The saying goes, “Behind every great man is a great woman,” and the following presidential first ladies certainly fit the title of being great women. Presidents Day is an opportunity to honor our country’s leaders as well as their wives.
June 6, 1731–May 22, 1802
Martha Dandridge Custis Washington, the wife of President George Washington, was the first First Lady of the United States. She is remembered as bravely supporting her husband through his career on the battlegrounds as a military leader and then as the president. She possessed a warm knack for hospitality to all she met and made even strangers feel at ease.
Dolley Madison, the wife of America’s fourth president, James Madison, set the standard for the role of the first lady even before the term “first lady” was coined. She contributed to the development and decor of the White House, the first presidential residence in the new United States, and she was a renowned hostess who helped her husband gain presidential popularity. Madison is also known for saving the portrait of George Washington during the War of 1812. She ordered the White House staff to remove it from the residence before the British could burn it.
Oct. 11, 1884–Nov. 7, 1962
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was the wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States, who served four presidential terms. Eleanor is the longest-serving first lady in history. Not content to stay in the background, she changed the role of the first lady. She was a skilled diplomat and outspoken activist who championed human rights, children’s and women’s rights, and the poor. Eleanor also penned her own newspaper column My Day, which became her political platform and diary of political activities.
Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, the wife of President John F. Kennedy, brought beauty, intelligence and culture to her role as the first lady. She became a symbol of strength for the nation after the assassination of her husband, who was one of the country’s most beloved presidents. She is remembered as a first lady who devoted herself to her man, family and making the White House a museum of American history and arts.
July 6, 1921–March 6, 2016
Nancy Reagan, the wife of President Ronald Reagan, went from Hollywood actress to a first lady and is remembered for her anti-drug and Alzheimer’s research advocacy. Her major initiative was the “Just Say No” drug awareness campaign. When Ronald was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s after he was out of office, she became a strong advocate for finding a cure. The Reagans established the Ronald and Nancy Reagan Research Institute and raised millions of dollars for Alzheimer’s research.
July 8, 1925–March 17, 2018
As the wife of President George H. W. Bush and the mother of President George W. Bush, First Lady Barbara Bush holds a unique place in American history. Inspired by her son Neil, who had dyslexia, she championed the importance of literacy in American society. The Bush family created the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, which aims to improve quality of life for men and women through the power of being able to read. Bush is also known for being one of the more popular first ladies of the 20th century.
Born: Oct. 26, 1947
Hillary Rodham Clinton, the wife of President William “Bill” Clinton, is considered one of the most accomplished first ladies in history, defining the role as the modern political spouse to the president. Hillary is known for building her thriving career as a lawyer and political figure, being one of her husband’s closest advisors, and championing children’s and women’s causes. She was the first first lady to win a public office seat when she was elected to the U.S. Senate, and she later became the first woman in U.S. history to become the presidential nominee of a major political party.
Born: Nov. 4, 1946
Laura Lane Welch Bush, a philanthropist and American educator, is the wife of the 43rd president, George W. Bush. During her time as the first lady, she successfully lobbied for state funding of early reading, literacy and childhood development programs. Her passion for education and literacy led to her national initiative “Ready to Read, Ready to Learn,” her fight for higher teacher salaries, and travel to Afghanistan to promote a new teacher-training institute for Afghan women. Laura also advocated for women’s health issues and was instrumental in comforting the nation after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Born: Jan. 17, 1964
Wife of 44th president, Barack Obama, Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama is the first African-American First Lady of the United States. She successfully launched four initiatives spirited by her desire to inspire young people. She launched “Let’s Move” to address the challenge of childhood obesity; her “Reach Higher” initiative encourages young people to go to college; and the “Let Girls Learn” initiative helps girls around the world go to school and stay in school. Michelle also launched “Joining Forces,” a nationwide initiative that supports veterans and their families.
Born: March 26, 1970
Melania Trump, our current first lady and wife of President Donald Trump, is actively involved with many organizations, including the Martha Graham Dance Company, the Boys’ Club of New York, and the American Red Cross. She is a strong advocate for the overall well-being of children and gender equality. Her initiative “Be Best” focuses on major issues children currently face — well-being, social media bullying, and opioid abuse in families — to help children “be best” in their choices and give them the resources they need to promote their social, emotional and physical health.