A 2013 - 2014 original C-SPAN feature series telling the stories of America's First Ladies - from Martha Washington to Michelle Obama -
through conversations with top experts, video tours of historic sites, and questions from C-SPAN's audience.

America's First Ladies — from Martha Washington to Michelle Obama
In Their Own Words
Martha Washington
I am still determined to be cheerful and to be happy in whatever situation I may be, for I have also learnt from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.
...steady as a clock, busy as a bee, and cheerful as a cricket...
I never go the publick place – indeed I think I am more like a state prisoner than anything else, there is certain bounds set for me which I must not depart from – and as I can not doe as I like I am obstinate and stay home a great deal.
Abigail Adams
Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies, we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice, or representation.
I begin to think, that a calm is not desirable in any situation in life...Man was made for action and for bustle too, I believe.
If we mean to have heroes, statesmen and philosophers, we should have learned women.
Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.
I long to hear that you have declared an independancy…by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors.
All history at every age…exhibits instances of patriotic virtue in the female sex, which considering our situation equals the most heroic of yours.
Martha Jefferson
Quote about Martha Jefferson Randolph: “Her memory is so fragrant with the perfume of purity and saintly sweetness, that it is a privilege to dwell and muse upon a theme so elevating.”
Dolley Madison
“And now, dear sister, I must leave this house or the retreating army will make me a prisoner in it by filling up the road I am directed to take. When I shall again write you, or where I shall be tomorrow, I cannot tell!” " Mrs. Madison wrote her sister Lucy, as retreating American troops passed by a few hours before the British burned the White House in 1814.
“It is done—and the precious portrait placed in the hands of two gentlemen of New York, for safe keeping.” Mrs. Madison wrote to her sister Anna, on the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, a few hours before the British burned the White House in 1814.
It is one of my sources of happiness never to desire a knowledge of other people’s business.
We have all, a great hand in the formation of our own destiny. We must press on, that intricate path, leading to perfection and happiness, by doing all that is good and handsome before we can be taken under the silver wing of our rewarding angel.
Elizabeth Monroe
A journalist commented about Mrs. Monroe: “Mrs. Monroe is an elegant, accomplished woman. She possesses a charming mind and dignity of manners.”
“The Drawing room was full tho’ not crowded and we had altogether a very pleasant evening. Mrs. Monroe as usual looked beautiful.” Louisa Catherine Adams wrote in her diary.
“I often hear Mrs. Monroe’s name mentioned with respect and admiration by the ladies of Paris.” George Sullivan wrote to President Monroe on Mrs. Monroe.
"She was dressed in white and gold made in the highest style of fashion and moved not like a Queen (for that is an unpardonable word in this country) but like a goddess.” Louisa Catherine Adams wrote to John Adams on Mrs. Monroe.
“I dined at the palace, and at the right hand of the Queen who was most exceedingly gracious and conversible, and I believe has no colour but what is natural, at least her colour very much increased during dinner time in the glow of occupation and attention to her guests.” Harrison Gray Otis wrote to Sally Otis on Mrs. Monroe.
Louisa Adams
"There is something in this great, unsocial house which depresses my spirits beyond expression." Mrs. Adams said on the White House.
I have the happiness of meeting with a variety of these misleaders who are either not gifted with common sense or have a sort of mind which I have often met with utterly incapable of comprehending anything in a plain way…Whether this proceeds from an error in education or from a natural defect in the formation of the brain I leave philosophers and Metaphysicians to decide.
It was four o’ clock in the evening and the ice was in so critical a state, I could with difficulty procure men and horses to go over – They informed me that I should have to make a long and tedious detour, if I could not cross; that the passage over would be attended with great risk, if not danger.
Rachel Jackson
Quote about Emily Donelson: “After dancing with a diplomat who told her, ‘Madam, you dance with the grace of a Parisian. I can hardly realize you were educated in Tennessee’: ‘Count, you forget, that grace is a cosmopolite, and like a wild flower, is much oftener found in the woods than in the streets of a city.’”
I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of God than live in that palace in Washington.
