Antique Junk Drawer

Happy First Ladies Day!

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!



National First Ladies Library

White House, Our First Ladies

“Presidential Wives, An Anecdotal History” by Paul F. Boller, Jr., 1998, Oxford University Press.

26 thoughts on “Happy First Ladies Day!

  1. Hi! Welcome! Tell me who your favorite First Lady is! Me? Why thanks for asking. In recent history, I would say Lady Bird Johnson and Laura Bush – both Texans of course! Maybe just a leeeedle bias! Nonetheless, lovely, lovely ladies who carried out their duties as First Lady with tremendous grace and aplomb. But really, I find them all fascinating in one way or another.

    So then. Please don’t dis any of my First Ladies. Your political views may or may not jive with one or another of them or their husbands, and I understand that, but in this space, let’s just appreciate the challenges that come with that role, shall we? Great!

  2. I don’t know much about many of the first ladies, but I do have to say that I’ve always like Mrs. Kenny’s style. Later I wondered about some of the personal choices that were going on in that marriage, regardless she still seemed to represent us well. With everything she went through, and in a completely public way, she did it w/style and grace.

    I’m hoping that Mrs. O’Bama is going to bring that same grace and sense of style back to the White House. While it’s still early, what I’ve seen so far makes me want to like her very much. She’s smart and well put together. She seems to love her family very much, but doesn’t begin to imply they are perfect. I would love to have a mocha w/her at Starbucks one day.

  3. Well said. I really like that Ellen Wilson was a direct descendant of Pocahontas. I will need to find out about the 2 men that weren’t married. They must have had amazing mothers.

  4. What a great post. It’s always fun to learn new things.

    Like you, I remember reading Dolly Madison’s biography as a child and being fascinated by her. She is definitely one of my favorites. As is Laura Bush. She carried herself with tremendous grace, dignity and class. And she has such a nice smile. 🙂

  5. When I was seven years old my brother graduated from high school and moved to Dallas, Texas. I remember visiting him there some time later and we OF COURSE went downtown and I got to see the infamous book depository where a museum had been opened about the assassination of President Kennedy. I walked on the sidewalk and stood and gazed at the mark on the street that noted the spot where he was shot. I stood on the grassy knoll and pondered what it must have been like that day in Dallas. From that day forward I was fascinated with President Kennedy and his first lady, Jackie. I guess you can say that I still am.

  6. Since I’m not at all interested in politics, I can’t begin to imagine the life any of our First Ladies lived. They must sacrifice SELF in order for their husbands to pursue their dream. As Christians, that’s exactly what we are called to do – deny self and pursue Christ. To do that in the public eye 24/7 must be a daunting task. Perhaps those who served before television and internet coverage had it a wee bit easier, though it probably didn’t seem so at the time.

  7. Love this post! What interesting facts you dug up, AM.

    I’d have to say that I have really admired Laura Bush. She was committed, first and foremost, to her family. She loved her country deeply. And she was so full of grace, even when her husband was being bashed day in and day out. She just kept smiling and supporting him. I learned a lot about holding up under adversity just by watching her.

  8. Many I like and respect. Dolly Madison is a favorite. Mrs. Lincoln fascinates me beyond measure. She got little respect. But her life was a tragedy right up to the end. I really feel for her. I liked the rascal-iness of Mrs. Truman. Mrs. Roosevelt. What a great woman. And I don’t think this one is in the running, but I loved Jackie Kennedy. I still do with a fascination that I cannot put away. I think her greatest qualification was her love of history. I didn’t like Mamie before her. I loved Barbara Bush and her spunk. I liked the gracefulness of Laura Bush. I never liked Hillary and I think she just tolerated the First Lady thing. She would have rather been president. So many with so many reasons.

    Dolley Madison was the Jackie Kennedy of her day – everyone was enchanted and entranced by her beauty and style. Wonder what that would be like? 🙂

  9. First Lady I paid any attention to was Jackie Kennedy. Camolot! I know ladies who voted for First Lady for President and picked Barbara Bush.

    I think Laura Bush brought grace and poise to the White House. I think Mrs Wahington had her hands full with George and Mr Lincoln had his hands full with Mary Todd Lincoln.

    I don’t know them all well enough or some at all. I think Laura is my favorite. I think first ladies are important. Their projects are important. How they conduct themselves and their treatment by their husband.

  10. Being a Texan I too am very biased towards Laura Bush and Barbara Bush! I have heard both of them speak and loved them both. So different are these two, but both full of spunk and grace.
    I read Elenore Roosevelt’s biography when I was in 5th grade and have loved her ever since. She was quite a spectacular woman. Not known for her beauty, but for her grace. She went where her husband could not go and acted as his eyes. When there was an issue with allies in Europe FDR once told his cabinet “Let’s send Elenore, she’ll get to the root of it” and she did. Because her husband needed her to be, she was a great stateswoman. She took on every role with that rare mixture of grace and spunk that makes first ladies great!

