Feather Foster: expert on first ladies’ fashion

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Feather Foster (Brandy Centolanza/WYDaily)

What started out as a collection of ten books written about the American presidents has amassed into a presidential library filled with more than 1,500 works for local author and historian Feather Schwartz Foster.

Foster, a songwriter since a young child who has penned three books in recent years about the first ladies, found a passion for books about the presidents “by accident,” shortly after she and her husband purchased their first home.

“I’ve always been a reader,” said Foster. “I started going to book sales, and began rescuing books that no one seemed to want to have anymore.”

Sure, there were books about Washington, Lincoln, and Kennedy, but then she stumbled upon the book “In the Days of McKinley” by Margaret Leech, a biography about President William McKinley. Enthralled after reading it, Foster was determined to expand her collection.

“I told my husband that before I die I wanted a book about every president,” Foster recounted.

True to her word, she has at least one book about all 43 presidents and then some, but she hasn’t read them all.

“I don’t read past Eisenhower, because I’ve lived through those presidencies, so I don’t need to read about it and relive it,” Foster noted.

A friend encouraged her to write a book about her fascination with the presidents, but she decided to do some research and write about the first ladies instead. She toyed with the idea of writing a play first before her first book, “Ladies: A Conjecture of Personalities,” was published in 2002 by the print-on-demand book publisher PublishAmerica. 

The conversational read uses the voices of the presidents’ wives from Martha Washington to Mamie Eisenhower. Foster’s second book, “The First Ladies: From Martha Washington to Mamie Eisenhower, An Intimate Portrait of the Women Who Shaped America,” delves into the personalities of the ladies as well as their impact on the country.

Earlier this year, Foster published “Mary Lincoln’s Flannel Pajamas And Other Stories From The First Ladies’ Closet,” based on the popular first ladies gown exhibit at the Smithsonian. It’s a collection of stories about the various articles of clothing belonging to each of the first ladies. Whether it’s about a gown, a hat, a piece of jewelry, or a pair of shoes, each story showcases the ladies’ distinct personalities and tastes.

“I thought it was an interesting idea and wanted to write about it,” Foster said. “It’s metaphorical, but based on something real. Mary Lincoln really did wear flannel pajamas. I wanted to know how she got them and why she wore them.”

In addition to books about the presidents, Foster’s library has hundreds of books about the first ladies, the White House, elections, and political parties. She also has a collection of dishes and decorative plates featuring presidential homes.

Though she has no current book projects in the works, Foster continues to write, sharing her thoughts on the first ladies and more weekly on her blog at featherfoster.com.

“I want to engage my readers,” she said. “When they pick up one of my books, I want them to enjoy my writing style, but I also want them to learn something they’ve never knew before, find it interesting and want to learn more.”

Her blog also contains reviews of various presidential history books.

“I really enjoy doing that,” Foster said.

Foster also gives speeches and presentations on the first ladies, and teaches classes about the ladies as well as famous presidential sites for the Christopher Wren Association.

“I think people who aren’t into history aren’t into it because they haven’t been introduced to it properly,” Foster said. “I am on a one-woman crusade to try to encourage people to like history better. I am starting with the first ladies by showing how they were human. Everyone likes to hear about the human side of people.”

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