Every First Lady who moves into the White House brings their unique personality into the role. For some, they bring attention to a cause they believe strongly in order to make the country a better place. Most are seen as a stabilizing force as they provide emotional support for their husbands as they tackle one of the most difficult, stressful jobs imaginable. Whatever the case may be, each First Lady leaves behind a particular legacy. Here’s a look at 10 First Ladies who used their role to make a difference.
1. Laura Bush
In contrast to such First Ladies as Carter and Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush preferred to stay out of her husband George W. Bush’s political affairs and instead focused on being more of a traditional First Lady. She was a librarian by trade, so it makes sense that she advocated literacy. She is responsible for establishing the National Book Festival in 2001. Two decades later, it’s still going strong.
2. Hillary Clinton
While it’s certainly an understatement to say Clinton was a polarizing figure, anybody who insists on denying her accomplishments is drinking the Kool-Aid. A partner at a prestigious law firm while her husband was governor of Arkansas, the Yale Law graduate had always been ambitious. As First Lady, she advocated for a better healthcare system as well as gender equality. After the 42nd president left office, Hillary made history by becoming the first former First Lady to be elected to the Senate. She subsequently served as Secretary of State in the Obama administration and in 2016 became the first woman to be nominated as president from a major political party.
3. Nancy Reagan
While Nancy Reagan generated some controversy for being out of touch at the beginning of her husband Ronald’s term (she accepted free gifts of expensive designer clothing and spent more than $200,000 on fine China at a time the country was going through a recession) there’s no question that she and the 40th president had a strong bond. She played a major role in some of his diplomatic and personnel decisions. She was seen as pragmatic in her later years, accepting then First Lady Michelle Obama’s invite to a White House luncheon and not wanting anything to do with Donald Trump.
4. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
Kennedy was best known for restoring the White House and creating the beautiful gardens on the property. She was also elegant and fashionable, and she was the first First Lady to have her own press secretary. At the time her husband was serving as president, she was raising two young children. She made it a priority to keep them out of the spotlight and give them as normal an upbringing as possible given the circumstances.
5. Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama grew up in a lower-class neighborhood in south Chicago, but had a stable, loving upbringing. Both she and her older brother ended up skipping 2nd grade due to their academic abilities. She received her undergraduate degree from Princeton and a law degree from Harvard. As First Lady, her initiatives centered on fighting poverty and encouraging fitness and healthy eating. Much like the 44th president, Michelle is a gifted speaker and writer. In 2020 she was named Gallup’s most admired woman in America for the third consecutive year.