You might think that the news of 91-year-old Judy Agnew‘s death in California last week would be of interest only to political junkies and family members. Agnew is best remembered for her long marriage to Spiro Agnew, the vice-president under Richard Nixon, and she was a mother of four, a PTA president, and a Girl Scout leader. But she was also the living embodiment of femininity before feminism. When her husband popped in on a reception she was hosting for 75 female reporters in 1969, he told her “Have steak ready for dinner” on his way out. Judy just nodded.
More details come from a poignant obituary for Agnew that appears in today’s New York Times.
– Her father had a Ph.D. in chemistry, but Judy told Parade magazine that he thought college was wasted on women. She met her husband while working an $11-a-week job as a file clerk.
– She told People magazine in 1970, “I don’t take stands on anything. I stay out of the political end of it. When people ask what I majored in, I proudly tell them — ‘I majored in marriage.’ ”
– She went on TV to rebut a rumor that she had served martinis in peanut butter jars in her home; to prove this false, she displayed her crystal glassware on TV.
– She called feminism “silly”
– As second lady, Agnew “continued to cook kettles of spaghetti, buy her clothes off the rack, pack her husband’s bag and do needlepoint, just as she had previously done in Annapolis when her husband was governor of Maryland.”
– When a reporter asked what she had been up to as second lady, she said, “I’ve been trying to keep the ashtrays clean.”
In summary: Judy Agnew spent her life cooking, cleaning, and supporting her husband, and she apparently didn’t have many political opinions of her own. The photo above, which depicts Judy adjusting her husband’s suit at his inauguration as governor of Maryland in 1966, is almost too perfect. Today’s political wives may participate in semi-humiliating cookie competitions (ugh), but they also discuss policy in public and usually leave the house-cleaning to others.
The point of this is not that Spiro Agnew was a jerk or Judy Agnew a fool. They may very well have been authentically fulfilled by these old-fashioned roles. Even so, reading about Judy Agnew’s life as a wife makes me grateful that I’m under no pressure to live that way today.
Photo: Archives of Maryland