First Lady of the United States

Last updated

First Lady of the
United States of America
Melania Trump official portrait (cropped).jpg
Incumbent
Melania Trump

since January 20, 2017
AbbreviationFLOTUS
Residence White House
Inaugural holder Martha Washington
FormationApril 30, 1789
(229 years ago)
 (1789-04-30)
Website WhiteHouse.gov

The First Lady of the United States (FLOTUS) is the title held by the hostess of the White House, usually the wife of the President of the United States, concurrent with the President's term in office. Although the First Lady's role has never been codified or officially defined, she figures prominently in the political and social life of the nation. [1] Since the early 20th century, the First Lady has been assisted by official staff, now known as the Office of the First Lady and headquartered in the East Wing of the White House. Melania Trump is the current First Lady of the United States, as wife of 45th president, Donald Trump.

White House Official residence and workplace of the President of the United States

The White House is the official residence and workplace of the President of the United States. It is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C. and has been the residence of every U.S. President since John Adams in 1800. The term "White House" is often used as a metonym for the president and his advisers.

President of the United States Head of state and of government of the United States

The president of the United States (POTUS) is the head of state and head of government of the United States of America. The president directs the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces.

East Wing

The East Wing is a part of the White House Complex. It is a two-story structure east of the White House Executive Residence, the home of the President of the United States. While the West Wing generally serves the president's executive office staff, the East Wing serves as office space for the First Lady and her staff, including the White House Social Secretary, White House Graphics and Calligraphy Office and correspondence staff. The East Wing also includes the visitors' entrance, and the East Colonnade, a corridor connecting the body of the East Wing to the residence. Along the corridor is the White House theater, also called the Family theater. Social visitors to the White House usually enter through the East Wing.

Contents

While the title was not in general use until much later, Martha Washington, the wife of George Washington, the first U.S. President (1789–1797), is considered to be the inaugural First Lady of the United States. During her lifetime, she was often referred to as "Lady Washington". [2]

Martha Washington 1st First Lady of the United States

Martha Washington was the wife of George Washington, the first President of the United States. Although the title was not coined until after her death, Martha Washington served as the inaugural First Lady of the United States. During her lifetime she was often referred to as "Lady Washington".

George Washington 1st president of the United States

George Washington was an American political leader, military general, statesman, and Founding Father who also served as the first president of the United States from 1789 to 1797. He led Patriot forces to victory in the nation's War of Independence, and he presided at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 which established the new federal government. He has been called the "Father of His Country" for his manifold leadership in the formative days of the new nation.

Since the 1790s, the role of First Lady has changed considerably. It has come to include involvement in political campaigns, management of the White House, championship of social causes, and representation of the president at official and ceremonial occasions. Because first ladies now typically publish their memoirs, which are viewed as potential sources of additional information about their husbands' administrations, and because the public is interested in these increasingly independent women in their own right, first ladies frequently remain a focus of attention long after their husbands' terms of office have ended. [1] Additionally, over the years individual first ladies have held influence in a range of sectors, from fashion to public opinion on policy. Historically, should a president be unmarried, or a widower, the president usually asks a relative or friend to act as White House hostess.

There are four living former first ladies: Rosalynn Carter, wife of Jimmy Carter; Hillary Clinton, wife of Bill Clinton; Laura Bush; wife of George W Bush and Michelle Obama, wife of Barack Obama. As of 2019, the only former First Lady who has run for or held public office is Hillary Clinton.

Rosalynn Carter Wife of the 39th President of the United States, Jimmy Carter

Eleanor Rosalynn Carter is an American who served as First Lady of the United States from 1977 to 1981, as the wife of President Jimmy Carter. For decades, she has been a leading advocate for numerous causes. Carter was politically active during her White House years, sitting in on Cabinet meetings. She was her husband's closest adviser. She also served as an envoy abroad, particularly in Latin America.

