History Book: ‘Lemonade Lucy’ and the Panama Canal

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, December 30th, 2019. You’re listening to The World and Everything in It, and we are glad you are! Good morning to you!  I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD Radio History Book. Today, just two stories. 

Twenty years ago, the United States handover of control of the Panama Canal. But first, we head to Cincinnati, Ohio, for the wedding of a couple who eventually become the President and First Lady. Here’s Paul Butler.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: We begin today on December 30th, 1852. Lucy Ware Webb marries lawyer Rutherford B. Hayes. The small ceremony occurs in her parent’s Cincinnati home. 

The couple met seven years earlier at Ohio Wesleyan University when Lucy was just 14. Hayes found her attractive, but too young to court. They crossed paths again five years later at the wedding of a mutual friend. Rutherford was so taken with her, that when he found the gold ring in his piece of wedding cake, he gave it to her. At their engagement two years later, she returned the ring to him and he wore it the rest of his life.   

During the Civil War, Lucy was a regular visitor to her husbands unit. She cared for the wounded and comforted the dying. The men of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry nicknamed her “Mother Lucy.” Though today she’s more widely known by another nickname she earned as first lady. She was called: “Lemonade Lucy.” As committed Methodists, the Hayes prohibited alcohol in the Executive Mansion. 

Here’s historian Richard Norton Smith from a 2014 presentation at the Dole Institute of Politics. 

SMITH: Well, you know, it’s interesting. She’s much more than “Lemonade Lucy.” She’s more than the first lady who started the Easter Egg Roll. All of that is part of her historical resume. She was, at the time, saluted as the “New Woman” She is the first first lady to graduate from college. So there was a sense that she was breaking down educational barriers. Barriers to opportunity. She was a great temperance advocate, indeed the president was as well. She was also a modernizer. 

Lucy Hayes is one of the first presidential spouses to be widely referred to as the “first lady.” She is credited for influencing her husband’s views on many social and religious matters. During their time in Washington D.C., they started each day in prayer together. They also organized Sunday evening worship services at their residence. 

They moved back to Ohio at the end of his term, and they lived there the rest of their lives. Rutherford and Lucy Hayes were married for 36 years. She died in 1889, and he died three years later. They are buried together, along with their family dog and two favorite horses buried nearby. 

And finally, 20 years ago, at the Panama Canal.

After 85 years of U.S. control of the man-made waterway connecting the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean, many world dignitaries gather for a December 14th hand-over ceremony. Former President Jimmy Carter attends the event on behalf of the United States.


Carter says: “It’s a great honor…to be here on this significant occasion. We are witnessing an event which shows the new relationship between your country and mine and is so important for the whole of Latin America.”

The process began more than two decades earlier when Carter served as president. It started as a series of treaties between the United States and Panama. Here’s Jimmy Carter speaking in 1977:

CLIP: We are here to participate in the signing of treaties which will assure a peaceful, prosperous, and secure future for an international waterway of great importance to us all. 

The first treaty guaranteed neutrality of the canal and the perpetual right of the United States to “defend it from any threat that might interfere with its service to all nations.” The second treaty set a December 31st, 1999, date for autonomous Panamanian control of the canal. America ratified both treaties in 1978. 

AUDIO: [Sound of vessel going through the canal]

Today, about 14,000 ships travel the canal each year. The crossing takes more than 11 hours as vessels navigate through 12 locks. In 2016, Panama finished a major overhaul to allow even larger ships—and more of them—to make the trip. 

The American Society of Civil Engineers ranked the Panama Canal as one of the seven wonders of the modern world.

That’s this week’s WORLD Radio History Book, I’m Paul Butler.

(Photo/White House) First Lady Lucy Webb Hayes

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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