First Ladies and their Cattleyas: Pat Nixon

Richard Nixon’s victory in the 1968 Presidential election was the culmination of a political career that had seen the Californian rise through the ranks of the House of Representatives, Senate, and Vice Presidency. His wife, Pat, was always at his side, attending his speeches, handing out flyers, and working the crowds through each of his eight campaigns. She and Dick were characterized as a team – at a time when most political wives stayed in the background.


Nixon’s wife, the former Pat Ryan, was nicknamed ‘Pat’ by her father when she was born on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day. She met her husband while acting in an amateur theatre group. He informed her that night that they would one day be married. Three years later they were married and she proudly wore an orchid at the ceremony.

As the wife of the President, Pat Nixon traveled to 78 countries – more than any First Lady. She accompanied her husband to China in 1972 and, while the President was in meetings, Pat mingled with the everyday citizen. For this, she won the hearts of people worldwide. Her personal cause as First Lady was volunteerism. She said, “Our success as a nation depends on our willingness to give generously of ourselves for the welfare and enrichment of the lives of others.”

First Lady Pat Nixon’s love of gardening began in her childhood and continued as First Lady. In 1971, she opened the magnificent gardens of the White House to the public – a bi-annual tour that continues to this day. The Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California has extensive gardens with themes that were designed by Mrs. Nixon. Included is the feature “First Lady’s Garden”, which contains sizable plantings of the Pat Nixon Rose, as well as the roses of Lady Bird Johnson, Betty Ford, Rosalynn
Carter, Nancy Reagan, and Barbara Bush.


Like her predecessor Jacqueline Kennedy, Mrs. Nixon also had two cattleya hybrids named after her. The first one, C Pat Nixon (C Barbara Dane x C Bebe White) was named while Dick was running for President against John Kennedy in the very tight 1960 election. Joseph A. Manda & Son of West Orange, New Jersey, who had named a pale lavender ‘brasso-type’ cattleya after First Lady Mrs. Herbert Hoover in 1929, this time chose a classic white hybrid for the candidate’s wife.

It is unfortunate that a photograph of Cattleya Pat Nixon no longer exists because this flower must have been outstanding. Its ancestry glistens with great parents. The cross started with the 1902 primary hybrid, C Cappei alba made from the two round-flowered and long-lasting Colombian species, C trianaei and C schroderae.

The next generation of breeding used the excellently-shaped C lueddemanniana to yield C Phoebe Snow in 1922. When Ernest B. Dane, a private grower in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, decided to create a cattleya hybrid named for his daughter-in-law, Barbara Dane, he bought a particularly fine C Phoebe Snow from its breeder, Clement Moore just for that purpose. The resulting hybrid, Cattleya Barbara Dane (C Phoebe Snow x C labiata), bloomed in 1932 to the delight of everyone.

At the 1948 orchid show in our Nation’s capital, C Barbara Dane ‘Georgiana’ was awarded a First Class Certificate by the AOS which is amazing given that C Bow Bells had already raised the quality of white hybrids to unbelievable heights three years earlier. The most important variety of C Barbara Dane was ‘Perfection’ which was reported to be a tetraploid. Not only was it used to make C Pat Nixon, but it was also the parent of the arch rival to C Bow Bells, C Joyce Hannington.

The other parent of Cattleya Pat Nixon was C Bebe White (C Joan Manda x C White Empress), which was bred by the legendary Thomas Young Orchids of Bound Brook, New Jersey. A grouping of C Bebe Whites was exhibited at the New York International Flower Show in the spring of 1947 where they received a cultural commendation and one plant received an Award of Merit. C Bebe White was widely used in breeding white cattleyas during the 1940’s and it produced some truly fine hybrids including C Nancy Off (C Bebe White x C Joyce Hannington) which recently received an 89 point AM/AOS formvariety ‘Linwood’.

