1) Which brilliant First Lady used her own money to send 46 disadvantaged young people to college? The press never knew of her generosity and neither did her husband. He only discovered what she had done after her death.
2) She was the first graduate of a public university to serve as First Lady, and often walked 6 to 8 miles every day. The press asked her reaction when the President announced his decision not to seek re-election. She knew nothing about it because he neglected to tell her.
3) Years before entering the White House this couple had an on-going battle. She had pale skin and wanted to wear makeup, but he always made her take it off. When she applied makeup at a party, his reaction was to go home without her. When she received a gift makeup collection, he made her return it. In retaliation, she refused to visit his home state while he served in the U.S. Senate. He was not sympathetic to her desires despite the fact she endured seven miscarriages.
4) This First Lady thought low cut gowns worn by young women to White House parties were far too revealing. Her husband said it was a French style and approved. He then went on to praise many characteristics of Parisian women. She said American women were equal but had been held back because of a lack of education. American women could not vote or own property. Even their dresses and jewels belonged to their husbands. After leaving the White House this former First Lady exchanged many letters on public policy issues with her husband’s successor. They had a lively correspondence which she kept hidden from her husband.
5) Before entering the White House she demonstrated great courage by arriving in style at a prison. There were many job openings in the federal government but few applicants. This future First Lady was enthusiastic about a possible solution and spoke to the President. He replied “The appointment of a woman to office is an innovation for which the public is not prepared, nor am I.”
6) This future First Lady rarely discussed political matters with her husband. He arrived home unexpectedly one morning. When she entered the bedroom he was changing into his good slacks. “Where are you going” she asked, and was told he was about to announce his candidacy for the State Senate. He never asked for her opinion.
7) This First Lady preferred to stay in bed until noon. Her breakfast would arrive at 10:30 am and so would her top staff members. She met with them while propped up in bed in her nightgown. A standard joke was when she made a “long distance” phone call. She was talking to her mother who lived across the hall.
8) Weeks before the Inauguration this First Lady was asked if she would be sharing a bedroom with her husband. She said no one could sleep in the same bedroom because of his snoring. She was the first to wear pants in public.
9) This First Lady successfully hid what she considered to be a scandal in her family history. The public did not know the real story when she entered the White House. She did not want her husband to be President because of the embarrassment. Her daughter later learned the truth and asked her father about it. She received the most violent reaction in her life from the President. He grabbed her arm and told her never to speak of the topic again. He then stormed out of the room to yell at the relative who revealed the secret to his daughter. The mother and daughter always had an excellent relationship, but the topic was never discussed.
10) She is the only First Lady born in a foreign county and was highly praised for hosting a fabulous ball. It was in honor of the man who would defeat her husband.
11) Many historians regard her as the most popular First Lady of all time. She is the only one to be given an honorary seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. She dominated high society for 35 years when the pinnacle of success was a seat at her table, or attendance at one of her legendary parties. She was a very effective lobbyist and was a wealthy women while her husband was alive. She was unfortunately completely destitute at the end of her life largely due to her son’s incompetence. The Senator from Massachusetts would send food baskets to her home, and her former servants gave her money. This prompted Congress to establish a pension for presidential widows.
12) There is no known portrait of Thomas Jefferson’s wife who died 18 years before his election to the presidency. Who was the first President’s wife to be photographed? At 24, she was the second wife of her widowed husband, and was five years younger than her step-daughter who disapproved of the marriage and was not invited to the wedding.
13) She was the first to own a car, publish her memoirs, smoke cigarettes, and advocate the right to vote for all women.
14) She was the first to win an Emmy Award for “Excellence in Television.” Unlike President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize, she deserved it!
15) This First Lady wanted her staff to have a low profile. When her Social Secretary accepted an invitation to a black tie music awards show, she made her cancel.
1) Louise (Lou) Hoover was First Lady of the United States from 1929 – 1933. She was the first women to graduate as a geology major from Stanford University, and is the only First Lady to speak an Asian language. The Hoovers often conversed in Chinese to foil eavesdroppers. They dined in formal attire every evening at the White House, even when they were alone. The family dining room did not exist in those days and their meals were served downstairs in the State Dining Room. An Independent Woman: The Life of Lou Henry Hoover by Anne Beiser Allen and Jon L. Wakelyn, Greenwood Press, 2000.
2) Grace Coolidge was First Lady of the United States from 1923 – 1929. She was a graduate of the University of Vermont. Her husband’s biography says “For almost a quarter of a century she was borne with my infirmities, and I have rejoiced in her graces.” Calvin Coolidge: The Quiet President by Donald McCoy, Macmillan, 1967.
3) Louisa Adams was the wife of John Quincy Adams, and First Lady of the United States from 1825 to 1829. Her husband wrote “Our union has not been without its trials. . . There were differences of sentiment, of tastes, and of opinions in regard to domestic economy, and to the education of children between us. . . she always has been a faithful and affectionate wife, and a careful, tender, indulgent, and watchful mother to our children.” The Adams Women: Abigail and Louisa Adams, Their Sisters and Daughters by Paul Nagel, Harvard University Press, 1999.
4) Abigail Adams was the wife of John Adams, and First Lady of the United States from 1797 to 1801. Her correspondence was with Thomas Jefferson, and she also doubled the size of the family home without telling her husband. On March 31, 1776 she wrote a letter seriously doubting most of “the Virginians” (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe). Mrs. Adams did not believe they had a “passion for Liberty” because they “deprive[d] their fellow Creatures of freedom.” Three generations of the Adams family would have a prominent role in the struggle against slavery. Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution by Natalie Bober, Simon & Schuster 1995.
