March 4, 2024

Doris Kearns Goodwin Advises PBA Students “to care about the past and learn from it.”

Doris Kearns Goodwin


West Palm Beach, Fla. (March 4, 2024) – Renowned presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize winner Doris Kearns Goodwin was invited to speak for a select group of history majors, presidential ambassadors, and honors students and then in the DeSantis Family Chapel by the LeMieux Center for Public Policy about her unique career.

Early Influences

In her early life, Doris Kearns Goodwin gained a love for history and storytelling by recounting the Brooklyn Dodgers’ games to her father and listening to her invalid mother’s stories about when she was young. Another strong influence in Goodwin’s life was a high school teacher who made history come alive by making students feel like she had a personal connection to the people in the textbooks.

“A great teacher, as so many of you know, can move you in one direction or another,” Goodwin said.

From Brooklyn to the White House: Goodwin’s Path to Presidential History

Later, working for the Lyndon B. Johnson administration, she became increasingly interested in the president’s office despite protesting the Vietnam War. Walking around his Ranch and helping him with his memoirs, she started to understand him as a person. She never changed her mind about the war but gained a new respect for him and published her first book based on their conversations.

“Now, 50 years later, I’m a presidential historian, and I’ve been writing about dead presidents my whole life,” Goodwin said.

Goodwin defines her career as a great adventure, traveling through her work to the most eventful times in American history. She has covered Lincoln, Taft, Roosevelt, and many more legendary historical figures whom she affectionately calls “her guys” because of the amount of time she has spent studying their lives. While writing, Goodwin often feels so connected to her subjects that she starts talking to them out loud. Of course, they never answer, but that is where Goodwin, as a historian, comes in, searching through all available records to answer for them.

“I have to figure out how to tell a story that isn’t just a straight biography,” Goodwin said.

Her only fear is that someday she will have to face a panel of all her presidents, and they will tell her everything she got wrong, starting with Johnson, who will complain about his book only being half the length of Roosevelt’s.

Richard N. Goodwin’s Legacy

Goodwin’s upcoming book, An Unfinished Love Story, adds her late husband, Richard N. Goodwin, to her collection of subjects who impacted America. Goodwin recalled how Richard, for forty years of their marriage, collected boxes full of mementos from his time in government, including bringing the eternal flame to JFk’s grave and becoming Johnson’s main speechwriter, scripting many of the famous civil rights speeches. Goodwin said her husband was “everywhere” during the 60s, right beside the most influential people of the time. However, Richard refused to go through the boxes for years because of how the decade had ended.

Then, one day, at eighty years old, he decided to go through the boxes and relive the ups and downs of the decade. Goodwin spent the years leading up to her husband’s death going through the boxes with him and realizing just how big of a difference her husband had made in the country.

History as Perspective

“One of the things I really do think history helps us with is giving us perspective,” Goodwin said.

Looking back on the past on America’s tumultuous past and comparing it to present times, Goodwin still remains optimistic about the country’s future. She says America has fought throughout history to get through troubled times and has made great victories through movements improving the country and promoting equality.

One of the last things her husband wrote is that despite seeing so many low points in American history, is “America’s not as fragile as you think; don’t bet against America.” This is a statement Goodwin believes in and carries with her every day.

Explore more events offered by the LeMiex Center for Public Policy here.

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