Hannah Van Buren
Following Angelica Singleton Van Buren’s debut appearance as the first lady at the New Year’s Day reception in 1839, the Boston Post reported on Angelica: “She is represented as being a lady of rare accomplishments, very modest, yet perfectly easy and graceful in her manners, and free and vivacious in her conversation."
Anna Harrison
“I wish that my husband’s friends had left him where he is, happy and contented in retirement.” Mrs. Harrison after learning of her husband’s victory in the 1840 election.
Letitia Tyler
Mrs. Tyler’s daughter-in-law, Priscilla Cooper Tyler, remarked about the role undertaken by her mother-in-law as first lady, “Mother attends to and regulates all the household affairs and all so quietly that you can’t tell when she does it.”
Julia Tyler
This winter I intend to do something in the way of entertaining that shall be the admiration and talk of the Washington world.
Mrs. Tyler's press agent describes her, F.W. Thomas of the New York Herald: “Beautiful, winning and rosy as a summer’s morning on the mountains of Mexico, as amiable as Victoria, but far more beautiful, and younger, and more intelligent, and more Republican, and quite as popular with the people.”
The secrecy of the affair is on the tongue and the admiration of everyone. “Everyone” says it was the best-managed thing they ever heard of. The President says I am the best of diplomatists…I have commenced my auspicious reign, and am in quiet possession of the Presidential Mansion.
Really, do you think there ever was a man so equal to any emergency? It is a sort of inspiration, for his ideas are expressed at the moment of any emergency with perfect fluency and effect.
"I can assure you that Mr. Clopton…one of the kindest and most considerate of masters to his slaves…has been my good and respected neighbor….and the terrible treatment he has been suffered to receive I do assure you is most undeserved." She wrote in a letter to President Lincoln.
The Southerners are worn completely wrought up to it, and will not be tampered with any longer. If such a thing should occur, it will be more unfortunate for the North.
Sarah Polk
If I should be so fortunate as to reach the White House, I expect to live on twenty-five thousand dollars a year, and I will neither keep house nor make butter.
The Speaker, if the proper person, and with the correct idea of his position, has even more influence over legislation and in directing the policy of the Parties, than the President…
Margaret Taylor
Author John S.D. Eisenhower wrote on Mrs. Taylor: “In the upstairs quarters of the White House, Margaret Taylor ran a congenial and welcoming establishment, and since relatives abounded, guests were almost always present. Margaret, however, remained true to her resolve to shun public life, a decision that caused the pampered members of Washington society to begin circulating rumors about her."
Abigail Fillmore
Historian Bill Seale commented on Mrs. Fillmore: "Before 1850 there had been no permanent library in the White House...Mrs. Fillmore was honored by Congress with a special appropriation for the purchase of books. The act set aside two thousand dollars, specifying that the books be purchased under the president’s direction, but it was generally assumed that Mrs. Fillmore would be in charge."
Jane Pierce
Quote about Jean Appleton Pierce: "No story in the history of the White House is more melancholy than that of Jane Pierce."
Harriet Lane
Author Philip Shriver Klein on state dinners in the Buchanan White House: “Harriet’s task was perhaps the most difficult, for members of all political parties came to these dinners, and it was a matter of some delicacy to achieve the right order of precedence without seating mortal enemies next to each other...She managed her part with great cleverness and tact.”
Mary Lincoln
I consider myself fortunate if at eleven o’clock, I once more find myself, in my pleasant room and very especially, if my tired and weary Husband is there, waiting in the lounge to receive me.
Our Heavenly Father sees fit, often times to visit us, at such times for our worldliness, how small and insignificant all worldly honors are, when we are thus so sorely tried.
The President at every reception selects a lady to lead the promenade with him. Now it occurs to me that this custom is an absurd one. On such occasions our guests recognize the position of President as first of all; consequently he takes the lead in everything; well now, if they recognize his position, they should also recognize mine. I am his wife.
After Lincoln’s assassination, Mrs. Lincoln questioned: “Did ever woman have to suffer so much and experience so great a change?”
I seem to be the scape-goat for both North and South.
I must dress in costly materials. The people scrutinize every article that I wear with critical curiosity. The very fact of having grown up in the West, subjects me to more searching observation. To keep up appearances, I must have money -- more than Mr. Lincoln can spare for me.
