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My Thirty Years Backstairs at the White House

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This is the combined biography of two domestic servants, a mother and her daughter, each of whom worked for thirty years in the White House. In 1909, he mother was hired by President Taft, who was the first president ever to allow a Black person to enter the White House. She worked in the White House until 1939. Her daughter was hired by President Hoover in 1929 and she wo This is the combined biography of two domestic servants, a mother and her daughter, each of whom worked for thirty years in the White House. In 1909, he mother was hired by President Taft, who was the first president ever to allow a Black person to enter the White House. She worked in the White House until 1939. Her daughter was hired by President Hoover in 1929 and she worked there until the final days of the Eisenhower Administration in 1959. This book should be required reading for every serious student of American history. The authors were eye witnesses to some of the great events of history and offer different prospectives from that found elsewhere. For example, we learn that when Calvin Coolidge announced in 1927 that he did not intend to run for re-election, he was playing hard-to-get. He believed that the people would insist that he accept a third term of office. He expected to be drafted. He actually wanted a third term in office. Coolidge was disappointed when Herbert Hoover was nominated as he disagreed with Hoover's ideas and policies. We learn that in the last year and a half of the presidency of President Woodrow Wilson, he had to be wheeled around the White House in a wheel chair and was often engaged in "sickbed rambling." When Franklin D. Roosevelt took office as president, he was an invalid, confined to a wheelchair. Few Americans knew this and elaborate means were devised to make it appear that Roosevelt was robust and healthy. Whenever he was to speak, railings were created beside where he was to be standing. This was done so that it would appear that FDR was walking, taking a few steps up to the speaker's podium, when in reality the handrails were holding him up and he was dragging his feet a short distance to create the illusion that he was walking. Also, Roosevelt was dependent on his mother, Sara Delano, who had all the money and controlled his finances.


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This is the combined biography of two domestic servants, a mother and her daughter, each of whom worked for thirty years in the White House. In 1909, he mother was hired by President Taft, who was the first president ever to allow a Black person to enter the White House. She worked in the White House until 1939. Her daughter was hired by President Hoover in 1929 and she wo This is the combined biography of two domestic servants, a mother and her daughter, each of whom worked for thirty years in the White House. In 1909, he mother was hired by President Taft, who was the first president ever to allow a Black person to enter the White House. She worked in the White House until 1939. Her daughter was hired by President Hoover in 1929 and she worked there until the final days of the Eisenhower Administration in 1959. This book should be required reading for every serious student of American history. The authors were eye witnesses to some of the great events of history and offer different prospectives from that found elsewhere. For example, we learn that when Calvin Coolidge announced in 1927 that he did not intend to run for re-election, he was playing hard-to-get. He believed that the people would insist that he accept a third term of office. He expected to be drafted. He actually wanted a third term in office. Coolidge was disappointed when Herbert Hoover was nominated as he disagreed with Hoover's ideas and policies. We learn that in the last year and a half of the presidency of President Woodrow Wilson, he had to be wheeled around the White House in a wheel chair and was often engaged in "sickbed rambling." When Franklin D. Roosevelt took office as president, he was an invalid, confined to a wheelchair. Few Americans knew this and elaborate means were devised to make it appear that Roosevelt was robust and healthy. Whenever he was to speak, railings were created beside where he was to be standing. This was done so that it would appear that FDR was walking, taking a few steps up to the speaker's podium, when in reality the handrails were holding him up and he was dragging his feet a short distance to create the illusion that he was walking. Also, Roosevelt was dependent on his mother, Sara Delano, who had all the money and controlled his finances.

30 review for My Thirty Years Backstairs at the White House

  1. 4 out of 5

    SmarterLilac

    This fascinating peek into what is still one of the world's most mysterious and cloistered environments charmed me from the first page. The language is surprisingly modern, for one, and the author was clearly determined to maintain the time honored tradition of refusing to disclose any salacious details about the presidents or First Ladies. (A refreshing change from today's publishing climate, in which no one will agree to publish a memoir of public/historical events unless it at least has somet This fascinating peek into what is still one of the world's most mysterious and cloistered environments charmed me from the first page. The language is surprisingly modern, for one, and the author was clearly determined to maintain the time honored tradition of refusing to disclose any salacious details about the presidents or First Ladies. (A refreshing change from today's publishing climate, in which no one will agree to publish a memoir of public/historical events unless it at least has something 'totally new'--ie; shocking--in it.) Some of the details that stuck out to me included the loosening of social restrictions over the decades the author served her time--during the Hoover years, servants were to be unseen and unheard, (to the point of having to hide in a closet if they were caught in the same hallway as an approaching Chief Executive or spouse) but by the Eisenhower years, Ike finally told the staff to relax and continue their work should they spot him passing by. I also liked learning that Lillian Rogers Parks thought very highly of Bess Truman, stating that she was the kindest First Lady to work for and kept the White House in the best care through simple good taste. (I always knew there was a reason I would wind up liking both Trumans.)

