Rutgers librarian examines how political wives coped with adultery
Political commentators and reporters often have a field day when news breaks that a politician has
committed infidelity. News reports will analyze the effect of the development on the elected
official, his/her family, the other person involved, the political scene, and the area represented
by the official. Subsequent updates will track the efforts of the key actors in the drama to rebuild
their lives and reputations and move past the public scandal.
Rarely does any commentator examine the similarities and differences between how the people most
affected in such scandals – often the unsuspecting wives – handle the upheaval of the situation and
its shattering effects on their self-image, their life circumstances, and their families.
Julie Still, a librarian at the Paul Robeson Library on the Rutgers-Camden, decided to conduct such
an analysis and focused on four contemporary public personalities. Using published autobiographies
as her source material, Still studied the perspectives of former First Lady and now Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton; Elizabeth Edwards, wife of a former senator, Democratic nominee for vice
president and candidate for president; Dina Matos McGreevey, former First Lady of New Jersey; and
Jenny Sanford, former First Lady of South Carolina. Her essay was published in February in MP, an
online feminist journal.
Still discovered that all four women wrote that to weather the emotional trauma, they drew on the
support of friends and family. Another commonality was that each straying spouse revealed his
indiscretions in small increments, instead of 'coming clean' in one instance. All four women also
had significant work experience on their own, before their marriages, and thus had confidence in
their ability to move on from the experience.
Still also notes critical differences in the four situations, such as Mrs. Clinton's choice to
remain in her marriage and the short duration of McGreevey's marriage before the scandal broke.
Still concludes with observations on why autobiographies by political wives, which frankly address
the scandals that enveloped their lives, have become more common.
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|Illustration by Henry Charles