Eliza Johnson
"We are plain people from Tennessee, called here for a little time by a nation’s calamity, and I hope too much will not be expected of us." Spoken by Martha Johnson Patterson, daughter of the First Lady.
“My dears, I am an invalid.”
After the vote was taken, William Cook, the President’s bodyguard ran all the way from the Capitol to Eliza Johnson with the news on the impeachment trial. “I knew he would be acquitted. I knew it. Thank you for coming to tell me.” She said to Cook as she sat calmly knitting with a broad smile and a tear in her eye.
Julia Grant
I always knew my husband would rise in the world. I believed he would someday inhabit the highest office in the land. I felt this even when we were newly married and he was making a mere pittance in salary. My sisters used to tease me unmercifully, but you see who was correct!
My life in the White House was like a bright and beautiful dream.
I was very much disturbed…feeling that the states had a right to go out of the Union if they wished to, and yet thought it the duty of the national government to prevent a dismemberment of the Union, even if coercion should be necessary.
“I always flatter myself that I had rendered my husband and the country a very great service in advising the President to veto the all-important Finance Bill…but I find I had more than one rival in that honor.”
And now, even though his beautiful life has gone out, it is as when some far-off planet disappears from the heavens; the light of his glorious fame still reached out to me, falls upon me, and warms me.
Lucy Hayes
Women’s minds are as strong as man’s – equal in all things and superior in some.
It is a great mistake to suppose that I desire to dictate my views to others in this matter of the use of wine and such drinks. I do not use them myself…but I have no thought of shunning those who think and act differently.
I am not in an exultant mood this morning owing probably to my reflection on the character of the Ladies of the White House…and feeling that the last occupant…does not come up to the intellectual standards of her predecessors, a sad reflection, but never the less true.
Sometimes I feel a little worried…this press and annoyance going on but I keep myself outwardly very quiet and calm – but inwardly there is a burning venom and wrath-all under a smiling or pleasant exterior.
Lucretia Garfield
It is horrible to be a man. But the grinding misery of being a woman between the upper and nether millstone of household cares and training children is almost as bad. To be half civilized with some aspirations for enlightenment, and obliged to spend the largest part of the time the victim of young barbarians keeps one in a perpetual ferment.
Jamie, I should not blame my heart if it lost all faith in you…I shall not be forever telling you I love you when there is evidently no more desire for it on your part than present manifestations indicate.
“It is a terrible responsibility to come to him and to me.” Lucretia Garfield on her husband's winning the campaign.
Ellen Arthur
Mary Arthur McElroy on assuming the social duties of White House hostess: “When I went into it I was absolutely unfamiliar with the customs and formalities.”
Frances Cleveland
"I want you to take good care of all the furniture and ornaments in the house, and not let any of them get lost or broken, for I want to find everything just as it is now, when we come back again four years from today." Mrs. Cleveland told the staff on their departure after her husband's first term.
I find myself very busy with my “social duties” beginning again and two babies. I give so much time to the children because I won’t be cheated of their babyhood by anything – much less “not worthwhile things”
These people sent me a box of their perfumes…for which I thanked them-and now they are advertising their face powder as being used by me also. Can you have it taken out?
Caroline Harrison
"Since this Society has been organized, and so much thought and reading directed to the early struggle of this country, it has been made plain that much of its success was due to the character of the women of that era. The unselfish part they acted constantly commends itself to our admiration and example. If there is no abatement in this element of success in our ranks I feel sure their daughters can perpetuate a society worthy the cause and worthy of themselves." Mrs. Harrison on the Daughters of the American Revolution.
My mail...consisting of requests to use my influence for some office...asking for money....& one from some woman asking that I would use my influence to get her husband out of jail.
The rats have nearly taken the building so it has become necessary to get a man with ferrets to drive them out. They have become so numerous and bold that they get up on the table in the Upper Hall & one got up in Mr. Halford's bed.
On the expansion of the White House: "Not for our own occupancy and enjoyment, but for the comfort and convenience of our successors, and for the provision of a home which may be creditable to the Executive of the greatest nation on the globe."
I am disgusted with newspapers and reporters. Truth is a characteristic entirely unknown to them. But the paper proprietors and editors are alone responsible for these things as they encourage all misrepresentations and no lies they may tell are ever contradicted.
