The First Lady of the United States (FLOTUS) is the title held by the hostess of the White House, usually the wife of the President of the United States, concurrent with the President's term in office. Although the First Lady's role has never been codified or officially defined, she figures prominently in the political and social life of the nation. Since the early 20th century, the First Lady has been assisted by official staff, now known as the Office of the First Lady and headquartered in the East Wing of the White House. Melania Trump is the current First Lady of the United States, as wife of 45th president, Donald Trump.
While the title was not in general use until much later, Martha Washington, the wife of George Washington, the first U.S. President (1789–1797), is considered to be the inaugural First Lady of the United States. During her lifetime, she was often referred to as "Lady Washington".
Since the 1790s, the role of First Lady has changed considerably. It has come to include involvement in political campaigns, management of the White House, championship of social causes, and representation of the president at official and ceremonial occasions. Because first ladies now typically publish their memoirs, which are viewed as potential sources of additional information about their husbands' administrations, and because the public is interested in these increasingly independent women in their own right, first ladies frequently remain a focus of attention long after their husbands' terms of office have ended. Additionally, over the years individual first ladies have held influence in a range of sectors, from fashion to public opinion on policy. Historically, should a president be unmarried, or a widower, the president usually asks a relative or friend to act as White House hostess.
There are four living former first ladies: Rosalynn Carter, wife of Jimmy Carter; Hillary Clinton, wife of Bill Clinton; Laura Bush; wife of George W Bush and Michelle Obama, wife of Barack Obama. As of 2019, the only former First Lady who has run for or held public office is Hillary Clinton.
|First Lady of the|
since January 20, 2017
|Inaugural holder||Martha Washington|
|Formation||April 30, 1789|
The use of the title First Lady to describe the spouse or hostess of an executive began in the United States. In the early days of the republic, there was not a generally accepted title for the wife of the president. Many early first ladies expressed their own preference for how they were addressed, including the use of such titles as "Lady", "Mrs. President" and "Mrs. Presidentress"; Martha Washington was often referred to as "Lady Washington." One of the earliest uses of the term "First Lady" was applied to her in an 1838 newspaper article that appeared in the St. Johnsbury Caledonian, the author, "Mrs. Sigourney", discussing how Martha Washington had not changed, even after her husband George became president. She wrote that "The first lady of the nation still preserved the habits of early life. Indulging in no indolence, she left the pillow at dawn, and after breakfast, retired to her chamber for an hour for the study of the scriptures and devotion".
Dolley Madison was reportedly referred to as "First Lady" in 1849 at her funeral in a eulogy delivered by President Zachary Taylor; however, no written record of this eulogy exists, nor did any of the newspapers of her day refer to her by that title. Sometime after 1849, the title began being used in Washington, D.C., social circles. One of the earliest known written examples comes from November 3, 1863, diary entry of William Howard Russell, in which he referred to gossip about "the First Lady in the Land", referring to Mary Todd Lincoln. The title first gained nationwide recognition in 1877, when newspaper journalist Mary C. Ames referred to Lucy Webb Hayes as "the First Lady of the Land" while reporting on the inauguration of Rutherford B. Hayes. The frequent reporting on Lucy Hayes' activities helped spread use of the title outside Washington. A popular 1911 comedic play about Dolley Madison by playwright Charles Nirdlinger, titled The First Lady in the Land, popularized the title further. By the 1930s, it was in wide use. Use of the title later spread from the United States to other nations.
When Edith Wilson took control of her husband's schedule in 1919 after he had a debilitating stroke, one Republican senator labeled her "the Presidentress who had fulfilled the dream of the suffragettes by changing her title from First Lady to Acting First Man."
