Behind Every Good President is a First Lady!
8 Mar 2017
Being the President of the United States of America is not an easy task and neither is being a first lady. Throughout America’s history, first ladies have used their position to influence significant political and social change. March was designated as National Women’s History Month to highlight important contributions made by women in our society. Therefore, we want to take this opportunity to introduce you to some of the most influential presidential first ladies, or in other words, women who kicked butt! Below are ten leading ladies in order of their term in office.
When George Washington took on the role of the United States’ first president in 1789, his wife Martha Washington became the nation’s first First Lady. Martha Washington, born on June 2nd, 1731 in New Kent County, Virginia knew her behavior as First Lady would set the standards for future First Ladies. Martha was literate which was unusual for these times and used her knowledge to bring people together. It was Martha’s idea to open the President’s House to ordinary citizens as a sign of the governments dedication to the people. These weekly receptions held every Friday brought together people from different political and social positions, including women. Even though she preferred to be in the countryside, she took her role as First Lady very seriously and managed the entire presidential household while still maintain her cheerful attitude. Staying active in her community, she really created the role of First Lady.
Born in Weymouth, Massachusetts on November 11th, 1744, Abigail Adams became First Lady of the United States in 1797. She and her husband, President John Adams, were the first family to live in the White House in Washington D.C. in November 1800. Abigail Adams was, like Lady Washington, literate and she became famous for the letters she exchanged with her husband. In these letters, she gave her husband advice on politics and support as well as reminding him to not forgot about the ladies in the country. She was closer to the people and John Adams respected and trusted her opinion. Abigail was a fierce proponent of women’s rights as well as education for all. Her letters are still read today as a testament to a woman who was just as interested in political issues as her husband.
Have any of you heard the story of a women who risked her life to save a portrait of George Washington hanging in the White House? It was 1814 and the War of 1812 was in full swing. The British troops were advancing on the White House and Dolley Madison, the wife of President James Madison, risked her life to return to the White House and save the portrait of George Washington which the British were sure to destroy! Dolley Madison, born on May 20th, 1768 in New Garden, North Carolina, was not a woman who did what she told and showed great courage and strength as First Lady of the United States. Her popularity among the people boosted people’s opinion of her husband. She continued to build on the role of First Ladies in the White House and became very active with numerous charities and organizations. First Ladies today see themselves as responsible for taking on social issues of the day because of her.
Abigail Fillmore was born on March 13, 1798 in Stillwater, New York and became First Lady of the United States with her husband Millard Fillmore in 1850. President Fillmore met his wife when Abigail became his teacher. She was only two years older than her future husband and their life-long relationship was based on a love of education and learning which she brought with her as her role of First Lady. Teaching was Abigail’s passion and she became the first First Lady to work while in the White House. Many First Ladies today are influenced by the active role she took in programs for learning and education. She loved books so much that she helped set up the White House Library which still exists today.
It wouldn’t be an understatement to say that Eleanor Roosevelt is the most inspiring and influential First Lady to ever live in the White House. Eleanor was born in 1884 in New York City and lived for 78 exciting, politically active years before dying in 1962 in the city of her birth. With her husband, Franklin D. Roosevelt, she served as First Lady of the United States for 12 years between 1933 until President Roosevelt’s death in 1945. Eleanor Roosevelt would become the beloved champion of women’s and civil rights and became the only First Lady to hold her own press conferences. She was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) until she resigned out of protest when the organization forbid an African American singer from preforming. On horseback, she was graceful and yet wild and was the popular model for the White House photographer Abbie Rowe. She was a sage advisor to her husband during the Great Depression and World War II. She made sure her husband kept true to the policies he set in the New Deal. Roosevelt was a chair of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. We can definitively say that, Eleanor was a vociferous woman whose actions defined a changing nation and she will be remembered not only as First Lady, but a Global Lady.
Jackie Kennedy is the most iconic U.S. First Lady. It is easy to hear Jackie’s name and think of her pink Chanel suit and pill-box hat. She was born Jacqueline Lee Bouvier on July 28, 1929 in Southampton, New York and married John F. Kennedy in 1953 before he became Senator. Kennedy had been president for only three years before he was assassinated in 1963 in Dallas, Texas. The world was horrified as they watched him get shot in a limousine with Jackie at his side. With grace, Jackie Kennedy guided the United States people through this difficult grieving time and mourned with the nation. Jackie Kennedy was a very cultured First Lady speaking French, Italian and Spanish and became a successful book author after her husband’s death. It is no wonder that people are still fascinated by her!
Lady Bird Johnson
Claudia Alta Taylor Johnson, more affectionally known as Lady Bird, was born on December 22, 1912 in Karnack, Texas. Her nickname Lady Bird was given to her as a child and it did reflect her love or nature and animals. Her husband, Lyndon B. Johnson served as U.S. president from 1963 to 1969 and during this time, Lady Bird played an active role in preserving wildlife and supporting projects to beautiful national parks. She loved cultivating parks as much as she loved cultivating young minds and became the National Chair for the Head Start Program which supports early childhood education, health and nutrition. During World War II, she kept his Congressional office open and running. Who knows, without her, Lyndon B. Johnson may never have become President of the United States!
Betty Ford never expected to become First Lady, but when Richard Nixon resigned as President of the United States and her husband Gerald Ford took his place in 1974, Betty Ford stepped up and fulfilled the position marvelously. Born Elizabeth Anne Bloomer on April 8, 1918, Betty was a First Lady who always spoke her mind even when her opinion did not align with those of the Republican party. She was a breast cancer survivor and openly spoke about her experience and the need for breast cancer awareness. She was not shy in discussing her own battle with alcoholism and fought for better mental health care and awareness. Even though her husband was a Republican, she didn’t let it stop her from fighting for the Equal Rights Amendment for women, abortion, feminism and gun control and the public admired her for her bravery. No topic was too controversial for this woman who never failed to speak her mind!
Hillary Clinton almost became the first First Lady turned first female U.S. President in the 2016 elections. She was the right-hand woman of her husband Bill Clinton who served in the White House from 1993 to 2001. It seemed as if Hillary Rodham Clinton was destined to be a successful politician from a young age. Born in Chicago, Illinois on October 26, 1947, Hillary was always very active in school clubs and social organizations. During her time, as First Lady, she was directly involved in creating and carrying out policy, especially dealing with health care reform. To the White House, she brought with her years of experience working as an attorney protecting the rights of children and women. She served as Senator to New York and was Barack Obama’s Secretary of State from 2008 to 2012. She continues to play a key role in encouraging women to be become more active in politics – more power to women!
Michelle Obama became America’s sweetheart when her husband became president in 2009 – so much so that people want her to run for president! She is not mild-mannered and shy, but tough and independent! She encourages fitness and has no shame in showing off her muscles and doing push-ups on national television. Looking for a solution to childhood obesity in the USA, she launched the organization called Let’s Move to encourage children to get out, play and eat healthier. Like all First Ladies, she advocated for the rights of women and higher education for those in need, not only in the United States, but all over the world. Michelle LaVaughn Robinson was born on January 17, 1964 in Chicago, Illinois, and overcame great odds to graduate from Harvard Law School and who knows, she just might be president one day!
The popular saying, behind every good man there’s a woman, didn’t come from nowhere. Women have played an important role in the development of the United States. That is why the month of March is dedicated to honoring not only First Ladies, but all women who have stood up for their rights and the rights of others! Do you want to join in on the action? Then apply for the upcoming Green Card Lottery DV-19 and become a part of the United States women’s movement!