Story Circle: Who Elected Her? America’s First Ladies

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America’s First Ladies have always been a diverse group, from Eleanor Roosevelt to Jackie Kennedy to Michelle Obama. Historian Deborah Jones Sherwood talked about the colorful, controversial, and charismatic women who have graced the White House. Some First Ladies have been criticized for being too influential, while others have been viewed as being disinterested in taking on the role of “The Nation’s Hostess.” Others have been responsible for significant acts of legislation, preserving historical treasures, and promoting awareness of social and humanitarian concerns.

Some even helped get presidents elected, long before women won the right to vote. Many First Ladies have traveled the world promoting their husbands’ causes, while also advancing their own agendas and championing issues related to helping the less fortunate. Despite being in the public eye, these First Ladies have managed to raise their own children, plan and host state dinners, and oversee massive White House renovations.

1. The role of America’s First Lady or “the nation’s hostess” has not always been played by the wife of the president. History reveals a number of circumstances where another woman was chosen to play this role, including nieces and friends’ spouses.

2. In recent years, America’s First Ladies have taken up leadership on an array of social causes, including women’s rights, volunteerism, environmentalism, immigration, and healthcare.

3. There are considerable differences regarding the extent to which America’s First Ladies sought to be involved in politics. For a few, the election of their husband was somewhat of a “package deal”–with the First Lady becoming nearly as engaged as her husband. In other circumstances, First Ladies have avoided politics and focused far more on the social dimension of their role.

Deborah Sherwood
Author, “The First Ladies: Their Lives and Legacies,” America’s First Ladies Historical Lectures

This summary provided by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

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