White House Ghostwriting: The Writers Behind the Presidents’ Words

Saint Louis University

Dr. Diana Carlin is professor emerita of communication at Saint Louis University and a retired professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas, where she taught about women in politics, suffrage leaders, and the rhetoric of women’s rights. She also has lectured extensively on the suffrage movement and its leaders during the 100th anniversary celebration of the 19th Amendment. She is the recipient of university, state and regional teaching awards and was a 2018 inductee into the Central States Communication Association Hall of Fame.



Starting with George Washington, who relied on Alexander Hamilton and James Madison for advice on his Farewell Address, U.S. Presidents have used informal and formal speech writing assistance. Since FDR’s administration, the speech writing process became more formalized — with advisors assisting with speech drafting in addition to their regular assignments. By the time Richard Nixon arrived at the White House, speechwriting was a job in itself and mostly separate from policy work. In this presentation, Professor Carlin will draw on memoirs, oral histories, and primary source documents to go behind the scenes of preparations for some of the more famous presidential addresses. Video clips of the finished products demonstrate that it is not just the words, but the delivery skills and President’s personality that make for a memorable speech.



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