential Years

In 1946 Richard Nixon entered political life as the Republican candidate for California’s 12th Congressional District. Nine days after Mr. Nixon announced his candidacy, their first daughter, Patricia, called Tricia, was born on February 21, 1946, in Whittier, California. Richard Nixon was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and was re-elected to the seat in 1948. That year, Pat Nixon gave birth to their second daughter, Julie, on July 5 in Washington, DC.

In 1950, Richard Nixon won the election as United States Senator from California. Two years later he was elected Vice President of the United States under Dwight D. Eisenhower. Both were re-elected in 1956. During all the Nixon campaigns, Pat Nixon was such an effective campaigner at her husband’s side that the Nixon’s became known as the “Pat and Dick Team.”

As the wife of the Vice President, Second Lady Pat Nixon accompanied her husband to 53 countries around the world, visiting hospitals and schools by day and dining with heads of state by night. She was an effective goodwill ambassador that President Eisenhower always sent the Nixon’s as a team. She was staunchly behind her husband during his political campaigns for the Presidency in 1960, and for the Governorship of California in 1962.

After leaving political life after the 1962 elections, the former Vice President and his wife made their home in New York City, in an apartment overlooking Central Park. Here, Mr. Nixon maintained a successful law practice and Mrs. Nixon enjoyed the city’s cultural life. When her husband decided to re-enter politics in 1968, Pat Nixon once again began the campaign life, fulfilling her role graciously and effectively.

First Lady

Her work in the White House stemmed from her boundless compassion for humanity; she was the first First Lady to champion volunteerism; blazed the literacy trail with the “Right to Read” program; and pushed to establish new recreational areas in or near big cities for those who could not afford to visit distant national parks.

The First Lady was a confident player on the world stage, traveling to over 80 countries during her years of public service. She accompanied President Nixon to the People’s Republic of China and undertook solo missions to Africa and South America. On her trips she kept luncheons, banquets, and formal receptions to a minimum so she could visit schools, hospitals, orphanages, old people’s homes, and even a leper colony in Panama.

During the Nixon’s’ 1969 trip to South Vietnam, she became the first First Lady to visit a combat zone, in an open helicopter and accompanied by Secret Service agents draped with bandoleers. In June 1970, the First Lady flew supplies gathered by volunteers to earthquake-ruptured Peru. For this, the Peruvian Government gave her the highest decoration their country can bestow: The Grand Cross of the Order of the Sun. This award is the oldest decoration in the Americas and First Lady Pat Nixon became the first North American woman to receive this award.

At home, First Lady Pat Nixon reached out to the American people by inviting them into the people’s house and taking special care to preserve and enhance it. “The Nixon era was the greatest single period of collecting in White House history,” historian William Seale said. “The great collection of White House Americana today is the long shadow of Mrs. Nixon. The impulse, the idea, and the energy were hers.”

She arranged the first White House tours for the visually and hearing impaired and inaugurated the famous candlelight tours for people who worked during the day. She began the tradition of having the White House lit at night, believing that the house into which she brought so much light should be seen at night like Washington’s other monuments.


In retirement, First Lady Pat Nixon was a devoted grandmother to Jennie, Christopher, Alex, and Melanie. Although she kept her public appearances to a minimum, polls showed that she remained one of America’s most admired women. She died on June 22, 1993, at home in Park Ridge, New Jersey with her family at her side. She was buried on the grounds of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, a few steps from her husband’s birthplace, on June 26, 1993.

Pat Nixon – First Lady Pioneer

First to visit an active combat zone (Vietnam)
First to Visit China
First to visit Moscow
First to be awarded Peru’s Grand Cross of the Order of the Sun
First to address the Republican National Convention
First to visit Africa
First to visit Ireland as First Lady
First to hold Candlelight Tours at the White House
First to introduce Garden Tours of the White House