Several women (at least thirteen) who were not presidents' wives have served as First Lady, as when the president was a bachelor or widower, or when the wife of the president was unable to fulfill the duties of the First Lady herself. In these cases, the position has been filled by a female relative or friend of the president, such as Jefferson's daughter Martha Jefferson Randolph, Jackson's daughter-in-law Sarah Yorke Jackson and his wife's niece Emily Donelson, Taylor's daughter Mary Elizabeth Bliss, Benjamin Harrison's daughter Mary Harrison McKee, Buchanan's niece Harriet Lane, and Cleveland's sister Rose Cleveland.
The position of the First Lady is not an elected one and carries only ceremonial duties. Nonetheless, first ladies have held a highly visible position in American society. The role of the First Lady has evolved over the centuries. She is, first and foremost, the hostess of the White House. She organizes and attends official ceremonies and functions of state either along with, or in place of, the president. Lisa Burns identifies four successive main themes of the first ladyship: as public woman (1900–1929); as political celebrity (1932–1961); as political activist (1964–1977); and as political interloper (1980–2001).
Martha Washington created the role and hosted many affairs of state at the national capital (New York and Philadelphia). This socializing became known as "the Republican Court" and provided elite women with opportunities to play backstage political roles. Both Martha Washington and Abigail Adams were treated as if they were "ladies" of the British royal court.
Dolley Madison popularized the First Ladyship by engaging in efforts to assist orphans and women, by dressing in elegant fashions and attracting newspaper coverage, and by risking her life to save iconic treasures during the War of 1812. Madison set the standard for the ladyship and her actions were the model for nearly every First Lady until Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1930s. Roosevelt traveled widely and spoke to many groups, often voicing personal opinions to the left of the president's. She authored a weekly newspaper column and hosted a radio show. Jacqueline Kennedy led an effort to redecorate and restore the White House.
Over the course of the 20th century, it became increasingly common for first ladies to select specific causes to promote, usually ones that are not politically divisive. It is common for the First Lady to hire a staff to support these activities. Lady Bird Johnson pioneered environmental protection and beautification. Pat Nixon encouraged volunteerism and traveled extensively abroad; Betty Ford supported women's rights; Rosalynn Carter aided those with mental disabilities; Nancy Reagan founded the Just Say No drug awareness campaign; Barbara Bush promoted literacy; Hillary Clinton sought to reform the healthcare system in the U.S.; Laura Bush supported women's rights groups, and encouraged childhood literacy. Michelle Obama became identified with supporting military families and tackling childhood obesity; and Melania Trump has stated that she wants to use her position to help children, including prevention of cyberbullying and supporting children whose lives are affected by drugs.
Near the end of her husband's presidency, Clinton became the first First Lady to run for political office. During the campaign, her daughter, Chelsea, took over much of the First Lady's role. Victorious, Clinton served as U.S. Senator from New York from 2001 to 2009, when she resigned in order to become President Obama's Secretary of State until 2013. Clinton was the Democratic Party nominee for President in the 2016 election, but lost to Donald Trump.
The Office of the First Lady of the United States is accountable to the First Lady for her to carry out her duties as hostess of the White House, and is also in charge of all social and ceremonial events of the White House. The First Lady has her own staff that includes a chief of staff, press secretary, White House Social Secretary, and Chief Floral Designer. The Office of the First Lady is an entity of the White House Office, a branch of the Executive Office of the President. When First Lady Hillary Clinton decided to pursue a run for Senator of New York, she set aside her duties as first lady and moved to Chappaqua, New York to establish state residency. She resumed her duties as First Lady after winning her senatorial campaign, and retained her duties as both first lady and U.S. Senator for the seventeen-day overlap before Bill Clinton's term came to an end.
Despite the significant responsibilities usually handled by the First Lady, the First Lady does not receive a salary. This has been criticized by both Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama.