Ida McKinley
Author Ellen Maury Slayden on Mrs. McKinley: “President McKinley’s wife...was seen by the few who ever got close enough to form an opinion as the cross he bore gallantly...Though not an old woman—she would pass her fiftieth birthday three months after moving to the White House—she was always described as old. She was small and pale; were it not for her ivory skin and hands, she would have seemed gaunt. Her heart had been broken by the loss of two children..."
Edith Roosevelt
“Alice is really in love, and it is delightful to see how softened she is...I still tremble when I think of her face to face with the practical details of life.” Mrs. Roosevelt before her stepdaughter's wedding.
Theodore Roosevelt to William Howard Taft: “I take the keenest pride in seeing Mrs. Roosevelt at the head of the White House—a gentlewoman, who gives to all the official life...an air of gracious and dignified simplicity, and who with it all is the ideal of a good American wife and mother who takes care of her six children in the most devoted manner...Mrs. Roosevelt comes a good deal nearer my ideal than I do myself.”
“Not one of my children ever wants to be told or directed about anything whatever!” Mrs. Roosevelt to her daughter Ethel’s piano teacher.
I really believe the Clevelands & ourselves were about the only families who were really happy there.
Helen Taft
I had always had the satisfaction of knowing almost as much as he about the politics and intricacies of any situation. I think any woman can discuss with her husband topics of national interest. I became familiar with more than politics. It involved real statesmanship.
Higher education for women? My daughter has elected to take a full college course...I believe in the best and most thorough education for everyone, men and women, and it is my proudest boast that all of my children are studious.
My idea about higher culture for women is that it makes them great and intellect and soul, develops the lofty conception of womanhood; not that it makes them a poor imitation of a man...No fundamental superiority or inferiority between the two appears plain to me. The only superiority lies in the way in which the responsibilities of life are discharged. Viewed in this light, some wives are superior to their husbands, and some husbands to their wives, some girls to their brothers, and women to men in varying circumstances.
Mr. Taft was all but impervious to any friendly advice which, being followed, would have tended to enhance his own political advantage.
…Mr. Roosevelt thought he might have to join with other Republicans in supporting Governor Hughes, because Mr. Taft was such a poor politician. I reported this to Mr. Taft and urged him to display a little more enthusiasm on his own account.
Ellen Wilson
The White House staff called her “the angel in the White House.”
Woodrow once wrote to Ellen: “It would be hard to say in what part of my life and character you have not been a supreme and beneficent influence. You are all-powerful in my development.”
“I am so exceedingly shy about my work that I should have probably gone on forever endeavoring to conceal the fact that I painted at all.” Mrs. Wilson to her art agent, William Macbeth, after her paintings were selected for art exhibitions.
Edith Wilson
“People descended upon the White House until their coming and going was like the rise and fall of the tides. To achieve anything amidst such distractions called for the most rigid rationing of time.” Mrs. Wilson on the White House during World War I.
“At three a.m., Monday, November 11th, came the long awaited news—the Armistice was signed! The guns were still! The World War was ended! Many persons have asked me what we did, and all I can answer is, we stood mute—unable to grasp the full significance of the words.” Mrs. Wilson with her husband when news of the end of World War I was received.
Returning to Washington after Woodrow Wilson’s collapse while on a western tour to promote the League of Nations, September 1919: “My husband and I sat in the office compartment, I trying to go on as though the structure of our life did not lie in ruin around us. I took some knitting and tried to work, and to divert my husband with small talk. But the air was so heavy with unspoken agony that all seemed a travesty. The hours dragged on; night came; brought no rest; another day; another bad night—another dawn found me staring into the future, wide-eyed, wondering.”
I studied every paper, sent from different Secretaries or Senators, and tried to digest and present in tabloid form the things that, despite my vigilance, had to go to the President. I, myself, never made a single decision regarding the disposition of public affairs. The only decision that was mine was what was important and what was not, and the very important decision of when to present matters to my husband.
Florence Harding
I am content to bask in my husband’s limelight, but I cannot see why anyone should want to be president in the next four years. I can see but one word written over the head of my husband if he is elected and that word is ‘Tragedy.’
