Today is Presidents Day, but if anyone deserves a national holiday, I think it is the First Ladies.
First Ladies are, more or less, accidental politicians – elected by default, blessed with opportunity, cursed with judgment and expectation. Some of them come into the role with reluctance and others with gusto, but all leave their own unique imprimatur on our nation’s history.
I have been fascinated with First Ladies since reading the biography of Dolley Madison in the third grade. My admiration for her was cemented when I read how she heroically risked her life to save the famous Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington before the British set fire to the White House during the War of 1812. In addition to her spunk, Mrs. Madison was greatly admired across several continents for her beauty, exquisite fashion sense and as a gracious hostess, albeit one who liked to dip snuff.
Here are some fun First Lady facts:
Lou Hoover graduated from Stanford with a degree in geology and spoke fluent Chinese.
Grace Coolidge taught hearing impaired children.
Elizabeth Monroe was an epileptic and would only speak French at home.
Ellen Wilson was a professional artist and direct descendant of Pocahontas.
Frances Cleveland was the youngest First Lady at 21. She was also the only First Lady to marry in the White House as well as the first to give birth at the White House.
Laura Bush is the only First Lady to give birth to twins.
Three First Ladies died while in the White House.
Five First Ladies were previously widowed before marrying a future president and three others were divorcees.
Eight First Ladies were widowed while in the White House, but only one remarried.
All but six First Ladies outlived their husbands after leaving the White House and only one, Frances Cleveland, remarried.
Only two of our 44 presidents made it to the White House without a woman standing squarely behind him. The rest of them had a woman standing in the background, smiling and nodding, applauding and waving, listening and encouraging. And those women deserve a national holiday, don’t you think?
Happy First Ladies Presidents Day everyone!
“Presidential Wives, An Anecdotal History” by Paul F. Boller, Jr., 1998, Oxford University Press.