Article by Heidi Butler, photos by Brian Shaud
April 29, 2013
When Abigail Adams lived in the White House, twelve fireplaces had to be lit for heat in the winter, and there was no place to hang laundry. The presidential mansion was still under construction.
Two hundred years later, Hillary Rodham Clinton found the living easier, but she still faced many of the same attitudinal challenges that Adams encountered.
Both were mockingly called "Mrs. President," and criticized for overstepping their roles as wives by being too involved in affairs of state.
Neither was deterred from speaking her mind on issues she deemed important.
"Why do we as a culture evaluate first ladies as if they were only wives?, " Margaret Menold Borene asked guests at the college restaurant on April 26 when she spoke at the tenth annual White House Dinner sponsored by the Northampton Community College Alumni Association. "Why do we write history as if men were its only actors?"
Borene, who teaches history at NCC, said that in her letters Adams was careful to use gender neutral language in making the case for opposing British tyranny, describing fellow Bostonians as "souls" and "patriots," rather than as men or women.
Adams viewed the pursuit of liberty as "a non-gendered responsibility," Borene said. She noted that opposition to the Tea Act not only included the dramatic dumping of tea into Boston Harbor by the Sons of Liberty, but at least one boycott of tea and other British products led by women who were "lampooned" by the British for their activism.
Although they were separated by 200 years, Borene does not view it as surprising that Hillary Clinton saw Abigail Adams as a role model. Both were the intellectual equals of their husbands, she said. Neither defined herself by marriage alone, and both viewed the involvement of women as well as men in affairs of state as not only appropriate, but advantageous to the nation.
In welcoming guests to the dinner, alumni board member Cindy Staffieri Workman '74 credited NCC's Vice President for Advancement Sherri Jones with starting the tradition of White House dinners when she served as director of alumni affairs at NCC earlier in her career. "She had a vision for creating a high-caliber educational and fine dining experience for the college community."
Since then the dinners have featured presentations on George Washington, Dolly Madison, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Jackie Onassis, among others.
The meals prepared by NCC's culinary arts students and served by hospitality students, are always White House-worthy. This year's was no exception from the butlered hors d'oeuvres to the pastry swan with fresh raspberries in a ganache swirl presented for dessert.
Proceeds from the dinner and the lively bidding at the silent auction will benefit the Alumni Association scholarship and programming.
This Flickr gallery will make you feel as though you were there.
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