Welcome to the National First Ladies Library blog. This replaces the “asked/answered” page and all information from it has been transferred to the blog. Here will be an ongoing public forum on the work of the NFLL and its collections, discussion on new and emerging scholarship and popular publications, news stories, and any other information or discoveries related to directly to the subject of First Ladies. The public is invited to engage here with questions on the subject.
Research, reading and writing on the subject of American First Ladies opens windows into so many fascinating aspects of not just national and international history and culture but contemporary issues as well.
Enjoy our blog and feel free to post your comments.
Former President and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, the only presidential couple to date that remained in Washington, D.C. after moving out of the White House. (Library of Congress)
(This article is adapted from a response written to a media inquiry)
A moving truck outside the new S Street home of former President and Mrs. Wilson, the day they left the White House. (AP)
Within range of microphones last week, President Obama let it slip out that it was likely he and the First Lady would remain as residents of Washington, D.C. once his Administration ends in January of 2017. He suggested that they were likely to do so in order to permit their youngest daughter Sasha to complete her high school education at the same school, rather than remove her from familiar surroundings and friends to be transferred to a school in their home city of Chicago.
It would not be the first time since a former President and First Lady have chosen to remain in the capital city right after moving out of the White House, but it would be only the second time.
The only other instance of this occurring was nearly a century ago when, upon turning the presidency over to Warren Harding, Woodrow Wilson and First Lady Edith Wilson went directly to the private home they had only recently purchased on S Street.
March 15, 1946, Eleanor Roosevelt (l) and Edith Wilson (r), at a Washington dinner honoring Mrs. Roosevelt at a US Delegate to the General Assembly of the United Nations Organization, hosted by the Women’s Joint Congressional Committee. (Corbis)
The former president only lived there for three more years, dying in February of 1924.
Edith Wilson, however, would live on there by herself for almost four more decades.
She received European royalty and presidential families there, maintaining the public rooms as a shrine to her beloved husband. Mrs. Wilson was often at the White House under both Democratic and Republican administrations.
She died in her home in December of 1961, but not before entertaining Jackie Kennedy there for lunch several months earlier.
For almost three years, however, there were two former Presidents and two former First Ladies living in Washington, D.C. at the same time. Just months after Woodrow Wilson and Edith Wilson retired from the presidency and moved to S Street, his immediate predecessor William Howard Taft and Nellie Taft relocated to Washington to live in aWyoming Avenue home within walking distance of him.
That summer of 1921, incumbent President Warren Harding appointed Taft to the one position he had always coveted, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
On her way home to Washington from a Mexican trip, Nellie Taft checks a list with a customs officer. April 5, 1936. (AP)
Soon he and Nellie Taft were frequently back at the White House joining the Hardings and then the Coolidges.
After Taft’s death in 1930, Nellie Taft continued to live on at Wyoming Avenue.
Although she was respected as the widow of both a president and chief justice at numerous events and ceremonies with successors such as Lou Hoover and Eleanor Roosevelt,
The Taft house in Washington. (Washington Post)
Mrs. Taft lived a busy life in Washington largely outside of public notice. She rode streetcars to take in lectures, theater, films and concerts up until her death at home in the capital in 1944.
She and her husband became the fist of only two couples to be buried across the Potomac in Arlington National Cemetery.
A rare photo of former President John Quincy Adams. (LC)
The other President and First Lady who went right from the White House to a private home in Washington were John Quincy and Louisa Adams.
In March of 1829, they proceeded to a rented home on Meridian Hill but after their long summer and early autumn back in New England, the former president returned to the capital intending to have a purpose for being there.
A silhouette of Louisa Adams. (ebay)
In 1830 he ran and won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, and began this new phase of his career in the following year.
Louisa Adams had been disgusted with politics and had even threatened to not live permanently in Washington because of the stress she believed his new position would create in their household.
By then, the former President and First Lady were living in a townhouse on the east street that faced Lafayette Square, directly across from the White House. A bit more history was made in 1838 when their new neighbor moved into the house right next store.
It was another legendary White House resident, Dolley Madison.
The corner building was the Washington home of the widowed Dolley Madison while former President and Mrs. John Quincy Adams resided in the row house next to her. (streetsofwashington.com)
Following the 1836 death of her husband, the former First Lady settled into the townhouse on the northeast corner of Lafayette Square. “She is a woman of placid, equable temperament,” wrote former President Adams.
From this house, Mrs. Madison would hold court, especially on New Year’s Day when not only whoever was the incumbent President and First Lady, but members of the diplomatic corps, Cabinet, Supreme Court, House and Senate would pay a customary call on her.
Elderly Dolley Madison and niece Anna Payne who lived with her in Washington. (NPG)
In a sense, Dolley Madison became “Queen Mother” of the nation, a role she could not have fulfilled from anywhere but the capital city.
It was a common sight in the city to see the two former First Ladies function as a social duo, great friends attending card parties and congressional speeches together.
Dolley Madison was able to comfort Louisa Adams when John Quincy Adams died in February of 1848, but she followed him seventeen months later. Louisa Adams continued to live in Washington until her death four years later.
Nancy Reagan enjoys the solitude of her hammock at the Reagan Ranch. (RRPL)
With the news this weekend that former First Lady Nancy Reagan has died, the National First Ladies’ Library offers a tribute to a woman who offered her enthusiastic support for its creation, development and realization. When the NFLL Founder and President Mary Regula first contacted Mrs. Reagan, she decided to lend her name to the organization and became an honorary chairman, helping to establish the institution and later donating personal items for its personal collection.
Her life would find the woman born by the name of Ann Frances Robbins living across the span of the nation. There are many different perspectives to remember her life, but perhaps one of the least considered is how well she knew the country, as a resident of different regions – long before she began campaigning by bus, car, train and plane in the three presidential races her husband made, in 1976, 1980 and 1984.
She was born on July 5, 1921 in Flushing, New York, in the New York City borough of Queens. With her mother Edie Luckett pursing a professional career out on the road and divorcing her birth father Kenneth Robbins, their only child would be moving south.
Young Nancy, as she was nicknamed spent her earliest years being raised by her maternal aunt and her husband in Bethesda, Maryland. Enrolled at the Quaker school Sidwell Friends, she made her first visit to the White House as a child during the presidency of Calvin Coolidge, when she attended the annual Easter Egg Roll.
Upon her mother’s 1929 remarriage to neurosurgeon Loyal Davis, she moved to his high-rise apartment overlooking Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. Becoming active in the Windy City’s young social life, Nancy Davis was an excellent student at the Girls’ Latin School.
She would then move back east again, to attend college at Smith College, in Northhampton, Massachusetts. There she majored in drama and took part in many of the theater department productions, be they drama or comedy. It was soon down to New York City, where she broke into show business as a stage actress.
Given the opportunity to make a screen test, however, Nancy Davis soon headed to Los Angeles, California. Except for her eight years as the American First Lady, when she lived in Washington, D.C., she would remain a lifelong resident of the Golden State.
Before her 1952 wedding to Ronald Reagan, while working as a film actress under contract at MGM, she would have several different residences around the city, from Hollywood to Westwood. Through marriage and motherhood, Nancy Reagan would live for the longest period in the Pacific Palisades section of Los Angeles until she and her husband left for the White House. During the presidency they resided in the penthouse suite of a Century City hotel, as well as enjoying their ranch near Santa Barbara. After the presidency, the Reagans bought a home in the Bel Air section. There the former President died in 2004 and there the former First Lady died the other day.