Jimmy Carter 39th president of the United States

James Earl Carter Jr. is an American politician and philanthropist who served as the 39th president of the United States from 1977 to 1981. A Democrat, he previously served as a Georgia State senator from 1963 to 1967 and as the 76th governor of Georgia from 1971 to 1975. Carter has remained active in public life during his post-presidency, and in 2002 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in co-founding the Carter Center.

Hillary Clinton American politician, senator, Secretary of State, First Lady

Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton is an American politician, diplomat, lawyer, writer, and public speaker. She served as the First Lady of the United States from 1993 to 2001, U.S. Senator from New York from 2001 to 2009, 67th United States Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013, and as the Democratic Party's nominee for President of the United States in the 2016 election, the first woman nominated by a major party.

Origins of the title

Dolley Madison was said to be the first President's wife to be referred to as "First Lady" (this was at her funeral in 1849). Dolley Madison.jpg
Dolley Madison was said to be the first President's wife to be referred to as "First Lady" (this was at her funeral in 1849).

The use of the title First Lady to describe the spouse or hostess of an executive began in the United States. In the early days of the republic, there was not a generally accepted title for the wife of the president. Many early first ladies expressed their own preference for how they were addressed, including the use of such titles as "Lady", "Mrs. President" and "Mrs. Presidentress"; Martha Washington was often referred to as "Lady Washington." One of the earliest uses of the term "First Lady" was applied to her in an 1838 newspaper article that appeared in the St. Johnsbury Caledonian, the author, "Mrs. Sigourney", discussing how Martha Washington had not changed, even after her husband George became president. She wrote that "The first lady of the nation still preserved the habits of early life. Indulging in no indolence, she left the pillow at dawn, and after breakfast, retired to her chamber for an hour for the study of the scriptures and devotion". [3]

First Lady honorary title of the wife of a president or head of state

First Lady is an unofficial title used for the wife of a non-monarchical head of state or chief executive. The term is also used to describe a woman seen to be at the top of her profession or art.

Dolley Madison was reportedly referred to as "First Lady" in 1849 at her funeral in a eulogy delivered by President Zachary Taylor; however, no written record of this eulogy exists, nor did any of the newspapers of her day refer to her by that title. [4] Sometime after 1849, the title began being used in Washington, D.C., social circles. One of the earliest known written examples comes from November 3, 1863, diary entry of William Howard Russell, in which he referred to gossip about "the First Lady in the Land", referring to Mary Todd Lincoln. The title first gained nationwide recognition in 1877, when newspaper journalist Mary C. Ames referred to Lucy Webb Hayes as "the First Lady of the Land" while reporting on the inauguration of Rutherford B. Hayes. The frequent reporting on Lucy Hayes' activities helped spread use of the title outside Washington. A popular 1911 comedic play about Dolley Madison by playwright Charles Nirdlinger, titled The First Lady in the Land, popularized the title further. By the 1930s, it was in wide use. Use of the title later spread from the United States to other nations.

Dolley Madison Wife of fourth President of the United States, James Madison

Dolley Payne Todd Madison was the wife of James Madison, President of the United States from 1809 to 1817. She was noted for holding Washington social functions in which she invited members of both political parties, essentially spearheading the concept of bipartisan cooperation, albeit before that term was in use, in the United States. While previously, founders such as Thomas Jefferson would only meet with members of one party at a time, and politics could often be a violent affair resulting in physical altercations and even duels, Madison helped to create the idea that members of each party could amicably socialize, network, and negotiate with each other without resulting in violence. By innovating political institutions as the wife of James Madison, Dolley Madison did much to define the role of the President's spouse, known only much later by the title First Lady—a function she had sometimes performed earlier for the widowed Thomas Jefferson.

Zachary Taylor 12th president of the United States

Zachary Taylor was the 12th president of the United States, serving from March 1849 until his death in July 1850. Taylor previously was a career officer in the United States Army, rose to the rank of major general and became a national hero as a result of his victories in the Mexican–American War. As a result, he won election to the White House despite his vague political beliefs. His top priority as president was preserving the Union, but he died sixteen months into his term, before making any progress on the status of slavery, which had been inflaming tensions in Congress.