Established in 1912, the First Ladies Collection has been one of the most popular attractions at the Smithsonian Institution. The original exhibition opened in 1914 and was one of the first at the Smithsonian to prominently feature women. Originally focused largely on fashion, the exhibition now delves deeper into the contributions of first ladies to the presidency and American society. In 2008, "First Ladies at the Smithsonian" opened at the National Museum of American History as part of its reopening year celebration. That exhibition served as a bridge to the museum's expanded exhibition on first ladies' history that opened on November 19, 2011. "The First Ladies" explores the unofficial but important position of first lady and the ways that different women have shaped the role to make their own contributions to the presidential administrations and the nation. The exhibition features 26 dresses and more than 160 other objects, ranging from those of Martha Washington to Michelle Obama, and includes White House china, personal possessions and other objects from the Smithsonian's unique collection of first ladies' materials.
Some first ladies have garnered attention for their dress and style. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, for instance, became a global fashion icon: her style was copied by commercial manufacturers and imitated by many young women, and she was named to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1965. Michelle Obama has also received significant attention for her fashion choices: style writer Robin Givhan praised her in The Daily Beast, arguing that the First Lady's style has helped to enhance the public image of the office.
As of December 2018, there are four living former First Ladies, as identified below.
The most recent First Lady to die was Barbara Bush (served 1989–1993), on April 17, 2018, at the age of 92. The greatest number of former First Ladies to be alive at one time was ten, during the period from June 2, 1886 to August 23, 1887, when Sarah Yorke Jackson, Priscilla Cooper Tyler, Julia Gardiner Tyler, Sarah Childress Polk, Harriet Lane, Julia Grant, Lucy Webb Hayes, Lucretia Garfield, Mary Arthur McElroy, and Rose Cleveland were all alive and the period from March 4 to June 25, 1889, when Priscilla Cooper Tyler, Julia Gardiner Tyler, Sarah Childress Polk, Harriet Lane, Julia Grant, Lucy Webb Hayes, Lucretia Garfield, Mary Arthur McElroy, Rose Cleveland, and Frances Folsom Cleveland Preston were alive.
Abigail Powers Fillmore (March 13, 1798 – March 30, 1853), wife of Millard Fillmore, was the First Lady of the United States from 1850 to 1853 and the Second Lady of the United States from 1849 to 1850.Bess Truman
Elizabeth Virginia "Bess" Truman (née Wallace; February 13, 1885 – October 18, 1982) was the wife of U.S. President Harry S. Truman and the First Lady of the United States from 1945 to 1953. She also served as the Second Lady of the United States in 1945.
She had known her future husband since they were children attending the same school in Independence, Missouri. As First Lady, she did not enjoy the social and political scene in Washington, and at the end of her husband's term in 1953, she was relieved to return to Independence. She currently holds the record of longest-lived First Lady and longest-lived Second Lady, at 97 years, 247 days. She died in Independence, Missouri.Caroline Harrison
Caroline Lavinia Scott Harrison (October 1, 1832 – October 25, 1892), was a teacher of music, the wife of Benjamin Harrison and mother of two surviving children; after his election as President of the United States, she was the First Lady of the United States from 1889 until her death.
She secured funding for an extensive renovation of the White House and oversaw the work. Interested in history and preservation, in 1890 she helped found the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and served as its first President General.Edith Wilson
Edith Wilson (née Bolling, formerly Edith Bolling Galt; October 15, 1872 – December 28, 1961), second wife of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, was the First Lady of the United States from 1915 to 1921. She married the widower Wilson in December 1915, during his first term as President.
