The nation’s first association dedicated to the study of the evolving roles and history of America’s First Ladies has been announced by American University’s School of Public Affairs. When it officially begins its work this month, the First Ladies Association for Research and Education (FLARE) will bring together scholars, institutions, members of First Ladies’ staff, biographers, archivists, journalists, and public historians to explore the lasting and varied legacies of the spouses of Presidents.
“Remarkably, there are no formal professional associations that specialize in or encourage the public and scholars to learn from the leadership of our First Ladies,” said Anita McBride, executive-in-residence at American University’s School of Public Affairs and former chief of staff to First Lady Laura Bush. “FLARE is the creation of an interdisciplinary group of seven scholars and experts and it is our goal that FLARE will spark interest in and examination of the role these women performed in the White House, and in American society, and how First Ladies are not only a mirror of their times but have been leaders on issues of national importance,” continued McBride, who is also the Director of American University’s First Ladies Initiative and a member of the Board of the White House Historical Association.
“FLARE’s vision and mission to work collaboratively in fostering the scholarly study and promotion of the legacies of America’s first ladies leverages our shared interest in producing high caliber research and offer world class programming to our students and community and the nation,” said Vicky Wilkins, Dean of American University’s School of Public Affairs. “As the first university to establish a specific initiative focused on the study of first ladies, we are the ideal collaborator for this exciting organization.”
First Ladies are not elected officials, nor do they have constitutional or statutory authority, yet the causes they choose and promote can have a profound impact on the lives of millions of people in the U.S. and globally. The Office of the First Lady supports the President’s agenda while establishing an independent voice that shapes public opinion and raises awareness about issues in society that can include civil rights and race, education, women’s rights, music and the arts, conservation and historic preservation, and international relations.
“For me, and scores of others who have studied and educated us about the American First Lady, FLARE is a long-overdue dream come true,” said Myra Gutin, FLARE’s founding President. “Influenced by the pioneering work of Lewis L. Gould, Eugene C. Barker Professor Emeritus at the University of Texas, this determined group will expand our understanding of the president’s spouse. We are grateful to American University’s School of Public Affairs for joining us in this endeavor and look forward to highlighting the accomplishments of the women who have stood beside the president and have served our country so well.”
As part of its mission, FLARE plans to convene national conferences, publish an online journal, produce podcasts, facilitate research circles and networking for projects, and offer expertise to other organizations through a speakers bureau.
Founding members of FLARE include prominent experts, such as Diana B. Carlin, professor emerita of communication at Saint Louis University and a former professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas; Myra G. Gutin, professor emerita at Rider University, Lawrenceville, NJ; Anita B. McBride, Executive in Residence and Director of American University’s First Ladies Initiative; Elizabeth J. Natalle, associate professor, University of North Carolina at Greensboro; Katherine A.S. Sibley, Director of American studies and professor of history, Saint Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, PA; Nancy Kegan Smith, retired Director of the Presidential Materials Division at the National Archives and Records Administration; Molly Meijer Wertheimer, professor of communication arts and sciences at the Pennsylvania State University, Hazleton.