Here at FFL, first ladies have a special place in our hearts. While we are now known as Future Female Leaders, everyone knows that First Ladies are leaders too–ones who make a difference on an international stage almost every single day. The role of the first lady has changed so much over time, even in the recent years, and each first lady is a unique leader in her own right–balancing politics, fashion, family, philanthropy ,and more–usually while in heels.
And of course–we love books too! Memoirs and biographies of first ladies–and nonfiction collections that cover several of them–are some of my favorite books. I learn so much about not only these fascinating women, but about the historical moment they were living in too. I hope you’ll enjoy these great books on first ladies in honor of Women’s History Month.
C-SPAN’s yearlong history series, First Ladies: Influence and Image, featured interviews with more than fifty preeminent historians and biographers. In this informative book, these experts paint intimate portraits of all forty-five first ladies — their lives, ambitions, and unique partnerships with their presidential spouses. Susan Swain and the C-SPAN team elicit the details that made these women who they were: how Martha Washington intentionally set the standards followed by first ladies for the next century; how Edith Wilson was complicit in the cover-up when President Wilson became incapacitated after a stroke; and how Mamie Eisenhower used the new medium of television to reinforce her, and her husband’s, positive public images. This book provides an up-close historical look at these fascinating women who survived the scrutiny of the White House, sometimes at great personal cost, while supporting their families and famous husbands — and sometimes changing history. Complete with illustrations and essential biographical details, it is an illuminating, entertaining, and ultimately inspiring read.
One of the most underestimated—and challenging—positions in the world, the First Lady of the United States must be many things: an inspiring leader with a forward-thinking agenda of her own; a savvy politician, skilled at navigating the treacherous rapids of Washington; a wife and mother operating under constant scrutiny; and an able CEO responsible for the smooth operation of countless services and special events at the White House. Now, as she did in her smash #1 bestseller The Residence, former White House correspondent Kate Andersen Brower draws on a wide array of untapped, candid sources—from residence staff and social secretaries to friends and political advisers—to tell the stories of the ten remarkable women who have defined that role since 1960. Brower offers new insights into this privileged group of remarkable women, including Jacqueline Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, Patricia Nixon, Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, and Michelle Obama. The stories she shares range from the heartwarming to the shocking and tragic, exploring everything from the first ladies’ political crusades to their rivalries with Washington figures; from their friendships with other first ladies to their public and private relationships with their husbands. She also offers insight as to what Melania Trump might hope to accomplish as First Lady.
Each first lady has brought her own priorities and flair to the position that has never been officially defined. They have served as hostesses, trendsetters, activists, and political players. First Ladies of the United States features 84 portraits of the nation’s first ladies, as varied in style and representation as the individual women they depict. From watercolors and oil paintings to engravings and photographs, this book celebrates the legacy of first ladies throughout history. First ladies are some of the most scrutinized public figures in the country, praised or criticized on everything from their fashion to their level of political involvement. There’s no better way to explore their visibility and lasting impact than with First Ladies of the United States, which places remarkable portraits alongside an insightful essay and lively entries that illuminate the history of the women who have shaped the White House.
J. B. West, chief usher of the White House, directed the operations and maintenance of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue—and coordinated its daily life—at the request of the president and his family. He directed state functions; planned parties, weddings and funerals, gardens and playgrounds, and extensive renovations; and, with a large staff, supervised every activity in the presidential home. For twenty-eight years, first as assistant to the chief usher, then as chief usher, he witnessed national crises and triumphs, and interacted daily with six consecutive presidents and first ladies, as well as their parents, children and grandchildren, and houseguests—including friends, relatives, and heads of state. Alive with anecdotes ranging from Eleanor Roosevelt’s fascinating political strategies to Jackie Kennedy’s tragic loss and the personal struggles of Pat Nixon, Upstairs at the White House is a rich account of a slice of American history that usually remains behind closed doors.