5) Elizabeth Monroe was First Lady of the United States from 1817 to 1825. She was the wife of the U.S. Ambassador to France during the Reign of Terror. The aristocracy was in hiding and at considerable risk to herself, Mrs. Monroe was able to find a horse drawn coach that was sure to attract attention in Paris. The only time she used it was to visit the La Force Prison to see Adrienne de Lafayette, the wife of the Marquis de Lafayette, who had an instrumental role in the American Revolution. Her grandmother, mother and sister had already been guillotined, and the time for her death was approaching. Elizabeth Monroe wanted to make sure all of Paris knew the United States did not want Adrienne de Lafayette to die. Her tactics worked and the prisoner was released. The President who opposed working women was her next door neighbor, Thomas Jefferson. The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness, Da Capo Press, 2009.
6) Rosalynn Carter was First Lady of the United States from 1977 to 1981. She was valedictorian at Plains High School but does not have a college degree. She might have been more independent if she had one. She did not want to give up her life as a naval officer’s wife to return to a small town in Georgia. She said “I got married to get away from Plains, the last thing I wanted was to return. My life in San Diego was wonderful.” She is still in Plains. First Lady from Plains by Rosalynn Carter, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1984.
7) Mamie Eisenhower was First Lady of the United States from 1953 to 1961. In a 1964 interview with CBS’ Walter Cronkite on the 20th anniversary of D-Day, Dwight Eisenhower was asked “What was the most difficult decision you made in life.” Ike’s surprising answer was “The decision to marry Mrs. Eisenhower, and I made the right one!” During the course of his military career she moved 28 times. Her birthplace in Boone, Iowa is a national historic site. Abigail Adams is the only other First Lady to be so honored. Eisenhower, the President by Mary McAuliffe, Journal of American History, 1981.
8) Pat Nixon was First Lady of the United States from 1969 to 1974. UPI reporter Helen Thomas said she was “the warmest First Lady I covered and the one who loved people the most. I think newspeople who covered her saw a woman who was sharp, responsive, sensitive.” Her gravestone says “Even when people can’t speak your language, they can tell if you have love in your heart.” Pat Nixon: The Untold Story by Julie Nixon Eisenhower, Simon & Schuster, 1986.
9) Bess Truman was First Lady of the United States from 1945 to 1953. She never wanted anyone to know her handsome and well liked father committed suicide in the family home when she was a young girl. It was a topic she could not discuss. Her husband wrote she was “not especially interested” in the “formalities and pomp or the artificiality which, as we had learned… inevitably surround the family of the President.” Bess W. Truman by Margaret Truman Daniel, Macmillian, 1986.
10) Louisa Adams was wife of John Quincy Adams, and First Lady of the United States from 1825 to 1829. She was born in London. Her father was the U.S. Consul and her mother a British citizen. The well attended ball at her home was in honor of General Andrew Jackson, who was then a Senator from Tennessee. John Quincy Adams was hoping Jackson would agree to be his running mate in the 1824 election. They instead ran against each other, and Jackson defeated Adams when the incumbent sought re-election in 1828. The Adams Women: Abigail and Louisa Adams, Their Sisters and Daughters by Paul Nagel, Harvard University Press, 1999.
11) Dolley Madison was First Lady of the United States from 1809 to 1817, and often acted as First Lady during the eight years of Thomas Jefferson’s administration. She was a witness to two wars and a major figure in the founding generation. She was friends with the first 12 Presidents. She is best remembered for leaving the White House shortly before it was burned in 1814. She lost most of her personal property. After the war there was considerable talk of abandoning the ravaged capitol and returning to Philadelphia. Mrs. Madison continued to host social events, and made it clear the capital would not be moving. The Senator who sent her food baskets was Daniel Webster. A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation by Catherine Allgor, Henry Holt, 2005.
12) Julia Tyler was First Lady of the United States from June 26, 1844, to March 4, 1845. Her 1844 photo was only discovered in the Library of Congress collection in 1987 and it was published for the first time in 1990. The publicity machine surrounding modern First Ladies began with Julia Tyler who sought press coverage. The eldest Tyler daughter, Mary, eventually adjusted to the new situation. Another daughter, Letitia, never did. John Tyler, Champion of the Old South by Oliver Chitwood, University of North Carolina Press, 1939.
13) Helen Taft was First Lady of the United States from 1909 to 1913. She suffered a stroke soon after entering the White House and never fully recovered. He speech was impaired. Mrs. Taft is best known for arranging the gift from Japan of the cherry blossom trees. It was her idea. The Life and Times of William Howard Taft: A Biography by Henry Pringle, American Political Biography Press (1939). This book won the Pulitzer Prize.
14) Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was First Lady of the United States from 1961 to 1963. She won the Emmy for her performance on February 14, 1962 for A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy. It was shown on all three networks and was the first primetime documentary to explicitly court a female audience. The program is the subject of the book, A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy by Perry Wolff, Doubleday 1962.
15) Michelle Obama is the First Lady of the United States of America. The then White House Social Secretary, Desirée Rogers, was on a train heading to NYC for the MTV Music Awards Dinner when Mrs. Obama told her not to attend the event.