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January 11, 2022
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Washington's Iron Butterfly

Bess Clements Abell, An Oral History

Had Elizabeth "Bess" Clements Abell (1933–2020) been a boy, she would likely have become a politician like her father, Earle C. Clements. Effectively barred from office because of her gender, she forged her own path by helping family friends Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson. Abell's Secret Service code name, "Iron Butterfly," exemplified her graceful but firm management of social life in the Johnson White House. After Johnson's administration ended, she maintained her importance in Washington, DC, serving as chief of staff to Joan Mondale and cofounding a public relations company.

Donald A. Ritchie and Terry L. Birdwhistell draw on Abell's own words and those of others known to her to tell her remarkable story. Focusing on her years working for the Johnson campaign and her time in the White House, this engaging oral history provides a window into Abell's life as well as an insider's view of the nation's capital during the tumultuous 1960s.

About the Authors

Donald A. Ritchie is historian emeritus of the United States Senate. He conducted oral history interviews with former senators and retired members of the Senate staff as part of the Senate oral history project and edited the transcripts of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy's investigations. Ritchie has authored a number of books including Electing FDR: The New Deal Campaign of 1932, and Press Gallery: Congress and the Washington Correspondents, which won the Richard W. Leopold Prize of the Organization of American Historians. Terry L. Birdwhistell is founding director of the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History and served as Dean of University of Kentucky Libraries. He is a former president of the Oral History Association and is coauthor of Our Rightful Place: Women at the University of Kentucky, 1880-1945.

Reviews

"The story of Bess Abell would have been very different had she been born a generation later. In Washington's Iron Butterfly, her story comes alive through her own words and the words of those who knew her. Ably edited by Don Ritchie and Terry Birdwhistell, two of the best oral historians around, this work allows the reader to feel the emotions, the joys, and the sorrows of a remarkable woman. It is a book that both entertains and instructs—a good read, indeed.The result is a fun, entertaining, and readable book about a very special woman."—James Klotter

"A new and fresh look at the inner workings of the Johnson White House from the perspective of the 'Iron Butterfly.' While officially Social Secretary to the First Lady, Bess Abell's political and social skills shaped the success of East Wing's contributions to that administration."—David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States

"Bess Abell was the PT Barnum of the White House and Washington in her time. She had the inventive mind to create limitless events big and small and the knowledge and organizational skills to pull them off. This book brings the reader into a family storytelling session of her remarkable life through her voice and the voices of those around her."—Larry Temple, special counsel to President Lyndon B. Johnson (1967-1969) and chairman of the Lyndon B. Johnson Foundation

"The Katharine Hepburn of Washington in the 1960s, Bess Abell was a force of nature. From a deeply divisive war to luncheons gone horribly wrong, she was able to deftly steer the Johnson family through the tumult of their Washington years. In Washington's Iron Butterfly we hear the story from Abell herself and from the members of the Johnson administration who knew her best."—Kate Andersen Brower, CNN contributor and New York Times bestselling author of The Residence, First Women, and Team of Five

"Few had intimate access to the Johnson White House like Bess Clements Abell—a young Kentucky woman who took her political savvy as a former governor's daughter from Morganfield to the Potomac. Talented and likable, described as "feisty and funny" by the editors, she was known to be gracious, but "tough as nails" when things had to get done. An important read for Kentuckians and anyone wanting to know more from inside the Oval Office."—Bill Goodman, executive director of Kentucky Humanities and author of Beans, Biscuits, Family and Friends

"Bess Clements Abell learned from her parents grace and grit and she used both during her Washington career. She handled difficult situations with calm resolve and demonstrated to others how to serve and lead. She made her home state of Kentucky proud."—Eli Capilouto, president of the University of Kentucky