“All right. Come on, boys. I always take a frightful picture and I hate this. But I know you’ve got to do it.” Mrs. Harding said to photographers during the 1920 campaign.
Well, Warren Harding, I have got you the presidency. What are you going to do with it?
He does well when he listens to me and poorly when he does not.
I know what’s best for the President, I put him in the White House
To sanction the iniquity of man but demand purity of woman has become an attitude of society…The happy woman is not the woman who has married the best man on earth, but the one who is philosophical enough to make the best of what she has got.
Grace Coolidge
There was a sense of detachment – this was I and yet not I, this was the wife of the President of the United States and she took precedence over me; my personal likes and dislikes must be subordinated to the consideration of those things which were required of her.
There is a song from one of our not new musicals about girls which says something about ‘the short, the fat, the lean, the tall; I don’t give a rap, I love them all.’ That is the way I feel about people, and I have been fortunate in being placed where I had an opportunity to gratify my taste by meeting great numbers of them.
Calvin Coolidge on Grace: “For almost a quarter of a century she has borne with my infirmities, and I have rejoiced in her graces.”
I am just a lost soul. Nobody is going to believe how I miss being told what to do. My father always told me what I had to do. Then Calvin told me what I had to do.
Lou Hoover
“I was a Girl Scout years ago, before the movement ever started, when my father took me fishing, camping, and hunting. I was sorry that more girls could not have what I had. When I learned of the movement, I thought: Here is what I always wanted other girls to have.”
I was a Girl Scout long before there was any organization. In California and Iowa I went fishing and hunting with my father. I clambered over mountains and learned from him about the out-of-doors. The things that Girl Scouts do, I always had done. I ran across the Girl Guides in war times in England, and when the Girl Scouts were organized I said, here is what I am going to belong to.
The one who is not in trouble will have to help the one who is in trouble. Do not curtail too many activities that are essential, because you throw the whole machine out of gear. If we all stopped buying any more than we have to have, employment would drop tremendously. Keep on spending money as a people. Everyone should seize the opportunity to do what he can.
I was incensed at much reading… about the President’s having no thought for the little man...but bending all his energies toward saving the bloated plutocrat...The absolute injustice and downright lying of these statements infuriated me.
"She was oversensitive, and the stabs of political life which, no doubt, were deserved by me hurt her greatly." - Herbert Hoover
Eleanor Roosevelt
As life developed, I faced each problem as it came along. As my activities and work broadened and reached out, I never tried to shirk. I tried never to evade an issue. When I found I had something to do—I just did it.
Americans are wonderful. I simply can’t imagine being afraid of going among them as I have always done, as I always shall.
It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.
You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ The danger lies in refusing to face the fear, in not daring to come to grips with it. If you fail anywhere along the line, it will take away your confidence. You must make yourself succeed every time. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
The future is literally in our hands to mold as we like. But we cannot wait until tomorrow. Tomorrow is now.
I don’t know whether I believe in a future life. I believe that all that you go through here must have some value, therefore there must be some reason...There is a future—that I’m sure of. But how, that I don’t know. And I came to feel that it didn’t really matter very much because whatever the future held you’d have to face it when you came to it, just as whatever life holds you have to face it in exactly the same way...You have to accept whatever comes and the only important thing is that you meet it with courage and with the best that you have to give.
Bess Truman
We are not any of us happy to be where we are but there’s nothing to be done about it except to do our best—and forget about the sacrifices and many unpleasant things that pop up.
I’m going to have to give up driving. It just causes too much commotion. I can’t stop at a traffic light without somebody running up. The Secret Service has laid down the law about my driving.
“I am not the one who is elected. I have nothing to say to the public.” Mrs. Truman on why she held no press conferences.
Mamie Eisenhower
“Why this comes naturally. I’ve been training for it for 36 years. When you’re in the Army, you get used to chasing after your husband.” Mrs. Eisenhower on the 1952 presidential campaign.
I’ve just had the first good night’s sleep I’ve had since we’ve been in the White House. Our new bed finally got here, and now I can reach over and pat Ike on his old bald head any time I want to!
I’ve got my man right here, where I want him!
