“All lives have triumphs and tragedies, laughter and tears, and mine has been no different.”
First Ladies of the US Pat Nixon Full Image

Pat Nixon

Thelma Catherine “Pat” Ryan Nixon
Years of service: 1969-1974
Born: 1912

First Ladies of the US Pat Nixon Full Image

Pat Ryan Nixon was a truly remarkable First Lady who brought warmth and kindness wherever she went. She was the first First Lady to earn a graduate degree and is one of only five First Ladies to do so. Born in Nevada just hours before St. Patrick's Day, Thelma "Pat" Ryan was educated in California and known for her superior grades, which allowed her to skip the second grade altogether as well as graduate cum laude from the University of Southern California. Few First Ladies worked as consistently before their marriage as did Pat Nixon. Working during her youth on her family's farm, she also later took over all the household chores when her mother became debilitated due to liver ailment and cancer. When her father could no longer work due to terminal tuberculosis, Pat Nixon also undertook a job to assist in his medical bills at the farmers' and dairymen's Artesia First National Bank, rising early to clean the floors as a janitor, then returning after high school to work as a bookkeeper.

During Pat Ryan's undergraduate years, she continued to work doggedly. Admitted to USC on a research scholarship that covered her $240 tuition and living expenses, Pat worked for a psychology professor, helping to grade student papers and doing research for a book he was writing. Requiring further income, she also worked as an assistant in the office of the university's vice president, as a librarian, and as a preparer of graduate survey questionnaires. In her spare time, she worked as a cafeteria waitress, a movie extra, an assistant buyer at Bullock's Wilshire Department Store, and a beauty products tester in salons. She worked an average of 40 hours a week on top of her full course load.

An accomplished woman in her own right, when Pat Nixon became First Lady of the United States, she became the first First Lady to endorse the Equal Rights Amendment and to publicly disclose her pro-choice view on abortion. She even became the first First Lady to appear publicly in pants and model them for a national magazine, reflecting the radical change in women's attire that critics derided as masculine.

She carried her theme of honoring the "common man" with several efforts to make the White House itself more accessible to those with needs who had previously been ignored. In the spring and autumn, Pat Nixon made the gardens and grounds of the Executive Mansion accessible to the public for the first time in nearly a century, hosting seasonal tours there. For the working-class families unable to tour the mansion during the daytime hours, she opened the White House during the holiday season for evening "Candlelight Tours" featuring the annual decorations. For visually, hearing, and physically impaired people, she created special tours that gave them full access to the rooms and the history of the White House, also making it handicapped-accessible. For those tourists and visitors who did not speak or write English, Pat Nixon had brochures written, published, and made available in a variety of languages, explaining the history of each of the White House rooms, which they could carry with them as they walked through. As the nation's 37th First Lady, Pat Nixon charmed hearts with her infectious smile, her dedication to the average American, and her down-to-earth personality.


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Leaders in Literacy

4/30/2024 through 4/30/2025

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First Ladies as Teachers, Educators, and Librarians.

The right to an education is a foundational principle of America’s history, and many First Ladies have taken up this cause. We celebrate National First Ladies Day by kicking off this featured exhibit, presented by Huntington Bank.