"The position of White House Social Secretary is challenging in even the most tranquil of times. For Bess Abell, who served in the role for Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson during the 1960s—time of enormous social change including some brought about by LBJ's transformative policy itself—the challenges were formidable. Donald Ritchie and Terry Birdwhistell's Washington's Iron Butterfly: Bess Clements Abell, An Oral History offers a vivid and entertaining portrait of the inimitable Social Secretary, who the Secret Service code named 'Iron Butterfly' due to her perfect combination of Kentucky grace and unflinching strength."—Mark K. Updegrove, President and CEO of the LBJ Foundation and Presidential Historian for ABC News

"To me Bess was wisdom, humor, competence, creativity, loyalty, reliability and kindness on two feet. But most of all, she was a once in a lifetime friend. If you care about your country and the "can do" spirit of a "can do" woman ahead of her times, the story of Bess Abell will inspire you and comfort you in a time when we all need both."—Luci Baines Johnson

"In my eyes, Bess will always be the person I wanted to be when I grew up."—Lynda Johnson Robb

9780813182261 : washingtons-iron-butterfly-ritchie-ritchie-birdwhistell
Hardback
January 11, 2022
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January 11, 2022
$35.00 USD
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Other Titles by Terry L. Birdwhistell

This is Home Now

Arwen Donahue, photographs by Rebecca Gayle Howell, foreword by Joan Ringelheim, preface by Douglas A. Boyd, James C. Klotter, Terry Birdwhistell, Terry L. Birdwhistell
Jan 2022 - University Press of Kentucky
$50.00 USD - Hardback
$26.00 USD - Electronic book text
$50.00 USD - Electronic book text

Our Rightful Place

Terry L. Birdwhistell, Deirdre A. Scaggs
Jul 2020 - University Press of Kentucky
$40.00 USD - Hardback

Engineering Corporate Success

James Hardymon, edited by Terry L. Birdwhistell
Aug 2019 - South Limestone, an imprint of University Press of Kentucky
$19.95 USD - Hardback

Other Titles by Terry Birdwhistell

This is Home Now

Arwen Donahue, photographs by Rebecca Gayle Howell, foreword by Joan Ringelheim, preface by Douglas A. Boyd, James C. Klotter, Terry Birdwhistell, Terry L. Birdwhistell
Jan 2022 - University Press of Kentucky
$50.00 USD - Hardback
$26.00 USD - Electronic book text
$50.00 USD - Electronic book text

Our Rightful Place

Terry L. Birdwhistell, Deirdre A. Scaggs
Jul 2020 - University Press of Kentucky
$40.00 USD - Hardback

Engineering Corporate Success

James Hardymon, edited by Terry L. Birdwhistell
Aug 2019 - South Limestone, an imprint of University Press of Kentucky
$19.95 USD - Hardback

Other Titles from Kentucky Remembered

Barry Bingham

Barry Bingham
Dec 2021 - University Press of Kentucky
$70.00 USD - Hardback
$30.00 USD - Paperback / softback
$45.00 USD - Electronic book text

Bert Combs The Politician

edited by George W. Robinson
Dec 2021 - University Press of Kentucky
$28.00 USD - Paperback / softback
$45.00 USD - Electronic book text

Food and Everyday Life on Kentucky Family Farms, 1920-1950

John van Willigen, Anne van Willigen
Dec 2021 - University Press of Kentucky
$30.00 USD - Paperback / softback
$30.00 USD - Electronic book text

Other Titles in BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / Women

The Queen of Technicolor

Tom Zimmerman
Jul 2022 - University Press of Kentucky
$40.00 USD - Hardback
$40.00 USD - Electronic book text
$40.00 USD - Electronic book text

Anne Bancroft

Douglass K. Daniel
Apr 2022 - University Press of Kentucky
$34.95 USD - Hardback
$34.95 USD - Electronic book text
$34.95 USD - Electronic book text

Lieutenant Sonia Vagliano

Sonia Vagliano Eloy, translated by Martha Noel Evans
Feb 2022 - University Press of Kentucky
$27.95 USD - Hardback
$27.95 USD - Electronic book text
$27.95 USD - Electronic book text