Over the years, the role of the First Lady has been filled by a range of personalities. Some of these women stayed in the background, while others used their position to advocate for specific issues. A few first ladies even played an important role in their husband’s administration, working alongside the president to help enact policies. This article is dedicated to those first ladies that set a standard in America.
Abigail Filmore- A teacher to the core
Born Abigail Powers, Abigail Fillmore was one of Millard Fillmore’s teachers at New Hope Academy, even though she was only two years older than him. Abigail showed her love for learning by creating the White House Library.
She helped select books for inclusion as the library was being designed. Before then, there was no library in the White House because Congress thought it would make the president too powerful. Congress relented in 1850 when Fillmore took office and appropriated $2000 to it.
Eleanor Roosevelt- Making policies to enhance equality
Eleanor Roosevelt is one of the most influential first ladies in America. She married Franklin Roosevelt in 1905 and was one of the first to use her role as first lady to advance causes she found significant. She fought for New Deal proposals, civil rights, and women’s rights.
After her husband died, Eleanor Roosevelt was on the board of directors for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She believed education and equal opportunities should be guaranteed for all and was a leader in the formation of the United Nations at the end of World War II.
Jackie Kennedy- Improving the appearance of the White House
Born Jacqueline Lee Bouvier in 1929, she attended Vassar and then George Washington University, graduating with a degree in French literature. Jackie married John F. Kennedy in 1953 and played a major role in re-establishing the prestige of the White House.
The first lady spent much of her time working to restore and refurnish the White House. Once complete, she took America on a televised tour of the White House. She was revered as first lady for her poise and dignity.
Hillary Clinton- A force to reckon with, even after leaving the White House
Hillary Rodham was born in 1947 and married President Bill Clinton in 1975. She was involved in directing policy, especially in health care, and was appointed the head of the Task Force on National Health Care Reform.
After President Clinton’s second term, Hillary became the junior senator from New York. She also ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 and became Barack Obama’s Secretary of State. She was the first female presidential nominee of a major party.
Michelle Obama- A source of help and inspiration to the next generation
Born in 1964 as Michelle LaVaughn Robinson, she married Barack Obama in 1992. Michelle was a lawyer, businesswoman, and philanthropist who currently works primarily in the public sphere. As a First Lady, she focused on the “Let’s Move!” program to help reduce childhood obesity.
The program led to the Department of Agriculture’s new standards for all school food. It also brought about the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. She also established another initiative, “Reach Higher Initiative,” which offers students resources for post-high school and professional careers.