The 10 Most Influential First Ladies of All Time

In wake of the election results from Tuesday, I thought it would be nice to take a break and talk about some of the most significant women that have served as First Lady of the United States.

10. Nancy Reagan

Nancy Reagan, being a former Hollywood actress, brought a sort of California glamor to the White House. She had a taste for fine fashion which gained both negative and positive attention. Her main focus as First Lady was her establishment of the “Just Say No” campaign to raise awareness on recreational drug abuse. She would travel to schools across to country to initiate this campaign. Mrs. Reagan was very protective of her husband, especially after his attempted assassination, and she would do anything to make sure he was kept out of harm’s way.

 

 

9. Lady Bird Johnson

As first lady, Lady Bird headed up the Society for a More Beautiful National Capital to help clean up the capital and beautify it by planting millions of flowers. She was the first First Lady to seriously advocate for legislation such as the Highway Beautification Act (“Lady Bird’s Bill) and the Head Start program.

 

 

8. Rosalynn Carter

Rosalyn Carter was a big supporter of her husband’s policies while in office. She would sit in on his cabinet meetings and would go in his place to meetings with foreign and domestic leaders. Her major initiative as First Lady was assisting with refugees, especially the children. She led a delegation in Thailand to discuss the issue of refugees from South Asia. Mrs. Carter was named the honorary chair of the Friendship Force International, a cultural exchange program that was started in 1977. 

 

 

7. Betty Ford 

In the White House, Betty Ford helped to raise breast cancer awareness after having a mastectomy in 1974. She was a proud supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment, was pro-choice, and a feminist. She was a candid and very popular First Lady even though some Republicans accused her of being too liberal. Mrs. Ford help raise awareness for addiction when she announced that she was a recovering alcoholic. 

 

 

6. Abigail Adams

The letters exchanged between the then First Lady and her husband, President John Adams, offer much insight into the politics of the time. The president often asked his wife for advice and her opinions on matters of state. She was a very informed woman and was ahead of her time. If she was a First Lady in modern times, she would’ve probably played a much more active role publicly.

 

 

5. Michelle Obama 

The main goal of Michelle Obama’s time in office has been the reversal of childhood obesity. The campaign is called “Let’s Move!” and the effects of it can be seen in schools across the country where healthier lunches are being made and more engaging physical activities have been implemented. She is also known for helping military families, promoting the arts and arts education, women’s rights, and healthier eating for all. 

 

 

4. Dolley Madison 

Mrs. Madison is most well known for her actions during the burning of Washington during the War of 1812. When the British invaded the capital, Dolley packed the silver and other valuable items into a wagon and shipped them to the Bank of Maryland for safety. She then grabbed the original presidential portrait of George Washington and fled the city.

 

 

3. Jackie Kennedy Onassis

Jackie Kennedy’s role in the White House wasn’t necessarily as political as other first ladies, but her impact on the public and all of society is hard to match. Jackie reorganized the entertainment for social events at the White House and notably redecorated the interiors of the White House. The First Lady's style is probably the most memorable aspect of her as well as her reputation of being popular with foreign dignitaries and the level of leadership she took in the country wide mourning of her husband’s murder. 

 

 

2. Hillary Rodham Clinton

Hillary was the first First Lady to hold a postgraduate degree and a full-time professional career before becoming First Lady. Not only did she have the traditional First Lady offices in the East Wing, but also in the West Wing. She was in her husband’s innermost circle of advisors both in the White House and on the campaign trail. After her husbands presidency, she became the first First Lady to hold public office when she was elected senator of New York. Later, she ran for president in 2008 and after loosing the Democratic Party’s nomination, she became Secretary of State under President Barack Obama. She announced her candidacy again in 2015 for the 2016 election and became the Democratic nominee for president.

 

 

1. Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt is the most well known and significant First Lady of all time. During her husbands twelve years as president, Eleanor travelled very often and made many public appearances and speeches. She went to labor meetings and made sure workers knew that the White House was aware of their struggle. She spoke out against racism and sexism. She gave press conferences on children’s causes and human rights. She had her own column in the newspaper and focused on helping the country’s impoverished people. She completely transformed the role of First Lady. After her husband’s death, President Harry Truman appointed her as a US delegate to the United Nations General Assembly. She later became chair of the U.N.'s Human Rights Commission and helped write the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. President John F. Kennedy would assign her to the U.N. and appoint her to the National Advisory Committee of the Peace Corps and the chair of the President's Commission on the Status of Women.