Nancy Reagan had the longest-living mother among First Ladies and is herself now the second-longest living, surviving some twenty days longer than Lady Bird Johnson, who died in 2005. With the passing of Mrs. Reagan, there are now five living First Ladies: Rosalynn Carter, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama.
Nancy Reagan with husband and friends on the South Lawn, July 4th 1981. (RRPL)
The Reagans at the 1983 annual White House Easter Egg Roll, by then a tradition over a century old. (RRPL)
Nancy Reagan meets the press during a 1980 campaign trip. (lehnews.wordpress.com)
Nancy Reagan with her husband making a joint 1984 campaign appearance. (Reagan Presidential Library)
Nancy Reagan arriving for the London wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana in July, 1981. (RRPL)
Known for her stylish taste in clothing, First Lady Nancy Davis Reagan is seen in a black velvet gown in 1982.
Nancy Reagan with her parents, Loyal and Edie Davis. While Davis was technically her stepfather, Nancy considered him her only real father.
Nancy Reagan with the President’s Chief of Staff Don Regan. When the two later had a falling out, Regan would soon after resign under pressure. (RRPL)
President and Nancy Reagan looking at the Great Wall in China, April 29, 1984.
The future First Lady Nancy Davis (Reagan) posing for a Hollywood publicity still. (RRPL)
Nancy Davis outside her Hollywood bungalow apartment. (RRPL)
Nancy Reagan speaks at a White House Conference on Drug Abuse and Families, 1982. (Reagan Library)
Nancy Reagan, Betty Ford and Rosalynn Carter attending the 1982 funeral of Bess Truman. (UPI)
Nancy Reagan visiting her elderly mother Edie Davis, who lived to be 100 years old. The two were very close.
Nancy Reagan on the podium, her husband on the screen behind her.
Nancy Reagan campaigns with her husband in North Carolina in 1980.
Former President Reagan celebrated his birthday in 1996 with Nancy Reagan. (The Reagan Library)
US President Barack Obama (R) speaks with former US first lady Nancy Reagan (L) after signing the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington, DC, June 2, 2009. (Getty)
Nancy Reagan in a World War II theatrical review at Smith College known as the Factory Follies (AP)
The Reagans with their children Michael, Ron, Patti, their spouses and grandchildren.
Maryland resident Anne Francis Robbins, later to become Chicagoan Nancy Davis Reagan.
Ellen Wison and Edith Wilson, the two wives of Woodrow Wilson in a composite image.
With the dawn of the 20th century, lines were more sharply drawn between “drys,” who were those who supported the growing movement that called for a national ban on the production and sale of alcoholic beverages, and “wets,” who opposed it.
Edith Roosevelt herself refrained from drinking alcohol, the pain of witnessing her father’s own addiction to it having permanently affected her. However, once Prohibition of alcohol was finally enacted by a constitutional amendment, Edith Roosevelt, by then a former First Lady, resented government determination of what she considered a personal choice and defiantly served cocktails to guests at her home Sagamore Hill.
Nellie Taft had always enjoyed a full range of alcoholic beverages without any negative result, starting with drinking beer in the popular gathering halls near the breweries of her native Cincinnati.
Nellie Taft defied critics to serve her strong champagne punch to White House guests. (LC)
As First Lady, she willfully ignored the lobbying of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union beseeching her to refrain from serving any liquor in the nation’s house. Instead, she let it be known that she took especial pride in her champagne punch, a concoction with ingredients that included cointreau and other flavored alcoholic beverages.
When former President William Howard Taft was appointed Chief Justice of the United States, she quite openly violated the law by enjoying alcohol when she was able to find a home where it was served, despite her husband’s protests.
There is no evidence that either of the two wives of Woodrow Wilson the former Ellen Axson and Edith Bolling Galt favored Prohibition. For many previous decades the new national law had been strongly advocated by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union [WCTU], an organization with a massive membership.
During the 1912 election, when it was reported that Ellen Wilson approved of women being able to smoke cigarettes, she personally handed out copies of her written denial of this inaccuracy to reporters, declaring that she disliked smoking by both genders. Cigarette smoking by both men and women was one of the “sins” against which the WCTU also campaigned.
Although Edith Wilson was the incumbent First Lady at the time the 18th Amendment was passed, it was during this same period that the President was in a state of partial recovery from a devastating stroke. Her focus was entirely on efforts to keep the apparatus of the presidency functioning from his sickroom. The Wilsons did no entertaining at this time, save for a brief welcome to the King and Queen of Belgium at which tea was served. As far as their personal use, there is no indication that they imbibed in alcoholic beverages, Although it was still not uncommon for doctors at the time to prescribe a shot of whiskey as a stimulant in some instances, there is no indication of this as an ongoing treatment in the President’s medical record.
President Warren Harding and First Lady Florence Harding.
Edith Wilson long outlived her husband who died in 1924, three years after his presidency ended. Although Prohibition remained the law, the widowed Mrs. Wilson openly served alcohol to her guests at her private home in Washington. It is unclear whether her pronounced preference for the Virginia Gentleman brand of whiskey was due to its name conjuring up memories of her late husband, a native of that state, or the quality of the liquor.
Florence Harding upheld Prohibition as the law of the land while entertaining guests at the White House lawn parties, receptions and dinners. When the President gathered with cronies to play poker in the privacy of his oval study, however, they drank scotch and other whiskey drinks taken from his private reserve and, so many suggested, from gifts of bottled alcohol that, perhaps unknown to him, had been confiscated by his Department of Justice enforcers.
Eleanor Roosevelt at a banquet. She served liquor to guests but did not drink herself. (carlanthonyonline)
During these gatherings, the First Lady was never seen drinking any alcohol herself but rather assumed the role of bartender, mixing whiskey drinks as orders were called out to her by the President, according to the wife of House Speaker Nicholas Longworth who was in attendance with her husband.
Both Grace Coolidge and Lou Hoover strictly adhered to the strictest interpretations of Prohibition, neither imbibing in private themselves nor serving any such beverages to White House guests.
Eleanor Roosevelt, who’s father had suffered from, and died of complications due to severe alcoholism, did not especially celebrate the overturning of Prohibition in the early months of her husband’s Administration. She generally did not partake of alcoholic beverages but permitted these being served to guests.
Bess Truman with a champagne bottle intended to christen a plane. (National Archives)
In contrast, Bess Truman was famous with the staff for enjoying an after-work cocktail with the President in the family quarters, insisting that there be no stinting on the bourbon in her favorite drink, an “old-fashioned.”
The next First Lady, Mamie Eisenhower, was plagued not by alcoholism but the false story that she did.
In the decade preceding her White House tenure, while separated from her husband during his World War II military leadership, she found herself limited to a small circle of other military wives, many of whom did drink heavily.
Mamie Eisenhower at a public banquet with Nelson Rockefeller and Bob Hope. (easy)
At one point of particular stress during the war, she may have drank too much for her brother-in-law Milton Eisenhower warned her that onlookers might draw assumptions about her from the company she kept.
Conscious of how anything she said or did could reflect poorly on her husband, she ensured that she did nothing that could lead others to this conclusion. Nevertheless, rumors persisted during her husband’s presidency, finally mitigated when it was disclosed that she suffered from alcoholism.
