You’ve probably heard of First Ladies Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Kennedy, even Abigail Adams. But how about Eliza Mcardle Johnson, Lucy Webb Hayes or Lititia Tyler? Lesser known First Ladies and, many might think, less important first ladies.
“I wanted to debunk that myth a bit that lesser known does not mean less important,” says filmmaker Cynthia Thies. Her new documentary film, Lesser-Known First Ladies, focuses on three not forgotten, but certainly ignored, presidential wives. But just as interesting as their compelling stories is the story of the filmmaker, who brings them to life on the silver screen.
“I knew nothing about filmmaking,” says Thies. “I do now, a great deal.”
Thies is a former teacher, former principal at Churubusco Elementary School, whose interest in history was nurtured as a longtime volunteer at the former Fort Wayne Lincoln Museum. After retiring in 2012 Thies began studying the lives of the First Ladies most Americans know nothing about.
“The women were to my way of thinking at least equally interesting,” says Thies, “and their back story if you will brought a lot of meaning to what was happening to their husbands.”
Theis chose three overlooked First Ladies, wrote a script and, with a group of local volunteers, began shooting their stories at several Fort Wayne locations. Lucy Webb Hayes, wife of Rutherford B. Hayes, an early advocate for African American rights before the Civil War. Caroline Scott Harrison, wife of Benjamin Harrison…a musician, historian and fundraiser for hospitals and medical research. And Eliza Johnson, wife of Andrew Johnson, the first president to be impeached. ‘Lesser Known First Ladies’ is a slick, handsome and substantial production, a remarkable achievement for an amateur filmmaker who found her calling as a senior citizen.
“I hope that it informs,” Thies says. “I hope that it inspires perhaps someone else to pursue something that they might have thought was unattainable or outside their realm of expertise. ‘Did you ever when you were an educator think that you would become a documentary filmmaker?’ we ask. “Never!” she says. “Never in my wildest dreams.”
Eric Olson reporting out in 21 Country.