Pat Nixon: A Trailblazer

Pat Nixon became the first Republican first lady (and second first lady, next to Eleanor Roosevelt) to address a national convention. Here she is at the RNC in August 1972. Courtesy of the Nixon Library.

Pat Nixon is one of the most underappreciated, and misinterpreted, first ladies in American history. Her five years of accomplishments as first lady are overshadowed by her husband’s presidency and, of course, the Watergate scandal. In 2017, I worked for the Nixon Foundation and embarked upon months of research on Pat Nixon. In doing this, I came to admire this unique woman for her kindness, hard work ethic, strong character, and the love she had for her family. I heard and read some invaluable personal stories from some who were close to her, and her memory remains strong in those lives’ that she personally touched.

When thinking about Pat Nixon’s legacy, people are often unaware of what a trailblazer she was, forging a path for Betty Ford, Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton, and others who followed. This is a list of 10 of Pat Nixon’s “firsts” as first lady (and that’s only a few!). If you love American history as much as I do, take some time and discover who Pat Nixon truly was. You’ll find she is a gem in this nation’s history.

  • In July 1969 Pat Nixon became the first first lady to step foot in a combat zone, meeting with soldiers just miles away from Saigon.
  • When President Nixon was looking to appoint a new Supreme Court judge, she publicly pushed for a woman to be appointed to the position. Unfortunately her request was not granted and Ronald Reagan would become the first president to appoint a female to the Supreme Court: Sandra Day O’Connor.
Pat Nixon giving a little girl a hug at a party for the Diplomatic Corp members’ children. Christmas 1969. Courtesy of the Nixon Library.
  • She was the first Republican first lady to address a Republican National Convention.
  • She sat in on a couple of the president’s cabinet meetings, promoting the importance of women in the government.
  • Pat Nixon had wheelchair ramps installed at the White House, making it handicap accessible for visitors; in addition, she established White House tours for the seeing and hearing impaired.
Pat Nixon would regularly host parties for handicapped children at the White House. This picture is from Halloween, 1971. Courtesy of the Nixon Library.
  • In Liberia in January 1972, Pat Nixon became the first first lady to deliver an address to a foreign nation’s parliament.
  • Though Jacqueline Kennedy famously restored the White House, Pat Nixon was the first and only first lady to receive an honorary membership into the National Society of Interior Designers for her extensive renovation work on the White House.
Pat Nixon with White House curator Clement Conger in the newly restored Green Room. Courtesy of the Nixon Library.
  • In November 1970 the White House was illuminated at night for the first time due to Pat Nixon’s call for those not able to visit the White House be able to see it clearly at night.
The Nixon’s standing in front of the newly illuminated White House. Courtesy of the Nixon Library.
  • She established the annual White House Gingerbread House tradition. The first lady worked with White House pasty chef Hans Raffert to create the simple A-frame structure.
Pat Nixon and daughter Julie Nixon Eisenhower looking at the third annual Gingerbread House, 1971. Courtesy of the White House Historical Association.
  • And finally, Pat Nixon was the first first lady to wear pants in public, even modeling them for a national magazine.
Pat Nixon with ABC correspondent Virginia Sherwood during a 1971 interview at the Nixon’s home in San Clemente, California. Courtesy of the Nixon Library.



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