On 22 November 1963, at around 12:30 Central Standard Time, Mimi Alford and her husband-to-be, Tony, stopped for gas on 61st Street, off FDR Drive. They went up to his parents’ house in Southport, Connecticut, that day. And that night in the den as they watched TV, Mimi started to cry. “There’s something I have to tell you,” she said.
In the summer of 1962, Mimi Alford—a graduate of Miss Porter’s Finishing School, admirer of fellow Miss Porter’s graduate Jackie Bouvier Kennedy, protégée of fellow Miss Porter’s graduate and the First Lady’s Press Secretary Tish Baldridge, and coworker of fellow Miss Porter’s graduate Priscilla “Fiddle” Wear—started her job as a White House intern. Four days later, presidential aide and “First Friend” Dave Powers called her on the phone and invited her for a swim. He called again later that afternoon, and invited her upstairs. She was offered a couple of daiquiris, taken on a short tour of the private residence, shown into Mrs Kennedy’s empty bedroom, and undressed. Then John Fitzgerald Kennedy—a Harvard College graduate, Project Apollo founder, Peace Corps establisher, Medicare advocate, President of the United States and Leader of the Free World—took advantage of her.
Over the next year and half there were State Department trips to the Bahamas, pleasure trips to the Kennedy Wing on Bing Crosby’s Palm Springs estate, shopping trips in New York, and a planned—but aborted—trip to Dallas. Mrs Kennedy had decided to go, instead.
Mimi Alford would divorce her husband, Tony, after 26 years. Another 22 years later, almost half a century after she was laid on the president’s bed, she published her memoirs. She had spent a lifetime struggling to overcome the consequences of her actions, she wrote. “I was young and I was swept away, and I cannot change that fact.”
I like to think that, Monica Lewinsky and Mimi Alford aside, things are getting better in that respect. The “unveiled mysteries of a future seraglio” that Federalists, like Alexander Hamilton, wrote about haven’t materialized, yet. The slaves that pre-Emancipation presidents, like Thomas Jefferson, pressed into service are long gone. And the revolving door of prostitutes, actresses, socialites and interns who came and went at Camelot is apparently closed.
Because inequality in politics so strongly corresponds to inequality in sex, I hope it is.
Our future as a democracy depends on it.
Alford, Mimi. 2011. Once Upon a Secret: My Affair with President John F. Kennedy and Its Aftermath. New York: Random House.
Gordon-Reed, Annette. 2008. The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, New York: W. W. Norton.
The Federalist Papers, no. 67. London: Oxford University Press, 2008.