First Ladies Man - Andrew Och
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Author shares stories of first ladies during talk at Maine State Library in Augusta

Event Image August, Maine
Event Image August, Maine

Andrew Och said the United States wouldn't be what it is without Martha Washington, who helped put her husband George 'at ease.'

AUGUSTA - According to author and historian Andrew Och, George Washington "married up."

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"She was young, she was rich and she was hot," Och said Tuesday afternoon during a talk at the Maine State Library.

Och is the author of a recently published book titled "Unusual for Their Time: On the Road with America's First Ladies," and he shared stories and little-known facts about many of our country's first ladies to a group of more than 30 people.

The author explained to the engaged, attentive crowd that George Washington's wife, Martha, made him more at ease and was able to handle a lot of the day-to-day life at home, enabling him to focus on leading the Continental Army.

"If George hadn't married Martha, we'd be living in a place with a different name, with at least different accents, maybe a different flag," Och said. "The saying that behind every great man is a great woman was never more true."

Martha Washington, like a lot of people in those days, burned any letters, Och told the audience; but he came across some rare correspondence between Martha Washington and Abigail Adams. One of the letters from Adams asked Washington for advice on how to handle the role of being the first lady. Washington responded that Adams was smart and capable.

Throughout his talk, Och showed historical photos, videos and spoke about the most famous first ladies - Washington, Adams, Mary Todd Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt - but also about some that weren't mentioned in school history texts.

"They all did things that were unusual for the time, and a lot of them were the reasons their husbands were president," he said. "The guys needed these women to get where they were."

Some of the first ladies he mentioned included Helen Taft, Lou Hoover, Grace Coolidge and Edith Wilson.

Helen Taft is the reason there is a first ladies' dress collection in the Smithsonian Institution, she's the first to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery and she's the one who arranged to plant cherry trees around Washington, D.C., Och said. Lou Hoover spoke seven languages and helped start the Girl Scouts of America and its famous cookie drive.

Wilson's husband Woodrow, the 28th U.S. president, had a severe stroke in October 1919, and there are official documents and policies that have her handwriting on it. She was in the position to make executive decisions and help her husband make executive decisions.

"There's so much influence from these women," Och said.

Och was raised in Maryland a short drive from the nation's capital and was a film major at the University of Maryland in College Park. His parents were history buffs, so he spent a lot of time as a boy touring historical sites, battlefields and museums. Even so, he didn't grow up expecting to be a first ladies historian.

He said he was a producer "in the right place at the right time" on CSPAN's series about first ladies and was the producer tasked with traveling by himself across the country to every "library, museum, church, farm, train station, school, farm, cemetery, birthplace and plantation" for every first lady from Martha Washington to Michelle Obama. He was alone for nearly 14 months except for seven cases of gear.

"This story of these first ladies hadn't been told yet," Och said. "We know about their time in the White House, but I wanted to know who these women were outside of the public eye."

During his journey, people wanted to show him all of their best historical documents and relics, and he said they were opening up vaults, attics, storage facilities, back rooms and more.

"They wanted to bring it out to the public because not a lot of people have or will ever see these artifacts," Och said.

Although he didn't think this would be his career, Och said he fell in love with the information and the history.

"When you see the places these women were born, where they grew up, where they died, and you read letters and journals of their most intimate and private moments, and you learn about them as not figures in the White House or in oil paintings; they become real people," he said. "Their stories affected me, and it was a momentous adventure, and I had to dig in fully."

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  • 'Unusual For Their Time' Cover
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    Andy Och Image

Andrew Och is an Award Winning TV producer who has traveled the world in search of provocative stories. In 2012, He began his adventure as he traversed America for over a year documenting the lives of every *First Lady of the United States.* The *C-SPAN* series, *First Ladies: Influence and Image* aired from 2013-2014 to great acclaim and revealed the untold stories that helped shaped America.

Testimonials & Endorsements

  • Oakland, MD

    On the evening of October 16, 2016 a most wonderful and informative program was presented at our Transportation Museum by Andrew Och, an expert on the First Ladies of the US. Those assembled totally enjoyed this program by America's "First Ladies' Man." The audience was enthralled with the program and absolutely no one left before the program was complete--and we are a group of seniors! Almost everyone in attendance has requested that Andy return for another program.

    Robert Boal, Garrett County Historical Society - President

  • Rockville, MD

    Andrew Och truly does make history come alive. While listening to his presentation, I felt like I was in the same room as Martha Washington and Abigail Adams. His passion, energy and knowledge are impressive.

    Jodi Finkelstein, Executive Director Montgomery County Commission for Women

  • Greensboro, NC

    "Andy Och knows how to tell a good story that also happens to be good history. Our Greensboro audience enjoyed his visit and appreciated his take on a First Lady born here – Dolley Madison – and many others."

    "Looking forward to Vol. 2,"

    Linda Evans
    Community Historian
    Greensboro [NC] Historical Museum

  • Annapolis, MD

    "You were absolutely fabulous. I have had so much positive feedback. The group loved your presentation and look forward to having you speak at a future time. Your presentation was one of the best the club has had over the years. I look forward to the publication of your book. I had to force myself to get off your website, because I had other scheduled tasks I needed to attend to this afternoon. I will be going back when I can spend more time exploring it in depth."

