First Lady of the United States
"First Lady of the United States" is the unofficial title of the hostess of the White House. The position is traditionally filled by the wife of the President of the United States, and the title is sometimes taken to apply only to the wife of a sitting president. The current First Lady is Laura Welch Bush. Some of the most notable former First Ladies include Martha Washington, Dolley Madison, Jacqueline Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Hillary Clinton. Several women, other than wives of presidents, have been recognized as being a "First Lady". This situation has arisen due to the President being a bachelor or widower, when the position was then filled by a female relative or friend of the President. Less commonly, the First Lady has delegated her duties to another woman when she is unable or unwilling to fulfill them herself. (The government jargon that often acronymizes the President of the United States as "POTUS" similarly applies "FLOTUS" to the First Lady.)
The title was used as early as 1849 when Dolley Madison was eulogized as "America's First Lady", but did not gain wider recognition until 1877 when newspaper journalist Mary Clemmer Ames used it while reporting on the inauguration of Rutherford B. Hayes.
The First Lady is not an elected position, carries no official duties, and brings no salary. Nonetheless, she attends many official ceremonies and functions of state either along with or in place of the President. The first lady also frequently participates in humanitarian and charitable work. Furthermore, many have taken an active role in campaigning for the President they are associated with. Hillary Rodham Clinton took the role one step further when she was, for a time, given a formal job in the Clinton administration to develop reforms to the health care system.
The wife of the president is referred to by her married name--the couple is formally referred to as, for example, "The President and Mrs. Washington."
The term "First Lady" is also used to describe the wife of other government officials, or for a woman who has acted as a leading symbol for some activity (as in "First Lady of California" or "First Lady of Jazz" respectively).
If the United States were to have a female President, it is not clear who would take the position of First Lady. A female president could act as her own First Lady, select a female relative or friend to occupy the role, or have her husband act as an analogous "First Gentleman". As there has not yet been a legal male spouse of a U.S. president, so there is no convention for his title. Options include First Gentleman, First Husband, and First Spouse.
There is considerable historical complexity in the First Lady ranks:
- Rose Cleveland, Grover Cleveland's sister, served as at least "unofficial" First Lady according to certain accounts. Cleveland married Frances Folsom while in office, and then she became First Lady — twice.
- Martin Van Buren's wife Hannah Van Buren died over 18 years before he took office, but his daughter-in-law, Angelica Van Buren, became at least "unofficial" First Lady about 1839. (Curiously Whitehouse.gov lists Hannah as First Lady but only mentions Angelica within Hannah's biography. In contrast, Alice Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt's first wife, died before he took office. She does not appear in the main Whitehouse.gov list of First Ladies — correctly so.)
- Harriet Lane, James Buchanan's niece, is perhaps the oddest case. Whitehouse.gov lists Lane as First Lady but then hedges a bit in her biography, describing her as "Hostess." Buchanan never married, and many historians believe he was gay. In fact, there is a historical candidate for First Gentleman in this case — obviously unofficial given the times.
- John Tyler's and Woodrow Wilson's wives died while in office. Both presidents remarried while in office.
The entire First Lady concept may be a substitute for the royalty America lacks in law. Through history, the American voting public has flirted with royal concepts such as heredity — President George W. Bush is the son of another president, for example. First Ladies have no legal status, but they often influence public policy and promote social progress. They also give professional advice to their spouses. Mamie Eisenhower even served as de facto chief executive while her husband was ill. Thus First Ladies (and future First Gentlemen) are not unlike our own spouses in their contributions — and they are often just as inseparable.
First Ladies of the United States
The following women have been recognized by The National First Ladies' Library as "First Lady":
|First Lady||Relation to President||From||To|
|Martha Dandridge Custis Washington||wife of George Washington||April 30, 1789||March 4, 1797|
|Abigail Smith Adams||wife of John Adams||March 4, 1797||March 4, 1801|
|Martha Jefferson Randolph||daughter of widower Thomas Jefferson||March 4, 1801||March 4, 1809|
