Mary Regula Speaks at Mount Union College to Kick Off National Women's History Month Events
March 7, 2003
"Let no one kid you -- there is a void in American history," said Mary Regula, president and founder of the National First Ladies' Library in Canton, speaking at convocation Thursday, March 6 at Mount Union College.
Mary Regula's speech was the "kick-off" event for National Women's History Month, being celebrated on the campus during the month of March. As founder of the National First Ladies' Library, located in the home of Ida Saxton McKinley, Regula spoke about how she became involved in preserving the history of America's First Ladies. The idea came about through the frustration she encountered while trying to research First Ladies. Realizing the lack of resources available to her, she began to conceptualize the National First Ladies' Library.
Speaking about the void in history, Regula said, "It is getting better. Some colleges offer "Women's Studies." I don't want "Women's Studies!" Women in history should be folded into the history of our entire nation."
Mary Regula, and her husband, US Representative Ralph Regula, are both graduates of Mount Union. Regula said that when she was asked to give the address at a Mount Union commencement, she recalled two things. "One was that I did not remember who the commencement speaker was at my graduation. The second was -- it was not a woman!"
Regula related various anecdotes about First Ladies, both the former and present. She said that Martha Washington was called "Lady Washington" by her countrymen, who revered her. She said Martha Washington realized that with this adoration, she had lost her cherished privacy.
"She made sure that historians would never know of the relationship she had with her husband. After his death, she destroyed every letter that had ever passed between them," said Regula.
She said that for much of our country's history, the First Lady has been seen in the role of gracious hostess, but that there were many First Ladies who had partnerships with their husbands did not fit that mold. She mentioned that Abigail Adams was a constitutional scholar who urged her husband "not to forget the ladies." "Of course, they did forget them," said Regula. "But Hillary (Rodham Clinton) and Eleanor (Roosevelt) were not the only First Ladies to have their own careers and interests."
Regula said that Hillary Rodham Clinton has "broken a barrier" by becoming a senator.
"I know that there are a lot of strong feelings about President Bill Clinton's time in office," said Regula. "But I would not have been able to take this project where it has gone without Hillary in the White House. I am the wife of a Republican representative but she took the time to talk to me about the First Ladies' Library and became the first honorary chair."
Regula stressed that the National First Ladies' Library, which is a National Historic Site, is not a museum, but a "research facility," intended to serve as a national resource for everyone from school children to serious scholars. As a national archive devoted to educating people about America's First Ladies, the Library will fill an informational void by serving as an educational facility and as an electronic virtual library.
She said that First Lady Laura Bush calls libraries "the palace of the people." Bush is the second librarian to become First Lady. The first librarian First Lady was Abigail Fillmore, who put the first library in the White House.
"The Presidents kept taking the books with them when they left office, and Jackie Kennedy was the First Lady who restored the library in the White House," said Regula.
Regula is currently working to establish the "First Ladies' Library Research and Education Center," also in Canton, in a historic 1895 building, given to her by a descendant of Ida McKinley.
"Even the Smithsonian has finally realized that a First Lady cannot be judged by one gown she wore to a single event, and has provided a list of accomplishments to their display," said Regula. "This is the most powerful non-elected female in the world. It should not be frustrating to do research on these individuals. The National First Ladies' Library has been named a National Historic Site. The best part of that is, even after those who are presently involved are gone, this site will still be maintained for future generations."