The First Lady of the United States (FLOTUS) is the host of the White House, advisor to the President, and often plays a role in social activism. The position is traditionally held by the wife of the President of the United States, concurrent with his term of office. If the President is not married, or if the President's wife is unable to act as First Lady, then the President asks a female relative or friend to fill the role. The current First Lady is Michelle Obama who, as a result of the re-election of Barack Obama on November 6, 2012, is scheduled to serve until January 20, 2017.
Description and RoleEdit
Burns identifies four successive main themes of the First Ladyship: as public woman (1900–1929); as political celebrity (1932–1961); as political activist (1964–1977); and as political interloper (1980–2001).
Missouri Governor John Ashcroft and First Lady Barbara Bush with a "Parents as Teachers" group at the Greater St. Louis Ferguson-Florissant School District in October 1991. Mrs. Bush (in rocking chair) is reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear to the children.
The position of the First Lady is not an elected one, carries no official duties, and receives no salary. Nonetheless, first ladies have held a highly visible position in U.S. government. The role of the First Lady has evolved over the centuries. She is, first and foremost, the hostess of the White House. She organizes and attends official ceremonies and functions of state either along with, or in place of, the president.
Both Martha Washington and Abigail Adams gained fame from the Revolutionary War and were treated as if they were "ladies" of the British royal court. Dolley Madison popularized the First Ladyship by engaging in efforts to assist orphans and women, by dressing in elegant fashions and attracting newspaper coverage, and by risking her life to save iconic treasures during the War of 1812. Madison set the standard for the ladyship and her actions were the model for nearly every First Lady until Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1930s. Plagued by a paralytic illness, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was not free to travel around the country, so Mrs. Roosevelt assumed this role. She authored a weekly newspaper column and hosted a radio show. Jacqueline Kennedy led an effort to redecorate and restore the White House while she was First Lady.
Over the course of the 20th century it became increasingly common for first ladies to select specific causes to promote, usually ones that are not politically divisive. It is common for the First Lady to hire a staff to support these activities. Lady Bird Johnson pioneered environmental protection and beautification; Pat Nixon encouraged volunteerism and traveled extensively abroad; Betty Ford supported women's rights; Rosalynn Carter aided those with mental disabilities; Nancy Reagan founded the Just Say No drug awareness campaign; Barbara Bush promoted literacy; Hillary Rodham Clinton sought to reform the healthcare system in the U.S.; and Laura Bush supported women's' rights groups and encouraged childhood literacy. Michelle Obama has become identified with supporting military families and tackling childhood obesity.
Clinton was elected a U.S. Senator from New York in 2001 and was the Secretary of State in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2013. Many first ladies, including Jacqueline Kennedy, Nancy Reagan, and Michelle Obama have been significant fashion trendsetters. There is a strong tradition against the First Lady holding outside employment while serving as White House hostess. However, some first ladies have exercised a degree of political influence by virtue of being an important adviser to the president. During Hillary Clinton's campaign for election to the U.S. Senate, the couple's daughter, Chelsea, took over much of the First Lady's role.