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First Ladies Initiative

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.

Message from the Director

Dear friends,

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 continue 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 have held the position are a fascinating topic in American culture. 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 and authors; and 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.

The First Ladies 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 first conference was held 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 in November 2012 at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum. In April 2013, in honor of Betty Ford's 95th birthday, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum hosted a conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Our most recent conference was held in September 2016, and highlighted the unique role of First Ladies, as spouse of the Commander-in-Chief, in supporting America's service members, veterans, and military families. The event was held at the National Archives and included a discussion with former First Ladies Michelle Obama and Laura Bush. Conversations are underway with several other presidential libraries to host additional Legacies of America's First Ladies conferences.

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 fascinating journey through our history and will use the information and insights from our First Ladies Initiative to inspire your own studies and understanding of this powerful platform and the unique club of women who have held this position.

Anita McBride
Executive-in-Residence, Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies
Director, First Ladies Initiative

North Grounds of the White House, circa 1860s.

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