Monday, November 01, 2010

10 First Ladies who changed the world without Cabernet Sauvignon (thanks Anna Miller)

First ladies are important public figures. These women don't stand in the shadows of their husbands; they use their own power and public influence to make policies, advocate charitable causes and raise awareness on important issues. From the doting and delightful Martha Washington to the sharp and savvy Michelle Obama, presidential wives have made a lasting impression on our country and the world as a whole. Here are 10 first ladies who changed the world:
1. Abigail Adams: Abigail Adams, wife of President John Adams, was one of the most progressive First Ladies of all time. Adams played a major role in the fight for equal public education for women and the emancipation of African-American slaves. While John was serving the country as a delegate to the Continental Congress, Adams would write notes to her husband that detailed life during the American Revolution, as well as her advice about government and politics.

2. Dolley Madison: Dolley Madison, wife of President James Madison, was a social influence during her husband's political career as Thomas Jefferson's secretary of state and as president. She served as the unofficial first lady during Jefferson's presidency because he was a widower and she was good at planning lavish events at the White House. During her husband's presidency, Madison had to flee from the White House, which was invaded and burned by the British army during the War of 1812. Madison and her slaves collected valuables, like silver and Gilbert Stuart's famous portrait of George Washington, as well as major historic documents, such as an original draft of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

3. Edith Wilson: Edith Wilson, wife of President Woodrow Wilson, was one of the most powerful first ladies to "run the government," as she was described as doing. Wilson took on unprecedented responsibilities as the first lady, when her husband suffered from a disabling stroke that left him partly paralyzed and kept him from participating in his normal presidential duties. Wilson stepped in as the official attendant, tending to routine duties and details of the government, as well as sorting out important issues from less urgent ones to bring to her husband's attention. Wilson did not make any major decisions or initiate programs, but she was regarded for her unwavering attention to her husband and his presidential matters.

4. Eleanor Roosevelt: Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was an inspirational first lady and a successful political helpmate. Throughout her husband's political career, Roosevelt became involved in the women's division of the State Democratic Committee and dedicated much of her time to political advocacy and her husband's purposes. She was a devoted caretaker of FDR, who was stricken with polio in 1921 and confined to a wheelchair. Roosevelt was not afraid to speak up and did so often, by giving lectures, holding press conferences, conducting radio broadcasts and, most notably, writing "My Day," her opinion column that ran in a daily syndicated newspaper. It was this candidness and her sincere consideration for all people that made her one of the most socially aware and beloved first ladies.

5. Jacqueline Kennedy: Jacqueline Kennedy, wife of President John F. Kennedy, was a cultural icon and inspirational first lady. Although her time as first lady was cut short because of her husband's tragic assassination, Kennedy made quite the impression in those two years. Kennedy was known for her undeniable beauty, intelligence and sophisticated taste, especially in fashion, as well as her contributions to the arts and historic preservation. After the assassination, Mrs. Kennedy showed great courage and strength while mourning the loss of her husband and the nation's president.

6. Betty Ford: Betty Ford, wife of President Gerald Ford, was an incredibly outspoken and politically active first lady, who was said to have impacted culture and politics more than her husband. When Ford became vice president and president, following President Nixon's resignation, Mrs. Ford became active in social policy and raising awareness about a number of issues that were too often ignored. She brought national attention to several real-life issues that were happening around the world, such as being diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing a mastectomy. She also spoke about her battle with alcoholism, which later led to the creation of the Betty Ford Center, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in California. Ford was not afraid to publicly state her views, regardless of how controversial the topic was, such as feminism, equal pay, abortion and her support for the Equal Rights Amendment.

7. Rosalynn Carter: Rosalynn Carter, wife of President Jimmy Carter, was a major contributor to her husband's political career and presidency. During her time as first lady, Carter managed routine duties and special projects, as well as attended Cabinet meetings and was the president's personal emissary to Latin American countries. Carter had a strong interest in performing arts, and was one of the first presidential wives to invite international classical artists, as well as traditional American artists, to the White House. Carter was also a strong advocate for mental health research, and served as the Honorary Chairperson of the President's Commission on Mental Health from 1977 to 1978.

8. Nancy Reagan: Nancy Reagan, wife of President Ronald Reagan, was a politically active and supportive force in her husband's presidency. During her time as first lady, Reagan was involved in a number of programs, including the drug prevention and awareness campaign, "Just Say No," and the Foster Grandparent Program, which was the subject of her book, To Love A Child. Reagan was often compared to Jackie Kennedy because she was glamorous and made her contributions to the White House, by renovating the second- and third-floor quarters and replacing the White House china. Reagan was admired for protecting and caring for her husband, especially after he survived an attempted assassination.

9. Hillary Clinton: Hillary Clinton, wife of President Bill Clinton, was an influential first lady and an inspirational public figure for women. Before breaking ground as a successful politician herself, Clinton was a major contributor to her husband's success as an Arkansas governor and U.S president. Clinton focused much of her attention on public service, as well as government policies. She took on the role as chair to the Task Force on National Health Care Reform, where she supported the expansion of health insurance coverage, proper child immunizations and spreading awareness on national health issues. Clinton shared her experiences as first lady in a weekly newspaper column called "Talking It Over," and later wrote a best-selling book that detailed her interactions and observations of women, children and families she met as first lady. Clinton was sometimes criticized for her public involvement and outspokenness, but she also gained many supporters for her commitment to helping women and children around the world. She is currently serving as the U.S. Secretary of State for the Obama administration. Clinton was the first-ever former first lady to run for and be elected as a Senator, as well as run for president.

10. Laura Bush: Laura Bush, wife of President George W. Bush, helped changed the face of education in the United States during her time as first lady. As a former teacher and librarian, Bush focused much of her political efforts on improving the education system, promoting global literacy and helping women and families around the world. Bush was a proponent for the President's education reform, including the No Child Left Behind Act and NCLB's Reading First program. Her contributions and sincere kindness made Laura Bush a beloved first lady.
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