First ladies of the United States are much more than wives to the leaders of the free world. These women often serve as humanitarians focused on our most vulnerable populations, like the poor and children. Many of them are remembered separately from their powerful husbands as true public servants.
We may think of our first ladies as reluctant celebrities who often grace the covers of magazines, or as feminine symbols of our great nation’s leadership, reading to kids or passing out boxes of food. But they were wives and mothers first.
Here are 10 FLOTUS facts for insight into the real people they were as they stood by their presidential men – for better or for worse.
1. Martha Washington loved shoes.
If Christian Louboutin’s red-soled stilettos were a thing in the 1700s, Martha would’ve been all over them. Instead, she and other wealthy American colonists ordered on-trend shoes custom-made in London of fashionable silks and gold embroidery. She also devoted herself to caring for American Revolutionary soldiers, earning their respect and the unofficial title of “Lady Washington.”
2. Dolley Madison set the tone for future First Ladies with her example of supporting charities and social issues important to her.
She also supervised the White House decor to ensure it properly reflected the importance of the presidency.
3. We’ve already had a woman president, and her name was Edith Wilson.
The wife of President Woodrow Wilson was fiercely protective of her husband’s health after his secret stroke. For two years, she signed correspondence and legislation on his behalf and would only allow him to meet with his physician and a few close friends.
4. Some believe first ladies should receive a salary.
But the general consensus is that the first lady is a non-political volunteer and, since she typically enjoys high public approval, is more relatable than her policy-driven husband.
5. Betty Ford was a 70s style icon.
She was a former dancer and fashion model before she met and married the future President Gerald Ford. A first lady serving in the 70s, she was known for her chic bob and silk scarves. Later she would champion breast cancer awareness and substance abuse recovery.
6. Pat Nixon was hugely active as first lady, tirelessly traveling and encouraging others to volunteer their time.
She traveled with her husband, President Richard Nixon, to 53 countries and was even caught in an attack on their limousine in Caracas.
7. First Lady Frances Cleveland was only 21 when her husband, Grover Cleveland became president.
President Cleveland was 33 years older than his bride and was her late father’s business partner. The first lady was involved in social projects that helped women and girls.
8. Nancy met Ronald Reagan when she called the Screen Actors Guild asking for help in removing her name from the Hollywood blacklist of Communist actors.
A different actress with the same name was the Communist sympathizer, and the smitten Ronald asked Nancy out on a date. Nancy worked on a campaign discouraging drug use among young people.
9. Michelle Obama’s Secret Service code name was Renaissance.
And at 5’11, she was probably hard to lose sight of. She became involved with several organizations focused on children’s health and education.
10 Hillary Clinton has many firsts as first lady, including winning a Grammy in 1997.
It was for Best Spoken Word Album of the Year for It Takes A Village. Mrs. Clinton has had an impressive political career, and no one knows if it is over yet.
These first ladies have shown the world they can do more than sit still and look pretty. They have been able to take high profile and high stress circumstances and turn them into opportunities to direct social changes. Their poise and leadership will always be a source of pride and comfort for the American people. Way to go, ladies!