“Behind every great man is a great woman” is how the saying goes and this couldn’t be more true in regards to the President of the United States aka the Leader of the Free World. Too often is the role of the First Lady overlooked but as time has gone by, their importance and impact have only grown as they advocate for groundbreaking movements and start their own activist campaigns. Here’s a list of eight trailblazing First Ladies of the United States (purely my opinion, of course and in no particular order).
Jackie Kennedy was one of the youngest First Ladies to ever be in the White House, only 31 years old when her husband became the President of the United States. Despite her youth, she was known for her style and grace. Foreign dignitaries loved her for her social elegance and quick wit. She is perhaps best known for her publicized restoration of the White House and its televised tour. She is remembered for her efforts towards historic preservation and her appreciation of the arts.
There’s a reason that some people called Bill and Hillary Clinton “co-presidents.” She was perhaps one of the most involved First Ladies, especially on foreign issues and issues regarding healthcare. She supported legislation such as the Adoption and Safe Families Act and was a huge proponent of expanding healthcare coverage and making sure children are properly immunized. Clinton served as Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013, under the Obama Administration and was also the first female presidential nominee of a major party.
Michelle Obama was well loved for her work involving military families, childhood obesity, and poverty awareness. She focused much of her efforts on creating the “Let’s Move!” program which paved the way for the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, a campaign that promoted a new, higher set of nutritional standards for food in public schools. Not to mention that she’s regarded as a fashion icon, Michelle Obama really does do it all.
Eleanor Roosevelt’s list of accomplishments are long and impressive: she served as UN Commission of Human Rights’ first chair, fought to support refugees, and dedicated much of her efforts to fight for women's rights. She was one of the first First Ladies to transform the role of the President’s wife to be more than a gracious social hostess and to instead be more directly involved in political and philanthropic affairs.
Dolley Madison is most famous for her unwavering patriotism: when British troops started advancing on the White House in 1812, she raced its national treasures such as the Lansdowne portrait of George Washington to safety. She threw many lavish parties in the White House, hoping to bring the horribly divided politicians of the U.S. together and defuse tensions. She also was known for her passionate work on social issues, partnering with local charities and philanthropies.
Abigail Adams is perhaps most well known for the many letters she wrote during her life which now provides historians with valuable insight into what life was like during that time. Not only that, she was one of the first advocates of women’s right and opposed slavery. She famously wrote a letter to her husband, President John Adams, urging him to “Remember the ladies”, an important step towards equal rights for women.
Edith Wilson was actually Woodrow Wilson’s second wife. She all but took control of the presidency when President Wilson suffered a stroke in 1919, serving as the main communicator between her husband and everyone else. She sat down in important political meetings and remained closely involved with what was going on in the administration. A somewhat controversial figure as some considered her taking control of the Executive Branch as not her place to do so, she was nevertheless admired for her dedication in nursing her husband back to health.
Betty Ford was famously outspoken about issues previously considered taboo -- she spoke about her opinions regarding controversial topics such as abortion, mental health, and addiction. She spoke candidly about her own struggles with substance abuse, a move that many considered to be quite progressive and inspiring at that time. Even after her husband’s presidency, she remained involved in her activism. She stayed close with the feminist movement and launched the Betty Ford Center for addiction.