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Experts share insight on American First Ladies at annual symposium

Award-winning educator, speaker, and author Rebecca Boggs Roberts will visit The Ohio State University at Marion, Saturday, July 20, 2024, to discuss her latest book Untold Power, The Fascinating Rise and Complex Legacy of First Lady Edith Wilson, as part of three workshop sessions during the two-day long Warren G. Harding Symposium July 19-20, 2024.

The theme of this year’s symposium is Taft, Wilson and Harding: First Ladies of Consequence, featuring outstanding scholars and historians focusing on a remarkable group of American First Ladies, each of whom faced difficult challenges and were able to leave an indelible mark on a fascinating era in the United States presidency.      

Roberts is a leading historian of American women’s suffrage and civic participation. In addition to Untold Power, her books include the award-winning The Suffragist Playbook: Your Guide to Changing the World; Suffragists in Washington, D.C.: The 1913 Parade and the Fight for the Vote; and Historic Congressional Cemetery. She is currently deputy director of events at the Library of Congress, and has previously worked as a journalist, producer, tour guide, forensic anthropologist, event planner, political consultant, jazz singer, and radio talk show host. Roberts serves on the board of the National Archives Foundation, on the Council of Advisors of the Women’s Suffrage National Monument Foundation, and on the Editorial Advisory Committee of the White House Historical Association. She lives in Washington, DC, with her husband, their three sons, and a long-eared hound dog.

The publisher of the book, Penguin Random House, goes on to describe Untold Power as “a nuanced portrait of the first acting woman president, written with fresh and cinematic verve by a leading historian on women’s suffrage and power.”

According to the book synopsis, “While this nation has yet to elect its first woman president—and though history has downplayed her role—just over a century ago a woman became the nation’s first acting president. In fact, she was born in 1872, and her name was Edith Bolling Galt Wilson. She climbed her way out of Appalachian poverty and into the highest echelons of American power and in 1919 effectively acted as the first woman president of the U.S. (before women could even vote nationwide) when her husband, Woodrow Wilson, was incapacitated. Beautiful, brilliant, charismatic, catty, and calculating, she was a complicated figure whose personal quest for influence reshaped the position of First Lady into one of political prominence forever. And still nobody truly understands who she was.”

“For the first time, we have a biography that takes an unflinching look at the woman whose ascent mirrors that of many powerful American women before and since, one full of the compromises and complicities women have undertaken throughout time to find security for themselves and make their mark on history. She was a shapeshifter who was obsessed with crafting her own reputation, at once deeply invested in exercising her own power while also opposing women’s suffrage. With narrative verve and fresh eyes, Untold Power is a richly overdue examination of one of American history’s most influential, complicated women as well as the surprising and often absurd realities of American politics.”

In addition to Roberts’ workshop session, the symposium workshops also feature Dr. Rafaele Fierro, author of Helen Herron Taft:  Forgotten Im-pact of a Memorable First Lady leading and Jonathan Andersen, Florence Harding researcher and historian.

The Warren G. Harding Symposium opening reception will take place Friday, July 19th, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Harding Presidential Library and Museum, 380 Mount Vernon Avenue, Marion, Ohio.  Saturday’s events kicks-off with the annual Presidential Wreath-laying Ceremony at The Harding Memorial Presidential Gravesite, followed by workshop sessions at Ohio State Marion and the Gala Dinner and Keynote Speaker, author researcher and Harding Presidential Sites Manager, Sherry Hall.

The Warren G. Harding Symposium is a joint venture of The Ohio State University at Marion, the Ohio History Connection, and the Harding Presidential Sites.

Complete information including schedule of events, pricing, and on the 2024 Warren G. Harding Symposium can be found at: https://go.osu.edu/harding. If you have questions regarding registration, please email Jodi Somerlot at somerlot.30@osu.edu or call 740-725-6340.