After Hilary Rosen called Ann Romney — and I'm paraphrasing here — a shiftless layabout who luxuriates on a pallet of silk pillows and divides her days between torpid contemplation of her life of leisure and QVC, people got upset. Some people (stay-at-home moms) were legitimately annoyed that Rosen seemed so dismissive of the 24-hour job they have keeping their fragile and largely incoherent children alive from day to day, and other people (Republican politicians) were pretend upset because they saw an opportunity to trick more women into voting for their presumptive presidential candidate.
Lost in the furor that erupted over Ann Romney's employment history, however, is an interesting historical fact that the Daily Beast's Wayne Barrett pointed out early on Saturday: if Mitt Romney became the 45th president of these United States, his wife would become the only previously unemployed First Lady born in the 20th century. The last unemployed first lady? Mamie Eisenhower, born in 1896, married at 19 to Dwight (the same age that Ann married Mittens), and a well-practiced canasta and electric organ player. For all those Romney critics, then, who believe that he and his whole clan are out of touch not only with average America but with modern America as well, you're probably onto something.
Barrett's overview of First Lady employment is pretty interesting because our 20th-century-born first ladies have tried their calloused hands at pretty much everything: Laura Bush, as most of us probably know, was a teacher and a librarian working in poor neighborhoods. Nancy Reagan worked as a sales clerk, a nurse's aide, and an actress, appearing in 11 films. Rosalynn Carter worked from age 15 at a Georgia hairdresser's before taking over her family's peanut farm, a job that sounds both folksy and delicious (it's impossible for me to imagine running a profitable peanut farm because I would eat all of the peanuts, develop an allergy to them, and die happy). Betty Ford opened her own dance school, modeled dresses and furs, and at one point worked as a food processor at a frozen-foods factory. Hillary Clinton (the first First Lady with an advanced degree) and Michelle Obama were both well-respected attorneys, probably, at certain points in their marriages, even more well-respected as working professionals than their husbands. Even Jackie Kennedy, the First Lady most famous for her semblance of domestic composure, worked as a journalist at the Washington Times-Herald, a job through which she met the young U.S. senator, John F. Kennedy. Pat Nixon, though, seems to have had the most eclectic professional life of them all — she worked on a bank floor, harvested all manner of vegetables for her family's "truck farm," was an x-ray technician, pharmacy manager, typist, and lab assistant at a hospital, tested beauty products, waitressed, ensured that overdue library borrowers got their comeuppance, and helped people buy stuff at department stores.
Barrett uses this long litany of first lady employment to show how conspicuous Ann Romney would be situated among these women, but, in his zeal to show how tenacious some of the 20th century's presidential wives were, he mentions a whole bunch of menial jobs that would typically be left off of a resume. Ann Romney never worked in like an ice cream shop or something? She didn't spend a summer teaching kids how to do the backstroke at a summer camp? She didn't volunteer at school? Having a career is one thing but never having worked at anything ever is another and it seems unlikely — though entirely possible — that Ann Romney was never part of some organized endeavor, commercial, charitable or otherwise.
Ann Romney: How She Stacks Up Against Other First Ladies [Daily Beast]