President Wilson suffered a severe stroke in October 1919. Edith Wilson began to screen all matters of state and decided which were important enough to bring to the bedridden president. In doing so, she de facto ran the executive branch of the government for the remainder of the president's second term, until March 1921.Eliza McCardle Johnson
Eliza McCardle Johnson (October 4, 1810 – January 15, 1876) was the First Lady of the United States, the Second Lady of the United States, and the wife of Andrew Johnson, the 17th President of the United States.Forbes list of The World's 100 Most Powerful Women
Since 2004, Forbes has compiled a list of the 100 most powerful women in the world. It is edited by notable Forbes journalists, including Moira Forbes, and is based on visibility and economic impact. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has remained at the top spot since 2006, with the brief exception of 2010 where she was temporarily supplanted by the then U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama.Frances Folsom Cleveland Preston
Frances Clara Folsom Cleveland Preston (July 21, 1864 – October 29, 1947) was married to the President of the United States Grover Cleveland and was the First Lady of the United States from 1886 to 1889 and again from 1893 to 1897. Becoming First Lady at age 21, she remains the youngest wife of a sitting president.Harriet Lane
Harriet Rebecca Lane Johnston (May 9, 1830 – July 3, 1903) acted as First Lady of the United States during the presidency of her uncle, lifelong bachelor James Buchanan, from 1857 to 1861. Lane is among eleven women who have served as First Lady but were not married to the President, with most of the other women being relatives of widowed presidents.
In appearance "Hal" Lane was of medium height, with masses of light, almost golden-colored hair.Helen Herron Taft
Helen Louise Herron "Nellie" Taft (June 2, 1861 – May 22, 1943) was the wife of William Howard Taft and the First Lady of the United States from 1909 to 1913.Ida Saxton McKinley
Ida Saxton McKinley (June 8, 1847 – May 26, 1907) was the First Lady of the United States from 1897 until 1901.Invictus Games
The Invictus Games is an international adaptive multi-sport event, created by Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, in which wounded, injured or sick armed services personnel and their associated veterans take part in sports including wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball, and indoor rowing. Named after Invictus, Latin for "unconquered" or "undefeated", the event was inspired by the Warrior Games, a similar event held in the United States.
The first Invictus Games took place in September 2014 at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London, United Kingdom.The 2014 opening ceremony was attended by Prince Harry, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Prince Charles, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, Prince William, and Frederik, Crown Prince of Denmark. The event also included a recorded message from the First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama.The second games opened on 8 May 2016 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World, near Orlando, Florida, United States. The opening ceremony was attended by Prince Harry, First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama, former U.S. President George W. Bush and many other dignitaries. U.S. President Barack Obama and Queen Elizabeth II helped make a promotional video for the 2016 event.The third games were held in September 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The 2018 games were held in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia and attended by both Prince Harry and his wife, the former Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex. The 2020 games are scheduled to be held in The Hague, Netherlands.Julia Gardiner Tyler
Julia Gardiner Tyler (May 4, 1820 – July 10, 1889) was the second wife of John Tyler, who was the tenth President of the United States, and served as the First Lady of the United States from June 26, 1844, to March 4, 1845.Lucretia Garfield
Lucretia Rudolph Garfield (April 19, 1832 – March 14, 1918) was the First Lady of the United States from March to September 1881, as the wife of James A. Garfield, the 20th President of the United States.
Born in Garrettsville, Ohio, Garfield first met her husband in 1849 at Geauga Seminary. After a long courtship, they married in 1858. They would eventually have seven children together, five of whom lived to adulthood. Highly educated and intellectually curious, Garfield was well attuned to the internal machinations of the Republican Party, which proved to be of great aid to her husband's political career. She was well regarded during her brief period in the White House, but after only a few months contracted malaria and went to Long Branch, New Jersey, to recuperate.
In July 1881, James Garfield was shot and mortally wounded by Charles Guiteau. He lingered for two and half months before dying, during which his wife stayed at his bedside and received much public sympathy. Lucretia Garfield returned to her former residence in Ohio after being widowed, living in what is now the James A. Garfield National Historic Site. She spent much of the rest of her life preserving her husband's papers and other materials, establishing what was effectively the first presidential library.Mamie Eisenhower
Mamie Geneva Eisenhower (née Doud; November 14, 1896 – November 1, 1979) was the wife of United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and the First Lady of the United States from 1953 to 1961.