    Barbara Hitchings, President American Antiques Arts Association of Annapolis

  • Fremont, OH

    "Och has a really fun way of describing these ladies and their relationships in a way that makes you relate to them."

    Kristina Smith, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center

  • Mercersburg, PA

    "Quite the entertaining speaker and the expert on first ladies and hostesses".

    Tom Suddeth - Mercersburg, PA Historical Society - Founder

  • Youngstown, OH

    Thanks for a great presentation on our nation's First Ladies. *You told so many interesting stories, we learned a lot of things we hadn't known about a number of First Ladies, you answered everyone's questions knowledgeably, and it was clear to all of us that you're an expert on the topic and passionate about this project.* Great stage presence, too. *I strongly encourage anybody out there who's interested in **Andy's First Ladies Man project to figure out how to bring him to your town hall, school, library, or museum. Wonderful stuff! *

    Dr. Jay L. Gordon
    Youngstown State University

  • North Platte, NE

    Andrew Och, the First Ladies Man "embodies what our organization is all about - entertainment and education"

    Sue Huebner, President North Platte Town Hall Lecture Series

  • St. Pete FL

    Andrew Och I can't even begin to tell you how much I appreciate your work and postings about the First Ladies. They are so well written and share just enough that you want to learn about them. I share them with my daughters, who are 10 and 7, and they enjoy them as well. I look forward to reading them everyday. Thank you!!

    Lynnette Valle, Florida Mother of Two

  • I've read a score of books on America's First Ladies; however, none from this most unique and interesting vantage point. Half way through the introduction, I knew I wanted to take this journey, crisscrossing the United States, with Andy as my tour guide. With Mr. Och's marvelous story telling ability and extensive research, he transports the reader in time, making history come alive to meet these remarkable women—the person, not her celebrity or fame. A must read for male, female, young and old alike. Be it a professional, novice or skeptic, all will enjoy this delicious adventure. I devoured each chapter and am excitedly awaiting Volume II.

    • Jacqueline Berger
    • National Speaker and Author on America's First Ladies
    • "The First Ladies Lady"
  • From spouses who bankrolled their husbands' entire political careers to those who closely guarded potentially damaging family secrets, first ladies have consistently laid the groundwork for the most consequential presidencies in American history. Andy Och makes the case for the personal influence of first ladies in a fun and entertaining manner.

    - Lauren A. Wright, PhD, Author of "On Behalf of the President: Presidential Spouses and White House Communications Strategy Today."

  • No doubt about it! Andy Och is unquestionably the First Lady's Man! Armed with little more than a camera, an open mind toward women and history, and a super imagination which combines all three elements, he has created an epic part-travelogue, part-history, and totally delightful foray into the lives, the times and the places where an amazing assortment of women who became First Lady can take their place on a stage all by themselves!

    • Feather Schwartz Foster
    • Author of Mary Lincoln’s flannel Pajamas and Other Stories from the First Ladies’ Closet
  • Would have loved being on Andy's fabulous roadshow journey following the interesting society of First Ladies from Martha to Michelle. His insider true stories made them come alive! Our club membership awaits this much anticipated book!

    • Susanne Bradley, Vice President
    • American Antique Arts Assoc. of Annapolis
  • Andy Och has given us a fascinating book that is part travelogue, part collective biography. The result of his time spent on the road is a unique history of the First Ladies that will undoubtedly appeal to the broadest audience.

    • Dr. Christopher Leahy, Professor of History, Keuka College, Kueka Park, NY
    • Sharon Williams Leahy, Founder,
  • "Andy Och's exploration of the lives of America's First Ladies is as rich and varied as the lives of those women themselves, and as unexpected. His adventurous, even picaresque, experience with the diverse people and places that enhance our appreciation of these extraordinary women, is both informative and engaging, giving us an important behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to be on the front line of history in modern America."

    • Taylor Stoermer
    • Fellow of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and Instructor of Public History at Harvard University
  • From the very first page you know this is not going to be "just" another biographical overview of the First Ladies. In fact the very first page tugs you into the stories… the stories of what made the First Ladies "unusual for their time;" the stories of people, places and objects associated with these remarkable women; and the stories behind Och's transformation from documentarian to historian because of what he learned. Andrew Och's book is in part history text and travelogue, but refreshingly written from Och's insightful, and frequently humorous perspective. Although written in an easy storytelling manner, the book is rich with new historical detail about the First Ladies. Their lives in the White House are important, but Och also focuses on what came before and after proving their consequence as partners for their presidential husbands and icons for our nation. Thankfully this is only volume one, we will anticipate and look forward to many more stories as Andrew Och writes his way through the lives of our country's amazing First Ladies.

    • Patricia Balderson
    • Manager, Museum Education
    • Colonial Williamsburg
  • "Andy's hard work, research and passion come through in his words and this book. I applaud his enthusiasm and admiration for our First Ladies. The First Ladies Man is bringing these great women into the spotlight and giving them all the recognition they so well deserve."

    • Anita McBride, Former Chief of Staff for Laura Bush & Executive-in-Residence
    • Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies
    • American University, School of Public Affairs

"Andy's hard work, research and passion come through in his words and this book. I applaud his enthusiasm and admiration for our First Ladies. The First Ladies Man is bringing these great women into the spotlight and giving them all the recognition they so well deserve."