  2. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    This is one of my very favorite books ever. I read it shortly after the mini-series appeared on television. I was impressed with the way it was written as well as the details from the back side of the White House. It shows how the staff was treated over the years from Teddy Roosevelt up through the Eisenhower administration. It is a delight to read and a must read for anyone interested in the history of the families of the residents of the White House.

  3. 4 out of 5

    This

    A wonderful peek at a number of US Presidents (and their families) from the early 20th century. It has been years since I read it, but this was a book I kept for years (until downsizing) because I enjoyed it so much. It was the basis for a TV movie, I believe.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    This book covers a maid's perspective of the White House from the Tafts through the Eisenhowers. The author and her mother both worked at the White House as maids and the book covers memories of both of their times there. The book was obviously written a while ago, but it really reminded me that history is very cyclical. The author herself says at the end "The Music Goes Round and Round." The book gives a very human side of the presidents and their families, how they handled the constant stress o This book covers a maid's perspective of the White House from the Tafts through the Eisenhowers. The author and her mother both worked at the White House as maids and the book covers memories of both of their times there. The book was obviously written a while ago, but it really reminded me that history is very cyclical. The author herself says at the end "The Music Goes Round and Round." The book gives a very human side of the presidents and their families, how they handled the constant stress of the job, and many of their quirks and strengths. One of the most profound - and prophetic even - things the author states is "the best advice I can give the new First Lady, before it is too late, isto find the thickest set of invisible armor and put it on. She will need it to let the arrows of false accusations and needless criticism bounce off her." At the end of the book, it is quite apparent that her favorite family was the Trumans because they were so down to earth. She said that Truman's mother told him that everyone needed to wash their own socks and underwear, so Truman did that even in the White House. I liked him too after reading that. I enjoyed the book and I kept thinking all the way through how much my mom would love the book with all the personal information. I found, however, that sometimes it was a little like listening to an older great aunt tell endless non sequitur stories. Too much of the book was written in nearly stream of consciousness form, I thought the editors should have given some more form and structure to the innumerable little stories. If you enjoy personal histories and are interested in modern U.S. history, you'll like this book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Terry

    It gave an insight, although minuscule, to the lives of presidents and their families. Ms parks glosses over her work, which I am sure was exhausting at best-she was an inspiration, she followed her dream, and let us look into a bit of those years. I think that the reviews that stated words were redundant, as were some of the stories was petty. This was not an author- this was a working woman sharing a bit of her life

  6. 4 out of 5

    Becky

    Interesting but not well written; some of the stories are even repeated. The author, Lillian Parks, was a maid at the White House for 30 years. "Upstairs at the White House" by former White House head usher J.B. West is much better written and more informative. I did enjoy learning more about the Presidents and their families from the perspective of the "backstairs" staff, however. Interesting but not well written; some of the stories are even repeated. The author, Lillian Parks, was a maid at the White House for 30 years. "Upstairs at the White House" by former White House head usher J.B. West is much better written and more informative. I did enjoy learning more about the Presidents and their families from the perspective of the "backstairs" staff, however.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany

    This version is the 2008 reprint edition, including a new introduction written by Sam Sloan. The copy I have (I don't know if all pressings of this ISBN are like this) is a print-on-demand version, so the print and pictures aren't crisp (the print is readable, but in many places it looks like a scan of an original), and the Introduction IS IN A SUPER BIG -- OR MAYBE IT'S JUST BECAUSE IT'S BOLD -- FONT. Next, the intro sounds like a sloppy, lazy-student or gossipy book review: it refers to a rela This version is the 2008 reprint edition, including a new introduction written by Sam Sloan. The copy I have (I don't know if all pressings of this ISBN are like this) is a print-on-demand version, so the print and pictures aren't crisp (the print is readable, but in many places it looks like a scan of an original), and the Introduction IS IN A SUPER BIG -- OR MAYBE IT'S JUST BECAUSE IT'S BOLD -- FONT. Next, the intro sounds like a sloppy, lazy-student or gossipy book review: it refers to a related book as "pure TRASH," says that FDR and his mistress had "hard sex," uses "prospective" instead of "perspective," states that the authors of this book were domestic servants at the White House (*they* weren't; one was, as was her mother, but the other author is merely a helping writer), posits that the co-author could have had a more successful career by writing about (or being more blatant about) JFK's infidelity, etc. To paraphrase him, his intro is PURE TRASH. He also says that the Backstairs at the White House miniseries and companion book, based on this book, are works of fiction, yet the miniseries was made with help from Lillian Rogers and includes many of the stories in this book. This actual book itself is more like a collection of anecdotes. Rather than a chronological history of Lillian's work at the White House, stories (ranging from one sentence to just a few paragraphs) are organized in themed chapters: guns, pets, families, etc., which made it hard to really get into. The writers also refer to people at the White House -- members of the family, members of the extended family, members of the president's staff, staff members' family -- as if I know who they are. I don't know who Johnny is! And who are the Hopkinses? The authors should have introduced each person (just a simple "The president's grandson") when they first tell a story about them so I actually understand the significance of the story. Overall, this book was kind of a letdown, but that could be in large part because I loved Backstairs at the White House (book and miniseries) so much, and this didn't live up to them.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Nina

