The Changing Role of the First Ladies

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First lady is the unofficial title bestowed upon the wife of the president of the United States. The role of the president of the United States originated with George Washington and so did the role of the first lady. During these times, the roles of women were usually limited to being homemakers and hostesses. Women did not work outside the home and often were not seen as equals to men. Therefore, the first lady’s duties at that time consisted of hosting social events and keeping the house in which the president lived in order. Through the passage of time, the role of women has undergone a metamorphosis. Women are now on a more level playing field with men and often hold powerful positions in the workforce. With this change, the role of the first lady has evolved. The “first lady, meaning the role of the wife of the president, has changed significantly over time. It wasn’t until 1877 that the term ‘First Lady’ was coined. It was first bestowed upon Lucy Hayes, and since then it has stuck” (First Ladies-New World). The first lady is not an elected position so no official duties are appointed to them, and unlike their husband do not receive yearly benefits or payments. However, presently the first lady plays an active role throughout their husband’s presidency by participating in charitable and humanitarian causes that they are interested in. Initially, when the presidency of the United States originated, the position of the first lady was not as developed as it is today. The First Lady at the time was Martha Washington. Though she had a good name in the eyes of the public and did no wrong, she wasn’t seen as anything more than a hostess offering warm hospitality. Martha Washington, at this time, was very good friends with the Vice President’s wife who we would eventually see as first lady. Abigail Adams she, like Martha Washington, valued entertainment and continued the formal pattern of entertaining throughout her husband’s term as President (Martha). However, though the first ladies were well known, they were not active participants in the improvement of the country.

Over the next couple centuries the role of the first lady evolved. These women began to take on tasks or duties that they believed would better the country. “Eleanor Roosevelt revolutionized the role of the first lady, transforming it from hostess to a public policy advocate” (Ragone). Roosevelt was one of the few first ladies who understood the social conditions of the United States (Anna Eleanor). This was one of the many things that helped her greatly change this role. She was an ambitious woman who did not care how the public perceived her. She made sure of this by “speaking and working for the League of Women Voters, the National Consumers' League, the Women's Trade Union League, and the women's division of the New York State Democratic Committee” [during Franklin’s time as governor](Eleanor Roosevelt). In 1932, when President Roosevelt was elected, things for Mrs. Roosevelt changed greatly. She was now the eyes and ears for her husband. She made sure that certain things in the public received attention. Because Mrs. Roosevelt went on these fact-finding trips for her husband, she was seen as “the advocate for groups such as: working women, African-Americans, and youth tenant farmers” (Eleanor Roosevelt). She was unafraid of speaking out about certain issues that concerned her. She made sure that each of these issues was touched upon in her husband’s New Deal programs. She made it impossible for her husband to overlook women rights, African- Americans, and the jobless youth (Eleanor Roosevelt). In the 1930’s, Mrs. Roosevelt was appointed as the deputy director in the office of Civilian Defense because she was not afraid to speak out about things that bothered her with the “administration’s policy of aiding antifascist governments” (Eleanor Roosevelt). Even after her husband’s death in 1945 she continued her public advocacy by becoming an...
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