Genealogy Trails

First Ladies of the United States


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Martha Dandridge Custis Washington - [1731-1802]

"I think I am more like a state prisoner than anything else, there is certain bounds set for me which I must not depart from..."

Abigail Smith Adams - [1744-1818]

She leaves her country a most remarkable record as patriot and First Lady, wife of one President and mother of another.

 

Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson - [1748-1782]

When Jefferson became President in 1801, he had been a widower for 19 years. The silhouette at the left is the only known picture of Martha Jefferson.
Read biography

Dolley Payne Todd Madison -[1768-1849]

"She looked a Queen...It would be absolutely impossible for any one to behave with more perfect propriety than she did."
Read biography

 

Elizabeth Kortright Monroe -[1768-1830]

She and her daughter Eliza changed White House customs to create the formal atmosphere of European courts. Although she was noted for her beauty and elegance, her aloofness made her unpopular.

Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams - [1775-1852]

Only First Lady born outside the United States

Rachel Donelson Jackson - [1767-1828]

"A being so gentle and so virtuous slander might wound, but could not dishonor" She died less than three months before his inauguration. [Read
Obituary -- Read Biography]

Hannah Hoes Van Buren - [1783-1819]

Van Buren omitted even her name from his autobiography; a gentleman of that day would not shame a lady by public references. A niece who remembered "her loving, gentle disposition" emphasized "her modest, even timid manner."

Anna Tuthill Symmes Harrison - [1775-1864]

At news of her husband's landslide electoral victory in 1840, home-loving Anna said simply: "I wish that my husband's friends had left him where he is, happy and contented in retirement."

 

Letitia Christian Tyler -[1790-1842]

"The most entirely unselfish person you can imagine...Notwithstanding her very delicate health, mother attends to and regulates all the household affairs and all so quietly that you can't tell when she does it." The first President's wife to die in the White House, Letitia Tyler ended her days peacefully on September 10, 1842, holding a damask rose in her hand.

Julia Gardiner Tyler - [1820-1889]

As young Mrs. Tyler said herself, she "reigned" as First Lady for the last eight months of her husband's term. She once declared, with truth: "Nothing appears to delight the President more than...to hear people sing my praises."

Sarah Childress Polk [1803-1891]

Contrasted with Julia Tyler's waltzes, her entertainments become famous for sedateness and sobriety.... Skilled in tactful conversation, Mrs. Polk enjoyed wide popularity as well as deep respect

OBITUARY

 

Margaret Mackall Smith Taylor - [1788-1852]

Her manner blended "the artlessness of a rustic belle and the grace of a duchess." Though Peggy Taylor welcomed friends and kinfolk in her upstairs sitting room, presided at the family table, met special groups at her husband's side, and worshiped regularly at St. John's Episcopal Church, she took no part in formal social functions. She relegated all the duties of official hostess to her youngest daughter, Mary Elizabeth.

Abigail Powers Fillmore - [1798-1853]

First of First Ladies to hold a job after marriage, Abigail Fillmore was helping her husband's career. She was also revealing her most striking personal characteristic: eagerness to learn and pleasure in teaching others.

Jane Means Appleton Pierce - [1806-1863]

Mrs. Robert E. Lee wrote in a private letter: "I have known many of the ladies of the White House, none more truly excellent than the afflicted wife of President Pierce. Her health was a bar to any great effort on her part to meet the expectations of the public in her high position but she was a refined, extremely religious and well educated lady."

 

Harriet Lane - [1830-1903]

Unique among First Ladies, Harriet Lane acted as hostess for the only President who never married: James Buchanan, her favorite uncle and her guardian after she was orphaned at the age of eleven. And of all the ladies of the White House, few achieved such great success in deeply troubled times as this polished young woman in her twenties. She was known as the "First Lady of the National Collection of Fine Arts."

Mary Todd Lincoln - [1818-1882]

As a girlhood companion remembered her, Mary Todd was vivacious and impulsive, with an interesting personality--but "she now and then could not restrain a witty, sarcastic speech that cut deeper than she intended...." A young lawyer summed her up in 1840: "the very creature of excitement." "My wife is as handsome as when she was a girl, and I...fell in love with her; and what is more, I have never fallen out."
[OBITUARY]


Eliza McCardle Johnson - [1810-1876]

"I knew he'd be acquitted; I knew it"
Her faith in him had never wavered during those difficult days in 1868, when her courage dictated that all White House social events should continue as usual.

Julia Dent Grant - [1826-1902]

"The light of his glorious fame still reaches out to me, falls upon me, and warms me."

Lucy Ware Webb Hayes - [1831-1889]

Thus she entered the White House with confidence gained from her long and happy married life, her knowledge of political circles, her intelligence and culture, and her cheerful spirit. She enjoyed informal parties, and spared no effort to make official entertaining attractive

Lucretia Rudolph Garfield - [1832-1918]

In the fond eyes of her husband, President James A. Garfield, Lucretia "grows up to every new emergency with fine tact and faultless taste." She was still a convalescent, at a seaside resort in New Jersey, when her husband was shot by a demented assassin on July 2. She returned to Washington by special train--"frail, fatigued, desperate," reported an eyewitness at the White House, "but firm and quiet and full of purpose to save."

