Every Four Years…And Then Some

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President Clinton does some browsing at the Chautauqua Bookstore. (Photo Credit: The White House)

Contributing Writer
Joan V. Cusimano Lindquist

A few years ago my sister-in-law, Betsy Lynch, sent me a scrap book (keeper of history unknown) that contains, among other things, many articles, cartoons, and dramatic photos of the war years, 1941-1945, that we in the United States still remember, now mostly as youngsters since the intervening years have deprived us of living WW II veterans, many in their 90s and dwindling, and aging citizens who on the home front helped win that global conflict.  And the president who saw us through those turbulent times was elected and re-elected because the American people had put their trust in him—none other than Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The scrap book is a treasure trove of history through times of war and peace, uncovering national, international, and local news about Jamestown and neighboring communities.  However, in perusing it recently, I came across a complete copy of the fall issue of THE CHAUTAUQUAN for 1996 and a special edition dated October 3-6, 1996 featuring the Clinton visit to Chautauqua Institution when President Bill Clinton and his wife chose to move into the Athenaeum for three days of rest and preparation for his upcoming presidential debate with then Republican Senate Majority leader Bob Dole, whom he defeated, thus serving a second term.

As noted, President Clinton was not the first presidential guest to stay at the “grand dame hotel.”  Ulysses S. Grant visited in 1875 for a shorter stay at the Athenaeum, and others included both Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt.  Theodore Roosevelt, a dynamic speaker, who made his first political speech in western New York State in Brooklyn Square in 1900 as Vice Presidential running mate to William McKinley, also spoke at Chautauqua calling the audience “’typical of America at its best.’”  In 1936 Franklin Roosevelt gave his “I Hate War” speech in Chautauqua’s original amphitheater.  Clinton was the ninth U.S. president in 1996 to come to Chautauqua, although not all of the others visited during their terms as president.

Did I say that this scrap book was a treasure trove of history?  Indeed.  And a well known historian who was a 1997 Chautauqua lecturer was Doris Kearns Goodwin, a prolific writer and chronicler of American and presidential history who is still writing to this day.  In a phone interview in 1996, Goodwin gave a preview of the contents of her upcoming lecture that included a perspective on the presidency and on the emerging power of women to bring about social change.  This was a telling point for me then and now when so many young people between the ages of 18 and 30 are voting in record numbers—with many young women knowledgeable about the privilege of casting a vote that was for so long withheld from them.  People have asked me over the years: “Did you vote for Kennedy in 1960?”  My answer is always “No, not because as a woman I was deprived of that privilege, but because one had to be 21 to vote in those days and I was  not old enough in November of 1960.”  But on July 1, 1971 the 26th Amendment was ratified that gave the vote to 18 year olds, and I’m glad to see so many young people exercising their right to cast a ballot.

There were many interesting points that Goodwin made in that phone interview that preceded her Chautauqua lecture. Among them was her feeling that it took women a long time to vote differently from their husbands, but as the women’s movement got underway and got stronger they felt an independence that extended to voting.  Goodwin attributed this to financial independence because more women were then entering the work force and beginning to have their own point of view on more and more issues.  This is even more relevant today when now more than ever in our history as a country women are a major part of America’s work force, many of them single mothers who bear the responsibility of working, managing a household, and raising children single-handedly.  Something to think about: when a man leaves his job, he gets another and thus replaces one occupation with another.  When a woman gets a job or enters a profession, she does not give up her other responsibilities as a mother and manager or caretaker of everyone in her home.  She does not replace one job with another.  Women always do things in addition to.  I’m not sure if Doris Kearns Goodwin would say it that way, but she did emphasize in her interview that “it’s a whole attitude toward politics that makes women tend to lean toward issues that are more sympathetic toward the role of government in finding solutions” in social and environmental issues, especially in today’s world, almost a full generation from Goodwin’s sentiments as a historian and political commentator in 1996.  How I would have loved to be part of the audience at her lecture all those years ago.  But I do read her books!