Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

First ladies throughout American history

Attention to the spouse of the president of the United States has been a constant throughout American history, but the role of the first lady has changed over time. The first lady has always been an exemplar of idealized femininity and thus connected to expectations of the role women should play in society. While initially the first lady served primarily as the hostess of the White House, the role gradually expanded to include leading reforms and engaging with the public both domestically and abroad. With the 2020 election nearing and the potential for either a female president or a married gay male president, we’ve decided to take a look back at some past first ladies and their legacies.

Featured image: “Executive residence from the South lawn” by Daniel Schwen. CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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