Jacqueline Kennedy
The one thing I do not want to be called is First Lady. It sounds like a saddle horse. Would you notify the telephone operators and everyone else that I’m to be known simply as Mrs. Kennedy, and not as First Lady.
The truth of the matter is that I am a very shy person. People take my diffidence for arrogance and my withdrawal from publicity as a sign, supposedly, that I am looking down on the rest of mankind.
The trouble with me is I’m an outsider. And that’s a very hard thing to be in American life.
Can anyone understand how it is to have lived in the White House and then, suddenly, to be living alone as the President's widow? There's something so final about it. And the children. The world is pouring out terrible adoration at the feet of my children and I fear for them, for this awful exposure.
So many people hit the White House with their Dictaphone running...I never even kept a journal. I thought, ‘I want to live my life, not record it.’
Asked in 1979 to name her greatest achievement: “Well, I think my biggest achievement is that, after going through a rather difficult time, I consider myself comparatively sane.”
Lady Bird Johnson
I don’t like being just ‘honorary’ anything. If I take it on, I want to work at it.
It’s odd that you can get so euthanized by your own pain or your own problem that you don’t quite fully share the hell of someone close to you.
“It’s like shooting the rapids, every moment a new struggle, every moment a new direction—trying to keep the craft level and away from the rocks, and still no water in sight.” Mrs. Johnson on life in the White House.
We had an evening of boating, and looking, and talking banking and politics and ranching, and laughing at old-time stories. On these evenings Lyndon is a raconteur par excellence. Many of his phrases make me wish I had a tape recorder handy. They are so earthy and colorful and true and fresh, though often rough. I am grateful for these times of relaxation. I want to prolong them.
Lyndon woke up, as he often does these nights, and we talked about the prospects for the years ahead. They are so fraught with danger and with decisions whose outcome I cannot see. I am torn between two feelings. One, the healthy one, that I should enjoy each day in this job and live it to the fullest. The other, that the end of the term is like a light at the end of a tunnel. And my advice to Lyndon is so mundane and uninspiring: stay healthy, laugh a little, remember you are as tough as other Presidents who have lived through the same or worse.
March 1968: “I have a growing feeling of Prometheus Bound, just as though we were lying there on the rock, exposed to the vultures, and restrained from fighting back.”
“All the threads are interwoven—recreation and pollution and mental health, and the crime rate, and rapid transit, and highway beautification, and the war on poverty, and parks—national, state and local. It is hard to hitch the conversation into one straight line, because everything leads to something else.” Mrs. Johnson on beautification.
Mrs. Kennedy is going to marry Aristotle Socrates Onassis!...Remembering her eyes when last I had seen her at the funeral of Bobby Kennedy, I thought this complete break with the past might be good for her...And one of the oddest things is that as the result of the wedding which will happen tomorrow on a Greek island, I feel strangely freer. No shadow walks beside me down the halls of the White House...I wonder what it would have been like if we had entered this life unaccompanied by that shadow?
October 1968: “The most interesting story of the evening was Jane Engelhard of the White House Fine Arts Committee’s report about a friend she hadn’t heard from in several years who called her and said that she knew how helpful Jane had been to Mrs. Kennedy in her restoration work on the White House and to Mrs. Johnson on her beautification project. She wondered if Jane couldn’t find a ‘gimmick’ for Pat Nixon? My face fell. Four years of enthusiastic hard work, and the lady calls it a ‘gimmick’! And the same applies to Mrs. Kennedy’s efforts on the restoration of the White House.”
Pat Nixon
I am who I am, and will continue to be.
You can do anything you put your mind to. You can adjust to anything if you want to.
I’ve never had it easy. I’ve never had time to think about things like...who I wanted to be or whom I admired, or to have ideas. I never had time to dream about being anyone else. I had to work.
“They’re shown to the neighbors, and eventually appear in the papers, and they’re very important to the people who receive them.” Mrs. Nixon on why she insisted on personally signing every letter and autographing photographs.
I saw a few shouters at the airport but I’m not going to take off on shouters. They have the right to shout if they want to.
“I know they are going to be great leaders of the future: They are going to solve all the problems of the world, not only of the country, but of the world. This really gives me a lift to see their enthusiasm, their spirit, and their hope.” Mrs. Nixon on student volunteers.
