Some first ladies have played very direct roles in their husbands' policy decisions. Some have become cultural icons. While others preferred to live outside of the spotlight. From Bess Truman to Jacqueline Kennedy to Nancy Reagan, watch a series of short videos exploring the role of the first lady.
Jackie Kennedy and Culture
Politics unnerved Jackie Kennedy so she found respite in curating a new culture of elegance in the White House. She set out to honor writers and performers, creating what her dress designer dubbed a "Versailles in Washington."
Eleanor Roosevelt traveled more than 40,000 miles during FDR's first year as president. "Never before had a first lady taken to the road," says biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin. "She became his legs," says journalist Chalmers Roberts.
The death of their three-year-old daughter and Garfield's affair in New York threatened to tear Lucretia and James apart. But the future First Lady's steadfastness and unwavering moral compass showed Garfield how to be a better man.
Lady Bird Johnson
Johnson proposed to Claudia Alta Taylor the day they met. Lady Bird became the "perfect political wife" for LBJ.
The spotlight did not appeal to Bess Truman. "She would return home to Independence as often as possible, leaving the President feeling very alone, often desolate," says historian David McCullough. "It's hard for some people to understand what she was like, and why the President was so devoted to her."
First Lady Hillary Clinton was blamed for the poor showing during the 1994 midterm elections. "Voters thought that it was a zero sum game, that for Hillary to be strong Bill would have to be weak, and as a result the perception of Hillary’s strength became a perception of Bill’s weakness," says Political Consultant Dick Morris.
Jackie Kennedy and the White House
Raising more than a million dollars for the project, Jackie Kennedy set out to restore the White House and make it a center of art and culture. She debuted her project in a television special called "A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy." When the show producer showed John Kennedy clips of the film, he looked on in adoration.
Rosalynn Carter was a major figure in her husband's campaigns and policy meetings. "She wanted to be more than a fashion plate and somebody who gave teas," says historian E. Stanly Godbold.
Nancy Reagan made things difficult at times with her stubbornness. Nancy's importance to her husband "goes with the turf when you're dealing with the Reagans," says advisor Stuart K. Spencer.