William Howard Russell Irish journalist

Sir William Howard Russell was an Irish reporter with The Times, and is considered to have been one of the first modern war correspondents. He spent 22 months covering the Crimean War, including the Siege of Sevastopol and the Charge of the Light Brigade. He later covered events during the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the American Civil War, the Austro-Prussian War, and the Franco-Prussian War.

When Edith Wilson took control of her husband's schedule in 1919 after he had a debilitating stroke, one Republican senator labeled her "the Presidentress who had fulfilled the dream of the suffragettes by changing her title from First Lady to Acting First Man." [5]

The wife of the Vice President of the United States is sometimes referred to as the Second Lady of the United States (SLOTUS), but this title is much less common.

Non-spouses in the role

Several women (at least thirteen) who were not presidents' wives have served as First Lady, as when the president was a bachelor or widower, or when the wife of the president was unable to fulfill the duties of the First Lady herself. In these cases, the position has been filled by a female relative or friend of the president, such as Jefferson's daughter Martha Jefferson Randolph, Jackson's daughter-in-law Sarah Yorke Jackson and his wife's niece Emily Donelson, Taylor's daughter Mary Elizabeth Bliss, Benjamin Harrison's daughter Mary Harrison McKee, Buchanan's niece Harriet Lane, and Cleveland's sister Rose Cleveland.

Role

First Lady Barbara Bush, joined by Missouri Governor John Ashcroft, with a "Parents as Teachers" group at the Greater St. Louis Ferguson-Florissant School District in October 1991. Mrs. Bush, who championed literacy as first lady, is reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear to the children. Mrs. Bush and Missouri Governor John Ashcroft attend a "Parents as Teachers" parent-child group at the... - NARA - 186437.tif
First Lady Barbara Bush, joined by Missouri Governor John Ashcroft, with a "Parents as Teachers" group at the Greater St. Louis Ferguson-Florissant School District in October 1991. Mrs. Bush, who championed literacy as first lady, is reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear to the children.
First Ladies Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush (standing, left to right), Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, Rosalynn Carter, and Betty Ford (seated, left to right) at the dedication of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, November 1991 First Ladies at Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.jpg
First Ladies Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush (standing, left to right), Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, Rosalynn Carter, and Betty Ford (seated, left to right) at the dedication of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, November 1991

The position of the First Lady is not an elected one and carries only ceremonial duties. Nonetheless, first ladies have held a highly visible position in American society. [6] The role of the First Lady has evolved over the centuries. She is, first and foremost, the hostess of the White House. [6] She organizes and attends official ceremonies and functions of state either along with, or in place of, the president. Lisa Burns identifies four successive main themes of the first ladyship: as public woman (1900–1929); as political celebrity (1932–1961); as political activist (1964–1977); and as political interloper (1980–2001). [7]

Martha Washington created the role and hosted many affairs of state at the national capital (New York and Philadelphia). This socializing became known as "the Republican Court" and provided elite women with opportunities to play backstage political roles. [8] Both Martha Washington and Abigail Adams were treated as if they were "ladies" of the British royal court. [6]

Dolley Madison popularized the First Ladyship by engaging in efforts to assist orphans and women, by dressing in elegant fashions and attracting newspaper coverage, and by risking her life to save iconic treasures during the War of 1812. Madison set the standard for the ladyship and her actions were the model for nearly every First Lady until Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1930s. [6] Roosevelt traveled widely and spoke to many groups, often voicing personal opinions to the left of the president's. She authored a weekly newspaper column and hosted a radio show. [9] Jacqueline Kennedy led an effort to redecorate and restore the White House. [10]

Many first ladies became significant fashion trendsetters. [6] Some have exercised a degree of political influence by virtue of being an important adviser to the president. [6]

