While presidents certainly leave their mark on the Oval Office, less talked about is the important role played by their first ladies. Many served as the closest advisor to the sitting commander in chief, and we can only imagine the kind of conversations held within the walls of the White House.
Although an entire exhibit is dedicated to these fab females at the Smithsonian, we seem to know more about who wore what outfit at the inaugural ball and what China patterns were selected for state dinners than what platforms and advocacy issues these women championed.
Here are 10 interesting platforms of first ladies, according to Whitehouse.gov:
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1. Ellen Axson Wilson
Ellen Wilson was the first wife of President Woodrow Wilson and held the title of first lady from 1913 until she died in 1914. A champion of equality well before her time, Ellen worked to improve housing for black Americans in Washington, DC, a cause she was passionate about as a descendant of slave owners.
2. Edith Bolling Galt
After Ellen Wilson passed away, President Wilson married Edith Bolling Galt, who was first lady from 1915 to 1921. She is best known for stepping in to assist her husband after he suffered a severe stroke; Edith was often referred to as the “secret president.”
3. Lou Henry Hoover
First lady from 1929 to 1933, Lou Henry Hoover was a well-respected linguist and scholar. She was the first wife of a president to make national radio broadcasts. Lou was a fine horsewoman; she hunted, and preserved specimens with the skill of a taxidermist; she developed an enthusiasm for rocks, minerals, and mining. Her passion for the outdoors served her well; she was president of the Girl Scouts before her time as first lady.
4. Eleanor Roosevelt
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was the longest-serving first lady throughout her husband President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s four terms in office (1933-1945). She was a politician, diplomat and activist who later served as a United Nations spokeswoman.
Eleanor broke precedent by holding press conferences and traveled all over the country, giving lectures and radio broadcasts. She expressed her opinions candidly in a daily syndicated newspaper column, “My Day.”
5. Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson
Thrust into the role of first lady as the wife of President Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969) after the assassination of President Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson broke ground for her role by interacting with Congress directly and advocating strongly for beautifying the nation’s cities and highways. She was a shrewd investor and manager.
6. Betty Ford
In her first year in the White House, 1974, Betty Ford had to undergo radical surgery for breast cancer. She was noted for raising breast cancer awareness and being a passionate supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment. She was frank about her successful battle against dependency on drugs and alcohol. She helped establish the Betty Ford Center for treatment of alcohol abuse.
7. Eleanor Rosalynn Carter
Rosalynn, wife of the 39th President, Jimmy Carter, was first lady from 1977 to 1981. As first lady, she focused national attention on the performing arts, and programs to aid mental health, the community, and the elderly. Rosalynn served as honorary chairman of the President’s Commission on Mental Health in 1979, testifying before Congress about the importance of mental health care and treatment.
8. Nancy Reagan
From Broadway actress to first lady, Nancy Reagan is remembered for her advocacy for decreasing drug and alcohol abuse, especially among young people. She spent many hours visiting veterans, the elderly, and the emotionally and physically disabled. With a lifelong interest in the arts, she used the White House as a showcase for talented young performers in the PBS television series “In Performance at the White House.”
9. Laura Lane Bush
Laura Bush was first lady from 2001 to 2009, advocating for historic education reform and the well-being of women and families worldwide. A former teacher and librarian, she focused on advancing education and promoting global literacy. After the Sept. 11 attacks, she was an outspoken supporter of the women of Afghanistan.First Lady Michelle ObamaFirst Lady Michelle Obama
10. Michelle Obama
A lawyer, writer and the wife of the 44th President, Barack Obama, Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama was the first African-American first lady of the U.S. She is an advocate for healthy families, service members and their families, higher education, and international adolescent girls’ education. In 2011, she helped launch Joining Forces with Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden, a nationwide initiative calling all Americans to rally around service members, veterans, and their families and support them through wellness, education, and employment opportunities.
The biographies of the First Ladies were pulled from WhiteHouse.gov.