You know I have great faith in my husband. I happen to love him.
After meeting with the Women’s National Republican Club during Watergate affair: “We get this kind of assurance from all over the country every day about how people feel. It’s not just how the press feels. And it gives the President a great lift.”
“I have complete faith that everything’s going to be all right. I’m not going to say they let him down until they find out whether they did or not. You know, really and truly there hasn’t been anything that happened for sure, yet. I’ll have faith until I’m proven wrong.” Mrs. Nixon during Senate Watergate committee hearings.
Betty Ford
“Sometimes it’s easy...Sometimes it’s hard. But always it’s educational, and often it’s fun.” Mrs. Ford on life in the White House.
While I hope I never get too old to learn and grow, I think it wasn’t so much that the White House altered me in any essential way as that I found the resources with which to respond to a series of challenges. You never know what you can do until you have to do it.
Since for the most part I did what came naturally, I was somewhat astonished to find I’d become one of the most popular women in the world. I loved it. I’d be dishonest if I said it didn’t please me. I hadn’t expected it, but so long as it was forthcoming, I enjoyed it.
A president’s wife, who has to serve as a symbol for all citizens, sometimes finds herself talking out of both sides of her mouth. One day, I’d be greeting women stockbrokers in the Map Room, congratulating them for having got out of their kitchens and into the stock market. The next day, in the same room, I’d be greeting a homemaker’s seminar, and congratulating housewives for having stayed in their kitchens; it had its funny aspects.
It’s time now that we get back to simplicity. Jerry and I are very ordinary people who enjoy life and aren’t overly impressed with ourselves.
I tried not to dodge subjects. I felt the people had a right to know where I stood.
The search for human freedom can never be complete without freedom for women.
I hated feeling crippled...so I took more pills...Now I know that some of the pain I was trying to wipe out was emotional...Jerry became Minority Leader of the House...But I was beginning to feel sorry for myself. It was poor me…he gets all the headlines and applause, but what about me?
In 1965, about a year after I began mixing pain medication with alcohol, I snapped. I packed my bag one afternoon and decided to drive to the beach, take Susan with me and let my whole ungrateful family worry about where I was and whether I was ever coming home.
..the neck problem got worse, so my pills were always with me...Still, I did not drink alcoholically in the White House. There was too much at stake...What little drinking we did was confined to Camp David on a weekend or drinks upstairs...before we went to bed.
Rosalynn Carter
You must accept that you might fail; then, if you do your best and still don’t win, at least you can be satisfied that you’ve tried. If you don’t accept failure as a possibility, you don’t set high goals, you don’t branch out, you don’t try—you don’t take the risk.
I’ve read that I’ve tried to be like Eleanor Roosevelt but that’s absolutely false. She was a great person, but I’ve never ever tried to pattern what I do after what she did. I’ve been doing the things I think are important, and I’ve not tried to copy anybody.
In the second year of Jimmy’s presidency, I started attending Cabinet meetings...Jimmy and I had always worked side by side; it’s a tradition in southern families, and one that is not seen as in any way demeaning to the man.
Before Jimmy’s inauguration, the press had painted us as country farm people who would bring gingham and square dances to the White House. We did. Sometimes. But we also brought a parade of America’s greatest classical talent and some of the most elegant events ever held to the White House.
...I had already learned from more than a decade of political life that I was going to be criticized no matter what I did, so I might as well be criticized for something I wanted to do (If I had spent all day ‘pouring tea,’ I would have been criticized for that too.) Besides, it had been Jimmy’s idea, not mine, for me to sit in on the Cabinet meetings.
Before too many months passed, the hostages seemed like family to us as Jimmy schemed and plotted to bring them home...Even when they had bandanas over their eyes and I was furious to see them humiliated that way, I was still glad to know they were alive...We were usually quiet watching the news from Iran, but I could always tell by the grim set in his chin and the vein that throbbed in his temple that Jimmy was filled with anger and revulsion as he watched the terrorists.
Image, however, did become an annoyance that wouldn't go away. I thought that if I were working productively & accomplishing something worthwhile, the image would take care of itself. Wrong. I learned that labels are easy to come by & hard to overcome.