Over the course of the 20th century, it became increasingly common for first ladies to select specific causes to promote, usually ones that are not politically divisive. It is common for the First Lady to hire a staff to support these activities. Lady Bird Johnson pioneered environmental protection and beautification. [11] Pat Nixon encouraged volunteerism and traveled extensively abroad; Betty Ford supported women's rights; Rosalynn Carter aided those with mental disabilities; Nancy Reagan founded the Just Say No drug awareness campaign; Barbara Bush promoted literacy; Hillary Clinton sought to reform the healthcare system in the U.S.; Laura Bush supported women's rights groups, and encouraged childhood literacy. [6] Michelle Obama became identified with supporting military families and tackling childhood obesity; [12] and Melania Trump has stated that she wants to use her position to help children, including prevention of cyberbullying and supporting children whose lives are affected by drugs. [13]

Near the end of her husband's presidency, Clinton became the first First Lady to run for political office. During the campaign, her daughter, Chelsea, took over much of the First Lady's role. Victorious, Clinton served as U.S. Senator from New York from 2001 to 2009, when she resigned in order to become President Obama's Secretary of State until 2013. Clinton was the Democratic Party nominee for President in the 2016 election, but lost to Donald Trump.

Office of the First Lady

First Ladies (from left to right) Nancy Reagan, Lady Bird Johnson, Hillary Clinton, Rosalynn Carter, Betty Ford, and Barbara Bush at the "National Garden Gala, A Tribute to America's First Ladies", May 11, 1994. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, absent due to illness, died a week after this photograph was taken. First-Ladies cropped.jpg
First Ladies (from left to right) Nancy Reagan, Lady Bird Johnson, Hillary Clinton, Rosalynn Carter, Betty Ford, and Barbara Bush at the "National Garden Gala, A Tribute to America's First Ladies", May 11, 1994. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, absent due to illness, died a week after this photograph was taken.

The Office of the First Lady of the United States is accountable to the First Lady for her to carry out her duties as hostess of the White House, and is also in charge of all social and ceremonial events of the White House. The First Lady has her own staff that includes a chief of staff, press secretary, White House Social Secretary, and Chief Floral Designer. The Office of the First Lady is an entity of the White House Office, a branch of the Executive Office of the President. [14] When First Lady Hillary Clinton decided to pursue a run for Senator of New York, she set aside her duties as first lady [15] and moved to Chappaqua, New York to establish state residency. [16] She resumed her duties as First Lady after winning her senatorial campaign, [17] and retained her duties as both first lady and U.S. Senator for the seventeen-day overlap before Bill Clinton's term came to an end. [18]

Despite the significant responsibilities usually handled by the First Lady, the First Lady does not receive a salary. This has been criticized by both Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. [19]

Exhibitions and collections

Established in 1912, the First Ladies Collection has been one of the most popular attractions at the Smithsonian Institution. The original exhibition opened in 1914 and was one of the first at the Smithsonian to prominently feature women. Originally focused largely on fashion, the exhibition now delves deeper into the contributions of first ladies to the presidency and American society. In 2008, "First Ladies at the Smithsonian" opened at the National Museum of American History as part of its reopening year celebration. That exhibition served as a bridge to the museum's expanded exhibition on first ladies' history that opened on November 19, 2011. "The First Ladies" explores the unofficial but important position of first lady and the ways that different women have shaped the role to make their own contributions to the presidential administrations and the nation. The exhibition features 26 dresses and more than 160 other objects, ranging from those of Martha Washington to Michelle Obama, and includes White House china, personal possessions and other objects from the Smithsonian's unique collection of first ladies' materials. [20]

First Lady and fashion

Some first ladies have garnered attention for their dress and style. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, for instance, became a global fashion icon: her style was copied by commercial manufacturers and imitated by many young women, and she was named to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1965. [21] [22] Michelle Obama has also received significant attention for her fashion choices: style writer Robin Givhan praised her in The Daily Beast , arguing that the First Lady's style has helped to enhance the public image of the office. [23]

List

Living First Ladies

As of December 2018, there are four living former First Ladies, as identified below.