Mamie married Dwight Eisenhower at age 19 in 1916. The young couple moved frequently between military quarters in many postings, from Panama to the Philippines. As First Lady, she entertained a wide range of foreign dignitaries, who reacted well to her confident style and splendid costumes.
Mamie Eisenhower spent her retirement and widowhood at the family farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.Marian Shields Robinson
Marian Lois Robinson (née Shields; born July 30, 1937) is the mother of Michelle Obama, former First Lady of the United States, and Craig Robinson, a basketball executive.Melania Trump
Melania Trump (; born Melanija Knavs; [mɛˈlaːnija ˈknaːu̯s], Germanized to Melania Knauss; April 26, 1970) is a Slovene-born American former fashion model and the First Lady of the United States,
the wife of the 45th U.S. president Donald Trump.
Melanija Knavs was born in Novo Mesto, and grew up in Sevnica, in the Yugoslav republic of Slovenia. She worked as a fashion model through agencies in Milan and Paris, later moving to New York City in 1996. Her modeling career was associated with Irene Marie Models and Trump Model Management.In 2001, Knavs became a permanent resident of the United States. She married Donald Trump in 2005 and obtained U.S. citizenship in 2006. She is the second First Lady born outside the United States (the first being Louisa Adams), the first one to be a naturalized U.S. citizen, and the first one born a non-native English speaker.Nancy Reagan
Nancy Davis Reagan (born Anne Frances Robbins; July 6, 1921 – March 6, 2016) was an American film actress and the wife of Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States. She was the First Lady of the United States from 1981 to 1989.
She was born in New York City. After her parents separated, she lived in Maryland with an aunt and uncle for several years. When her mother remarried in 1929, she moved to Chicago and later took the name Davis from her stepfather. As Nancy Davis, she was a Hollywood actress in the 1940s and 1950s, starring in films such as The Next Voice You Hear..., Night into Morning, and Donovan's Brain. In 1952, she married Ronald Reagan, who was then president of the Screen Actors Guild. They had two children together. Reagan was the First Lady of California when her husband was Governor from 1967 to 1975, and she began to work with the Foster Grandparents Program.
Reagan became First Lady of the United States in January 1981, following her husband's victory in the 1980 presidential election. Early in his first term, she was criticized largely due to her decision to replace the White House china, which had been paid for by private donations. Following years of lax formality, she decided to restore a Kennedyesque glamour to the White House, and her interest in high-end fashion garnered much attention as well as criticism. She championed recreational drug prevention causes when she founded the "Just Say No" drug awareness campaign, which was considered her major initiative as First Lady. More discussion of her role ensued following a 1988 revelation that she had consulted an astrologer to assist in planning the president's schedule after the attempted assassination of her husband in 1981. She generally had a strong influence on her husband and played a role in a few of his personnel and diplomatic decisions.
After Ronald Reagan's term as president ended, the couple returned to their home in Bel Air, Los Angeles, California. Nancy devoted most of her time to caring for her husband, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1994, until his death at the age of 93 on June 5, 2004. Reagan remained active within the Reagan Library and in politics, particularly in support of embryonic stem cell research, until her death from congestive heart failure at age 94 on March 6, 2016.Office of the First Lady of the United States
The Office of the First Lady of the United States is the staff accountable to the First Lady of the United States. The office and its responsibilities, while not mandated, have grown as the role of the First Lady has grown and formalized through the history of the United States. The Office of the First Lady is an entity of the White House Office, part of the Executive Office of the President. It is located in the East Wing.
The First Lady has her own staff that includes a Chief of Staff, White House Social Secretary, Press Secretary, White House Chief Floral Designer, and White House Executive Chef.Sarah Yorke Jackson
Sarah Yorke Jackson (July 16, 1803 – August 23, 1887) was the daughter-in-law of U.S. President Andrew Jackson. She served as White House hostess and de facto First Lady of the United States from November 26, 1834, to March 4, 1837.
First Ladies and Gentlemen by country