It's time for the ladies-the First Ladies, that is-to get their time in the spotlight
What does a First Lady do? What makes a First Lady successful? If you've always wanted to know, this is the place to come to for the answers! This reference has the inside scoop on all the First Ladies, including Michelle Obama's campaigns for healthy eating and Jackie Kennedy's emphasis on art and culture. In First Ladies For Dummies, you'll find out how these women's values, initiatives, and style have influenced all our lives, and how they've become true role models for generations.
With the detailed biographies and personal profiles in First Ladies For Dummies, you'll gain a well-rounded knowledge of the United States' 47 First Ladies. From Martha to Melania, from Jackie to Dr. Jill, and everyone in between, every First Lady has left her stamp on the White House, in the Rose Garden, and in history, and this book covers it all. It includes:
An historical context for a deeper understanding of the world these First Ladies lived in
Accounts of their childhoods and early lives to learn who these women were before they stepped foot in the White House
Each First Lady's interests and achievements
Whether you're a history fanatic or just curious about these highly accomplished women, you'll find lots of fun facts about them in First Ladies For Dummies. Pick up your copy to be in the know!
Marcus Stadelmann, PhD, is a Professor of Political Science and Chair of the Department of Political Science and History at the University of Texas at Tyler. Along with teaching at universities in California, Utah, and Texas, Dr. Stadelmann is the author or co-author of eight books in his discipline, including U.S. Presidents For Dummies. His favorite First Lady is Dolley Madison.
The Changing Role of First Ladies in the United States
IN THIS CHAPTER
Setting the foundation
Being graceful hostesses
Refusing the job
Starting to matter
The story of the First Ladies of the United States is one of drama, personal struggle, and both great successes and failures. It's a story of ambition, joy, disappointment, and most often a total loss of privacy. In the early years of the republic, becoming First Lady imposed considerable dangers, both social and economic, on First Ladies and their families. The White House was open to just about everyone, and it had no security yet.
Today, First Ladies have professional roles and often aid in policy development. They work together with Congress and have become active policy makers. However, every First Lady decides how active they'll be. Hillary Clinton was one of the most active First Ladies in recent history, while Melania Trump was less active and played the role of a more traditional First Lady (see Chapter 20 for more). A First Lady's temperament, family situation, character, and even relationship with the president determines all of that. First Ladies with big political ambitions can use their office as a stepping stone to future offices. Eleanor Roosevelt did so with working for the United Nations after leaving her role as First Lady in 1945 (see Chapter 14), and Hillary Clinton ran and won a U.S. Senate seat after serving two terms as First Lady (see Chapter 18).
The role of First Lady has seen significant changes over the years. Women have made progress in society and are found at the highest levels of government, including now the vice presidency. Women today serve in Congress, even becoming the Speaker of the House of Representatives; they are members of the Supreme Court; and they govern states. It's only a question of time before a woman will become president and the U.S. will have its first "First Gentleman."
First Ladies in U.S. History
Why become a First Lady? Most of the time, First Ladies had no choice. They were married to someone who just became president. In some instances, they had actually pushed their husbands into politics. Great examples include Sarah Polk and Helen Taft (see Chapters 7 and 12). They loved the game of politics and enjoyed the prestige of being First Lady. In fact, Julia Grant was so upset that her husband refused to run for a third term that she was in tears when she had to leave the White House (Chapter 10). More recently, First Ladies wanted to impact social and economic reforms and change the country and its people. Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosalynn Carter, Barbara Bush, and Hillary Clinton are examples of socially conscious First Ladies who wanted to bring about change (see Chapters 14, 17, and 18 for more on their stories).
Defining a First Lady
Most of the 47 First Ladies in this book are famous because of the men they married. However, most First Ladies also impacted their husband's lives and directly and indirectly made significant contributions to U.S. history. From Martha Washington (Chapter 3) traveling with the Continental Army and improving soldiers' morale to Mary Todd Lincoln (Chapter 9) encouraging her husband to run for political office, in turn saving the Union, to Helen Taft (Chapter 12) pushing her husband to become president, American history wouldn't have been the same without the country's First Ladies.
Until recently, it was believed that First Ladies mattered and held their jobs only because their husbands had become president. That is true by definition but doesn't explain the whole story. Many claim that First Ladies owe their space in history to the men they married and that they didn't contribute much to the history and evolution of the United States. For them, First Ladies were basically footnotes in history. This is clearly wrong.
