As the 2012 U.S. presidential election heats up, there is a lot of talk not just about President Barack Obama and the Republican challenger Mitt Romney, but also about their wives, Michelle Obama and Ann Romney. Use the resources below to learn about the women in the White House and the some of the roles various first ladies took on throughout the years. One fun learning activity comes from the Collection Connections section of Words and Deeds in American History.
Ask students to consider if these letter show evidence of a first lady exerting political influence.
- Letter excerpt, Abigail Adams to John Adams advising her husband to “remember the ladies” (complete letter), March 31, 1776
- Letter, Mary Todd Lincoln to Abraham Lincoln advising her husband to remove the hesitant Gen. George B. McClellan from command, 2 November .
- Letter, Eleanor Roosevelt to Walter White detailing the First Lady’s lobbying efforts for federal action against lynchings, 19 March 1936.
- Letter, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy to Toni Frissell discussing Frissell’s photographs of the Kennedys’ September 1953 wedding reception in Newport, Rhode Island, .
As a follow up project, have students research the legacy of one of the first ladies, comparing her political and national influence to a first lady who has served within the last 20 years. Describe the position of the first spouse as you imagine it will be 20 years from now.
[Note: Students might use the National First Ladies Library to find additional sources of information.]
Who’s That Lady? (oral game quiz)
- Abigail Adams
- Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis
- Florence Kling Harding
- Eleanor Roosevelt
- Martha Washington
Featured first ladies
- January 6, 1945: George Herbert Walker Bush married Barbara Pierce
- March 27 1912: Helen Herron Taft
- Dolley: Madison’s Memorable Wife