5 Feisty Presidential Daughters

There have been presidential daughters almost as long as there have been presidents. (George Washington had no children.) What these women did—both under the influence of and independent from their influential fathers—make fascinating stories. Here are five you might not have heard.

1. Sarah Knox Taylor Davis

She packed a lot of drama into her 21 years. The second daughter of future U.S. President Zachary Taylor, Sarah also was the first wife of future Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Her parents gave her the middle name Knox after Fort Knox, in pre-state Indiana, where her military father was stationed and where she was born in 1813 or 1814. Sarah was often called Knox or Knoxie.

The life of an army brat was certainly more dangerous in the early 19th century. During Taylor's posting in Louisiana, Sarah and her two sisters came down with "bilious fever," now thought to be malaria. Sarah survived, but her older and younger sisters died.

The Taylors were stationed at Fort Crawford (now Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin) in 1832, when Sarah met and fell in love with a young officer named Jefferson Davis. Zachary Taylor opposed the relationship, and accounts vary as to why—because he didn't want his daughter to continue to be exposed to the hardships of army life, or because he and Davis didn't get along. Or both.

Davis was transferred, so he and Sarah conducted a long-distance relationship for two years. They even planned their wedding by mail. The ceremony took place in June 1835, in Louisville, Kentucky. Sarah's parents did not attend. Once again there is disagreement over why they were absent.

The newlyweds immediately headed south, and they visited Davis's relatives in Louisiana. Sarah, mindful of the family tragedy the last time the Taylors traveled those parts, wrote home, "Do not make yourself uneasy about me, the country is quite healthy."

But while staying with Davis's oldest sister at "Locust Grove" in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, the couple fell ill with malaria. Jefferson Davis recovered, but Sarah died, barely three months into her marriage.

2. Elizabeth Harrison Walker

Her life straddled the Gilded Age of her father, President Benjamin Harrison, and the Television Age, when accomplished women were just beginning to enter in numbers into the mainstream of public life.

Elizabeth was born in 1897, four years after her father left office. A widower with two children by his first wife, Harrison had married Mary Scott Lord Dimmick, and Elizabeth was the couple's only child. She was just 4 when her father, the last of the bearded presidents, passed away.

If Elizabeth's dynastic 1921 marriage to James Blaine Walker—grandnephew of her father's secretary of state and onetime Republican presidential nominee James G. Blaine—was conventional, much of the rest of her life was not. By the time of her wedding, she had received several academic degrees, including a law degree from New York University Law School, and was admitted to the bar in New York and Indiana at age 22.

After her marriage, she began publishing a monthly newsletter, "Cues on the News." Geared toward women, it offered economic and investment tips, and was distributed nationally by banks. Her expertise led to appearances on radio and, later, television, where she spoke on economic issues pertaining to women. She died in 1955, at the age of 58.

3. Margaret Woodrow Wilson

Thirty years before the Beatles went to India to sample and popularize its spiritual wonders, another musician and political activist, Margaret Woodrow Wilson, had already been. It was the final chapter in the peripatetic life of the eldest of President Woodrow Wilson's three daughters.

Margaret-Wilson.jpgMargaret was born in 1886, in Gainesville, Georgia. During her father's presidency, both of Margaret's sisters had White House weddings. So when their mother died in 1914, it fell to the unmarried eldest Wilson sister to become White House hostess. The president's remarriage a year later allowed Margaret to pursue her passion—music.

She studied piano and voice at the Peabody Institute of Music in Baltimore. In 1915, she made her singing debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, in Syracuse, New York. During World War I, she gave recitals that benefited the Red Cross and performed at Army camps. In 1918, she began nearly a year's stay in France, singing before Allied troops. The experience led to a breakdown, the loss of her singing voice, and the end of her musical career.

With the war over and women gaining the right to vote, Margaret became an advocate of a style of local participatory democracy in which neighborhood schools would become community centers. The annual $2,500 stipend bequeathed by her father upon his death in 1924 was not enough for her live on, so Margaret entered the advertising business. A speculation in oil stocks went sour, and as the 1920s ended, she ceased being a public figure.