Ellen Lewis Herndon Arthur - [1837-1880]

Chester Alan Arthur's beloved "Nell" died of pneumonia on January 12, 1880. That November, when he was elected Vice President, he was still mourning her bitterly. In his own words: "Honors to me now are not what they once were."

Frances Folsom Cleveland -[1864-1947]

"I detest him so much that I don't even think his wife is beautiful." So spoke one of President Grover Cleveland's political foes--the only person, it seems, to deny the loveliness of this notable First Lady, first bride of a President to be married in the White House.

Caroline Lavina Scott Harrison - [1832-1892]

First Lady to the founding of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, serving as its first President General... She established the collection of china associated with White House history... She worked for local charities, helping raise funds for the Johns Hopkins University medical school on condition that it admit women. She died of tuberculosis at the White House in October 1892. [
OBITUARY]

Ida Saxton McKinley - [1847-1907]

There was little resemblance between the vivacious young woman who married William McKinley in January 1871--a slender bride with sky-blue eyes and fair skin and masses of auburn hair--and the petulant invalid who moved into the White House with him in March 1897. Now her face was pallid and drawn, her close-cropped hair gray; her eyes were glazed with pain or dulled with sedative. Only one thing had remained the same: love which had brightened early years of happiness and endured through more than twenty years of illness.
[OBITUARY]

Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt - [1861-1948]

Public tragedy brought them into the White House, eleven days after President McKinley succumbed to an assassin's bullet. Assuming her new duties with characteristic dignity, Mrs. Roosevelt meant to guard the privacy of a family that attracted everyone's interest, and she tried to keep reporters outside her domain. The public, in consequence, heard little of the vigor of her character, her sound judgment, her efficient household management. "Always the gentle, high-bred hostess; smiling often at what went on about her, yet never critical of the ignorant and tolerant always of the little insincerities of political life."

Helen Herron Taft - [1861-1943]

A "treasure," he called her, "self-contained, independent, and of unusual application."

As First Lady, she still took an interest in politics but concentrated on giving the administration a particular social brilliance. Only two months after the inauguration she suffered a severe stroke. An indomitable will had her back in command again within a year.

Ellen Louise Axson Wilson - [1860-1914]

"I am naturally the most unambitious of women and life in the White House has no attractions for me." Descendant of slave owners, Ellen Wilson lent her prestige to the cause of improving housing in the capital's Negro slums.

Edith Bolling Galt Wilson - [1872-1961]

"Secret President," "first woman to run the government" -- so legend has labeled a First Lady whose role gained unusual significance when her husband suffered prolonged and disabling illness.

Florence Kling Harding - [1860-1924]

As he rose through Ohio politics and became a United States Senator, his wife directed all her acumen to his career. He became Republican nominee for President in 1920 and "the Duchess," as he called her, worked tirelessly for his election. In her own words: "I have only one real hobby--my husband." When Mrs. Harding moved into the White House, she opened mansion and grounds to the public again--both had been closed through President Wilson's illness. The President and his wife relaxed at poker parties in the White House library, where liquor was available although the Eighteenth Amendment made it illegal.

Grace Anna Goodhue Coolidge -[1874-1944]

For her "fine personal influence exerted as First Lady of the Land," Grace Coolidge received a gold medal from the National Institute of Social Sciences. In 1931 she was voted one of America's twelve greatest living women. As she wrote later, she was "I, and yet, not I--this was the wife of the President of the United States and she took precedence over me...."
Tact and gaiety made her one of the most popular hostesses of the White House, and she left Washington in 1929 with the country's respect and love.

Lou Henry Hoover - [1874-1944]

"A symbol of everything wholesome in American life." The Hoovers moved into the White House in 1929, and the First Lady welcomed visitors with poise and dignity throughout the administration. However, when the first day of 1933 dawned, Mr. and Mrs. Hoover were away on holiday. Their absence ended the New Year's Day tradition of the public being greeted personally by the President at a reception in the Executive Mansion.
OBITUARY

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt - [1884-1962]

A shy, awkward child, starved for recognition and love, Eleanor Roosevelt grew into a woman with great sensitivity to the underprivileged of all creeds, races, and nations. Her constant work to improve their lot made her one of the most loved--and for some years one of the most revered--women of her generation. As she had written wistfully at 14: "...no matter how plain a woman may be, if truth & loyalty are stamped upon her face, all will be attracted to her...."

Elizabeth Virginia Wallace Truman - [1885-1982]

She had many "strong opinions....and no hesitation about stating them Missouri style--straight from the shoulder." In the White House, its lack of privacy was distasteful to her. As her husband put it later, she was "not especially interested" in the "formalities and pomp or the artificiality which, as we had learned..., inevitably surround the family of the President."
Though she conscientiously fulfilled the social obligations of her position, she did only what was necessary.

Mamie Geneva Doud Eisenhower - [1896-1979]

Mamie Eisenhower's bangs and sparkling blue eyes were as much trademarks of an administration as the President's famous grin. Her outgoing manner, her feminine love of pretty clothes and jewelry, and her obvious pride in husband and home made her a very popular First Lady.

Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy - [1929-1994]

To the role of First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy brought beauty, intelligence, and cultivated taste. Her interest in the arts, publicized by press and television, inspired an attention to culture never before evident at a national level. She devoted much time and study to making the White House a museum of American history and decorative arts as well as a family residence of elegance and charm. But she defined her major role as "to take care of the President" and added that "if you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do well matters very much." At her funeral her son described three of her attributes: "love of words, the bonds of home and family, and her spirit of adventure."

Claudia Taylor Johnson - [1912- ]

There has seldom been a First Lady so attuned to nature and the importance of conserving the environment. She still supports causes dear to her--notably the National Wildflower Research Center, which she founded in 1982, and The Lyndon Baines Johnson Library. She also serves on the Board of the National Geographic Society as a trustee emeritus

Patricia Ryan Nixon - [1912-1993]

A tireless campaigner when he ran unsuccessfully for President in 1960, she was at his side when he ran again in 1968--and won. She had once remarked succinctly, "It takes heart to be in political life." Pat Nixon used her position as First Lady to encourage volunteer service--"the spirit of people helping people." She instituted a series of performances by artists in varied American traditions--from opera to bluegrass. Mrs. Nixon took quiet pride in adding 600 paintings and antiques to the White House Collection.
"I love my husband," she said, "I believe in him, and I am proud of his accomplishments."

Elizabeth Bloomer Ford - [1918- ]

Betty Ford faced her new life as First Lady with dignity and serenity. She accepted it as a challenge. "I like challenges very much," she said. She had the self-confidence to express herself with humor and forthrightness whether speaking to friends or to the public. She has described the role of First Lady as "much more than a 24-hour job than anyone would guess" and says of her predecessors: "Now that I realize what they've had to put up with, I have new respect and admiration for every one of them."

Rosalynn Smith Carter - [1927- ]
Her belief in her husband's ability to lead the nation was communicated in a quiet, friendly manner that made her an effective campaigner. A skillful speaker and a hardworking First Lady, Mrs. Carter managed routine duties and special projects in her office in the East Wing. She attended Cabinet meetings and major briefings, frequently represented the Chief Executive at ceremonial occasions, and served as the President's personal emissary to Latin American countries. As First Lady, she focused national attention on the performing arts. She also took a strong interest in programs to aid mental health, the community, and the elderly. From 1977 to 1978, she served as the Honorary Chairperson of the President's Commission on Mental Health.

Nancy Davis Reagan - [1921- ]

She gave her support to the Foster Grandparent Program and has concentrated on the fight against drug and alcohol abuse among young people.
"My life really began when I married my husband" she said. Through the joys and sorrows of those days, including the assassination attempt on her husband, Nancy Reagan held fast to her belief in love, honesty, and selflessness. "The ideals have endured because they are right and are no less right today than yesterday."

Barbara Pierce Bush - [1925- ]

Rarely has a First Lady been greeted by the American people and the press with the approbation and warmth accorded to Barbara Pierce Bush. Perhaps this is prompted by the image she calls "everybody's grandmother." With characteristic directness, she says people like her because they know "I'm fair and I like children and I adore my husband." As wife of the Vice President, she selected the promotion of literacy as her special cause. As First Lady, she called working for a more literate America the "most important issue we have." Involved with many organizations devoted to this cause, she became Honorary Chairman of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.

Hillary Rodham Clinton - [1947- ]

"Our lives are a mixture of different roles. Most of us are doing the best we can to find whatever the right balance is . . . For me, that balance is family, work, and service." Hillary served as Arkansas's First Lady for 12 years, balancing family, law, and public service. She chaired the Arkansas Educational Standards Committee, co-founded the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, and served on the boards of the Arkansas Children's Hospital, Legal Services, and the Children's Defense Fund. As First Lady, her public involvement with many activities sometimes led to controversy. Undeterred by critics, Hillary won many admirers for her staunch support for women around the world and her commitment to children's issues. She was elected United States Senator from New York on November 7, 2000. She is the first First Lady elected to the United States Senate and the first woman elected statewide in New York.

Laura Welch Bush - [1946 - ]

Laura Bush is actively involved in issues of national and global concern, with a particular emphasis on education, health care, and human rights.
[Read her "official" bio on the White House website]

Michelle Obama
After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1988, she joined the Chicago law firm Sidley & Austin, where she later met the man who would become the love of her life....
She served as assistant commissioner of planning and development in Chicago's City Hall before becoming the founding executive director of the Chicago chapter of Public Allies, an AmeriCorps program that prepares youth for public service. In 1996, Michelle joined the University of Chicago with a vision of bringing campus and community together.
As First Lady, Michelle Obama looks forward to continuing her work on the issues close to her heart — supporting military families, helping working women balance career and family, and encouraging national service.
[Visit the Whitehouse's website to read the rest of her bio]



Read the biographies of the first ladies in more detail at the White House's website at www.whitehouse.gov/history/firstladies/

Sources for pictures: White House website; Library of Congress website; Encylopedia Brittanica


 


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