Jacqueline Kennedy in widow’s black at a spring 1964 memorial service for her late husband. (NBC Archival Footage)
In the darkest days and nights that followed her husband’s assassination and burial, Jacqueline Kennedy found she was able to numb some of her overwhelming grief by occasionally using alcohol. This is documented by the recorded sound of drinks being imbibed as she was being tape-recorded by historian Arthur Schlesinger for what proved to be her oral history recollections of her late husband. This audio record, made in early 1964, was publicly released in the autumn of 2011.
However, in his own recollections from 1996, Schlesinger recalled the somberness of the process and how Mrs. Kennedy had to rely on several highballs during at least one of their several recording sessions. Others close to the widow, both protective and sympathetic, would also share these recollections. After that period, there is no further evidence or record of the need for such beverages.
Pat Nixon listens to her husband deliver his resignation speech. (Fox News)
During the increasingly anxious weeks of the summer of 1974, as the Watergate scandal grew to the point where President Nixon was forced to resign, the First Lady maintained a grueling schedule of appearances at public events. Despite this, a book chronicling the period and published shortly thereafter printed that reliable sources claimed the First Lady had come to depend on alcohol to endure the severe depression and worry that would have understandably affected members of the presidential family. The former President, as well as many aides and others who saw and worked with Mrs. Nixon during this time completely denied the story as an outright fabrication.
Betty Ford at the recovery center which bore her name. (Betty Ford – Hazelden)
It was her immediate successor, Betty Ford, who helped to revolutionize what came to be known as the “recovery movement.” A year after she had left the White House, when the former First Lady entered a narcotic treatment program at Long Beach Naval Hospital, not far from her new home in Rancho Mirage, California, she also issued a simple statement stating that she had become addicted to both prescription pain medication and alcohol.
In her subsequent memoirs, Mrs. Ford stated that while she did not permit herself to become strongly reliant on either narcotic in the White House because she had enormous responsibility not only as First Lady but during the course of her husband’s 1976 re-election campaign.
As White House hostess, Rosalynn Carter had decided with the President to not serve hard liquor to guests, as an economic measure. (JCPL)
Subsequently, she co-founded a drug and alcohol recovery center near her home, in Palm Springs, California which bore her name.”The Betty Ford Center” became world famous as did her activism on the issues of alcoholism, particularly as it related to problems unique to women.
Rosalynn Carter created controversy not because she used alcohol but because she limited the range of drinks that would be served to guests.
Echoing the 19th century decisions of Sarah Polk and Lucy Hayes. She did this not as a morale decision, but rather as a cost-cutting matter. Beer, wine and champagne continued to be served to guests.
Still, she was soon after dubbed with the sobriquet of “Rose Rosalynn” with many columnists critical of her decision.
In more recent times, First Ladies living in an era have benefitted from both a more understanding societal perspective of both the deeper emotional reasons people might abuse alcohol and the physiological impact of overindulgence on alcoholic beverages.
Thus, as far as the public record and other anecdotal sources concur, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama
The portrait of Lucy Hayes presented to the White House by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. (The White House Collection)
From the earliest days of the nineteenth century, the White House was the social center of the capital city. By and large, however, it was only members of the legislature and judiciary who relocated to Washington from their home states during the periods Congress was in session. This meant that the early First Ladies usually had guest lists that were largely male and for them, they made alcoholic beverages readily available.
Charles Adams. (Massachusetts Historial Society)
With alcoholism killing her brother and son Charles, Abigail Adams was especially sensitive the devastating effects of heavy drinking, “He was no man’s enemy,” she said of the latter, “but his own.”
Payne Todd. (wikipedia)
The aimless and ultimately wasted life of Dolley Madison’s son Payne Todd was also due to excessive drinking. Still, both women were able to draw a line between their personal dislike of heavy alcohol consumption and what they viewed as their duty as hostess in the president’s home.
One finds few examples of nineteenth century First Ladies being especially fond of liquor themselves or of serving it. One exception was the young Julia Tyler, who insisted on large quantities of champagne being made available to guests at her final grand ball, and of intoxicating eggnog for her one holiday season as First Lady, in 1844.
Julia Tyler. (findagrave)
Apart from liquor purchase receipts during the Tyler Administration, it was only by the praise of the religious press heaped upon her immediate successor, Sarah Polk, and the sharp contrast they drew between her and Mrs. Tyler that one discerns the latter’s tastes.
As a strict Methodist, Sarah Polk did not attend horse races or play cards because gambling was involved, and did not drink, smoke, or dance. Some of the perception about her as a severe person may be attributed to the credit that religious leaders were eager to pin on her, finding in the First Lady an important role model. In fact, some of her restrictions may have had more to do with her perceptions of the dignity of the presidency and less about her personal choices.
Sarah and James Polk. (wikipedia)
Mrs. Polk is known to have discouraged the Marine Band from playing lighthearted music because it encouraged dancing, which she considered it undignified for the White House. While she did maintain a strict policy of having no hard liquor served to guests, records indicate that she permitted a wide variety of wines to be served at formal dinners.
Jane Pierce has been cast similarly. Like Mrs. Polk, she was extremely orthodox in her personal life when it came to alcohol consumption, having pledged to her intolerantly strict father, while a young woman, that she would not drink. Yet she was not actively vehement against others doing so.
There were also more personal reasons for her refraining.
Jane Pierce. (NFLL)
Drinking would have only worsened her chronic depression, occasional pleurisy and tuberculosis. Also, there was the sensitive matter of President Pierce’s earlier addiction to heavy drinking, which would rise again at the end of his life. Still, she did not order that White House guests should be denied the chance to consume alcohol if they wished.
Among the many untrue charges leveled against Mary Lincoln was one claim that she became riotously drunk with the Russian Ambassador during a cruise on the presidential yacht. There was not even circumstantial evidence to suggest this was true, let alone any record of any such party on the vessel.
Like most of the tales told and printed about her during the acrimonious Civi War years this claim, printed in one anti-Lincoln newspaper, was almost certainly motivated by political opposition to her husband.
By the post-Civil War era, legitimate concerns about the laxity in American society and the resultant physical abuse of women caused by heavy drinking led to the formation of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. The organization, consisting of regional divisions of women all in concert with efforts to eradicate alcohol consumption and, eventually, cigar and cigarette smoking and immodest clothing for women.
Mary Lincoln (LC)
The organization, like many others, looked to the First Lady as the leading example for women across the country and naturally made the women the focus of their lobbying efforts. With the overall prohibition movement becoming a powerful force in politics by the late 19th century, and First Ladies usually granted requests from the organization to be received at the White House.
Nevertheless, most First Ladies both served and drank alcoholic beverages, usually light wines with dinner, champagne or whiskey punch.
Julia Grant, for example, had an especially strong punch made of champagne, brandy and rum served at her White House receptions and larger events, with an array of fine wines served at dinners. She also enjoyed these.
While there was no public outcry about the First Lady drinking, she was always extremely sensitive about printed stories claiming that her husband had a weakness for alcohol and that its effects on him were visible and extreme. She would vehemently deny these stories, having her letters printed in newspapers that might have suggested this about her late husband.
Lucretia Garfield. (NFLL)
Lucretia Garfield was angered when a temperance leader called on her shortly after she entered the White House and implored her vigorously to continue the policy of Lucy Hayes. Mrs. Garfield reordered her frustration at what she considered an impertinent plea. She had liquor served at the White House to guests, ignoring the WCTU, even after the White House accepted the gift made by the organization of a larger-than-life portrait of Lucy Hayes which depicted a water fountain in its background.
