By Heather Fiore
After her enthusiasm for the topic earned her status as a well-known first lady historian, Dr. Myra Gutin of the Communication and Journalism Department had the opportunity to visit the White House.
She has already penned two books on the subject of first ladies, The President’s Partner: The First Lady in the Twentieth Century and her recently published book, Barbara Bush: First Lady of Literacy.
“They said I was one of the go-to people for the Bush legacy,” Gutin said.
She was invited to the White House on Oct. 27 to have a more formal meeting and discussion with Bush and authors specializing in presidential history.
“It was fairly intimate,” Gutin said. “There were about 22 or 23 of us. There were two presidential historians, a group of first lady historians, some people from the White House Historical Society and George Bush Library and some media.”
Bush discussed her goals as a first lady and what she had accomplished and still hopes to achieve after the end of her administration.
“It was really incredible,” Gutin said of her White House experience. “It’s like all the things you dream of your whole life. They’re all there.”
To start the day, Gutin was escorted into the Blue Room, where there was a short dialogue with Bush. Gutin and the other participants were then taken up to the Residential Level in a small elevator. There, White House photographers took a photo of Gutin and Bush.
“We got off of the elevator and they asked us for our bags,” Gutin said. “I thought they were security, but then I saw that we were taking pictures with Laura Bush.”
Gutin’s interest was piqued even more with the 40-minute talk Bush gave following the photos. Bush spoke on her experiences as first lady, and what she had been doing as far as politics, such as helping individuals in the country and also in less-privileged countries.
“She’s very active in the initiative to do things for young boys in gangs,” Gutin said.
Attendees were able to ask questions after Bush’s speech.
“When I got a chance to ask her a question, I asked her if she is going to continue her efforts on the issue of AIDS, even after her term has concluded,” Gutin said. “You see, she is very active in helping countries in need. The two main issues that she speaks out about are Afghan women and Burma, a repressively run Southeast Asian country that experienced a life-threatening cyclone.”
In support of her heart-healthy initiative, Bush also traveled to Saudi Arabia, a strictly-run Muslim country, to speak about breast cancer. Women are considered inferior in Saudi Arabia and are essentially not allowed to do anything without the permission of their husbands. After Bush spoke on the subject, the women who attended graciously thanked her.
“[She] was also very proud of a new book festival she started called the National Book Festival, which takes place every summer in the National Mall,” Gutin said. “She spoke a lot about it.”
Shortly after Bush’s seminar on her accomplishments and goals, Gutin and fellow historians were escorted to a private dining room for lunch.
Afterwards, the group was given a more elaborate “behind the scenes” tour of some non-public rooms. One thing Gutin was captivated by was something she encountered in the Lincoln Bedroom. There, she saw one of the five original written copies of the Gettysburg Address.
They were also brought to the Queen’s Bedroom and the Truman Balcony, where another piece of irreplaceable history caught Gutin’s eye.
“While I was out on the Truman Balcony, there was one panel on the side of the White House that still hadn’t been fixed from when the British burned it,” Gutin said. “It was amazing.”
As Gutin was doing some final touring of the White House, Bush spoke about her image being produced and fabricated by the media.
“It points out what I know about first ladies,” Gutin said. “There is a real disconnect between what we know and what people are really like. The media doesn’t always match what a person is. I found Mrs. Bush to be outgoing, interesting and knowledgeable. She’s really wonderful.”
Although Gutin has previously met other first ladies, including Betty Ford and Rosalynn Carter, she explained that Bush is unique because no first lady has ever done something like this.
“It shows what her story is from her point of view,” Gutin said.