    This memoir was published in 1961, so the combined 50 years that the author and her mother worked at the White House only covered Taft through Eisenhower. As backstairs maids, housekeepers, and seamstresses, they were privy to the personal tragedies of the families (e.g., the death of Coolidges' teenage son and the deaths of Harding and FDR) and idiosyncrasies (e.g., Hoover didn't want to see any of the staff, so they would have to dive into closets if he was approaching. Mamie Eisenhower didn't This memoir was published in 1961, so the combined 50 years that the author and her mother worked at the White House only covered Taft through Eisenhower. As backstairs maids, housekeepers, and seamstresses, they were privy to the personal tragedies of the families (e.g., the death of Coolidges' teenage son and the deaths of Harding and FDR) and idiosyncrasies (e.g., Hoover didn't want to see any of the staff, so they would have to dive into closets if he was approaching. Mamie Eisenhower didn't want to see footprints on any rug, so they'd have to brush the rugs in advance of her when she was going out.). The author was gracious and respectful of all the families, although it was easy to tell that she adored the egalitarian Trumans and Roosevelts, and wasn't as crazy about the imperious Eisenhowers. Too bad the author couldn't have worked clear up until today, because I'm sure the backstairs scuttlebutt would be even more highly entertaining.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Hila

    This book (published in 1961) was so fun! It's memoir-like about a woman who worked backstairs (the term for where the servants generally worked... I guess kind of like "behind the scenes") at the White House. She tells tales of her experiences with four different presidents and first ladies for whom she worked, and some stories of the four for whom her mother worked as a White House maid. I loved this book, because I learned stuff about many presidents I don't ever think about (Taft, Wilson, Co This book (published in 1961) was so fun! It's memoir-like about a woman who worked backstairs (the term for where the servants generally worked... I guess kind of like "behind the scenes") at the White House. She tells tales of her experiences with four different presidents and first ladies for whom she worked, and some stories of the four for whom her mother worked as a White House maid. I loved this book, because I learned stuff about many presidents I don't ever think about (Taft, Wilson, Coolidge and others). It was just awesome to learn these little tidbits here and there. I feel like I have some good Jeopardy trivia knowledge! And so many of the stories were funny! I laughed out loud several times and read many things out loud to Jeremy while he was driving us across the country. Apparently it got turned into a mini series, so I need to look for that! Thank you, Roger, for this delightful read!!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Autumn Klepper

    Many interesting points in this book but the book felt very disorganized...the author often skipped around between several different administrations, making it hard to keep things in context. Also, a surprising number of points in the book were repetitive...this book should have been better organized and condensed.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Emerald

    Great insight into how the every day lives of the Presidents and their families are maintained by the White House Staff. Really a great book on American's history. This was also made into a movie back during the mini-series hype in the 80's. Really enjoyed it. Great insight into how the every day lives of the Presidents and their families are maintained by the White House Staff. Really a great book on American's history. This was also made into a movie back during the mini-series hype in the 80's. Really enjoyed it.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    This was an interesting look from the early 1960s of the presidencies from Taft to Truman. Inside stories from a White House housekeeper and seamstress. Well-written. Read this one quickly just for fun. I wonder if this one is on the reading list of the White House Historical Association. Jim

  13. 4 out of 5

    Cathy

    I read it the first time just after the movie came out when I was 9 and I've read it several times since then. This is what got me fascinated with the residence and the people who work there. Terrific people who give so much to the country without any recognition. I read it the first time just after the movie came out when I was 9 and I've read it several times since then. This is what got me fascinated with the residence and the people who work there. Terrific people who give so much to the country without any recognition.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Hailey Hudson

    This was fascinating and I absolutely loved it!!! 10/10 would recommend--so many fun behind-the-scenes anecdotes of the Presidents and First Ladies!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jim Heath

    One of my favorite books in elementary school. Amazing woman with amazing insights into our presidents from Taft to Eisenhower.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jackie Mulkey

    This was made into a mini-series that I remember when I was little. Obviously the book is better. True story about working at the WhiteHouse through many presidents.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Elia (goldenlyre)

    I had to read this for my hist17B class and lowkey actually really interesting.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Megan Flower

    Great stories and a lighthearted look at politics.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen Nalley

    Interesting stories from a mother and daughter who worked for many years at the White House. Organization and quality of writing had much to be desired.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Maria

    There were interesting tidbits in the book but overall I struggled with the organization of the book which seemed to never quite get in a rhythm - especially part 1.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    read this years ago...