Shortly after she began her tenure as First Lady, Ida McKinley entertained a large group of her and the President’s young adult relatives at a dinner and reception. When one of them spoke to the press and reported that the new First Lady had not permitted any alcoholic beverages to be served to them, the story made headlines.
William and Ida McKinley and two of her nieces at a dinner party hosted by their friend Mark Hanna and his wife. (Ohio Historical Society)
Soon enough, the WCTU was hailing Ida McKinley as one of their new heroines, predicting that she would usher in a new era of temperance. As time shortly proved, they were sorely mistaken. Mrs. McKinley permitted all types of liquor to be served in the White House to both her private guests and those invited to formal events. She herself enjoyed drinking no more than a regular glass of claret or red wine, but she resisted the efforts of friends who were temperance advocates from initiating a “dry” policy.
The only two First Ladies known to have been “teetotalers” were Lucy Hayes and Frances Cleveland, but neither formally allied themselves with the WCTU, likely out of fear that such a commitment might alienate their husbands’ political supporters.
In the case of Lucy Hayes, the President involved himself in negotiating the situation. Having been elected, in part, with support from the Prohibition Party, Rutherford Hayes was sensitive to the growing temperance movement. Since she had come of age, Mrs. Hayes had never drank any liquor, a commitment she made seriously but privately.
Rutherford and Lucy Hayes. (LC)
Once installed in the White House, she had no notion of enacting a ban. However, following the drunkenness of a Russian prince who was being entertained at a formal dinner, the President instructed the staff that instead of real rum being used in dessert at the next dinner function that rum flavoring be substituted. Otherwise no alcoholic beverages were made available and one quip at the time cracked that at the Hayes White House, “water flowed like wine.”
Still, the WCTU saw a heroine in Mrs. Hayes, as the titular head of the national household, and had albums containing signatures and remarks, heaping praise on the First Lady for what they assumed was her policy.
Despite the flattery, the First Lady refused to even honorarily accept membership in the organization. Yet she was the one who would be lampooned in verse and cartoon as “Lemonade Lucy.”
A cartoon showing a smiling Lucy Hayes in a water decanter and a frowning one in a wine bottle.(Hayes Center)
Like Jane Pierce and Lucy Hayes, Frances Cleveland had made a family pledge as a young girl to never drink alcohol. She never sought to influence her husband, known for his love of beer, to follow her lead, nor did she determine to restrict alcohol from being served at the White House.
For herself, when a waiter would come to her place at the dinner table, she simply kept her wine glasses turned upside down. Instead, she had an especial predilection for a popular mineral water of the era, Apollonairis.
If the WCTU believed they finally had an inherent in the White House, they were disappointed by Frances Cleveland on another account.
Frances Folsom Cleveland. (LC)
At one of their annual conventions, they issued a proclamation calling on the youthful First Lady to set a moral example for the nation’s young women who looked up to her as a role model in everything from her posture to her hairstyle.
At her first public appearance, at a formal evening function after the organization had issued its demand of her, the First Lady made clear her reaction to the group attempting to dictate what she wore.
As she descended to the White House state floor, Mrs. Cleveland was wearing a low-cut and sleeveless gown.
Frances Cleveland Preston and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the only two presidential widows who remarried, shown shortly before their deaths in 1948 and 1994, respectively. (NFLL, Pinterest)
(This blog article is adapted from a written response to a member of the public who inquired about where the two First Ladies who, as widows, later married a second husband, are buried and under what names)
Frances Folsom Cleveland. (LC)
There were five women who were married to Presidents of the United States, either before, during or after their tenure, who had previously been widowed (Martha Washington, Martha Jefferson, Dolley Madison, Caroline Fillmore , Mary Harrison, Edith Wilson) and three who had been divorced (Jackson, Harding, Ford).
The vast majority of women married to Presidents survived them. Of these, only two presidential widows married a second time.
Former President and First Lady Cleveland with their children on the porch of their Princeton, New Jersey home. (NFLL)
Born on July 21, 1864, Frances Folsom famously married at the age of 21 years old to the incumbent President of United States, Grover Cleveland, in the White House on June 2, 1886. He was 28 years her senior.
The former President died on June 24, 1908 in the town of Princeton, New Jersey where he and his family lived after his presidency.
Mrs. Cleveland remarried on February 10, 1913 to a Princeton University professor of archeology, Thomas Jex Preston, Jr.
Frances Preston’s free frank. (ebay)
Born on October 26, 1862 in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, he was two years older than the former First Lady, who had also been born in the state of New York.
Frances Cleveland Preston. (Buffalo Architecture and History)
Although she was had remarried, Mrs. Preston was permitted to continue using the free frank privilege, which enabled her to send mail free of charge by signing her signature where a stamp is usually placed.
She always signed with both of her married names, usually as “Frances F. Cleveland Preston,” and occasionally even as “Frances F.C. Preston.”
She died in 1948. Her second husband survived her by seven years.
Frances Preston chose to be buried in the same Princeton cemetery where her first husband and daughter Ruth had been laid to rest as well.
Her gravestone carries both of her married names.
President Cleveland’s grave. (findagrave.com)
It also states the names of her parents but does not mention the names of either of her husbands. The burial place of Thomas J. Preston is indeterminable.
Jacqueline Bouvier married John F. Kennedy, the incumbent United States Senator representing the state of Massachusetts on September 12, 1953.
Born on July 28, 1929, she was then 24 years old. Her husband, born in 1917, was twelve years her senior.
Four years after his death, Mrs. Kennedy lays flowers on her first husband’s resting place. (JFKL)
The Kennedys were married for just over ten years.
In 1963, Kennedy was assassinated as President of the United States. Against the wishes of some of his family members, she determined that he would be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in a prominent spot that overlooked the capital city of Washington.
Jacqueline Kennedy moments after her wedding to Aristotle Onassis. (grreport.info)
Five years later, the widowed Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy married a second time, on October 20, 1968 in a Greek Orthodox chapel on Skorpios, Greece, the private island owned by her second husband, Aristotle Onassis.
Aristotle Onassis died on March 15, 1975.
His widow, who always used his name for the rest of her life, signing her name as “Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis,” or just “Jacqueline Onassis,” survived him by nineteen years, dying on May 19, 1994.
The gravestone of Mrs. Onassis. (flicker)
She is buried beside her first husband in his presidential burial plot, at Arlington National Cemetery.
Her gravestone carries her name as “Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis,” with her second husband’s last name being engraved on a separate, second line.
One other former First Lady is buried in Arlington National Cemetery: Helen “Nellie” Taft, who died in 1943 lays beneath the same obelisk memorial marking the resting place of her husband, former President and former Chief Justice William Howard Taft, who died in 1930.
Former First Lady Barbara Bush campaigning for her son Jeb a week before the 2016 New Hampshire primary, in his quest for the Republican nomination. (cnn.com)
It comes as no surprise at all that last week, in anticipation of today’s New Hampshire primary, former First Lady Barbara Bush braved the bitter winds and frigid air to make appearances on behalf of her choice for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
It was, of course, her son, the former Florida governor Jeb Bush.
Former First Lady Nellie Taft, seen here with her daughter at the 1940 Republican National Convention. (Corbis)
She’d done the same thing in 2000 on behalf of her eldest son, George W. Bush, who won the nomination and then the general election that year, going on to serve two terms as U.S. President, becoming the only woman to thus be the mother and wife of presidents since Abigail Adams – who did not live to see her son, John Quincy Adams win the presidency in 1824.
