The recent passing of Nancy Regan marked the end of an important period of women’s history. Although Nancy’s role wasn’t quite as important as her husband’s, it is worth noting. First ladies, especially those of the 20th century, took on campaigns of their own. In honor of her passing, and of women’s history month, we’re sharing a list of biographies written about some of the most influential first ladies. Maybe one day soon there will finally be a Madam President, and a first gentleman!
Nancy Reagan – My Turn: The Memoirs of Nancy Reagan In my childhood, Mrs. Reagan was very influential. The 1980s were a turbulent time, and she had a strong anti-drug message. Every elementary school student in the country (including me) was told to Just Say No! It was a simple, but powerful message, one that is still important today. Her husband’s political career began in their home state of California, and he served through the Vietnam Era, and during the Cold War. She remained devoted to him throughout his career – and after he left office.
Abigail Adams – Abigail Adams: A Life This is an interesting book that highlights the life and role as first lady of Abigail Adams, using historical documents. I really enjoyed reading this book – and have used it in the classroom. It gives insight to the presidency of John Adams, which compliments the more notable, John Adams, by David McCulloch. Although women at the time weren’t allowed to vote, Mrs. Adams had a significant influence on her husband’s career and urged him to always consider the rights of women.
Eleanor Roosevelt – You Learn by Living Mrs. Roosevelt is probably my favorite first lady. Her husband served longer than any other president in history, so her role as first lady was significant. She lived in the White House during a very difficult time period – serving both through the Great Depression, and WWII. Here in this book she shares 11 tips for living a more fulfilling life (and that’s actually part of the book’s subtitle). She talks about learning, maturing, inspiring others, and being inspired. Though she was once probably the most influential woman in the world, she remained humble.
Laura Bush – Spoken From the Heart I never voted for her husband, but I really admire and respect Laura Bush. This book was written just after her exit from the White House, and focuses on her personal life. From her early childhood in Texas, to Southern Methodist University, to her first meeting of her husband. Her mission as the first lady was to promote children’s literacy, something that I am very passionate about. She talks about that, and some of the other things that happened during her husband’s presidency.
Mamie Doud Eisenhower – The General’s First Lady Mrs. Eisenhower is not someone I ever studied in college (and my major was history!), and I honestly didn’t know that much about her husband before my first teaching job. Before entering into the White House, she was a military spouse. Eisenhower was responsible for commanding troops in the Pacific during WWII., and was largely responsible for the planning of the D-Day invasion. The book was written by Marilyn Irvin Holt, who has written several books on women’s history. She paints Mamie as a devoted wife, committed to her husband and his career, and also credits her with furthering his career.
One day I hope Women’s History Month will celebrate the first female president. Maybe it won’t be Hillary Clinton, but I hope that it will be someone. Someone to respect, admire, and someone my daughter can look up to.