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Washington's Iron Butterfly (Hardback)

Bess Clements Abell, An Oral History

Imprint: University Press of Kentucky
Series: Kentucky Remembered: An Oral History Series
Pages: 266
Illustrations: 30 b&w photos
ISBN: 9780813182261
Published: 11th January 2022
Casemate UK Academic

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Had Elizabeth 'Bess' Clements Abell (1933-2020) been a boy, she would likely have become a politician like her father, Earle Clements. Effectively barred from that career because of her gender, she forged her own path by helping family friends Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson. As President Johnson's Social Secretary, Abell earned the nickname 'Iron Butterfly' for her graceful but firm leadership of social life in the White House. Afterward, she maintained her importance in Washington D.C., serving as chief of staff to Joan Mondale and co-founding a public relations company.


Donald A. Ritchie and Terry L. Birdwhistell draw on Abell's own words and those of others close to her to tell her remarkable story. Focusing on her years working for the Johnson campaign and her time in the White House, this engaging oral history provides a window into Abell's life as well as an insider's view of social life in the nation's capital during the tumultuous 1960s.

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