|Dolley Madison||friend of widower Thomas Jefferson||March 4, 1801||March 4, 1809|
|Dolley Madison||wife of James Madison||March 4, 1809||March 4, 1817|
|Elizabeth Kortright Monroe||wife of James Monroe||March 4, 1817||March 4, 1825|
|Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams||wife of John Quincy Adams||March 4, 1825||March 4, 1829|
|Emily Donelson Jackson||niece of widower Andrew Jackson||March 4, 1829||March 4, 1837|
|Sarah Yorke Jackson||daughter-in-law of widower Andrew Jackson||March 4, 1829||March 4, 1837|
|Angelica Van Buren||daughter-in-law of widower Martin Van Buren||March 4, 1837||March 4, 1841|
|Anna Tuthill Symmes Harrison||absent wife of short-termed William Henry Harrison||March 4, 1841||April 4, 1841|
|Jane Irwin Harrison||daughter-in-law of short-termed William Henry Harrison||March 4, 1841||April 4, 1841|
|Letitia Christian Tyler||first wife of John Tyler||April 4, 1841||September 10, 1842|
|Priscilla Cooper Tyler||daughter-in-law of widower John Tyler||September 10, 1842||June 26, 1844|
|Julia Gardiner Tyler||second wife of John Tyler||June 26, 1844||March 4, 1845|
|Sarah Childress Polk||wife of James K. Polk||March 4, 1845||March 4, 1849|
|Margaret Mackall Smith Taylor||wife of Zachary Taylor||March 4, 1849||July 9, 1850|
|Abigail Powers Fillmore||wife of Millard Fillmore||July 9, 1850||March 4, 1853|
|Jane Means Appleton Pierce||wife of Franklin Pierce||March 4, 1853||March 4, 1857|
|Harriet Lane||niece of bachelor James Buchanan||March 4, 1857||March 4, 1861|
|Mary Todd Lincoln||wife of Abraham Lincoln||March 4, 1861||April 15, 1865|
|Eliza McCardle Johnson||wife of Andrew Johnson||April 15, 1865||March 4, 1869|
|Julia Dent Grant||wife of Ulysses S. Grant||March 4, 1869||March 4, 1877|
|Lucy Ware Webb Hayes||wife of Rutherford B. Hayes||March 4, 1877||March 4, 1881|
|Lucretia Rudolph Garfield||wife of short-termed James A. Garfield||March 4, 1881||September 19, 1881|
|Mary McElroy||sister of widower Chester A. Arthur||September 19, 1881||March 4, 1885|
|Rose Cleveland||sister of bachelor Grover Cleveland||March 4, 1885||June 2, 1886|
|Frances Folsom Cleveland||wife of Grover Cleveland||June 2, 1886||March 4, 1889|
|Caroline Lavinia Scott Harrison||wife of Benjamin Harrison||March 4, 1889||October 25, 1892|
|Mary Harrison McKee||daughter of widower Benjamin Harrison||October 25, 1892||March 4, 1893|
|Frances Folsom Cleveland||wife of Grover Cleveland||March 4, 1893||March 4, 1897|
|Ida Saxton McKinley||wife of William McKinley||March 4, 1897||September 14, 1901|
|Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt||second wife of Theodore Roosevelt||September 14, 1901||March 4, 1909|
|Helen Herron Taft||wife of William Howard Taft||March 4, 1909||March 4, 1913|
|Ellen Louise Axson Wilson||first wife of Woodrow Wilson||March 4, 1913||August 6, 1914|
|Edith Bolling Galt Wilson||second wife of Woodrow Wilson||December 18, 1915||March 4, 1921|
|Florence Kling Harding||wife of Warren G. Harding||March 4, 1921||August 3, 1923|
|Grace Anna Goodhue Coolidge||wife of Calvin Coolidge||August 3, 1923||March 4, 1929|
|Lou Henry Hoover||wife of Herbert Hoover||March 4, 1929||March 4, 1933|
|Eleanor Roosevelt||wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt||March 4, 1933||April 12, 1945|
|Elizabeth Virginia Wallace Truman||wife of Harry S. Truman||April 12, 1945||January 20, 1953|
|Mamie Eisenhower||wife of Dwight D. Eisenhower||January 20, 1953||January 20, 1961|
|Jacqueline Kennedy||wife of John F. Kennedy||January 20, 1961||November 22, 1963|
|Claudia Taylor Johnson||wife of Lyndon B. Johnson||November 22, 1963||January 20, 1969|
|Patricia Ryan Nixon||wife of Richard M. Nixon||January 20, 1969||August 9, 1974|
|Betty Ford||wife of Gerald R. Ford||August 9, 1974||January 20, 1977|
|Rosalynn Smith Carter||wife of Jimmy Carter||January 20, 1977||January 20, 1981|
|Nancy Davis Reagan||wife of Ronald Reagan||January 20, 1981||January 20, 1989|
|Barbara Pierce Bush||wife of George H. W. Bush||January 20, 1989||January 20, 1993|
|Hillary Rodham Clinton||wife of Bill Clinton||January 20, 1993||January 20, 2001|
|Laura Welch Bush||wife of George W. Bush||January 20, 2001||Present|
The following women are known to have acted as hostess on behalf of the First Lady when she was otherwise unable or unwilling:
|First Lady||Relation to President|
|Maria Jefferson Eppes||daughter of widower Thomas Jefferson|
|Eliza Monroe Hay||daughter of James Monroe|
|Letitia Tyler Semple||daughter of widower John Tyler|
|Mary Elizabeth Taylor Bliss||daughter of Zachary Taylor|
|Mary Abigail Fillmore||daughter of Millard Fillmore|
|Martha Johnson Patterson||daughter of Andrew Johnson|
|Jennie Hobart||wife of William McKinley's vice president, Garret Hobart|
|Helen Taft Manning||daughter of William Howard Taft|
|Margaret Woodrow Wilson||daughter of widower Woodrow Wilson|
|Helen Woodrow Bones||cousin of widower Woodrow Wilson|
|Chelsea Victoria Clinton||daughter of Bill Clinton|
- This article uses material from the Wikipedia article "First Lady of the United States"