America's First Ladies
April 19-October 26, 2014
Herbert Hoover Presidential Museum
West Branch, Iowa
For over 200 years America has elected her Presidents and been reflected in her First Ladies. First Lady is the unofficial title that is given to the wives of American presidents, or to the female relatives whom single or widowed presidents designate, to serve as the “official hostess” of the White House. Over the years this title has come to mean much more than hosting.
Martha Washington, who was called “Lady Washington,” once referred to her condition as “a prisoner of state.” Mrs. Washington was not the last presidential wife to object to her gilded cage. For every Bess Truman or Dolley Madison who enjoyed long lives, there is Letitia Tyler or Caroline Harrison whose lives were shortened by 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Others were touched by personal tragedy during their time living in the White House: Grace Coolidge lost her son, Edith Wilson nursed an invalid husband, Mary Lincoln was led away weeping from Ford’s Theatre.
Betty Ford had it right when she said, “If the West Wing is the mind of the nation, then the East Wing is the heart.” Some First Ladies have had their hearts broken. But others have blossomed in the limelight of national attention. Some poured tea; others promoted legislation.
Whatever their differences in style and influence, each of these First Ladies holds up a mirror to her times. To know these women is to understand generally the changing role of women in America. From a place in the receiving line to a seat in the Cabinet Room, First Ladies have changed. We invite you to join us for a very personal travelogue through the lives of each, and the changes that each evoke.
The second First Lady, Abigail Adams, once advised her husband John to “remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.” Unfortunately, neither he nor the nation took this advice to heart. It has only been in recent years that we have given due credit to America’s First Ladies for their work on behalf of our country.
Through over two hundred years of social upheaval and sweeping drama, First Ladies have responded to the changing burdens and challenges of the unofficial “office.” Some of these women became famous, but most have been forgotten.
Yet we should not overlook the importance of these extraordinary women. Taken together, the lives of our First Ladies mirror our past. When we “remember the ladies,” as Abigail advised, we begin to understand and appreciate the contours of the American experience. Indeed, we begin to appreciate the contributions of all women to our American heritage.
First Lady Facts:
Of the 74 women who “could be” called First Lady:
39 wives of Presidents actually served (#’s 1-2, 4-6, 10(2), 11-14, 16-20, 22 & 24(1), 23-27, 28(2), 29-44)
1 didn’t arrive in Washington before husband’s death (Anna Harrison)
5 died before husbands became President (Martha Jefferson, Rachel Jackson, Hannah Van Buren, Ellen Arthur, Alice Roosevelt)
27 relatives/others served as White House hostess (15 concurrently with President’s wife)
12 daughters (Jefferson, Monroe, Tyler, Taylor, Fillmore, 2 Johnsons, B. Harrison, Taft, Wilson, 2 F. Roosevelts)
4 daughter-in-laws (Jackson, Van Buren, W. Harrison, Tyler)
2 nieces of the President (Jackson, Buchanan)
3 sisters of the President (Cleveland, Arthur, Kennedy)
1 cousin of the President (Wilson)
1 aunt of the First Lady (Pierce)
1 sister of the First Lady (Taft)
1 daughter-in-law’s aunt (W. Harrison)
2 Cabinet wives (Jefferson, Jackson)
2 married ex-Presidents (Caroline Fillmore, Mary Lord Harrison)
In 1877 a reporter writing about the inauguration of R.B. Hayes referred to Lucy as “the First Lady of the Land,” but not until 1900 did the term become accepted and used.
On April 19th the Hoover Museum will open it's newest temporary exhibit featuring objects from most women who have served in the role as
First Lady of the United States.
Featured Ojbects will include Clothing from:
Lady Bird Johnson
Other Objects include:
1929 Touring Cadillac
Martha Washington Ring, mourning jewelry
Bullet molds, Abigail Adams melted the family pewter to make bullets for the revolutionary army
Opera glasses and fan, Mary Todd Lincoln
The Museum is open daily from 9 am - 5 pm except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Admission to the exhibit is $6 for adults 16-62, $3 for anyone over 62 and under the age of 16 is free. Located in West Branch, Iowa, 1/4 mile of I-80 at Exit 254, 10 miles east of Iowa City.