Archived News | Return to News Center

March 15, 2005

Celebrated Historian and Author Shares History Lessons and Humor with ULM

photo gallery

Listen to her ULM talks online

Pulitzer Prize winner Dr. Doris Kearns Goodwin spoke to a diverse crowd of students, academics and community members gathered in the University of Louisiana at Monroe's Brown Hall on Monday, March 14 as part of the James E. Cofer, Sr., Presidential Lyceum Series at ULM.

The award-winning historian addressed the crowd on a number of historical points starring many famous figures-all of the insights employing the author's humor and perspectives towards current political and societal trends.

Goodwin reported that her lifelong love of history seemed rooted in two familial events-that of keeping descriptive score of the Brooklyn Dodgers games for her father and hearing her mother's storytelling even while she suffered a debilitating illness.

"I'm convinced I learned the narrative arts from those sessions with my father," Goodwin said.

Despite a turn as a Vietnam war protestor, Goodwin became one of Lyndon B. Johnson's presidential interns. She described him as one of the best storytellers she had ever encountered. Verbatim tapes he made in his office helped demonstrate how he managed to persuade so many important political figures to his banner.

"That larger-than-life quality of Lyndon Johnson never ceases to amaze me," Goodwin said.

After taking six years to complete "No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt," Goodwin felt she had achieved a privileged understanding of the importance of Franklin D. Roosevelt's contributions to shaping the world into its present position.

She recounted the problems that Roosevelt faced concerning aiding the British with a then isolationist United States and its smaller military power. Despite the danger of being impeached should Great Britain fall to the Nazis, Roosevelt proceeded.

"He trusted in so doing the character of the British people and the leadership of Winston Churchill," Goodwin said.

Finally, the United States officially entered World War II, so "Dr. New Deal" had to become "Dr. Win the War." Business and labor both gained from the situation, while minorities and women gained skilled labor positions never before available to them-and there was no going back after the war.

A Happy Hour occurred at the White House each night in which its attendees could not discuss topics relating to the war as the subject was prevalent enough during most other waking hours.

"Franklin D. Roosevelt found sustenance in a life-affirming sense of humor," Goodwin said.

Unlike World War II, when the combination of the draft and volunteerism meant that just about everyone knew someone in the armed services, today's military seems stretched thin, and today's citizens often feel disconnected from the war effort, though modern Americans could certainly relate more to the bombing of London after the attacks on September 11.

Goodwin mentioned her own son's personal efforts to change this after he joined the armed services and found himself a platoon leader in a slum section of Baghdad in 2003. She hoped that her love of history helped instill a love of country in her son.

Currently, Goodwin works on a biography of Abraham Lincoln which Steven Spielberg plans to make into a movie. After spending over eight years studying Lincoln, she found many qualities to admire.

A primarily self-educated man, Lincoln did not let initial political failure deter him. Consistently the dark horse candidate, Lincoln's ability to intertwine his storytelling gift with an earnest ambition to help his fellow man ultimately gained him the presidency. Possessing an empathy allowing his audience to relate, Lincoln urged those in the lower social ranks to rise as far as their talents and will could take them.

Goodwin praised Lincoln's restraint in politics. He made great efforts to be civil, polite and even-tempered, and he went so far as to be politically saavy enough to keep his political competitors as close as Cabinet positions would allow them to be. He overlooked personal hurts if it meant promoting the best person for the job. The country came first, as well as leaving a positive legacy.

"'I'd like to believe I'm smarter today than I was yesterday,'" Goodwin quoted Lincoln as saying, referring to Lincoln's enormous potential for personal growth, reflected in the honest admittance of making mistakes and learning from them.

"[Lincoln] was a master of human relations," Goodwin said.

The historian completed the event with a question and answer session.

In honor of National Women's History Month, Goodwin continued discussing the major influence that the First Ladies exhibited. Eleanor Roosevelt especially proved herself an activist for women and even went so far as to demand that only female reporters could cover her activities. This naturally paved the way for women in journalism. Other succeeding First Ladies filled a more supportive role. Jacqueline Kennedy added incredible glamour. Nancy Reagen exemplified love and support while Hillary Clinton brought back more of the Eleanor Roosevelt influence. Laura Bush currently carries herself with dignity, Goodwin mentioned.

"First ladies can really define for themselves what the job is going to be," Goodwin said.

Goodwin ultimately answered the question concerning the likelihood of a woman becoming president with the notion that women need to fill the ranks of other public life positions to pave the way, and that at the very least, it seemed probable that a woman would make the Presidential nomination.

When the subject turned to the press digging into the candidates' private lives and whether this discouraged otherwise concerned citizens from running for office, Goodwin conceded that the rules have changed and that private lives are now game. Candidates have to remember that in order to preserve the dignity of their offices.

She also acknowledged that modern baseball encounters a definite setback in the form of steroid scandals. She hoped that testing programs would help the players stay on the right track and compete with sheer ability.

The lessons to be learned from baseball-especially relevant to the ULM baseball team in the audience-and the importance of stability factored into Goodwin's final remarks. She acknowledged the necessity of and difficulties involved with restoring childhood to children by having family members at home more often without losing now important liberties.

Goodwin gleaned many positive qualities from each of the historical figures she studied, dealt with and encountered personally. Goodwin touched on these famous historical figures' shortcomings but refocused on their many valuable contributions as world leaders and visionaries.

For this and other ULM news online visit While there, check out ULM's on-line calendar for all of ULM's upcoming events.

By Sara Palazzo

PLEASE NOTE: Some links and e-mail addresses in these archived news stories may no longer work, and some content may include events which are no longer relevent, or reference individuals and/or organizations no longer associated with ULM.