She was not the only former First Lady to hit the stump for a son hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps, however.
In 1940, four years before her death, Nellie Taft showed up at the Philadelphia Republican Convention in support of her son, then seeking his party’s nomination. She refrained from making any remarks but did pose for publicity photographs showing off a large “Taft” campaign button on her dress.
In almost every instance of a former presidential spouse deciding to assume a highly partisan public role by choosing one of the candidate’s of her own political party prior to the nomination it has been a matter of family loyalty rather than a determination to return to the often bitter bickering of the primary season trail.
Former First Lady Edith Roosevelt in 1932, the year she publicly endorsed Hoover for a second term as president over the Democratic fifth cousin of her late husband. (ebay)
Too, all but Barbara Bush returned to the campaign trail as a widow, so the message suggested by their endorsements was that they were only doing so on behalf of the spirit and principals of their late husbands. In truth, of course, no matter how well they felt they knew their husbands they were doing so by their own political accord.
Surprising all of her family was the emergence in 1932 of Theodore Roosevelt’s widow Edith, at a White House event and a New York rally, to encourage Americans to support the re-election of incumbent Republican President Herbert Hoover.
She was motivated to deliver her unequivocal endorsement also by family loyalty but n this case, it was against her late husband’s fifth cousin, who also happened to be married to her late husband’s niece, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. The Theodore Roosevelt branch were Republicans, and the Franklin Roosevelt branch were Democrats but the public was mistaking the former First Lady, somehow, for being the mother of F.D.R.
This infuriated her and she was just as determined to make it clear she was not as she was to see Hoover win a second term.
Her niece-by-marrage, Eleanor Roosevelt who became First Lady when her husband did win that election against Hoover, was widowed in 1945. Within three years, however, while she was serving in a non-partisan role at the United Nations, she found herself being given serious consideration as either a vice presidential or presidential candidate. She had a typically modulated response:
“At first I was surprised that anyone should think that I would want to run for office, or that I was fitted to hold office. Then I realized that some people felt that I must have learned something from my husband in all the years that he was in public life! They also knew that I had stressed the fact that women should accept responsibility as citizens. I heard that I was being offered the nomination for governor or for the United States Senate in my own state, and even for Vice President. And some particularly humorous souls wrote in and suggested that I run as the first woman President of the United States! The simple truth is that I have had my fill of public life…”
Eleanor Roosevelt at the 1956 convention, in support of the Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson. (original source unknown)
In the election year of 1948, although she ultimately supported the candidacy of her husband’s successor and then incumbent President, Harry Truman, she rather traditionally deferred to three of her sons who were striving to get World War II Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower to run as the Democratic presidential candidate.
By 1956, however, when she was not serving in any official capacity and had by then emerged as a driving national force within the liberal wing of the national Democratic Party, Eleanor Roosevelt made a strong endorsement on behalf of the candidate who was ultimately nominated, Adlai Stevenson. She did so not as a representative of the late president, but with a voice of her own.
During the 1960 primaries, Eleanor Roosevelt spoke out against U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts as being too inexperienced and for not earlier condemning the tactics of anti-communist investigator, U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin.
Once Kennedy won the nomination, however, Eleanor Roosevelt campaigned for him. In fact, one of her appearances was at a Spanish Harlem rally, in New York City, where she shared the podium with the candidate’s spouse Jacqueline Kennedy, who addressed the voters in Spanish.
Twenty years after addressing a Harlem rally in Spanish on behalf of her husband’s candidacy, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis returned there with her brother-in-law Teddy Kennedy on behalf of his race in the 1980 New York primary. (Getty)
Twenty years later, Mrs. Kennedy was back in Spanish Harlem speaking in Spanish, as Mrs. Onassis, by then widowed a second time.
This time, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was campaigning on behalf of her brother-in-law, U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy, in the days leading up to the March New York primaries; he was then seeking to win the Democratic Party nomination by challenging the incumbent President Jimmy Carter.
A voter embraces Jackie Onassis during her appearance at a Harlem event during the 1980 election. (pinterest)
She would also campaign for him in Massachusetts, Missouri and Puerto Rico.
It was another former First Lady who had been widowed by the assassination of her husband who is the first known to have publicly endorsed a candidate. In this case, it was during the election year of 1912 that former First Lady Lucretia Garfield was a guest of honor on the podium at a campaign rally for Theodore Roosevelt, by then a former President. She made the appearance in Los Angeles, coming to the event from her nearby winter home in Pasadena.
A portrait of former First Lady Lucretia Garfield from the early 20th century. (art-then-and-now.blogspot)
Women would not attain the right to vote until 1920, and Mrs. Garfield would die two years before she could share that right but she was by 1912 already a staunch supporter of women’s suffrage.
Former First Lady Edith Wilson and Jesse Jones at the 1928 Houston Democratic National Convention. (carlanthonyonline.com)
To those who knew her well, however, she had always been keenly political. What was startling was that she came out in support of Roosevelt not as the Republican presidential candidate but the candidate of the third-party, the Progressives. She may well have been influenced by her son “Jim” who served as Roosevelt’s Interior Secretary from 1907 to 1909.
As it turned out, Woodrow Wilson won the election that year and in his second term appointed Lucretia Garfield’s son Harry as director Federal Fuel Administration a year before she died.
Other presidential widows with a public persona strongly linked to the legacy of their late husbands refrained from endorsing a candidate before their respective political parties had settled on a nominee.
Edith Wilson, despite the great support she received from Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt during the Wilson presidency and following the former president’s 1924 death, steadfastly refused to even lend her name to F.D.R.’s four presidential candidacies.
While she was coaxed to the podium of the 1928 Democratic National Convention, she refused to permit the name and memory of her late husband to be used in endorsement of that year’s nominee, New York Governor Al Smith.
Nancy Reagan formally endorsed 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in a meeting with him and his wife Anne. (telegraph.co.uk)
While she appeared at the Republican presidential debates hosted at her husband’s presidential library, as well as attending the speeches given there by individual presidential candidates, Nancy Reagan held fast to her husband’s tradition of not officially endorsing a presidential candidate until they were formally nominated, receiving formal visits and posing for campaign photographs in 2008 and 2012, respectively, with U.S. Senator John McCain of Arizona and former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts.
Mamie with Nixon, 1972. (alamy)
Certainly one of the most avid and committed of former First Ladies to the candidacy of a particular presidential candidate occurred in 1968 and 1972 when Mamie Eisenhower strongly endorsed Richard Nixon for both of his successful runs, winning his first and second presidential terms.
In 1968, former President Eisenhower was ailing, and would die within months of the November election. While loyal to his former Vice President, Ike remained publicly uncommitted to any one candidate, following Republican Party tradition.
Mamie Eisenhower taping a television campaign commercial for Nixon in 1972. (youtube)
Not so for his wife. Mamie Eisenhower had always felt that Nixon was especially loyal to her husband, despite knowing of internal disagreements between them. She came out vigorously for Nixon in 1968.
In 1972, Mamie Eisenhower went so far as to film a Nixon presidential campaign commercial, making the case that her late husband had believed that a president needed two terms in order to ensure his agenda was permanently integrated into federal policy.
Here is the commercial:
Hillary Clinton, 2016. (cnn)
Of course, the most unique campaigning conducted by a former First Lady on behalf of a presidential candidate is taking place currently.
Former First Lady Hillary Clinton, also a former U.S. Senator from New York, and former U.S. Secretary of State, is campaigning vigorously for one particular 2016 presidential candidate. Herself.
