First Lady of the United States is the unofficial title of the hostess of the White House. Because this position is traditionally filled by the wife of the president of the United States, the title is sometimes taken to apply only to the wife of a sitting president, however several women other than wives of presidents, have served as first lady. This situation has arisen due to the president being a bachelor or widower, or when the wife of the president is unable or unwilling to fulfill the duties of the first lady herself. In these cases, the position has been filled by a female relative or friend of the president.
As of 2006, no women have served as president of the United States. Presumably, a female president would serve as her own official hostess, and it is not known what title would be applied to a president's husband, who would presumably serve as the host of the White House. There have been many female state governors over the years: their spouses are typically referred to as "the first man" or "first gentleman."
The wife of the vice president of the United States is sometimes referred to as the Second Lady of the United States; however this title is much less common. The term "first lady" is also used to describe the wife of other government chief executives or a woman who has acted as a leading symbol for some activity; for example, referring to Maria Shriver as the "First Lady of California," or Mary J Blige as the "First Lady of Soul."
Although the words first lady had previously been used in combination before, their use as a title to describe the spouse or hostess of an executive was initially an American invention.
In the early days of the republic, there was no generally agreed upon title for the wife of the president. Many early first ladies expressed their own preference for how they were addressed, including the use of such titles as "Lady," "Queen," "Mrs. President," and "Mrs. Presidentress." Martha Washington was often referred to as "Lady Washington."
Sometime between 1849 and 1877, the title began being used in social circles in Washington, D.C. The oldest known written use of the title is from the November 3, 1863, diary entry of William Howard Russell, when he referred to “gossip about ‘the first Lady in the Land.’”
The title first gained nationwide recognition in 1877, when newspaper journalist Mary Clemmer Ames referred to Lucy Webb Hayes as "the first lady of the land" while reporting on the inauguration of Rutherford B. Hayes. Mrs. Hayes was a tremendously popular first lady, and the frequent reporting on her activities helped spread use of the title outside Washington.
A popular 1911 comedic play by playwright Charles Nirdlinger titled, The First Lady in the Land, cemented use of the title by the general public, and it first entered the dictionary in 1934.
Use of the title to refer to the wife or hostess of a chief executive later spread from the United States to other nations, often without translation of "first lady" into the native language of those nations.
In government jargon, "First Lady of the United States" is sometimes acronymized as "FLOTUS," similar to the President of the United States being referred to as "POTUS."
The first lady is not an elected position, carries no official duties, and brings no salary. Nonetheless, she attends many official ceremonies and functions of state either along with or in place of the president. The first lady also frequently participates in humanitarian and charitable work. Furthermore, many have taken an active role in campaigning for the president with whom they are associated. Hillary Rodham Clinton took the role one step further when she was, for a time, given a formal job in the Clinton administration to develop reforms to the health care system.
Two first ladies have held office in their own right. Hillary Rodham Clinton has been a United States Senator since 2001: her service actually began a few days before her husband's second term as president ended. Eleanor Roosevelt was a member of the American delegation to the United Nations during the Truman administration. She was also briefly a deputy director of the Office of Civil Defense while her husband was president.
The following women have been recognized by The National First Ladies' Library as "First Lady":
|First Lady||Relation to President||From||To|
|Martha Dandridge Custis Washington||wife of George Washington||April 30, 1789||March 4, 1797|
|Abigail Adams||wife of John Adams||March 4, 1797||March 4, 1801|
|Martha Jefferson Randolph||daughter of widower Thomas Jefferson||March 4, 1801||March 4, 1809|
|Dolley Madison||friend of widower Thomas Jefferson||March 4, 1801||March 4, 1809|
|Dolley Madison||wife of James Madison||March 4, 1809||March 4, 1817|
|Elizabeth Kortright Monroe||wife of James Monroe||March 4, 1817||March 4, 1825|
|Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams||wife of John Quincy Adams||March 4, 1825||March 4, 1829|
