First Ladies of the United States
Martha Washington (1789-97) was America's original first lady, and she set many of the standards and customs for the proper behavior and treatment of a U.S. president's wife.
Abigail Adams (1797-1801) was a strong advocate of women's rights, and encouraged her husband and other members of the Continental Congress to "...remember the ladies..." as they began the work of crafting a new American government.
Dolley Madison (1809-17) is best remembered for saving the White House's historic portrait of George Washington from destruction by advancing British troops during the War of 1812, but she was also one of Washington, D.C.'s most successful hostesses.
When Elizabeth Monroe's (1817-25) husband became president, she was criticized for her failure to embrace the public role of first lady, which stood in stark contrast to her socially adept and popular predecessor, Dolley Madison.
The only first lady born abroad, Lousia Adams (1825-29) met her husband while he was serving as a U.S. minister in Europe. Though she was a skilled hostess, illnesses and recurring depression led her to withdraw from public life.
Martha Jefferson, Rachel Jackson, Hannah Van Buren and Ellen Arthur all died before their husbands became president, and the social role of the first lady was unofficially filled by family and friends.
Anna Harrison (1841) was the first first lady to receive a formal education and was both the wife and grandmother of presidents.
Two years before her husband became president, Letitia Tyler (1841-42) suffered a debilitating stroke. In 1842, she became the first first lady to die in the White House.
Alhough Julia Tyler (1844-45) was thirty years younger than her husband when they married, she played both a social and political role in the White House, still a rare occurrence for a president's wife in the 19th century.
Sarah Polk (1845–49) was deeply involved in her husband's career and, through him, exerted considerable influence on public affairs and politics. As first lady, she hosted the first annual White House Thanksgiving dinner.
Zachary Taylor admitted on the campaign trail that his wife, Margaret Taylor (1849-50), was so opposed to his becoming president that she was actively praying for his opponent's victory.
Abigail Fillmore (1850-53) was the first first lady to work outside of the home, and she met her husband Millard while she was his teacher at a school in New York state. A lifelong lover of books, she created a White House library, which she built with funds she secured from Congress.
Deeply unhappy at the toll politics had already taken on her family, Jane Pierce (1853-57) fainted when she learned that he husband had been nominated for the presidency.
The only bachelor president, Jame Buchanan asked his niece, Harriet Lane to serve as first lady (1857-61). Harriet became such a popular hostess that woman copied her hair and clothing styles and a popular song was dedicated in her honor.
Well educated, happy and energetic in her youth, Mary Todd Lincoln suffered a series of personal tragedies and behaved erratically in her later years.
Eliza Johnson (1865-69) was so reluctant to play the role of political wife that she did not even travel to Washington, D.C. until her husband had been in Congress for nearly 20 years.
Unlike many of her predecessors, Julia Grant, (1869-77) was thrilled by her husband's election to the presidency. She was the first first lady to pen her memoirs, although they remained unpublished until nearly 75 years after her death.
Lucy Hayes (1877-81) was the first first lady to have graduated from college. Her decision to ban alcohol from White House during her husband's administration earned her the nickname "Lemonade Lucy" from her critics, but she was a popular first lady.
Though Lucretia Garfield (1881) served as first lady for only a few months, she was independent-minded, well-educated and a talented speaker, and her approach toward her role as first lady presaged that of her 20th-century counterparts.
Just 21 when she became first lady, Frances Cleveland (1864-1947) holds a number of distinctions in presidential history: She was the youngest first lady in American history, the first bride to marry an incumbent president at the White House and the first first lady to give birth in the White House.
Caroline Harrison (1889-92) installed electricity at the White House, though she and her family were at first too afraid to use it. In 1892, she died of tuberculosis, becoming only the second first lady to die in the White House.
Ida McKinley's (1897-1901) poor health limited her ability to perform many of the social duties typically associated with the role of first lady, but she remained a trusted advisor to her husband until his assassination in 1901.
After entering the White House, Theodore and Edith Roosevelt (1901-09) quickly realized it could not accommodate their large family. They secured funding from Congress to extensively remodel the building, including construction of the new West Wing, which separated the private family quarters from the presidential offices for the first time.
Helen "Nellie" Taft (1909-13) was the only woman to be both first lady and the wife of the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. She was such a trusted aide and advisor to her husband that many credited her with his ultimate success.