A 2008 primary campaign button featuring Hillary Clinton’s husband with the unofficial title he half-jokingly suggested would be an appropriate one for the husband of the first woman who is elected president. (ebay)
(This is the tenth and final in an original ten-part series being run exclusively on the National First Ladies’ Library website blog on the history of presidential candidates’ spouses being used as campaign symbols. If any of this information is used, you must credit the NFLL Blog. If the images are used please credit the NFLL and the original publisher as listed)
While entirely premature, this tongue-in-cheek button again played on the uncertainty of what a male presidential spouse would be called.
This year’s presidential campaign has not yet even officially begun, without any primary or caucus state race yet being completed. While polls are, as always, a general gauge to voter preferences, everything technically remains a matter of speculation.
A 2016 pin calling for Melania Trump as First Lady despite her relative absence on the campaign trail.
Both of the parties currently have front-runners and, as of this writing, primary season opponents who are polling close behind them.
If, in fact, either of the presumptive leaders as of this writing, were to win the nomination of their parties both would bring with them spouses that don’t fit preconceived perceptions of presidential spouses.
Melania Trump is a native of Slovenia and a former model. Bill Clinton is a former President.
A “Bill” button, 2016. (ebay)
It’s been nearly two centuries since the only foreign-born First Lady, Louisa Adams, has been in the White House. And there has never been a male presidential spouse, let alone a former President of the United States.
But even among the wide, overall field of potential first spouses there is a marked difference from the past.
Two are foreign-born (Melanie Trump and Columba Bush, a native of Mexico), two are men (Bill Clinton and Frank Fiorina), two have worked as Wall Street investment brokers (Mary Pat Christie and Heidi Kruz), two are Latina (Columba Bush and Jeanette Rubio, daughter of Columbian immigrants).
Four of the 2016 presidential candidates’ spouses: Jane Sanders, Katie O’Malley, Heidi Cruz, Melania Trump. (wikipedia, getty, unknown original sources)
And, for what it is worth, a preponderance of them were born under the sign of Leo. Some are acknowledged as their spouses’ closest advisers while others are entirely divorced from political and political issues.
Jane Sanders for First Lady button, 2016. (dazzle.com)
With the primary season poised to begin next week and the real sifting and filtering of viable candidates to then rapidly proceed, serious attention is, as it should be, focused on the presidential candidates themselves and the important issues they must address.
A Spanish-language biography of Columba Bush, the only candidate’s spouse whose story has been explored in such a format – except for Bill Clinton. theodysseyonline.com)
If history is an accurate gauge, the attitudes and influences, the assets and liabilities that the spouses may present as (and if) they appear on the primary campaign trail are likely to emerge and, depending on the rivalries between the candidates themselves, become secondary matters that can turn voters towards or away from them.
It is simply too early to make a rational prediction on who, if any, of them will become factors.
As this ten-part survey would suggest, however, any of them who do become factors are likely to find their names and faces on badges, posters and yes, campaign buttons.
In 2008, Michelle Obama was used to reference the famous persona of World War II’s Rosie the Riveter and a play on her husband’s campaign slogan.(democraticstuff.com)
(This is the ninth in an original ten-part series being run exclusively on the National First Ladies’ Library website blog on the history of presidential candidates’ spouses being used as campaign symbols. If any of this information is used, you must credit the NFLL Blog. If the images are used please credit the NFLL and the original publisher as listed)
A 2004 button referencing Laura Bush’s post-911 role. (pinterest)
Laura Bush was perceived by the public as a “traditional” First Lady, due perhaps to the goodwill domestic issues she took on, ranging from support programs for at-risk teens to the building and upgrading of public libraries to historical preservation and protection from exploitation of threatened deep-oceans.
She was also deeply involved in efforts that developed as a result of the terrorist attacks on the U.S. in 2001. She directly worked on programs to help re-establish equal access to education for girls in Afghanistan, encourage the return by Afghan women to professional careers, and protect Iraqi antiquities, among others.
An unusual grouping showing a First Lady not just with her husband but their children,. (private collection)
However, from the perception of the average American, it was her role following the terrorist attack, when she was dubbed “comforter-in-chief” for speaking to the children of the nation about how, even as youngsters, they could learn to determine the fine line between rational fear and necessary caution, with the guidance of their parents and teachers.
Laura Bush and Teresa Kerry shown together on a button intended for Independent voters unsure of who they would support – or worn to provoke debate. (ronwade.com)
It was a role that was reflected in at least one campaign button from her husband’s 2004 reelection campaign, in which she was depicted as part of a team with him.
The 2004 Republican National Convention also had the twin daughters of George W. and Laura Bush taking the most public role they ever would, speaking jointly to introduce their mother.
Whether it was sold with foreknowledge that the two “First Daughters” Barbara and Jenna Bush would be speaking is unclear, but there appeared in the convention hall souvenir stands a button showing the family of four, simply titled “America’s First Family.”
Evidence suggests, however, that it was a retreaded item, initially sold during the 2001 Inauguration festivities.
This button with aHeinz ketchup bottle referenced the wealth of Teresa Kerry, inherited after the death of her first husband, an heir to the food company and a Republican Senator from Pennsylvania. (liberalvalues.com)
On the Democratic side, 2004 saw the nomination of U.S. Senator from Massachusetts John Kerry as the presidential candidate, with the U.S. Senator John Edwards as his running mate.
“Another Opinionated Woman” button wryly referencing Teresa Kerry’s quip to a reporter. (ebay)
Kerry’s wife had an interesting political history of her own.
She had already been married to another U.S. Senator, Pennsylvania Republican John Heinz who’d perished in a plane crash, when she married Kerry, a divorcee.
With a vast inheritance from the Heinz fortune, Mrs. Kerry was promptly symbolized in campaign button by the familiar ketchup bottle.
At the convention, when Teresa Kerry was confronted by several reporters with a hostile question she quipped for them to “shove it,” and the phrase briefly appeared on several novelty items, from buttons to bumper stickers to tee-shirts.
This 2004 pinback paired Teresa Kerry with Democratic vice presidential candidate’s spouse Elizabeth Edwareds. (pinterest)
Another factor raising the profile of spouses in that year’s election was the prominence of the Democratic vice presidential nominee’s wife, Elizabeth Edwards. Outspoken, overtly political and also living with cancer at the time, Mrs. Edwards maintained a high media visibility and was featured on several buttons alone and with Teresa Heinz.
The fact that she had developed her own career as an attorney was a matter that was becoming seemingly routine by 2004, a reflection of the general professional advancement of American women by that time.
One of the official Hillary Clinton for president buttons, 2008. (private collection)
By 2004, a number of spouses of recent presidential and vice presidential candidates had managed to have their own independent careers while also fulfilling expectations as a political spouse, including Kitty Dukakis, Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Dole, and Lynne Cheney.
The year 2008 was a turning point in presidential history for the simple fact that one former presidential candidate’s spouse decided to pursue the presidency herself.
A button confident that the 2008 election would make Michelle Obama First Lady. (ebay)
That year, former First Lady and incumbent U.S. Senator from New York Hillary Clinton entered the Democratic primaries.
An official DNC 2008 button of Mrs. Obama during her convention speech. (groovydude.com)
Ultimately, Mrs. Clinton did not win her party’s nomination.
That victory went instead to the husband of another professional woman who had been an attorney, Chicago city official and hospital administrator, Michelle Obama.
