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Offering some insight on First Ladies

With this being Palm Sunday, churches will be using millions of palm fronds to commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week. Most of the palms come from southern Mexico and Guatemala. For years, harvesters were paid by volume, which motivated them to cut off more branches than needed, thus damaging trees and contributing to deforestation.

A movement by churches interested in promoting ecological sustainability and fair trade led to the Eco-Palm, according to Lutheran World Relief Inc.

Why go to eco-palms, you ask?

Large floral export firms encourage over-harvesting. They pay by volume for palms and then throw away large amounts that aren’t export quality.

Over-harvesting damages forests where the palm plants thrive, then forests are depleted, and palm-selling communities lose an important source of income.

Eco-palms are different in that they are gathered and sold in a socially and environmentally just way. They are paid a fair price for palms based on quality — five to six times the normal payment per frond, so they take fewer palms out of the forest, protecting important nature reserves.

Community members sort packages and sell the palms themselves, not via middlemen. Therefore the money paid for the palms stays with people who worked the hardest to provide them. Because there is a steady market for the palms, locals are motivated to protect the forests, their source of income and ensuring harvest well into the future.

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The Four Seasons Garden Club held its open meeting for all members of Region 9, and with hats once being a high point of Easter, this seems like the right time to show the eight women who were part of the program dressed the way the first ladies of the times would be attired.

They told interesting events and happenings of the women who were thrown into the spotlight when their husbands stepped up as president of the United States.

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After the Revolution, when Gen. George Washington received news of his election, he wrote to Gen. Marquis de Lafayette, “My difficulties increase and magnify.”

Martha Custis Washington married the president in 1759 and spent time with her husband near the battlefield. She was at Boston, Morristown, Valley Forge and Yorktown delivering baskets of food for hungry troops in addition to nursing the sick.

In Mount Vernon, Martha worked from sunrise to sunset knitting and sewing clothes and supervising 16 spinning wheels turning out shirts, coats and blankets for the ragged Continental Army. Without her efforts, the war many have been lost.

Her food and etiquette came from a handwritten recipe cookbook attained in her first marriage. It was more 100 years old and contained more than 500 recipes. She used the cookbook at Mount Vernon, and she gave the book to her granddaughter, Eleanor Parke Custis, as a wedding gift.

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Mary Todd held an open house the last night President-elect Abraham Lincoln was in Springfield, Ill., and hundreds of hometown people attended, some uninvited.

Little is known about Lincoln not showing up for his wedding on Jan. 1, 1841. He got cold feet and left Springfield and later apologized to an embarrassed Mary Todd. On Nov. 4, 1843, he took the plunge.

Mary was allotted an allowance of $6,800 by Congress to redecorate the White House but overspent by $20,000 and accepted gifts from wealthy donors to make significant improvements. She spoke French quite well.

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Ida McKinley and her husband, the 25th president of the United States, visited San Jose, Calif., and were presented a bouquet of flowers they could not take with them. It weighed 300 pounds and stood 26 feet high. The bouquet stem was a telephone pole, and the arrangement was made by 2,000 women.

Ida, one of the social elite, had an annual income of more than $53,000 and was one of the prettiest girls in town. After becoming first lady, she was the second first lady to set foot on foreign soil. Because of poor health, including epilepsy, a stroke and depression, Ida rarely stood when greeting people at White House receptions.

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Edith Kermit Carow married Theodore Roosevelt in 1886 after the death of his wife, Alice Hathaway Lee. It was while he was in office that five rooms were built on the White House, and all the first ladies’ pictures were hung there. Edith ordered Wedgewood china with the presidential seal for the White House dinners.

A few months before his death, Roosevelt reflected, “I have had the happiest home life of any man I have ever known” — a great tribute to Edith.

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Marie “Mamie” Geneva Doud was the wife of one of the most famous generals of World War II. The Eisenhower family prayed together and read the Bible aloud both morning and night.

Dwight Eisenhower, as a new president, broke tradition after his inauguration by riding back to the White House with his wife, Mamie, instead of his vice president, Richard Nixon.

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Jacqueline “Jackie” Bouvier was often separated during the courtship of Sen. John “Jack” Kennedy.

She was pretty, wealthy and mischievous, getting into trouble quite a bit and spending time in the principal’s office. She won first prize in a Vogue magazine contest and was given a job with the magazine’s office in New York, then Paris but turned it down. She then got a job as a journalist and photographer with the Washington Times-Herald.

At 62, she commented that she had been in the public eye for more than 30 years and could not believe that anyone still cared about her. But even in the years following her death, she continues to captivate Americans.

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George H.W. Bush once wrote a letter stating that Barbara was wholly unselfish, beautiful tolerant of his weaknesses and ready to faithfully follow any course he chose. “When I married her, I hit the proverbial jackpot.”

They were busy when George moved to Texas and went into the oil business.

Barbara was selected to speak at Wellesley College once, but some senior girls protested, saying the first lady did not represent the modern woman as she was just a housewife and mother.

She replied “As important as your obligations are as a doctor, lawyer or business leader may be, your human connection with spouses, children and friends are the most important investment you will ever make. At the end of your life, you may never regret not having passed one more test or verdict but will regret not spending more time with a husband, child, friend or parent. She won over her audience.

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Nancy Reagan was an actress before becoming a first lady but said that just being Mrs. Ronald Reagan was the best role of her life. Theirs was the greatest love story of all time. She stood by him during his illness saying “Life began with Ronnie.”

He wrote her love letters that warmed her heart each day. She started the “Just Say No” campaign and decorated the White House as some of her projects.

(McCoy, a resident of Smithfield is food editor and a staff columnist for the Herald-Star andThe Weirton Daily Times. She can be contacted at emccoy@heraldstaronline.com.)

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