First Ladies

During the month of February, some attention is generally devoted to U.S. Presidents with the celebration of the President’s Day holiday. It’s also a great time to learn more about the women beside the men–U.S. First Ladies. 

The First Lady is most often the wife of the president. But, there have been eleven women who have filled the role who were relatives of bachelor or widowed presidents. Duties have evolved over time, with many first ladies taking on social issues such as civil rights, drug abuse, women’s rights, literacy and physical fitness. Some have become spokeswomen for their husbands and U.S. figureheads while traveling overseas. The First Lady receives no personal salary, but does have a staff and an office in the East Wing of the White House. 

First Ladies are an interesting group of people. Here are just a few tidbits:

  • There have been two first ladies born outside of the U.S. Louisa Adams was born in London in 1775. Almost 200 years later, Melania Trump was born in Slovenia in 1970. 
  • Two first ladies have been both wife and mother of a president: Abigail Adams and Barbara Bush. 
  • The two tallest first ladies were Eleanor Roosevelt and Michelle Obama, both 5’11”.
  • Speaking of Eleanor Roosevelt, she had her own plane and as a student pilot once flew with Amelia Earhart and took the controls for part of the flight. 
  • Eleanor Roosevelt refused Secret Service protection and opted instead to carry her own pistol as protection. 
  • Helen Taft was the first first lady to drive a car, to write her memoirs, and to smoke cigarettes in public. 
  • Helen Taft is also responsible for the cherry trees all over the nation’s capital. After a visit to Japan, she received 2000 cherry trees from the mayor of Tokyo and had them planted all over D.C.
  • Mary Todd Lincoln held regular seances at the White House.
  • During Prohibition, Florence Harding tended bar at her husband’s poker games with alcohol that was rumored to have been confiscated by authorities. 
  • Pat Nixon was the first first lady to wear pants in public. 
  • Jacqueline Kennedy won an Emmy. Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama have each won a Grammy.
  • Mamie Eisenhower loved the color pink. In the 1950s, the color First Lady Pink, or Mamie Pink, was named after her and became quite popular for everything from clothing to kitchen cabinets.. 

You can find out more about these interesting women in history by visiting the websites of the First Ladies National Historic Site and the National First Ladies’ Library. Both of these are part of the National Park Service and are located in Canton, Ohio. You can also learn more about our nation’s first ladies by enjoying these items from the MVCC Library collection.