JFK meets Wheaton College (no, not that one)

As you would imagine, the new memoir by former White House intern Mimi Alford about her affair with President John F. Kennedy is causing a lot of buzz, even though the scope of Kennedy’s philandering has long been rumored, documented and then dismissed in Beltway circles.

Face it, JFK was the crown prince of the sexual revolution, you know, and a man’s man has gotta do what a man’s man has gotta do.

However, this particular book does break new ground, in part because it contains a level of candor and detail that is still raising some eyebrows. It seems that the first-person female voice in this work is quite powerful and, thus, shocking. However, there is absolutely no need to go into the macho details in a faith-and-family-friendly weblog such as this one.

Meanwhile, is there religion in the book?

Well, that depends on whether one thinks that morality, decency and religious faith are in any way connected. Other than that, there are two tiny details to mention.

First of all, the standard ID reference in Alford in reports about the book — click here for some examples — is that she is a grandmother and a “retired church worker” in New York City or a former “church administrator.” That’s an interesting combination of words, in and of itself.

So far, I have not found a reference that actually says where Alford worked, during those years. Perhaps readers are simply supposed to assume that she worked in a Catholic parish in New York, since journalists often assume that “Catholic” is the default answer to any questions about newsworthy churches. Then again, perhaps — in New York — one could assume that she worked for an Episcopal parish. Truth is, I don’t know. However, it’s a basic piece of information that reader’s might want to know.

Second, there is another reference at the very top of the following Daily Beast report on this book that I think should have been fleshed out just a bit, for the sake of clarity. Pay close attention and think “religion.”

Uncertain and all of 19, tall and striking Marion “Mimi” Beardsley rode the train from Trenton, N.J., down to Washington, D.C. in the summer of 1962 to intern at the White House. The Wheaton College undergraduate was puzzled as to why she’d been chosen for the internship — she hadn’t applied. Beardsley had, however, written an article for her all-girls boarding school, Miss Porter’s School, about one of its most famous alumnae, the first lady. A trip to the White House had led to a chance meeting with the president. And a year later, there she was, on her way to one of the cushiest posts available to a young woman whose parents frequently consulted the Social Register.

What happened over the next week — and continued for the following year and a half — forms the body of Once Upon a Secret: My Affair With President John F. Kennedy and Its Aftermath. Alford, now 69 and a grandmother of seven, reveals that from the first week of her internship in the summer of 1962 through November 1963, she conducted an affair with President Kennedy, spending nights with him in his private bedroom, traveling to be with him at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and seeing the president for the last time shortly before his fateful trip to Dallas. In this memoir, part confession, part hagiography, Alford divulges the intimate details of the time she spent with one of America’s most beloved presidents.

Alford remembers being overwhelmed by the glamour of the White House in her first week, being greeted by Press Secretary Pierre Salinger, and being put to work among the secretaries in the press office. “The men were in charge,” Alford writes. “The women assisted them.”

Now, did anyone spot a reference in there that will seem a bit out of place for many, if not most, readers who live outside the elite power corridors of the Northeast?

You see, there is Wheaton College and then there is Wheaton College.

To be more specific, when you get into online search engine results, there is the very well known Wheaton College in Illinois — think alma mater of the Rev. Billy Graham — and then there is the Wheaton College that is located near Boston, Mass.

I think it is safe to say, from the context, that Alford is from the former seminary for women in Norton, Mass., and not from one of the most famous schools in Evangelical Protestantism.

In a story that pushes as many hot buttons as this one, I think the leaders of that famous school in the heartland would have appreciated the addition of some kind of clarifying reference — such as Wheaton College (Mass.) — in the report.

Just saying.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Michel

    the New York Times of May 22, 2009 (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/23/books/23jfk.html)

    “The Daily News tracked her down and discovered that she was Marion Fahnestock, who was divorced, working for the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church and living in Manhattan.”

  • Maureen

    Why don’t we ever get tell-all books from girls who told the guy, “You’re as old as my dad, you’re married, and you’re creeping me out”? Or, you know, stabbed the jerk with a nailfile or something?

    Oh, wait, those are the liars who just claim to have been sexually harassed.

    Sigh. Too many creepy bosses, not enough flamethrowers.

  • Bill


    I remember hearing first-hand the story of a comely, young congressional intern in the ’80s, flattered that the handsome congressman (long out of office and who shall remain unnamed) asked her to accompany him to meetings and dinner. In the limo on the way home, he put his hand on her leg and slid it up her skirt. Completely taken aback, she blurted, “Congressman, please! You’re married! And you’re older than my father!”

    He proceded no further, and she got no more invitations to meetings and dinner.

  • Roberto

    I think it is safe to say, from the context, that Alford is from the former seminary for women in Norton, Mass., and not from one of the most famous schools in Evangelical Protestantism.

    I kind of suspect that outside of their respective niches, most people haven’t heard of either Wheaton College. (Just ask Ann Curry.) As someone who had heard of both, it wasn’t which one Mimi Beardsley attended. “Mimi” is one clue, 1960s White House and Miss Porter’s School are others.

  • Will

    I remember the nonplussed reaction of a Wheaton transfer when I asked if she knew Clyde Kilby.