On the Republican side, there was another historical precedent shattered. Following his nomination as his party’s presidential candidate, U.S. Senator from Arizona John McCain nominated Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate.
It was only the second time in history that a woman was chosen to be part of the national ticket and the first time it was done so by Republicans.
McCain-Palin, 2008. (zazzle)
The presence of a woman on that year’s G.O.P. team may have somewhat mitigated the high level of attention usually focused on the spouse of the presidential candidate.
Cindy McCain was depicted in the context of recent Republican First Ladies on this 2008 button.
Although Cindy McCain addressed the convention that nominated her husband, successfully managed one of the nation’s largest beer distributorship, acknowledged her earlier addiction and illegal obtaining of painkillers, had an earlier career as a special education teacher, a topic on which she authored a book, and led multiple international relief efforts, she was invariably depicted as a traditional political spouse.
One unusual pin that year placed her in the context of previous Republican First Ladies going back to Pat Nixon.
A 2012 Ann Romney button.
In this regard, the next Republican presidential nominee’s spouse, Ann Romney, was similarly perceived – despite the tact that she had led a radically different life, primarily a stay-at-home mother to her five sons.
The many hairstyles of Michelle Obama was celebrated in this 2012 button.
Consequently, there were no campaign items, buttons or otherwise, that sought to portray Ann Romney as being anything other than a traditional political spouse, and the slogans of those items that were struck with her image employed the by-now predictable formats.
In dramatic contrast was the persona of incumbent First Lady Michelle Obama.
In 2012, the popular incumbent First Lady Michelle Obama was shown as a Lady Columbia figure, sowing seeds of growth and change of the various social projects she undertook, as highliighted atop the button. (ebay)
As her husband pursued his 2012 campaign for a second term, Mrs. Obama enjoyed a soaring popularity due to her four years as a highly visible public figure in her own right, a status that was the result of her numerous projects and media focus on her evolving style in appearance.
Of far greater consequence than her clothing and hair styles, were the several public service endeavors she had undertaken as First Lady, one Mrs. Obama’s
A 1996 anti-Clinton button critical of Hillary Clinton’s overt political role as First Lady. (ebay)
(This is the eighth in an original ten-part series being run exclusively on the National First Ladies’ Library website blog on the history of presidential candidates’ spouses being used as campaign symbols. If any of this information is used, you must credit the NFLL Blog. If the images are used please credit the NFLL and the original publisher as listed)
The 1992 presidential election introduced a person who would come to figure in nearly all of those that would follow.
Pins from the Democratic presidential primaries invariably depicted Hillary Clinton in her headband, symbolic of her busy life as both a political spouse and professional attorney. (private collection)
Hillary Clinton first became known to American voters that year as the wife of the Democratic presidential candidate, former Arkansas governor Bill Clinton.
A quarter of a century later, she would be the leading Democratic candidate during the primary season for the presidential nomination in her own right.
Hillary Clinton’s advocacy for children’s rights was referenced in this 1992 pin showing the Clintons as political partners. (ebay)
Early in the 1992 state primary races, Hillary Clinton was thrust into the election year news when her professional career as an attorney was raised during a debate by former California governor Jerry Brown, one of her husband’s Democratic opponents. Clinton shortly after said a vote for him would give Americans “two for one” serving as president.
Her professional life, seemingly symbolized by her then-ubiquitous headband, made her a very different type of potential presidential spouse for the public.
Barbara Bush pin, 1992 (loriferber.com)
The leading cause with which she was already associated was advocacy on behalf of children’s protective rights, a fact reflected in at least one campaign pin depicting her in the “team” style with her spouse, as had been used since the very first use of a spouse – the 1856 envelope cover of John and Jessie Fremont.
The phrase “family values” had come to dominate the political landscape by 1992, and was used most frequently in reference to incumbent President George Bush, then seeking re-election with Clinton as his opponent, and First Lady Barbara Bush.
In 1992 the Republican motion of “Family Values,” dominated the campaign and was used on this joint George and Barbara Bush button. (ebay)
It was used on at least one pin back to pointedly differentiate the implication that “family values” were not reflected by the Democratic candidate and his spouse.
Mrs. Bush was to play a central role in counteracting the increasingly narrow definition of “family values” when she delivered her 1992 Republican National Convention speech by giving examples of wider definitions of “family” for both the delegates and the viewing television audience.
Barbara Bush between her husband and Dan Quayle on a regional button. (ebay)
For the first time, buttons in favor of an incumbent President’s winning of a second term appeared with the exhortation to keep the “First Family” in the White House, depicting the Bushes together.
And, for the first time since the 1888 poster placing Frances Cleveland between her husband and his vice presidential running mate on a poster, the extremely popular Barbara Bush was placed at the center of images of her husband and his vice presidential running mate, Dan Quayle.
A button touting the First Lady’s best known policy effort in a bid for her husband’s 1996 re-election. (ebay)
With Clinton’s victory and first term as President, Hillary Clinton proved to be not only the greatest activist First Lady since Eleanor Roosevelt, but highly controversial for her overt role in policy.
A 1996 button favoring the politically outspoken incumbent First Lady for a second term in that position. (ebay)
Just days after the 1993 Inauguration, President Clinton had tasked his wife with the responsibility of managing the new Administration’s intention to reform health care coverage.
As the effort ensued, political opponents began to make the most of her taking charge of such an important factor of national life, despite not being elected to any federal position but essentially being “appointed” (without salary or Senate confirmation) by the President.
On the other hand, there were many who would come to especially support Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign because the First Lady was so active and made no apologies for the advice she provided and initiatives she espoused.
A 1996 button touting Hillary Clinton’s overt political role. (ebay)
Thus, much like the pro- and anti- pinback buttons that were struck in 1984 relating to Nancy Reagan, a range of support and opposition to Bill Clinton’s 1996 campaign was reflected in the slogans appearing on Hillary Clinton buttons that year.
This button more overtly suggested Elizabeth Dole’s professional experience as part of a political team. (ebay)
That year’s Republican presidential candidate’s spouse was herself highly political and unprecedented in that she had not only once “ran” as a vice presidential candidate’s spouse (her husband had been on the 1976 Republican ticket with Gerald Ford) but as a Cabinet member.
There were no pinbacks that marked Elizabeth Dole’s unusual status; those buttons using her image were of the type that were now all too predictable.
Bob Dole Eleanor Roosevelt Hillary Clinton 1996. (ebay)
One rather convoluted button that year made reference to Hillary Clinton’s disclosure that she had been having “conversations” with the ghost of Eleanor Roosevelt about how to conduct herself as First Lady, really just musings on how her legendary predecessor had faced criticism for her activism. It was referenced on a pro-Dole button in 1996.
More interesting were the ones made four years later.
An Elizabeth Dole for President button, from 2000 in a heart-shape that could easily be mistaken for a First Lady button. (ebay)
In four years, Elizabeth Dole went from being the spouse of a presidential candidate to a presidential candidate herself, albeit just in the Republican primaries of 2000.
It was also an unusual year for the woman who was the outgoing First Lady.
A button from the first campaign electing a First Lady to public office. (private collection)
In 2000, Hillary Clinton again appeared on campaign buttons. This time, it wasn’t for a presidential election but for her own race as the Democratic candidate as the U.S. Senator from New York.
Perhaps because Hillary Clinton had become such an unusually high-profile world figure in her own right by that time, her persona and Senate race seems to have overshadowed the spouses of that year’s two presidential nominees’ spouses, Tipper Gore, wife of the incumbent Vice President, and Laura Bush, wife of the Governor of Texas, who was also the son of the former President.