|Emily Donelson||niece of widower Andrew Jackson||March 4, 1829||December 19, 1836|
|Sarah Yorke Jackson||daughter-in-law of widower Andrew Jackson||November 26, 1834||March 4, 1837|
|Angelica Van Buren||daughter-in-law of widower Martin Van Buren||March 4, 1837||March 4, 1841|
|Anna Tuthill Symmes Harrison||absent wife of William Henry Harrison||March 4, 1841||April 4, 1841|
|Jane Irwin Harrison||daughter-in-law of William Henry Harrison||March 4, 1841||April 4, 1841|
|Letitia Christian Tyler||first wife of John Tyler||April 4, 1841||September 10, 1842|
|Priscilla Cooper Tyler||daughter-in-law of widower John Tyler||September 10, 1842||June 26, 1844|
|Julia Gardiner Tyler||second wife of John Tyler||June 26, 1844||March 4, 1845|
|Sarah Childress Polk||wife of James K. Polk||March 4, 1845||March 4, 1849|
|Margaret Mackall Smith Taylor||wife of Zachary Taylor||March 4, 1849||July 9, 1850|
|Abigail Powers Fillmore||wife of Millard Fillmore||July 9, 1850||March 4, 1853|
|Jane Means Appleton Pierce||wife of Franklin Pierce||March 4, 1853||March 4, 1857|
|Harriet Lane||niece of bachelor James Buchanan||March 4, 1857||March 4, 1861|
|Mary Todd Lincoln||wife of Abraham Lincoln||March 4, 1861||April 15, 1865|
|Eliza McCardle Johnson||wife of Andrew Johnson||April 15, 1865||March 4, 1869|
|Julia Dent Grant||wife of Ulysses S. Grant||March 4, 1869||March 4, 1877|
|Lucy Ware Webb Hayes||wife of Rutherford B. Hayes||March 4, 1877||March 4, 1881|
|Lucretia Rudolph Garfield||wife of James A. Garfield||March 4, 1881||September 19, 1881|
|Mary McElroy||sister of widower Chester A. Arthur||September 19, 1881||March 4, 1885|
|Rose Cleveland||sister of bachelor Grover Cleveland||March 4, 1885||June 2, 1886|
|Frances Folsom Cleveland||wife of Grover Cleveland||June 2, 1886||March 4, 1889|
|Caroline Lavinia Scott Harrison||wife of Benjamin Harrison||March 4, 1889||October 25, 1892|
|Mary Harrison McKee||daughter of widower Benjamin Harrison||October 25, 1892||March 4, 1893|
|Frances Folsom Cleveland||wife of Grover Cleveland||March 4, 1893||March 4, 1897|
|Ida Saxton McKinley||wife of William McKinley||March 4, 1897||September 14, 1901|
|Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt||wife of Theodore Roosevelt||September 14, 1901||March 4, 1909|
|Helen Herron Taft||wife of William Howard Taft||March 4, 1909||March 4, 1913|
|Ellen Louise Axson Wilson||first wife of Woodrow Wilson||March 4, 1913||August 6, 1914|
|Edith Bolling Galt Wilson||second wife of Woodrow Wilson||December 18, 1915||March 4, 1921|
|Florence Kling Harding||wife of Warren G. Harding||March 4, 1921||August 3, 1923|
|Grace Anna Goodhue Coolidge||wife of Calvin Coolidge||August 3, 1923||March 4, 1929|
|Lou Henry Hoover||wife of Herbert Hoover||March 4, 1929||March 4, 1933|
|Anna Eleanor Roosevelt||wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt||March 4, 1933||April 12, 1945|
|Elizabeth Virginia Wallace Truman||wife of Harry S. Truman||April 12, 1945||January 20, 1953|
|Mamie Doud Eisenhower||wife of Dwight D. Eisenhower||January 20, 1953||January 20, 1961|
|Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis||wife of John F. Kennedy||January 20, 1961||November 22, 1963|
|Claudia Taylor Johnson||wife of Lyndon B. Johnson||November 22, 1963||January 20, 1969|
|Patricia Ryan Nixon||wife of Richard Nixon||January 20, 1969||August 9, 1974|
|Betty Bloomer Ford||wife of Gerald Ford||August 9, 1974||January 20, 1977|
|Rosalynn Smith Carter||wife of Jimmy Carter||January 20, 1977||January 20, 1981|
|Nancy Davis Reagan||wife of Ronald Reagan||January 20, 1981||January 20, 1989|
|Barbara Pierce Bush||wife of George H. W. Bush||January 20, 1989||January 20, 1993|
|Hillary Rodham Clinton||wife of Bill Clinton||January 20, 1993||January 20, 2001|
|Laura Welch Bush||wife of George W. Bush||January 20, 2001||January 20, 2009|
|Michelle Obama||wife of Barack Obama||January 20, 2009||—|
The following women are known to have acted as hostess on behalf of the first lady when she was otherwise unable or unwilling:
|First Lady||Relation to President|
|Maria Jefferson Eppes||daughter of widower Thomas Jefferson|
|Eliza Monroe Hay||daughter of James Monroe|
|Letitia Tyler Semple||daughter of widower John Tyler|
|Mary Elizabeth Taylor Bliss||daughter of Zachary Taylor|
|Mary Abigail Fillmore||daughter of Millard Fillmore|
|Abby Kent Means||aunt of Jane Means Appleton Pierce|
|Harriet Lane||niece of James Buchanan|
|Martha Johnson Patterson||daughter of Andrew Johnson|
|Jennie Hobart||wife of William McKinley's vice president, Garret Hobart|
|Helen Taft Manning||daughter of William Howard Taft|
|Margaret Woodrow Wilson||daughter of widower Woodrow Wilson|
|Helen Woodrow Bones||cousin of widower Woodrow Wilson|
|Susan Ford||daughter of Gerald Ford|
|Chelsea Victoria Clinton||daughter of Bill Clinton|
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