About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for "Lady First: The World of First Lady Sarah Polk"

McGowan Theater, National Archives Building, Washington, DC
February 15, 2019

Good afternoon. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and I’m pleased to welcome you to the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives. Whether you are in the theater or participating through Facebook or YouTube, I’m glad you could join us.

Before we get started, I’d like to let you know about two programs coming up on Wednesday, February 27.

At noon we’ll host the national book launch of Joseph P. Reidy’s new work, Illusions of Emancipation: The Pursuit of Freedom and Equality in the Twilight of Slavery.

And at 7 p.m. that evening, we will show the PBS NOVA documentary Addiction. The film examines how easy access to drugs—both illegal and prescription medications—has fueled an epidemic of addiction. After the screening, a panel of experts will discuss ways to address the drug problem.

Check our website, Archives.gov, or sign up at the table outside the theater to get email updates. You’ll also find information about other National Archives programs and activities.

Another way to get more involved with the National Archives is to become a member of the National Archives Foundation. The Foundation supports the work of the agency, especially its education and outreach programs. Visit their website—archivesfoundation.org—to learn more about the Foundation and join online.

In a recent review of Lady First: The World of First Lady Sarah Polk, written for the Wall Street Journal, Walter R. Borneman declared that “Ms. Greenberg does an admirable job of analyzing various letters to and from Sarah Polk.” The collection and publication of James K. Polk’s correspondence at the University of Tennessee has long been supported by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, a component of the National Archives. NHPRC grants help preserve records collections across the country so they may be accessible to as many people as possible.

The National Archives and Records Administration also operates the Presidential Libraries, which contain the records of Presidents Hoover through Obama. These records document the lives of not only those Presidents, but also the First Ladies. Whether these women were in the White House during our lifetimes or were active nearly a century ago, the libraries and their museums keep their legacies in the public eye.

The First Ladies before Hoover and Roosevelt, however, are not so familiar. That is why we are pleased to have Amy Greenberg tell us about Sarah Childress Polk. Mrs. Polk was a successful White House hostess, like other 19th-century First Ladies, but she was also an influential political helpmate of her husband, President James K. Polk.

If you are interested in women’s history, we will open a new exhibit on May 10 called “Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote.” Located in the O’Brien Gallery two floors above us, the exhibit will honor the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which extended the right to vote to women, and tell the story of the suffrage movement across race, ethnicity, and class.

Throughout this year and next, look for more National Archives programs relating to women and the centennial of woman suffrage.

And now, I’d like to bring up Amy Greenberg, author of Lady First: The World of First Lady Sarah Polk.

Amy S. Greenberg is the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of History and Women's Studies at Penn State University, where she has taught since 1995. She is the author of four books, including A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico, which received awards from the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic, the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, and the Western History Association, and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

She received major fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, and American Philosophical Society, among others. Penn State University gave her the George Atherton Award for Teaching and Amy was named a top young historian by History News Network.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Amy Greenberg.