Nancy Reagan
However the first lady fits in, she has a unique and important role to play in looking after her husband. And it’s only natural that she’ll let him know what she thinks. I always did that for Ronnie, and I always will.
“This house belongs to all Americans, and I want it to be something of which they can be proud.” Mrs. Reagan on the White House.
Nothing can prepare you for living in the White House—and nothing can prepare you for leaving it.
Nobody can imagine what it’s like to walk into the White House after the inaugural parade, when, for the first time, you’re coming home as the new president and first lady. You feel awed. You think about all the families who have lived here before. It’s very humbling.
I don’t think I was as bad, or as extreme in my power or my weakness, as I was depicted.
Barbara Bush
The wife of the president of the United States is probably the most spoiled woman in the world. You’d have to be awfully spoiled if you lived the life we live and wished for something else.
Today you can no longer say, ‘The drug problem worries me’ or ‘Crime worries me’ or ‘Illiteracy worries me.’ If it worries you, then you’ve got to do something about it.
I’m going to go out so much that you’re going to be saying, ‘Ho-hum, there’s Mrs. Bush out again.’ I’m going to go to museums. I’m going to walk. I’m going to go out with friends. I’m just going to do things because I think there’s a danger in...I mean, look how pretty the White House is; who would ever want to leave it? But I think it’s very important to get out.
“For several years, you’ve had impressed upon you the importance to your career of dedication and hard work, and of course that’s true. But as important as your obligations as a doctor, a lawyer, a business leader will be, you are a human being first, and those human connections with spouses, with children, with friends, are the most important investment you will ever make. At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend, or a parent.” Mrs. Bush to Wellesley College’s graduating class.
Hillary Clinton
There is no training manual for First Ladies. You get the job because the man you married becomes President...Like all First Ladies before me, I had to decide what I wanted to do with the opportunities and responsibilities I had inherited.
We first walked into the White House as its new residents in the early evening...I remember looking around in wonder at this house I had visited as a guest. Now it would be my home. It was during my walk up the path toward the White House and up the stairs of the North Portico and into the Grand Foyer that the reality hit me: I was actually the First Lady, married to the President of the United States. It was the first of many times I would be reminded of the history I was now joining.
Soon my staff became known around the White House as ‘Hillaryland.’ We were fully immersed in the daily operations of the West Wing, but we were also our own little subculture within the White House. My staff prided themselves on discretion, loyalty and camaraderie, and we had our own special ethos. While the West Wing had a tendency to leak, Hillaryland never did.
I know how hard it is to integrate the many disparate demands, choices and activities women pursue and face every day. Most of us live with nagging voices questioning the choices we make and with loads of guilt, whatever our choice. In my own life have been a wife, mother, daughter, sister, in-law, student, lawyer, children’s rights activist, law professor, Methodist, political adviser, citizen and so much else. Now I was a symbol—and that was a new experience.
Every hour of life in the White House brought some new and unanticipated hurdle.
The Chinese have an ancient saying, that women hold up half the sky, but in most of the world, it’s really more than half.
Laura Bush
I was like all first ladies in that I wanted to look good. I knew how interested the public and the press are in what first ladies wear. Like the women before me, I wanted to look elegant, to appear my best at events here and abroad, and not to glance back later at White House photos and silently cringe.
On September 12, 2001: “Waking the next morning, I had the sensation of knowing before my eyes opened that something terrible had happened, something beyond comprehension, and I wondered for a brief instant if it had all been a dream. Then I saw George, and I knew, knew that yesterday would be with us, each day, for all of our days to come."
For a first lady, there are moments of maximum political controversy, and they often strike without warning.
Michelle Obama
My first priority will always be to make sure that our girls are healthy and grounded. Then I want to help other families get the support they need, not just to survive, but to thrive. Policies that support families aren’t political issues. They’re personal. They’re the causes I carry with me every single day.
And I come here as a daughter, raised on the South Side of Chicago—by a father who was a blue-collar city worker and a mother who stayed at home with my brother and me.
I never cut class. I loved getting As, I liked being smart. I liked being on time. I thought being smart is cooler than anything in the world.
My mother’s love has always been a sustaining force for our family, and one of my greatest joys is seeing her integrity, her compassion, her intelligence reflected in my daughters.