Pat Nixon was the wife of Richard Nixon, the 37th president of the United States. As first lady, she traveled extensively and championed volunteerism.

Pat Nixon, the wife of Richard Nixon, the 37th president of the United States, was extremely active in her husband’s political life, both as vice president and as president, traveling with him and taking up the cause of volunteerism. Although she received far less publicity for her efforts, Pat received many donations of valuable furniture and artwork for the White House—more than Jacqueline Kennedy would receive several years later.

Early Years

United States first lady and wife of (the 37th U.S.) President Richard Nixon, Pat Nixon was born Thelma Catherine Ryan on March 16, 1912, in the small mining town of Ely, Nevada. Her nickname, Pat, was given to her by her father, William, who claimed Irish roots and wanted to celebrate his daughter’s birth on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day.

Her origins were humble. After her mother, Kate, convinced William to leave his life as a miner, the family settled in Artesia, California, where the Ryans started a truck farm.

When Pat was 12, her mother died of cancer. As her mother neared the end, it was Pat who not managed the house, but served as her mom’s caregiver. “For the last two or three months I used to sit with her through the night,” she later recalled. “We couldn’t afford a night nurse and she needed attention.”

Five years later, her father, whom she was extremely close to, died of the miner’s condition, silicosis. As his illness worsened, Pat had taken on the household and farm chores. She also worked as a morning janitor at a local bank to help the family pay its bills for her and four siblings.

In 1932, an 18-year-old Pat Nixon received an opportunity to drive an elderly couple across country in their Packard. In the east, Pat found work at Seton Hospital for the Tubercular, which was run by the Catholic Sisters of Charity. Pat lived with the sisters and saved money for college.

Pat returned to California in 1934 and enrolled at the University of Southern California, where she majored in merchandising. She graduated, cum laude, in 1937.

After failing to find work with a department store, Pat took a job teaching shorthand and typing at a secondary school in Whittier, California. In her off-time Pat showed an interest in acting and during an audition for a play in 1937 she met Richard Nixon, a recent Duke Law School graduate who had his own practice in Whittier.

The young lawyer was immediately smitten with Pat, even going so far as to drive her to dates with other men. For two years he dated her before she finally agreed to marry him.



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