Five First Ladies You Should Get To Know For President’s Day
4:30 pm, February 18th | by
Ah, President’s Day: the one time a year when we’re reminded that wooden teeth were an actual thing and not a torture device in some Saw sequel. Sure, we love us some American presidents (except you, John Tyler…WHAT DID YOU EVEN DO?), but we here at the Jane Dough are absolute stans for the First Ladies. The skirt suits, the secret political ambitions, the even secret-er alleged lesbian affairs, the feminists before feminism — the lives of American First Ladies are oftentimes more salacious than an episode of Degrassi and more inspiring than your “Daily Feminist Quote” calendar.
Because Washington and Lincoln have had their share of the spotlight, we’ve rounded up five of our favorite and lesser-know First Ladies in the gallery below. Join us as we celebrate the newly-founded (by us) All The Presidents’ Women Day. As the saying goes, “Behind every great man is a woman who should probably be standing beside said great man, if not strutting ahead of him while listening to En Vogue’s ‘
Free Your Mind.”
1.5. Caroline Harrison
There are many reasons to be enamored with
Caroline Harrison — she was one of the more radically inclined First Ladies, she refused to help found Johns Hopkins Hospital until administrators agreed to admit women, she relentlessly campaigned in favor of women's issues — but we were won over by the very first thing we learned: girl was a china painter extraordinaire. Apparently, back in Harrison's day, china painting was so popular that Lady Harrison forced her teacher to leave his Chicago home, move to Washington, and begin teaching weekly art classes at the White House. Turning the official residence of the President of the United States into a YWCA? That's awesome.
2.4. Sarah Polk
Sarah Polk had been born a man, there is no doubt that she would've had an illustrious government career. In fact, Polk was so ambitious and interested in politics that many say she refused to marry James Polk until he gained a political office. Once her husband won a seat in Congress, Sarah Polk's work really began: Sarah assisted in speechwriting, advised James on policy matters, and even actively campaigned for her husband, forming alliances with male politicians in the Cabinet, Supreme Court, Senate and House. When James began campaigning for the presidency in 1844, Sarah would keep her husband up to date with state news and send supportive editorial clippings to key political actors. Sarah Polk was like your mother who can't stop forwarding you chain emails about cats or inspirational stories about coal miners, except Polk's letters helped win her husband the presidency.
3.3. Edith Wilson
Edith Wilson has been referred to as the "first woman to run the government", the "Secret President", and the "first female president of the United States." After her husband, 28th President Woodrow Wilson, suffered a debilitating stroke towards the end of his second term, Edith refused to abdicate power to Vice President Thomas R. Marshall. Instead, Edith kept the President's condition a secret from everyone but the President's physician and assumed much of her husband's responsibilities. Edith screened all matters of state and carefully selected what issues were deserving of the President's attention; she became the sole conduit between the President and his Cabinet.
4.2. Abigail Adams
We'll just let a
letter Abigail Adams (whom friends referred to as "Mrs. President") wrote to her husband, John, and the Continental Congress do the talking: "I desire you would remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation." Abigail Adams was ready to foment a friggin' rebellion! In 1779! It's 2013 and I'm still too scared to ask my super to stop calling me "babe." (One day, Tony....one day.)
5.1. Alice Roosevelt
Alice Roosevelt was Teddy Roosevelt's daughter and therefore not a First Lady, this dame's life was so compelling and boundary-breaking that we're sure you won't mind us bending the rules a bit. Alice was larger than life: she was a fashion icon at 17; she had a pet snake named Emily Spinach; she partied all night, every night; she openly smoked cigarettes and rode in cars with boys. Alice got married to Representative Nicholas Longworth in a blue dress and cut their wedding cake with a sword. Her marriage was riddled with scandals, including the open secret that the couple's only child was a product of her affair with another senator. In 1974, Alice told 60 Minutes that she was a "hedonist." In short, though Alice was the President's daughter, she would've eaten Will Friedle alive if he ever tried to take her out on a date. She would've peer pressured him into going skinny dipping, stolen his clothes, smoked a cigar while wearing his pants, and ditched him for a gang of Cuban cardsharks. Because she was a boss.