TRANSITION 1960 -1968

Nixon lost the 1960 election and Pat’s namesake orchid faded into obscurity. Two years after Kennedy won, Nixon ran for another office, this time as Governor in his home state of California. He lost that election too, and it was generally thought that Mr. Nixon’s political career was over. However, Richard Nixon mounted a comeback when he ran again for President in 1968. This time he won and Pat Nixon became the new First Lady. Within a year, she had a second orchid named for her and was actually presented with the blooming plant.


Wealthy Chicago businessman and philanthropist W. Clement Stone had donated millions of dollars to Nixon’s campaign and the new President and his wife were visiting the Chicago area. Mr. Stone, who was an orchid fancier, contacted the local commercial grower, Hausermann Orchids, to see if they had a cattleya that could be named and presented to Mrs. Nixon on short notice. Hausermann’s found a lovely semi-alba hybrid in bloom that had not yet been named from their cut flower greenhouses and arranged to
have the plant transported to the Sheraton Hotel for a reception with the Nixons. It was here that Mr. Stone introduced the new Lc Patricia Nixon to the First Lady.


Hausermann Orchids was founded in the Chicago suburb of Villa Park, Illinois in 1920 by Carl Hausermann who grew sweet peas, roses, and gardenias for cut flower production. His son, Edwin, began converting the operation over to cattleyas in the mid-1930’s. By the time First Lady Pat Nixon visited
Chicago, the company was producing over 400,000 blooms annually.

Hausermann’s was a textbook ‘family business’ with relatives working nearly all the jobs. In 1969, Edwin Sr. was President, and his brother-in-law, Ernest Finney was Vice President. Edwin’s son, Gene, was in Pot Plant sales and his other son James was Head Grower. The Cut Flower Department was headed by Roy Hausermann (Edwin’s cousin). Paula Hausermann (Edwin’s wife) worked in the lab. Lea Hausermann (One of Edwin’s 4 daughters) did the office work.


By 1969, cattleya hybrids were starting to get a little complicated and it was common to have six generations of breeding within a single cross. Such is the case of Lc Patricia Nixon (Lc Steven Oliver Fouraker x Lc Lucie Hausermann). Previous First Lady hybrids such as Blc Mrs. Herbert Hoover (1929), C Bess Truman (1962), and C Jacqueline Kennedy (1961) evolved over only three generations.

One of the parents, Lc Lucie Hausermann, which was named for the founder of Hausermann Orchid’s wife, was a successful cut flower for many years and remained in production well into the 1980’s. The other parent, Lc Steven Oliver Fouraker, was bred by Lines Orchids of Signal Mountain, Tennessee in
1961 and became a well known stud plant of semi-alba hybrids with many notable offspring to its credit.

Lc Pegi Mayne (C May Markell x Lc Eugenia) was a grandparent on both sides of the First Lady lineage and the very early hybrid from 1912, C Dionysis (Fabia x warscewiczii), appeared five times.

What is fascinating about Lc Patricia Nixon is that there was already a cattleya named after Mrs. Nixon and Hausermann found a creative way to give her a second namesake plant. The RHS allows multiple names for the same person as long as they are different enough that they can’t be confused. Thus, Pat and Patricia were both acceptable hybrid names.

Hausermann didn’t have many Lc Patricia Nixons in production since they were seed grown and only the most prolific varieties kept. After the presentation, the now-famous Nixon plants remained in the cut flower greenhouses and were slowly phased out as improved hybrids were developed. At least one plant escaped and, as late as the 1980’s, Tom Fennell of the Orchid Jungle in Homestead Florida was using it as a stud. Given the historical significance of this First Lady hybrid, we are in the process of re-making the cross.


What will be remembered about Mrs. Nixon’s two namesake orchids is that the timing of the two hybrids coincided directly with her husband’s first two runs at the White House. The 1960 alba hybrid faded into obscurity soon after Mr. Nixon lost the election. The 1969 semi-alba hybrid was actually presented to the First Lady and its grower still remains in business today. Mrs. Nixon’s elation upon receiving her namesake plant speaks volumes about her love of orchids.

Saturday, November 1, 2014 - 12:00