“There is no job description for the first lady and she’s only there because her husband got elected president.” ~Nancy Reagan
“Being first lady is the hardest unpaid job in the world.” ~Pat Nixon
“The First Lady is such a fascinating office to hold. You’re not elected, but it’s very much official. You can see the latitude of power of that office.” ~Bellamy Young
First Ladies of the United States hold unique positions as noted in these quotes. While not in an elected role, their ability to influence and bring social causes to the forefront of the nation are unquestionable. The impact of modern-day first ladies over the years has created legacies that shaped their time in the White House.
Lou H. Hoover loved the outdoors and seems to have had quite an adventurous streak. In 1921, she drove cross-country from California to Washington, D. C. camping out along the way. She is credited with founding the National Amateur Athletic Foundation and served as the honorary president of Girl Scouts while First Lady. In her First Lady role, she encouraged women to be more active, enjoy nature and the outdoors, and advance their educations.
Eleanor Roosevelt is considered one of the most influencial First Ladies and a pioneer of her time. In her role, she built a staff to assist her, traveled, and conducted her own meetings and press conferences. As a well-documented humanitarian, she helped to create the United Nation Charter on Human Rights.
Jackie Kennedy used her office as First Lady to re-establish the dignity and beauty of the White House. Her televised tour of the White House was a landmark event of her tenure in the role.
Betty Ford was an advocate for a number of causes. Notable among them was her open dialogue about her alcohol addiction and subsequent launching of The Betty Ford Clinic. She was also an advocate of breast cancer awareness and supported equal opportunities for women.
Nancy Reagan’s legacy is her ‘Just Say No’ campaign. Using celebrities to speak out and publicity to champion the cause, the campaign addressed the nation’s drug problem and provided youth with ways to say no to drugs and the associated peer pressure to use drugs.
Hillary Clinton has long been associated with health care reform efforts while First Lady. In addition to that work, she also worked toward historic preservation of national treasures and was the honorary chair of Save America’s Treasures Committee.
Barbara Bush and Laura Bush during their respective times as First Lady supported education, particularly literacy and reading programs. As a former librarian, reading reform programs were important to Laura Bush.
Michelle Obama launched a campaign to overcome childhood obesity and promote healthier eating as her social platform. Her fitness program ‘Let’s Move’ was designed to encourage physical activities for kids.
Melania Trump is addressing the issue of cyberbullying and its impact on the current and future generations.
Presidential candidates spend months and years strategizing what they hope to achieve as the President of the United States. The First Lady of the United States selects what the focus of her work will be after assuming the role. The projects or causes selected, however, can have far-reaching influences, bringing attention to social issues that might, under normal circumstances, not get as much attention. Their ability to influence and effect change is remarkable and noteworthy.