I love presidential history but being a woman myself, I always find it interesting to study the Women of the White House as well. I am curious to know who your favorite First Ladies are and if you have any suggestions for FLOTUS biographies to read. I hope you are enjoying this holiday season!
Thank you! We’ve had some remarkable First Ladies dating back to the very beginning of our country, and I hate to overlook some deserving women like Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, and Eleanor Roosevelt, but my two favorite First Ladies are Lady Bird Johnson and Betty Ford. Both women were indispensable to the success of their husbands (although that’s a common thread in the history of First Families) and played inordinate roles in public life while living in the White House.
Like Eleanor Roosevelt, Lady Bird Johnson and Betty Ford recognized the power in their unique position. They had the ear of the President every night and the eyes of the nation throughout their family’s time in the White House. While most modern First Ladies find an issue that they want to shine a spotlight on, Lady Bird Johnson and Betty Ford revolutionized the role of the President’s spouse, becoming activists in support of the issues they believed in. Those issues were not always popular, and they didn’t always coincide with the policies of their husbands. Controversies which could easily be avoided – and which Presidential aides often pushed back against due to potential political traps – never frightened Lady Bird Johnson or Betty Ford from taking a stand on behalf of what they believed. Lady Bird didn’t worry about campaigning for her husband and LBJ’s Civil Rights legislation while facing hostile crowds in the Deep South. Betty Ford didn’t hesitate to publicly support abortion rights or the Equal Rights Amendment (despite strong opposition from leading politicians in her husband’s party), or reveal when she underwent a mastectomy and treatment for breast cancer. Later, Betty Ford publicly revealed an addiction to painkillers and alcohol, and opened the Betty Ford Center after leaving the White House.
Most Presidents note that their wives are one of their leading advisors on all issues, foreign and domestic, political and personal. Most First Ladies put energy into certain issues that they feel strongly about. Lady Bird Johnson and Betty Ford were warriors – activists with a Bully Pulpit every bit as strong (and often far more popular) than that of their husbands in the Oval Office. When looking back through American History, it’s noteworthy how many of our Presidents seemed to marry women so far above their station.
As requested, here are a few quick book recommendations on America’s First Ladies:
•The First Ladies Factbook: The Childhoods, Courtships, Marriages, Campaigns, Accomplishments, and Legacies of Every First Lady From Martha Washington to Michelle Obama by Bill Harris and revised by Laura Ross (BOOK | KINDLE)
•Upstairs at the White House: My Life With the First Ladies by J.B. West with Mary Lynn Kotz (BOOK | KINDLE)
•Lady Bird and Lyndon: The Hidden Story of a Marriage That Made a President by Betty Boyd Caroli (BOOK | KINDLE)
•A White House Diary by Lady Bird Johnson
•Betty Ford: Candor and Courage in the White House by John Robert Greene
•The Times of My Life by Betty Ford with Chris Chase
•Betty: A Glad Awakening by Betty Ford with Chris Chase