When we elect a President, we also get a First Lady… that is of course, until we get a First Man. Some First Ladies, such as Dolly Madison, Edith Wilson, Eleanor Roosevelt and Lady Bird Johnson are known for their positions within the White House and the impact they made fulfilling their role, while others have taken a back seat to their Presidential husbands. But, in spite of their individual accomplishments or partisanship, all of them have played and continue to play an important part in our country’s history.
In the early days, there wasn’t a specific title for the wife of the President. Before the term “First Lady” was coined, wives designated their own preference for how they were to be referred: “Lady”, “Mrs. President”, and “Mrs. Presidentress” were just a few of the titles they used. It wasn’t until the 1930’s that “First Lady” became widely accepted.
The position of First Lady is considered “extraconstitutional”, meaning its parameters aren’t outlined in the U.S. Constitution. For the last 200 years, these women have been interpreting the office in their own way, using their extraordinary position of influence to affect everything from legislation to women’s rights, childhood obesity and even the restoration of the White House. The First Lady is an international celebrity, adviser, campaigner and hostess. Today, we celebrate these women for the indelible mark they have made at home and around the globe.
Here’s a round up of some tidbits you may or may not know about a few of our First Ladies:
- Abigail Adams (John Adams) made a request to her husband, who was helping draft the U.S. Constitution. “Remember the ladies,” she wrote to him, “and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors”.
- Dolley Madison (James Madison) was a well-loved first lady credited with saving many national treasures when Washington was under attack during the War of 1812.
- Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams (John Quincy Adams) is the only foreign-born First Lady.
- Abigail Powers Fillmore (Millard Fillmore) played a major part in the creation of the White House Library.
- Julia Boggs Dent Grant (Ulysses S. Grant) known as a gracious First Lady who helped refurbish the White House.
- Lucy Ware Webb Hayes (Rutherford B. Hayes) was a staunch opponent of slavery and was nicknamed “Lemonade Lucy” for banning alcohol at the White House.
- Edith Bolling Galt Wilson (Woodrow Wilson) took control of the presidency after President Wilson had a stroke while in office.
- Eleanor Roosevelt (Franklin D. Roosevelt) advanced important causes such as civil rights and women’s rights.
- Jacqueline “Jackie” Kennedy (John F. Kennedy) spent much of her time as First Lady working to restore and refurnish the White House. Once complete, she took America on a televised tour of the White House. She was revered for her fashion sense, poise and dignity.
- “Lady Bird” Johnson (Lyndon B. Johnson) improved the way America looked through a national beautification program.
- Betty Ford (Gerald Ford) was an advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment and the legalization of abortion. She also spoke out about breast cancer awareness, addiction and mental health.
- Eleanor Rosalynn Smith Carter (Jimmy Carter) one of her husband’s closest advisors, sitting in on cabinet meetings.
- Nancy Davis Reagan (Ronald Reagan) known for her “Just Say No” campaign, caused controversy after purchasing new china for the White House during a nationwide depression.
- Hillary Rodham Clinton (Bill Clinton) America’s most powerful First Lady. When President Clinton was elected he said America was getting “two for the price of one”.
- Michelle Robinson Obama (Barack Obama) making history as our first African-American First Lady and continuing to fight against childhood obesity and support military families.
The White House