In the 1930s she discovered the writings of Sri Aurobindo, a contemporary of Mahatma Gandhi's, whose philosophy for ending foreign rule in India was grounded in yoga and meditation. Eventually she followed her guru east. When a New York Times reporter found Margaret in Aurobindo's ashram in Pondicherry, India, in 1943, she had been living there four years. At the ashram she was known as Dishta. She died there in 1944 at the age of 57 of uremic poisoning.

4. Elizabeth Ann Christian Blaesing

Probably the only advantage to being the child of one of America's worst presidents was not having his last name. Warren G. Harding had no children with his wife, but a married man with two mistresses is bound to leave a legacy. Harding, the 29th president, left more than a stain on a blue dress.

prez-daughter.jpgElizabeth Ann was the daughter of Nan Britton, who as a teenager began a six-year affair with Harding, which lasted until his death in 1923. Elizabeth Ann was conceived on a couch in Harding's Senate office and was born in 1919. On the birth certificate, Britton wrote Christian as the baby's last name.

Until his inauguration in 1921, Harding made child-care payments to Britton in person, but always refused to meet Elizabeth Ann. After he entered the White House, Secret Service agents delivered the payments. But when Harding died, the money stopped.

In 1927, after Harding's widow refused to continue child support, Britton published The President's Daughter. The tell-all book became a bestseller. As the years passed, the story of Nan Britton and the president's "love child" faded, along with memories of Harding's inept presidency.

As an infant, Elizabeth Ann was adopted by Britton's sister and brother-in-law for the sake of appearances. As an adult, she married Henry Blaesing. They lived quietly in Glendale, California, and raised three sons.

Elizabeth Ann gave one of her first interviews, to the New York Times, in 1964. In it she revealed that her mother was living secretly nearby. Nan Britton died in 1991, "evidently so forgotten by history that no obituary was published," the Los Angeles Times later wrote. Elizabeth Ann died in 2005.

5. Margaret Truman Daniel

The helicopter parent is nothing new. But that pesky parental hovering can whip up a lot of dust when Dad is straight-talking President Harry S Truman.

Margaret-1951a.jpgBorn in 1924, Margaret was Harry and Bess Truman's only child. Like Margaret Wilson, she began her career as a singer. She was studying history and international relations at George Washington University when her father became vice president in January 1945. Less than three months later, Franklin Roosevelt died and Harry Truman became the 33rd president.

After intensive musical training, Margaret made her singing debut in 1947 with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra on a nationally broadcast radio program. She began touring the country, appeared on radio and television, and signed a recording contract.

Then came her infamous 1950 concert in Washington, D.C.'s Constitution Hall, in which her father played a role perhaps larger than hers.

"Paul Hume, the music critic of The Washington Post, while praising her personality, said that "˜she cannot sing very well,' added that "˜she is flat a good deal of the time' and concluded that she had no "˜professional finish,' " the New York Times recalled at the time of Margaret's death last January.

"Incensed, President Truman dispatched a combative note to Mr. Hume, who released it to the press... It said, in part, "˜I have just read your lousy review . . . I have never met you, but if I do, you'll need a new nose.' " (Read the review and Truman's response here.)

The episode didn't seem to impact her career, but her professional singing days were numbered anyway. Margaret would become a radio and television personality, co-hosting the 1950s radio program, Weekday, with Mike Wallace. She acted in summer stock. And in 1956 she married New York Times editor Clifton Daniel, with whom she had three sons.

But Margaret still had other media to conquer. She became a prolific author, writing several non-fiction books, including biographies of her parents. And she penned 13 mystery novels, beginning with Murder in the White House.

David Holzel can't resist a good presidential story. You'll find his websites here.

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Michael Campanella/Getty Images
10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios

"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.


If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).


Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.


Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother


When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."


A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:


In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:


Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.


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