Throughout our nation’s history America's first ladies have influenced politics, domestic policy, and global diplomacy. The attitudes and expectations of the role of First Lady of the United States continues to evolve – an evolution that mirrors the changing status of women in America. The position of first lady, and the influence of the remarkable women who held the position, are a fascinating topic in American culture and they are increasingly receiving more attention for their accomplishments and impact.
American University’s Legacies of America's First Ladies initiative and conference series features distinguished guests — first ladies, former presidents, and first families, White House staff, scholars, authors, members of the media — who highlight the significant contributions these women make by using their platform to advocate for issues, promote change, and improve our society.
"Legacies of America's First Ladies conferences are filling a cavernous hole in American politics and history. No place else has the crucial role of presidential wives been so thoroughly and entertainingly presented."
-Cokie Roberts, political commentator and author
The initiative’s conference series was launched in March 2011 at American University and led to a partnership with the National Archives Presidential Libraries, and academic and historical institutions to tell the important story of America's first ladies. The series started in Texas – the only state with three Presidential Libraries and two living First Ladies – at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in November 2011. We then headed to Southern Methodist University, hosted by the George W. Bush Presidential Center, in March 2012. The final conference of the Texas series was held on November 2012 at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum. On April 8, 2013, in honor of Betty Ford’s 95th birthday, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum hosted a conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Conversations are underway with several other Presidential Libraries to host additional Legacies of America’s First Ladies conferences.
In September 2016, the Legacies of America’s First Ladies conference series hosted a conference highlighting the unique role of first ladies, as spouse of the Commander-in-Chief, in supporting America’s service members, veterans, and military families. The conference was held at the National Archives and included a discussion with First Lady Michelle Obama and former First Lady Laura Bush.
It has been my honor to lead this important initiative, take the conference series on the road, and participate in a variety of nationwide programs and events that highlight the leadership of women in domestic and global affairs.
I hope that you will enjoy this journey through our history and will use the information from our first ladies initiative to further your studies and understanding of this powerful platform and the unique club of women who have held this position.