For this month’s Team Lincoln Spotlight, we interviewed former Board member, long-time supporter, and friend of President Lincoln’s Cottage Candice Shy Hooper. After a career in law, Candice turned to writing history, including the book Lincoln’s Generals’ Wives: Four Women Who Influenced the Civil War – For Better and For Worse, which you can read a review of here. Read on to learn about how she became involved in the Cottage, her favorite Lincoln anecdote, and the subject of her next book.
President Lincoln’s Cottage: How did you first hear about President Lincoln’s Cottage?/ How did you first get involved?
Candice Shy Hooper: I first learned about the Cottage in a Civil War course taught at American University by Professor Alan Kraut. I wasn’t enrolled in the school, but I read about the course – mainly for teachers – and decided to take it. It was a fabulous experience – morning lectures and afternoon tours of important Civil War sites. This was in 2000, I believe, and when Dr. Kraut took us to the Cottage, it was boarded up and behind a high chain link fence. We could only view it from the outside, as he told its story. Even then, it seemed very special.
I first got involved several years later through Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, who spearheaded the Cottage’s preservation. He and I had been in the same law firm at one point, and he was encouraging everyone he knew to help save it.
PLC: We know you’ve been incredibly involved with the Cottage — whether it’s serving on our Board, presenting at a Cottage Conversation, generously donating to the site, etc — but not all of our readers know this. Would you mind elaborating on the range of support you’ve lent us over the years?
CSH: At the outset, I was intrigued by the fact that so many visitors to the Cottage in Lincoln’s day noted that he often greeted them with a book in his hand. Armed with a list of books that Lincoln had read, I first volunteered to collect as many of his favorites as possible – not the actual books he owned, but editions printed in his lifetime – that is, books he could have owned. I found all but two on the list and donated them to the Cottage. My favorite was a collection of Shakespeare that Mary Lincoln had given her husband, which included illustrations of famous Shakespearean actors, including some that Lincoln actually knew.
Later, I was asked to serve on the Cottage’s Advisory Council Board when it was still part of the National Trust. I helped to raise money for the Cottage, and I remained on the Board as we transitioned to independence from the Trust. I’ve just finished participating in a strategic planning process for the Cottage, which was a great experience that I hope will produce good results going forward. And I tell everyone about the Cottage, and am gratified that many people who otherwise didn’t know about it have visited — and thanked me profusely for telling them about it.
PLC: What has been your favorite program/event at the Cottage?
CSH: Cottage Conversations have always been my favorite. Not only because of the amazing authors and the equally dynamic interviewers, but because of the intimate atmosphere in which the conversations take place, and the important issues that are discussed. It’s all very evocative of the gravity and (sometimes) levity in the Cottage during Lincoln’s time there. I also have to give a shout-out to Bourbon & Bluegrass, which is such a great family event.
PLC: Now that you’re splitting your time between locations, where do you spend most of your time?
CSH: My husband and I are selling our house in Arlington, Virginia this spring. After 45 years in the DC area, I will begin splitting my time between Boca Grande, Florida, and Wilson, Wyoming. I was born on an island in the Pacific, and Lindsay’s originally from Wyoming, so we’re both happy with this arrangement.
PLC: Even though you aren’t local, how do you keep in touch with what’s going on at the Cottage?
CSH: I think the Cottage has a terrific outreach program. Its email newsletters are filled with information about the Cottage as well as fascinating history essays. The Cottage’s Facebook and Twitter accounts are great ways to learn about what’s going on. And the local and mainstream media often feature the Cottage on significant anniversaries. On average, I happily receive at least one update a week, which I often forward to friends.
PLC: Have you always been a history buff? What are your other favorite historical places or museums to visit? Why?
CSH: I never thought that I was a history buff, but I’ve always loved to read, and history is so often part of a story. Later in life, I realized I had always been interested in military history, and that’s when I went back to school to earn a graduate degree in that discipline. Of course, if you live in Washington long enough, you’ll be bitten by the Civil War bug, and that’s what happened to me.
PLC: We highlighted your book Lincoln’s Generals’ Wives in our top 5 book picks. Do you have any other books in the works?
CSH: Thank you again for spotlighting my book. I’m so honored! Even though that book was about Army wives, it “channeled” my mother’s experience of being a military spouse – a Navy wife. I’m just now beginning research on a book that is more in line with my father’s experience of being a Navy hospital corpsman – it will be about the history of the U.S. Navy.
PLC: What’s your favorite thing about Lincoln? (quote, trait, story, etc.)
CSH: Well, probably my favorite thing about Lincoln is that his birthday is also my father’s birthday, so we always knew about Lincoln, even as very young children. More seriously, my favorite aspect of Lincoln’s character was his ability to focus on the goal and not be sidetracked by petty issues. Perhaps the best example of that was when he brought General George McClellan back as commander of the Army of the Potomac after he had relieved him of command post-Antietam. Though Lincoln knew McClellan was not the combat commander he needed, he knew the vain, narcissistic general could reorganize and rally the dispirited troops at a critical point in the war. Lincoln put aside his own antipathy and frustration with McClellan in order to do what was needed for the war effort. So many of those around him – civilian and military – never seemed able to do that.
PLC: Why, in your own words, should someone become a member of Team Lincoln, or visit the Cottage?
CSH: Abraham Lincoln is always judged the best president in our history, whenever or however that question is asked. Every American should know why he is consistently at the top, in order to better understand our past, present, and future. Lincoln lived a quarter of his presidency at the Cottage, where he spent his most “normal” family time of those terrible, turbulent years and where he made some of his most momentous decisions. I simply don’t believe you can know Lincoln without knowing his life at the Cottage.