  11. Hi! I just finished American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld, which you may love or hate…I really enjoyed it but wondered how LB would feel about it – fictionalized version of her life.

    I think I read that same Dolly Madison bio in 3rd grade LOL I also went to her husband’s university and was there for the bicentennial of the Constitution, which was pretty cool.

    I have a first lady’s puzzle I’d be glad to share 😉 Happy President’s Day!

  12. The older I get, the more interested I get in history, and it seems my strongest area of fascination is the presidency, the White House, and First Families. (Actually, now that I write it out that way, I guess I understand WHY that is, too.) Thanks for this fun post and the interesting facts. I’m going to really impress Al, who is a history junkie, with my new First Lady Facts over lunch today.

  13. Oh my goodness, I’m about to spend an entire day on the National First Ladies Library website. I just read all about Mary Lincoln. Now I might just go back to the beginning and read them all. I did not have time for this but HOW FASCINATING. Seriously. Mary Lincoln’s story has always ended for me when Abe was shot, but she was so traumatized she wouldn’t leave the White House. And then her son had her committed. Her brothers fought for the Confederacy. I’m stuck now, and about to become slightly obsessed with First Ladies.

  14. I’m putting in my vote for Elenore Roosevelt. Not pretty in the world’s exptected way, but so full of strength, optimism and wisdom. My 102 year old grandmother would define her the way she does the women in our family; they are charming and educated and to be respected and admired. She really tells people that – I just love it.

  15. Didn’t Jackie Kennedy remarry? She married Aristotle Onassis, didn’t she? That’d be TWO who outlived their husbands but remarried.

    Fun facts! Fun post!

    The eight First Ladies whose husbands died while in the White House are Anna Harrison, Margaret Taylor, Mary Todd Lincoln, Lucretia Garfield, Ida McKinley, Florence Harding, Eleanor Roosevelt and Jacqueline Kennedy. Only Jacqueline Kennedy remarried — and was criticized for doing so.

    Frances Cleveland was widowed after she left the White House. I find it interesting that she was only 21 and he was 48 when they married. Seems a little scandalous by today’s standards.

    But yes, only two First Ladies ever remarried.

  16. I read the biography of Pat Nixon and she was a fascinating and wonderfully strong lady. Grace under fire would be a good description of her. Not only was she a wonderful first lady, but she was wonderful as the vice president’s wife, too…as she had to take on many governmental duties and travels while her children were small because of Pres. Eisenhower’s heart attack.

    We tend to skim over the Nixon years as they bring up unpleasant memories for our country. But Pat was a jewel.

  17. What a great tribute to the women behind the men!
    I personally think Laura Bush exemplifies CLASS. She is my number 1 pick, and I am so proud she is from Texas, too!
    I watched the HBO series on John Adams last spring(which I know should not be solely relied on for completely accurate info). Nonetheless,I grew to have a deep respect for Abigail, who endured long separations from him as he traveled all over as Ambassador in the beginning days of the U.S. Not only did she raise those children almost singlehandedly, but she kept up the PR while John was away…and seemed to handle it all with strength of character and grace.

    Abigail Adams was the first First Lady to be a president’s wife as well as a president’s mother (presidents 2 and 6). The next time that would happen would be Barbara Bush (presidents 41 and 43).

  18. My favorite first lady has always been Mary Todd Lincoln. Regardless of the speculation about her character and her promiscuity in advance of her marriage to Abraham Lincoln, I have always admired the statements she and Abraham Lincoln both made about the importance of their family life. I would have loved to meet her.

  19. I love reading about First Ladies. . .and am still a little curious as to what they will call the husband of the first female president. Hmmmmm. . .

  20. I squealed with glee, because I remember reading, what has to be, the same biography about Dolley Madison. After I read the book, I would play Dolley Madison. My mission was to try to save the backporch/ White House from the British.

    Abigail Adams and Eleanor Roosevelt are two women I admire for their independence and intelligence. I love Lady Bird for cultivating the wildflowers of Texas.

    I am still moved by Nancy Reagan’s devotion to her Ronnie. Who can forget her laying her head on his coffin?

    Betty Ford gets high marks in my book for conquering her addiction, and paving the way for other people to not feel ashamed.

    As much as I used detest Hillary Clinton, I have come to admire her grit and steadfast determination.

    Julia Grant and Grace Coolidge both had a great sense of humor. I think to survive in that venue, one would have to keep some levity to remain sane.

  21. (I was just introduced to your blog so am reading these entries late!)

    Love it! I agree. There should definitely be a First Ladies’ Day.

    My favorite First Lady would be Barbara Bush (maybe a little biased because of her first name! LOL). I admire that woman so much. She was always just a “down home” person.

    My close second choice would be Laura Bush. A classy lady and gentle person.

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