Currently CSPAN (Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network) has a fascinating series titled First Ladies: Influence and Image. Finding regular network television programming to be a void of intelligent writing and wasting of life’s precious time, its been a light in a dark wasteland. From their website: “C-SPAN is producing a two-season feature series on the First Ladies, examining their private lives and the public roles they played in the White House. Produced in cooperation with the White House Historical Association, each week ‘First Ladies: Influence and Image’ will feature the women who served in the role of First Lady over 44 administrations. This project is the first of its kind — a comprehensive biography series on all of the First Ladies produced for television.” I’ve watched the Eleanor Roosevelt, Lady Bird Johnson, Jacqueline Kennedy, Betty Ford, Pat Nixon, and Lou Hoover episodes by streaming the stories online.
Eleanor Roosevelt was an interesting and inspiring character. She was the First Lady from 1933 to 1945 during a turbulent time in American history that included the crash of the stock market, the Depression, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the beginning of World War II. Ms. Roosevelt was an activist for social issues including civil, labor, and women rights. Eleanor Roosevelt: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
Lady Bird Johnson: “Become so wrapped up in something that you forget to be afraid.” These words were truthful to her biography. She was First Lady from 1963 to 1969 and was thrown into the role after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and she endured the Vietnam War years. She was a master speaker and powerful political partner for her husband Lyndon B. Johnson. According to the LBJ Presidential Library website: “During her White House years, Mrs. Johnson served as honorary chairman of the National Head Start Program, a program for underprivileged pre-school children which prepares them to take their places in the classroom on a par with their peers.” Like Eleanor Roosevelt, Lady Bird’s amazing contributions to fight against poverty and women’s rights still exist today.
Jacqueline Kennedy was known for her elegant style and the tragic death of her husband John F. Kennedy. She was the First Lady from 1961-1963 and the image of her standing stoically with two young children grieving at her husband’s funeral is etched forever in time. Ms. Kennedy: “Once you can express yourself, you can tell the world what you want from it. . . All the changes in the world, for good or evil, were first brought about by words.”
Betty Ford was First Lady from 1974-1977 and similarly to Lady Bird Johnson was thrown into the role after the unexpected event of President Nixon’s resignation. Betty Ford battled breast cancer and alcohol addiction. She became a role model, an advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment, a supporter for abortion rights, and a champion for women. Ms. Ford: “The search for human freedom can never be complete without freedom for women.”
Pat Nixon grew up very poor and worked hard for her education. She was First Lady from 1969-1974 and the time was overshadowed by the resignation of her husband. Pandas reside in our zoos because of her comments to Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai during a visit in 1972. Unfortunately, Pat Nixon suffered: “I have sacrificed everything in my life that I consider precious to advance the political career of my husband.”
Lou Hoover was First Lady from 1929-1933 during the Great Depression. She was considered to be a “tomboy” because of her love for the outdoors, sports, and being the National President of the Girl Scouts prior to entering the White House. This was my favorite CSPAN program because it showcased her groundbreaking spirit during a challenging time for women. Lou Hoover: “The independent girl is truly of quite modern origin, and usually is a most bewitching little piece of humanity.”
The “proper” Merriam-Webster definition of lady is: “a woman who behaves in a polite way, a woman of high social position, a man’s girlfriend.” My definition of “lady” is a woman with grace and dignity who challenges obstacles by inspiring others to become responsible global citizens. Eleanor Roosevelt, Lady Bird Johnson, Jacqueline Kennedy, Betty Ford, Pat Nixon, and Lou Hoover background’s were diverse and unique. However, they defined what a “lady” should be independently and for future generations. Now, I’m looking forward to CSPAN’s First Gentlemen series starting with the next presidential election…