During Mitt Romney’s failed 1994 Senate campaign, the smart set in Massachusetts derided Ann Romney as a “Stepford wife” — a dependent, insulated lady-who-lunches, overly deferential to her husband. Fortunately, that other embodiment of blond, equestrian, domestic conventionality, Betty Draper, hadn’t been imagined yet.
But the story of Mitt and Ann Romney’s courtship suggests the opposite: She may be a picture-perfect wife and mother today, but young Ann Davies was willing to defy the men in her life — beginning with her father, but very much including her young beau, Mitt — when her interests failed to coincide with theirs.
Mitt and Ann’s marriage began with a case of love at first sight, but mostly on Mitt’s part. According to the engaging portrait of their courtship depicted in Michael Kranish and Scott Helman’s The Real Romney, Mitt rarely if ever dated another woman after meeting the younger Ann at a mutual friend’s birthday party, even when he went off to college at Stanford while she stayed behind finishing high school. She maintained her relationship with Mitt, but also dated other boys while he was away. She once attempted to break things off with him, though he eventually prevailed upon her not to do so.
Mitt seems to have fallen unusually hard, and he developed a slightly sneaky streak, timing weekend visits home to coincide with his father’s political engagements, in order to see Ann without his parents’ finding out that he was making trips home. That apparently resulted in a few awkward moments, as when he took Ann to a party only to discover that his parents were there. (The two turned tail and sneaked away.) He even drove nonstop from California to Michigan to see her one weekend. Mitt’s father eventually found out about these liaisons, and cut Mitt’s allowance to curtail his travel. Mitt responded by auctioning off his personal possessions to pay for tickets home. The guy had it bad.
Ann apparently wasn’t entirely sold on Mitt from Day 1. But more interesting is what happened when she took a more serious interest in him — and in his Mormon faith. Ann was raised in a household that was not so much blandly irreligious in the consensus Protestant fashion but actively hostile to organized religion, which her father considered a crock and a waste of time. While Mitt was away on his missionary work, Ann contacted his father to arrange to learn more about Mormon teaching, very much against the wishes of her father. But George Romney was a forceful man, and he persuaded Ann’s parents to allow her to meet with Mormon missionaries, under the condition that she did so under family observation. The result was that Ann ended up joining the church — and eventually bringing a few siblings along with her, and eventually her mother as well.
When Mitt returned from his mission, the two decided to get married directly. Mitt had intended to return to Stanford, but Ann was already at Brigham Young and wanted to stay there. Ann prevailed.
She is of course a tremendously attractive figure, basically a designed-by-engineers political wife: a pretty, athletic, educated woman who beat breast cancer and is handling multiple sclerosis.
It’s no surprise, then, that Romney is putting her front and center at the convention. But that isn’t the first time he’s done so: In contravention of convention, she appears in his official portrait in the governor’s mansion; she is the only first lady in Massachusetts accorded that honor — and that at her husband’s insistence. She is also the perfect counterexample to Sandra Fluke and the tedious parade of feminists the Democrats will be inflicting on the American public at their convention: Rather than demanding public subsidies, she has spent her life investing in her own family and helping others, both through organized charitable work and in the course of living a life focused on family and community. Social conservatives can sometimes be scolds, but Ann Romney has taken St. Francis’s advice: Always be preaching — if necessary, use words.
— Kevin D. Williamson is a roving correspondent for National Review.