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Fun facts about the First Ladies


Martha Washington

Martha Washington

Today may be President’s Day, but what about their spouses?

It can’t be easy sharing your spouse with the country and all the stress that comes with it. The First Ladies also have a lot of responsibility and have pressures of their own.

In honor of President’s Day, let’s take a look at some of their better halves with some fun facts about First Ladies.

  • Martha Washington: Mrs. Washington stayed at many of George’s winter camps during the Revolutionary War.
  • Abigail Adams: The first woman to be a President’s spouse and also, later, a President’s mother.
  • Dolley Madison: Dolley was the first American to respond to a telegraph as she responded to its inventor himself, Samuel Morse.
  • Elizabeth Monroe: Although it was held at their house, she didn’t attend her husband’s swearing in.
  • Louise Adams: She was born in England—the only non-U.S. born first lady.
  • Sarah Jackson: She married Andrew Jackson before divorcing her first husband.
  • Anna Harrison: Since her husband died after his inauguration, she never lived in the White House.
  • Letitia Tyler: She was the first President’s wife to die in the White House when she died of a stroke.
  • Julia Tyler: John Tyler’s second wife became the first photographed First Lady.
  • Sarah Polk: James Polks’ wife did not allow dancing nor card playing at the White House.
  • Margaret Taylor: She helped dress her husband, who many thought was a poor dresser.
  • Abigail Filmore: Before getting married she was a school teacher, so she was the first First Lady to ever hold a job.
  • Jane Pierce:  Jane witnessed the violent death of their only son in a train accident two months before inauguration; she spent the Presidency in grief and depression.
  • Harriet Lane: James Buchanan never married, so his niece, Harriet, served as the White House hostess.
  • Mary Lincoln: Mary outlived three of her four sons and was the first First Lady to hold séances in the White House.
  • Eliza Johnson: She taught her husband how to read and write.
  • Julia Grant: Although her husband, Ulysses, led the Union Army, Julia owned slaves.
  • Lucy Hayes: She banned alcohol from the White House.
  • Lucretia Garfield: Their inaugural ball was the first with electricity.
  • Frances Cleveland: Grover’s wife was only 21 when she moved into the White House.
  • Caroline Harrison: She set up the first Christmas tree in the White House.
  • Ida McKinley: Ida was epileptic.
  • Edith Roosevelt: Theodore Roosevelt’s second wife closed off the White House’s second floor to the public for the first time. It’s the family’s residence floor.
  • Helen Taft: Despite a stroke sustained while First Lady, she served all of her duties throughout Taft’s presidency.
  • Ellen Wilson: She was first lady for just a year before the couple divorced.
  • Margaret Wilson: Woodrow Wilson’s daughter took over as First Lady after her mother died and held the role until he married Edith.
  • Edith Wilson: After President Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke in 1919, Edith screened all matters of state and decided which ones were important enough for him to hear about. It could be argued she ran the Presidency for two years.
  • Florence Harding: She has been accused of poisoning her husband, who died in his third year in office.
  • Grace Coolidge: Grace worked as a teacher of deaf students.
  • Lou Hoover: Lou was fluent in Chinese.
  • Eleanor Roosevelt: FDR’s wife was very active as she held regular press conferences, wrote a newspaper column and hosted a weekly radio show.
  • Bess Truman: She never gave an interview as First Lady and was reportedly spent as little time in Washington as she could.
  • Mamie Eisenhower:  Ike’s wife enjoyed soap operas.
  • Jacqueline Kennedy: Jackie Kennedy won an Emmy award for a tour of the White House she gave on TV.
  • Lady Bird Johnson:  Although she was nicknamed “Lady Bird” as a kid, she lobbied for environmental protection as an adult.
  • Pat Nixon: Pat used her position to support volunteerism.
  • Betty Ford: Betty saw a psychiatrist and had breast cancer—and she spoke openly about both. She also started the Betty Ford Center for alcohol and drug abuse treatment.
  • Rosalynn Carter: She was a close adviser and sat in on many of her husband’s cabinet meetings.
  • Nancy Reagan: She was an actress and even appeared in a music video with an anti-drug abuse message.
  • Barbara Bush: She wrote a memoir—from her dog’s perspective.
  • Hillary Clinton: Hillary’s been the most successful First Lady post-presidency as she was a Senator and Secretary of State.
  • Laura Bush: Originally a librarian (and a Democrat), Laura fought for literacy and education issues.
  • Michelle Obama: She spearheads the healthy eating campaign “Let’s Move!”

Source: FirstLadies.org; AmericanHistory.About.com ; MountVernon.org; HLNTV.com

Kurt Bopp is assistant editor/web at Central Penn Parent. His favorite First Lady is Laura Bush, but his favorite president is Thomas Jefferson.

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