  22. 5 out of 5

    Michelle Halber

    Some of it is probably fictionalized, but this is a wonderful social history of Washington, race and custom from the viewpoints of 2 people who worked at the White House.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Christina

    July 2020 Book Club read

  24. 4 out of 5

    RocknRobn

    very interesting. really enjoyed a glimpse of presidential families from the perspective of those who worked for them

  25. 4 out of 5

    Leslie Goddard

    This book is fascinating as a piece of history itself, being one of the earliest behind-the-scenes glimpses of the White House (Parks wrote it just after her retirement at the end of the Eisenhower presidency). Today, when many White House staffers write their memoirs, it seems a bit innocuous as far as juicy tidbits go. But not many other books offer a peek inside the world of the White House pre-Kennedy era, and in that respect it's fascinating. How many other book give as entertaining a look This book is fascinating as a piece of history itself, being one of the earliest behind-the-scenes glimpses of the White House (Parks wrote it just after her retirement at the end of the Eisenhower presidency). Today, when many White House staffers write their memoirs, it seems a bit innocuous as far as juicy tidbits go. But not many other books offer a peek inside the world of the White House pre-Kennedy era, and in that respect it's fascinating. How many other book give as entertaining a look at Florence Harding and Grace Coolidge and Lou Hoover? As we know today, personal stories make presidential couples more human, and her stories are often endearing. I did feel at times that she was going out of her way to spare the feelings and reputation of the presidential couples, which was pretty obvious (e.g. saying that the staff had to jump out of sight when the Hoovers appeared for reasons of safety and security) but often sweet.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ruth Ann

    Maybe I should change my did-not-read shelf to "could-not-read!" I found the Introduction, and Summary of Interesting Events offensive. It was printed in bold-face. It looked an advertisement in a cheap magazine! I had looked forward to reading this book. I thought it would be a hardcover, with maybe some glossy black and white photos. The book did have some photos - in the beginning, following the Summary of Interesting Events - which were too dark and blurry. And, there was far too much repetitio Maybe I should change my did-not-read shelf to "could-not-read!" I found the Introduction, and Summary of Interesting Events offensive. It was printed in bold-face. It looked an advertisement in a cheap magazine! I had looked forward to reading this book. I thought it would be a hardcover, with maybe some glossy black and white photos. The book did have some photos - in the beginning, following the Summary of Interesting Events - which were too dark and blurry. And, there was far too much repetition! Ack!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Fred Klein

    This book is mostly for presidential history buffs. It's the disorganized, gossipy memoirs of the White House seamstress, about what she and her mother (who worked there before her and during some of her time there) saw over many years working for the First Families. It seems like you are listening to an old lady ramble on and on, and it's mostly innocuous, although I don't think she had to pick on Margaret Truman's nose for half a page. This book is mostly for presidential history buffs. It's the disorganized, gossipy memoirs of the White House seamstress, about what she and her mother (who worked there before her and during some of her time there) saw over many years working for the First Families. It seems like you are listening to an old lady ramble on and on, and it's mostly innocuous, although I don't think she had to pick on Margaret Truman's nose for half a page.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    It was written in the 1960's and is still great. I watched the movie a few years ago and just got around to reading it. We follow Maggie and Lillian as both mother and daughter work as maids in the White House over a span of fifty years. I found all the personal information about the Presidents fascinating. It was written in the 1960's and is still great. I watched the movie a few years ago and just got around to reading it. We follow Maggie and Lillian as both mother and daughter work as maids in the White House over a span of fifty years. I found all the personal information about the Presidents fascinating.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Joyce Becker

    Started my First Lady collection. There was a TV series based on this book which fascinated me. Many characteristics of the presidential families were brought out that I didn't know before. Also gave a very good insight in life "downstairs" at the White House and how each president responded to the "Help"' Started my First Lady collection. There was a TV series based on this book which fascinated me. Many characteristics of the presidential families were brought out that I didn't know before. Also gave a very good insight in life "downstairs" at the White House and how each president responded to the "Help"'

  30. 5 out of 5

    Reginald

    RE-READ.... I really enjoyed this book, as I due with most time-period literature. I've even enjoyed the DVD's that were also available for this title (made for T.V. Mini Series). Of course, as with all PAGE to FILM features, the BOOK was my favorite as it wasn't overly edited. A Great read about the era of time. RE-READ.... I really enjoyed this book, as I due with most time-period literature. I've even enjoyed the DVD's that were also available for this title (made for T.V. Mini Series). Of course, as with all PAGE to FILM features, the BOOK was my favorite as it wasn't overly edited. A Great read about the era of time.

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