This Laura Bush button had a subtle message suggesting she would be a traditional First Lady after Hillary Clinton having been an activist one. (private collection)
Although Laura Bush had been a teacher and librarian, and even made reference to her previous work in her 2000 Republican National Convention speech, and Tipper Gore had been active in mental health policy and had previously worked on limiting provocative rock lyrics, buttons showing both women made no reference to any of this.
“The Kiss” square button of the Gores. (ebay)
One button that was out of the norm made reference to the famously lengthy kiss between the Gores made on the podium of the National Democratic Convention that year.
“…Put On Your Pearls, Girls for Barbara Bush,” button honoring the former First Lady at a campaign event days before her son was elected President. (bonanza.com)
The women involved in national politics depicted on campaign buttons that election year was as wide a range as there had ever been: spouses of political leaders who would seek office themselves, spouses who would not, and one of the only two women in history to be the spouse of a successful candidate, and mother to another.
Certainly one of the most amusing buttons to be produced that year was of former First Lady Barbara Bush, made for one of her appearances at an event on behalf of her son George W.’s campaign. It didn’t reference policy but her famous pearls.
A 1984 Reaan re-election button referencing the First Lady Nancy Reagan’s famous “Just Say No!” project. (ebay)
(This is a seventh in an original ten-part series being run exclusively on the National First Ladies’ Library website blog on the history of presidential candidates’ spouses being used as campaign symbols. If any of this information is used, you must credit the NFLL Blog. If the images are used please credit the NFLL and the original publisher as listed)
Perhaps no candidate’s spouse underwent a more dramatic shift in the public perception of their image in a four year period than did Nancy Reagan.
A pro-Reagan button depicting the First Couple (etsy.com)
When her husband first ran for President in 1980, Mrs. Reagan was perceived as only a devotedly supportive partner to her husband.
Certainly that was one of her roles that did remain consistent and was reflected in at least one known 1984 campaign button, showing them as President and First Lady.
A 1984 Nancy button. (ronwade.com)
Four years later, however, her overall public persona had radically changed. She had developed her own public image, and appeared more often on buttons by herself.
Among her husband’s supporters, the more popular types of buttons showed her as a smiling First Lady.
There appeared that year for the first time, simple portraits of candidate spouses, framed by vines of flowers on oblong-shaped buttons.
The 1984 oblong portrait button of Nancy Reagan was the first of its kind to appear in an election. year. (ebay)
Although popular not only with her husband’s supporters as well as a large percentage of the nation that viewed her less through a partisan lens and more as a national symbol, she was also the first candidate’s spouse since Lady Bird Johnson in 1964 to be used against as a symbol in opposition to her husband’s election.
A 1984 anti-Reagan button referencing Nancy Reagan’s designer clothing. (ronwade.freeservers)
Through the 1981 recession, her redecorating of the White House, acceptance of gowns from designers, and return to a formal entertaining style had led to the political caricature of her as “Queen Nancy.”
Although much of that had subsided by the time President Reagan was seeking his second term in 1984, there was enough of the caricature lingering to appear in on least one anti-Reagan campaign button and numerous postcards printed that year.
Beginning in 1982, she worked assiduously on an area of public crisis and of longtime personal interest to her, preventing the initial use and continued experimentation of illicit drugs.
During a visit to a California school, she responded to a student’s question about how to respond to offers of drugs by quipping, “Just say no!”
An anti-Reagan button using the international symbol for “no.” (private collection)
The phrase was soon adopted as the name for her efforts, and rapidly became a catch-phrase of the mid-1980s.
This 1984 caricature button critical of Nancy Reagan for her White House style. (ebay)
While there were recycled versions in 1984 of the ubiquitous “Ron and Nancy” buttons from 1980, there re-emerged in an even more pointedly new genre of presidential spouses on campaign spouses that used them to attack the candidate
At the 1984 Democratic National Convention, speaker Jesse Jackson satirized Mrs. Reagan’s “just say no” expression and soon enough buttons appeared in reference to his remarks. One included a smiling picture of the First Lady with the international sign for “no” across the image.
A negative 1984 button in reference to Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” endeavor. (ebay)
At that year’s National Democratic Convention, history was made when the first woman was chosen to headline a ticket.
After former Vice President Walter Mondale won the presidential nomination, former Vice President Walter Mondale chose U.S. Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro of New York as his vice presidential running mate.
Thus, an entirely new type of woman appeared on presidential campaign buttons that year – as candidates in their own right.
A solo Ferraro button. (11man.com)
Along with the individual facial depictions of Ferraro on buttons, she was often paired with Mondale as part of the political team.
Ferraro was the first woman on a national presidential ticket. (ebay)
There was also one that used a derogatory reference to her anatomy as a woman, paired with the rhyming nickname of the presidential candidate.
Whether it was worn by supporters or sarcastic detractors in unclear.
Evidence can only be anecdotal at best as to whether the relative obscurity of campaign buttons that year depicting Joan Mondale, the presidential candidate’s spouse, either in solo or paired with her husband was in reaction to Walter Mondale being paired with a different woman, his running mate Ferraro, on dozens and dozens of different designs with different slogans.
Joan Mondale appeared on only one known button, as a partner to her husband. (amres.com)
In fact, it seems that Mrs. Mondale was depicted in campaign pins in partnership with her husband and not alone, a curious development since she had served as Second Lady from 1977 to 1981 and had something of an independent public persona.
First of its kind, a 1981 Inauguration button, depicting the victorious candidates spouses – without their husbands. (pinterest)
During the January 20, 1981 Inauguration, a new type of button had first appeared, this time depicting not the two figures who had been elected as the President and Vice President but rather their spouses, Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush.
It was an unusual introduction to being seen on a button for the image of Barbara Bush.
The 1988 presidential election pitted the incumbent Vice President George Bush as the Republican candidates against Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis as the Democratic candidate.
Neither of their spouses, however, appeared on much campaign memorabilia in any context suggesting their individuality.
Mrs. Bush’s role as family matriarch was referenced in this 1988 button. (private collection)
A cameo pin of Barbara Bush, 1988. (private collection)
There was a re-appearance of the flower portrait image button, this time with Barbara Bush. And there was also another oblong-shaped one of her, in her formal photo portrait as Vice President’s spouse, almost seeming to have been marketed to be worn as an actual cameo pin.
One Barbara Bush pinback did seem to reference her in a more individual context, using the phrase “First Mama,” perhaps due to the emphasis placed that year on her as matriarch over five adult children and nearly a dozen grandchildren, a conscious bit of advertising devised by husband’s campaign managers, contrasting the Bushes with the Reagans.
It may, however, have simply been a recycled idea from the 1976 one that used the same slogan in reference to Betty Ford.
A straightforward Kitty Dukakis button, 1988. (ebay)
Although the Democratic candidate’s spouse Kitty Dukakis had been an activist First Lady of Massachusetts and publicly disclosed her own struggle with prescription painkillers and alcohol, there seems to have been nothing manufactured referencing either aspect in the few items made with her image that year.
There seems to have been no buttons struck depicting either of that year’s vice presidential candidates’ spouses, Marilyn Quayle or Beryl Ann Bentsen.
If the 1988 presidential campaigns seemed to offer a dearth of items referencing the candidates’ spouses, that would radically change during the next two cycles, 1992 and 1996.