First ladies, second to none
April 11, 2011 § 1 Comment
Why do we celebrate the achievements of the men at the helm and forget about the triumphs of their partners? I propose that we have a First Ladies’ Day to complement Presidents’ Day. The holiday would serve as a way to remind ourselves that not only are our Presidents the most powerful men in the world, but that our First Ladies are the most powerful women in the world. Though they bear the unchosen obligation of supporting their husbands’ campaigns and presidential careers, they aren’t called First Wives for a very good reason. They are not just wives, they are leaders in their own right. They sacrifice for the country through their creativity, sensitivity and fearless dedication to their principles, families and the American people.
We need this holiday precisely because our First Ladies are the unsung heroes of this country, for most people tend to think that they did not earn their positions — their husbands did. But where would our Presidents be without their wives? Indeed, have any Presidents been unwed? Our First Ladies are not only responsible for the caring of the First Families while their husbands are busy being patriarchs for the country, but they are also responsible for providing moral, cultural and not to mention, sartorial leadership — all without receiving a single penny in compensation. What other country can claim to have such remarkable female leaders?
Martha Washington might have been the first First Lady, but Abigail, or “Lady Adams,” was the first First Lady to hold any sort of government position — in a Massachusetts court. Aside from her political influence, she is best known for her lifelong correspondence with her husband. In these letters, she supported the emancipation of slaves and, moreover, equal public education for women. Even though she was ultimately not successful in this endeavor, her letters are some of the earliest writings on the subject of gender equality.
Dolley Madison earned her nickname of “Presidentress” not only for her role as a White House hostess, but also for the political influence she garnered raising funds for the Louis and Clark expedition. As the first to embrace a large public role, she set the standard for the American First Lady. She understood that the American people were not only her husband’s constituency, but also her own. Her most emblematic triumph, however, is when she refused to leave the burning White House during the War of 1812 before she had saved a large portrait of George Washington as well as other national treasures.
Eleanor Roosevelt is widely acknowledged as the most inspiring and influential First Lady. She used her position to champion causes that she found significant because she believed that education and equal opportunities should be universally accessible. She led the formation of the United Nations and was the first chairman of the UN Human Rights Commission. When asked what she regretted most in her life, she responded that she wished she could have been prettier; what a humbling answer from a woman who did so much during her life.
Naturally Jackie Kennedy is next. More than the biggest style icon of all First Ladies, she had a profound influence on the revival of the arts and culture in America after the dour Eisenhower administration. She influenced her husband to invite numerous artists from all disciplines for his inauguration and spearheaded a historic renovation and restoration of the White House. Her ideas eventually led to the creation of the U.S. Department of the Arts and Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities.
This American tradition continues today with Michelle Obama. Our First Ladies not only hold strong family values, but are keeping up with the times. As a Princetonian and Harvardian, a lawyer and a style icon, Michelle embodies the ideal of the educated, independent and fashionable modern American.
Ours truly is a country of great women — and men. Which really raises the question: do our Presidents pick great wives or do our First Ladies pick great husbands? Whichever is the case, from the very beginnings of this noble country, our First Ladies have been more than just wives and mothers; they have taken leadership in fighting for gender equality, cultural preservation and charitable causes. Furthermore, our First Ladies are a shining example of the true American woman, (who says you can’t balance work and family?) for our First Ladies execute their private and public affairs with grace, determination and success.
After all, our Presidents are only one half of the partnership that provides this country and the rest of the world with strong leadership, and for such a feminist and PC country, we’ve somehow forgotten to honor the work of our Leading Ladies. Let us finally celebrate a much overdue First Ladies’ Day.
This article was first published in the February 25, 2011 issue of the Yale Daily News. <http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2011/feb/25/megatrends-good-wives-great-leaders/>