Although far less well-known than her husband's second wife, Ellen Wilson (1913-14) is best remembered for her efforts to improve housing conditions for African Americans in Washington, D.C.
Edith Wilson (1915–21) married Woodrow Wilson just a year after the death of his first wife. Her role as self-appointed "steward" for her husband following his debilitating stroke in 1919 has left her with a complicated and controversial legacy as first lady.
Energetic, strong-willed and popular, Florence Harding (1921-23) was an important influence on her husband's business and political careers.
Grace Coolidge (1923-29) was a former teacher at a Massachusetts school for the deaf, and she used her platform as first lady to champion education and child welfare issues. Her outgoing nature helped soften her husband's stern, reserved image.
Both Herbert and Lou Hoover (1929-33) were fluent in Mandarin, and they would often speak to each other in Chinese to prevent others from eavesdropping on them. She was the first first lady to deliver her own radio broadcasts.
Eleanor Roosevelt (1933-45) was one of the most active first ladies in history and worked for political, racial and social justice. After President Roosevelt’s death, Eleanor was a delegate to the United Nations.
Intensely private, Bess Truman (1945-53) preferred her Missuori home to the social whirl of Washington. Her most significant contribution as first lady was overseeing the extensive structural renovation of the White House, which saved the aging executive mansion from demolition.
Mamie Eisenhower (1953-61) was an immensely popular figure in her own right, even inspiring a series of campaign buttons that read, "We Like Mamie," a nod to the "We Like Ike" slogan adopted by her husband's supporters.
On Valentine's Day, 1962, 56 million Americans tuned in to watch Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (1961-63) give a behind-the-scenes tour of the recently refurbished White House. The following year, millions more would watch
Claudia "Lady Bird" Johnson (1963-69) did much to create the role of the modern first lady; hiring her own chief of staff and press secretary and actively lobbying Congress for legislation on her favored cause, the "beautification" of America's cities and highways.
As first lady, Pat Nixon (1969-74) encouraged Americans to donate their time to volunteerism and expanded access to the White House for previously marginalized groups; including foreign language speakers and those with physical disabilities.
Betty Ford's (1918-) outspoken candor, about politics and her personal life,
A strong supporter of the ERA, Rosalynn Carter (1977-81) attended briefings and Cabinet meetings, testified before Congress and ensured that her chief of staff earned the same salary as her husband's.
Nancy Reagan (1981-89) was a Hollywood actresd actress, noted for her efforts to discourage drug use by American youths.
To gain support for her literacy initiatives, Barbara Bush (1989-93) appeared on television and radio shows and authored several books, the proceeds of which she donated to education-based charities.
Hillary Clinton (1993-2000) redefined the role of the modern political spouse. The Clintons faced a series of personal and political crises while in the White House, during which Hillary was subject to intense scrutiny and criticism. In 2000 she became the first first lady to win elected office, and later served as U.S. Secretary of State.
As a former public shool teacher and librarian, Laura Bush (2001-09) championed the causes of education and literacy and created an annual National Book Fesitval to provide funding for America's libraries.
The first African American first lady, Michelle Obama (2009-) used her time in the White House to support a number of causes; including support for military families and encouraging healthy eating habiits to solve the epidemic of childhood obesity.
How to Cite this Page:
First Ladies. (2013). The History Channel website. Retrieved 8:09, May 23, 2013, from http://www.history.com/topics/first-ladies.
First Ladies. [Internet]. 2013. The History Channel website. Available from: http://www.history.com/topics/first-ladies [Accessed 23 May 2013].
“First Ladies.” 2013. The History Channel website. May 23 2013, 8:09 http://www.history.com/topics/first-ladies.
“First Ladies,” The History Channel website, 2013, http://www.history.com/topics/first-ladies [accessed May 23, 2013].
“First Ladies,” The History Channel website, http://www.history.com/topics/first-ladies (accessed May 23, 2013).
First Ladies [Internet]. The History Channel website; 2013 [cited 2013 May 23] Available from: http://www.history.com/topics/first-ladies.
First Ladies, http://www.history.com/topics/first-ladies (last visited May 23, 2013).
First Ladies. The History Channel website. 2013. Available at: http://www.history.com/topics/first-ladies. Accessed May 23, 2013.