First Ladies of the Republic: Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, and the Creation of an Iconic American Role
America’s first First Ladies—Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, and Dolley Madison—had the challenging task of playing a pivotal role in defining the nature of the American presidency to a fledgling nation and to the world. In First Ladies of the Republic, Jeanne Abrams breaks new ground by examining their lives as a group. From their visions for the future of the burgeoning new nation and its political structure, to ideas about family life and matrimony, these three women had a profound influence on one another’s views as they created the new role of presidential spouse. Martha, Abigail and Dolley walked the fine line between bringing dignity to their lives as presidential wives, and supporting their husbands’ presidential agendas, while at the same time, distancing themselves from the behavior, customs and ceremonies that reflected the courtly styles of European royalty that were inimical to the values of the new republic. In the face of personal challenges, public scrutiny, and sometimes vocal criticism, they worked to project a persona that inspired approval and confidence, and helped burnish their husbands’ presidential reputations. The position of First Lady was not officially authorized or defined, and the place of women in society was more restricted than it is today. These capable and path-breaking women not only shaped their own roles as prominent Americans and “First Ladies,” but also defined a role for women in public and private life in America.
The world was shocked when Jacqueline Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis in 1968. It would not have been so surprising had the truth of their relationship—which dated back to the 1950s—been known. Jackie knew Ari almost as long as she had known John F. Kennedy—and saw qualities in him (besides money) that she found highly attractive. The five years between her marriages to JFK and Onassis are often overlooked. But it was an incredible period of growth and change for Jackie. How did the world’s most famous woman remain so enigmatic? What was she really like? This book reveals the real Jackie, the one that hid behind her trademark large sunglasses.
In the first single-volume cradle-to-grave portrait in six decades, acclaimed biographer David Michaelis delivers a stunning account of Eleanor Roosevelt’s remarkable life of transformation. An orphaned niece of President Theodore Roosevelt, she converted her Gilded Age childhood of denial and secrecy into an irreconcilable marriage with her ambitious fifth cousin Franklin. Despite their inability to make each other happy, Franklin Roosevelt transformed Eleanor from a settlement house volunteer on New York’s Lower East Side into a matching partner in New York’s most important power couple in a generation. As FDR struggled to recover from polio, Eleanor became a voice for the voiceless, her husband’s proxy in presidential ambition, and then the people’s proxy in the White House. Later, she would be the architect of international human rights and world citizen of the Atomic Age, urging Americans to cope with the anxiety of global annihilation by cultivating a “world mind.” She insisted that we cannot live for ourselves alone but must learn to live together or we will die together. Drawing on new research, Michaelis’s riveting portrait is not just a comprehensive biography of a major American figure, but the story of an American ideal: how our freedom is always a choice. Eleanor rediscovers a model of what is noble and evergreen in the American character, a model we need today more than ever.
Bestselling author J. Randy Taraborrelli reveals the unsung heroines of the inimitable Bush family dynasty: not only First Ladies Barbara and Laura, but other colorful women whose stories have been left out of history for far too long, including Barbara’s mother-in-law, the formidable Dorothy Bush; the enigmatic Columba and the controversial Sharon; and Laura’s twins, Jenna and Barbara. No matter the challenges related to power and politics, the women of the Bush dynasty always fought for equality in their marriages as they raised their children to be true to American values. In doing so, they inspired everyday Americans to do the same. Or, as Barbara Bush put it, “The future of this nation does not depend on what happens in the White House, but what happens in your house.”
In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.
Born in London to an American father and a British mother on the eve of the Revolutionary War, Louisa Catherine Johnson was raised in circumstances very different from the New England upbringing of the future president John Quincy Adams, whose life had been dedicated to public service from the earliest age. And yet John Quincy fell in love with her, almost despite himself. Their often tempestuous but deeply close marriage lasted half a century. They lived in Prussia, Massachusetts, Washington, Russia, and England, at royal courts, on farms, in cities, and in the White House. Louisa saw more of Europe and America than nearly any other woman of her time. But wherever she lived, she was always pressing her nose against the glass, not quite sure whether she was looking in or out. The other members of the Adams family could take their identity for granted—they were Adamses; they were Americans—but she had to invent her own. The story of Louisa Catherine Adams is one of a woman who forged a sense of self. As the country her husband led found its place in the world, she found a voice. That voice resonates still. In this deeply felt biography, the talented journalist and historian Louisa Thomas finally gives Louisa Catherine Adams’s full extraordinary life its due.
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