FINANCIAL RAMIFICATIONS OF BEING FIRST LADY
Early on, the positions of President and First Lady imposed financial hardships. Presidents and First Ladies had to use their own resources to furnish the White House and to host dinners and parties. The amount of money Congress appropriated for these functions wasn't enough, and to top it off, the job of president wasn't compensated well, and the First Lady received no compensation at all. And, of course, after retirement, neither the president nor First Lady received a pension. This would not change until pensions for ex-presidents were approved in the 1950s, and presidents started receiving a comfortable salary beginning in 1969, when President Nixon received salary of $200,000.
Therefore, the job of First Lady involved personal sacrifices, and often a price, usually economic or even health-wise, had to be paid. Unlike today, when presidents and their wives make millions after they retire, usually by writing their memoirs and/or giving speeches, back then, being president could bankrupt a family. Early presidents and First Ladies left the White House often poorer than when they entered it. Dolley Madison, for example, was broke at the end of her life, and people left money in her house whenever she invited them over.
Not surprisingly, many First Ladies were quite upset when they found out their husbands had won the presidential elections and didn't celebrate but withdrew from the functions expected of a First Lady. Instead, they had their daughters or nieces take their place. Other First Ladies, like Sarah Polk, became penny pinchers and tried to run the White House the cheapest way possible.
Studies show that many First Ladies mattered more than people thought. They helped out with finances, managing family farms, teaching school, or working after getting married so that their husband could enter politics. In addition, most First Ladies came from social and economic backgrounds superior to the men they married. Without their contributions, their husbands couldn't have become presidents. Many First Ladies were even familiar with politics and had early exposure to politics through a father, a grandfather, or an uncle. Helen Taft, for example, decided to pursue a career in politics through her husband. Her father and grandfather had served in Congress, and she enjoyed the campaign for political office. This allowed her to give advice and help advance her husband's political career. Without her, there would have been no President Taft. (See Chapter 12 for her full story.)
It took quite some time to discover how important First Ladies actually were in the history of the U.S. The reason is that most early First Ladies, such as Martha Washington, didn't leave a lot of information for historians to study. Many burned all their correspondence with their husbands and friends that contained much information. The few who didn't, like Abigail Adams, left historians with a plethora of information and provided a picture of the time they lived in and information on their job as First Lady and how they contributed to their husband's career and successes.
This started to change, however, after the Civil War. First Ladies started leaving more information to be studied. In fact, Julia Grant, Helen Taft, and Edith Wilson all wrote their memoirs, giving us a lot of information on the role of First Lady and the gradual changes the office undertook.
Most First Ladies accomplished great things, often before becoming First Lady. Here are some examples:
- Elizabeth Monroe single-handedly saved the wife of the American war hero the Marquis de Lafayette in Paris during the French Revolution. See Chapter 5.
- Louisa Adams traveled by herself with a young child during the wintertime from Russia to France during the Napoleonic wars. See Chapter 5.
- Lou Hoover, who was in China during the Boxer Rebellion, carried a gun and got involved in shoot-outs. See Chapter 13.
Powers of the First Lady
The position of First Lady isn't mentioned in the Constitution. However, the position soon became attached to the presidency and received some informal powers.
The position of First Lady has been defined by culture and not the Constitution. There's no job description and no laws regulating First Lady behavior. However, changing American culture has put both limitations and opportunities on the role of First Lady. Cleary, back in the 19th century, an active First Lady campaigning for her husband and trying to impact policy making publicly wouldn't have been tolerated. Today, the American public expects First Ladies to be educated, to campaign for their husbands, and to even run for office themselves.
For this reason, the position of First Lady has considerable power today, and the First Lady has become one of the most powerful persons in Washington, D.C. From Betty Ford (see Chapter 16) who encouraged her husband to pardon President Nixon to Hillary Clinton who was put in charge of reforming healthcare in the United States, First Ladies have shown that they matter and can impact policy making.
Assuming head of state roles
The Constitution provides a president with two jobs. First, there's the head of state position; and second, there's the head of government position. The first is ceremonial and doesn't matter that much; therefore, presidents have given ceremonial powers to...