The most recent First Lady to die was Barbara Bush (served 1989–1993), on April 17, 2018, at the age of 92. The greatest number of former First Ladies to be alive at one time was ten, during the period from June 2, 1886 to August 23, 1887, when Sarah Yorke Jackson, Priscilla Cooper Tyler, Julia Gardiner Tyler, Sarah Childress Polk, Harriet Lane, Julia Grant, Lucy Webb Hayes, Lucretia Garfield, Mary Arthur McElroy, and Rose Cleveland were all alive and the period from March 4 to June 25, 1889, when Priscilla Cooper Tyler, Julia Gardiner Tyler, Sarah Childress Polk, Harriet Lane, Julia Grant, Lucy Webb Hayes, Lucretia Garfield, Mary Arthur McElroy, Rose Cleveland, and Frances Folsom Cleveland Preston were alive.

See also

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References

  1. 1 2 Caroli, Betty Boyd. "First Lady: United States title". Britannica.com. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved September 30, 2016.
  2. Figueroa, Acton (January 1, 2003). Washington,. World Almanac Library. p. 10. ISBN   978-0-8368-5162-5.
  3. "Martha Washington". St. Johnsbury Caledonian. August 7, 1838. p. 1.
  4. "First Lady Biography: Dolley Madison". National First Ladies' Library.
  5. Creeden, Sharon (1999). In Full Bloom: Tales of Women in Their Prime. August House. p. 30.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Anthony, Carl Sferrazza (September 26, 2008). "The Role of the First Lady". America.gov. Archived from the original on May 10, 2009. Retrieved May 4, 2009.
  7. Burns, Lisa M. (2008). First Ladies and the Fourth Estate: Press Framing of Presidential Wives. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press. ISBN   978-0875803913.
  8. Shields, David S. & Teute, Fredrika J. (2015). "The Republican Court and the Historiography of a Women's Domain in the Public Sphere". Journal of the Early Republic. 35 (2): 169–183. doi:10.1353/jer.2015.0033.
  9. O'Farrell, Brigid (2010). She was one of us: Eleanor Roosevelt and the American worker. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.[ page needed ]
  10. Troy, Gil (2001). "Jacqueline Kennedy's White House renovations". White House Studies. 1 (3): 395–404.
  11. Gould, Lewis L. (1988). Lady Bird Johnson and the environment. University Press of Kansas.[ full citation needed ]
  12. "Michelle Obama". The White House. Retrieved May 4, 2010.
  13. Superville, Darlene (October 9, 2017). "Melania Trump Filling Out Her Agenda as First Lady". U.S. News & World Report. Associated Press. Retrieved November 8, 2017.
  14. "Executive Office of the President". The White House.
  15. "Hillary Clinton Makes a Historic Move".
  16. "Mrs. Clinton to Be Official New Yorker". The New York Times. November 24, 1999.
  17. "The Race Won, the Senator-Elect Resumes Her First Lady Duties at the White House". The New York Times. November 10, 2000.
  18. "A Day of Firsts As Mrs. Clinton Takes the Oath". The New York Times. January 4, 2001.
  19. Finkelstein, Sarina (April 12, 2016). "Want to Fix Wage Inequality? Start With the First Lady". Money. Retrieved February 6, 2017.
  20. "The First Ladies". National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved April 4, 2012.
  21. VF Staff (1965). "World's Best Dressed Women". The International Hall of Fame: Women. Vanity Fair. Archived from the original on July 12, 2013. Retrieved February 15, 2012.
  22. Zilkha, Bettina (2004). Ultimate Style: The Best of the Best Dressed List. New York, NY: Assouline. pp. 64–69, 90. ISBN   2-84323-513-8.
  23. Givhan, Robin (2012). "First Lady Fashion Fatigue". The Daily Beast. Retrieved October 30, 2014.

Further reading