Jennifer Boswell Pickens ’00 did not set out to write books about the most prestigious address in the country. But when the opportunity presented itself, she was more than happy to take on the labor of love.
It all started in 2004 when Pickens was invited to one of the annual White House Christmas parties. The decorations and theme were gorgeous and she wanted to share the experience with her family and friends. So, when she asked about purchasing a book about past White House Christmases and was told one didn’t exist, she decided to take on the task herself.
From there, Pickens began a four-year journey to produce her first book. The finished product resulted in Christmas at the White House, a unique coffee-table book showcasing more than 500 beautifully restored photographs of 50 years of Christmases under nine different administrations, starting with John F. Kennedy and ending with George W. Bush. She is the first person to research, compile and produce a book on this subject.
Her second book, Pets at the White House, is filled with photographs and stories of the presidents, first ladies and their families with their four-legged friends. Pickens portrays the role of first pets in more than 200 carefully selected photographs, as well as a multitude of anecdotes, and includes the Obamas.
“Both endeavors were rewarding on so many levels. Not only was I fortunate enough to work with so many talented people with rich history, I also had the distinctive honor of First Lady Laura Bush ’68 penning the foreword to my first book, as well as every living first lady contributing an introduction to their section of the Christmas book,” Pickens says. “First Lady Barbara Bush wrote the foreword to the second book on the ‘first pets’ and many other presidents and first ladies added anecdotes as well.”
“I am also very proud that a portion of all proceeds benefits the White House Historical Association,” adds Pickens.
Pickens’ academic background combined with her professional experience – history plus politics – was a nice fit for her subject matter on the White House. Pickens graduated from SMU in 2000 with an American history degree and soon formed her own fundraising consulting company. After working on the Bush-Cheney campaign, she started writing books on the White House. Her books have been widely successful, and one was named in USA Today’s top 10 coffee-table books. Today she gives speeches around the country on the White House and first ladies and has become well known as a White House protocol expert. She has been featured in the national media, including appearances on FOX and CNN.
While she serves on many philanthropic boards and committees in the community, she calls her role as president of the Friends of SMU Libraries Board an “honor.”
“I had a great experience as a student. So, when the opportunity arose for me to support my alma mater, it was an easy decision. My former history professor James McMillin and his wife, Judy, invited me to Tables of Content, an event hosted by the Friends of SMU Libraries. I got involved immediately,” she says. “I’m honored to be part of an organization that supports the heart and soul of the university. The Friends does such a wonderful job providing grants to SMU libraries and scholarships to future librarians.”
Libraries have always been special to her. “As a student, I utilized the library effectively and depended upon the librarians for help with research. As an author, I couldn’t have completed either one of my books without librarians and historians all over the country who helped me uncover photographs and documents,” she says. “They’re invaluable to students, researchers, authors, academics and the general public.”
Pickens has relied on the assistance of librarians as she wraps up her third White House book, due out in 2016. “This book is about entertaining at the White House and will feature even more exquisite photography of inaugurations, arrival ceremonies, holidays and other occasions,” she says.