Monday, September 19, 2005

First Ladies follow up

Joe, in response to my last post, asked how many First Ladies have been "publicly active on policy matters" and speculated that H.R. Clinton might be the only one. Ever a kind and thoughtful chap, Joe kindly implied that I might know more about this subject than he and that my answer might interest him.

(beams with pride) Take ten points for Gryffindor for brightening my morning.

HRC was not the first nor, I would argue, even the most villified First Lady to speak out and act in public policy matters. That title would go to Eleanor Roosevelt, who spent three terms plus a tad more as probably the most active, influential and out-spoken First Lady ever.

I could run this post on for screens and screens, but two more ladies truly stand out in my humble opinion. (More examples available upon request.)

Betty Ford worked quite tirelessly, and against much criticism, in favor of the Equal Rights Ammendment. Much pilloried in the press of the time, Ford was also very open about pushing her husband to appoint the first female Surpeme Court justice if ever he had the chance. I think Ford's reputation hs been rehabilitated (if also opened to a new series of nasty remarks) by opening the clinic.

Lucy Hayes, the first First Lady to have graduated from college, was a very outspoken supporter of the temperence movement. All of the jokes about "Lemonade Lucy" aside, she used her status as First Lady to encourage temperence awareness throughout the nation, particularly among its women. In the second half of the 19th century, this was a deeply controversial stance for a woman in her position to take.

P.S. Ten points to Greg, too, for thoughtful follow-up.

(WOW! You actually enjoy my historical ramblings!)


Joe said...

Of course, as soon as you restated the question, I immediately thought of Eleanor Roosevelt. (Further proof of your pedagogical excellence.) I had no idea about Ford and Hayes, though!

Rachel said...

What about Abigail Adams? Was she ever "officially" involved in policy, or was she just the brains of the duo?

lemming said...

I think all First Ladies must influences their spouses and policy to one degree or another. For example, Rosalyn Carter always sat in on Cabinet meetings. Abigail Adams did help John, but her actions were not as public or as controversial as Hayes and Ford, let alone ER and HRC.

Good question, though!

Anonymous said...


We have no comparable position in the UK. The wife or husband of the Prime Minister has no official title or role. Mostly they keep themselves totally out of public view. Indeed it makes no difference at all whether or not the Prime Minister is married - Edward Heath being the most recent example of an unmarried Prime Minister. Who, in the general public, had any idea what the opinions of Norma Major, Denis Thatcher, Audrey Callaghan, Mary Wilson, etc, etc were? *shrugs*

Cherie Blair is an exception of course. She's very vocal and has even been known to speak out in public against some of the policies of her husband's government. lol