First Ladies For Dummies
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This cheat sheet focuses on 50 key dates in the history of first ladies of the United States. These events mark the unique and continuing evolution of the office of First Lady and the first ladies themselves.

Events during the 1700s and 1800s

June 3, 1781: Martha Jefferson dies. She is the first First Lady to die before her husband becomes president.

April 30, 1789: Martha Washington becomes the first First Lady of the United States. People refer to her as Lady Washington.

November 1800: Abigail Adams moves into the new president’s house in Washington, D.C., which is later called the White House.

August 24, 1814: The British burn down the White House, after First Lady Dolley Madison was able to save many U.S. historical treasures.

March 4, 1817: Elizabeth Monroe becomes the only wife of a president whose father fought for the British during the Revolutionary War.

March 4, 1825: John Quincy Adams becomes president, making his mother, Abigail Adams, the first First Lady to be married to a president and to be the mother of a president.

March 4, 1825: Louisa Adams becomes the first wife of a president to be born in a foreign country. She was born in Great Britain to an American father.

March 4, 1837: Martin Van Buren becomes president of the United States. His wife, Hannah, who had passed in 1819, is the only First Lady married to her first cousin, good old Martin.

September 10, 1842: Letitia Tyler becomes the first wife of a president to die in the White House.

June 26, 1844: Julia Tyler becomes the first woman to marry a sitting president. She is also the first wife of a sitting president to be photographed.

March 4, 1845: Anna Harrison becomes the first and only First Lady to be a wife to a president and the grandmother of a president.

1849: President Zachary Taylor coins the term First Lady in a eulogy given for Dolley Madison at her state funeral.

July 9, 1850: Abigail Fillmore becomes the first wife of a president to work and have a salary. She was a school teacher. She also establishes the first library in the White House.

March 4, 1857: Harriet Lane becomes the first niece of a president to become First Lady. Her uncle President James Buchanan had been a bachelor all his life.

April 14, 1865: Mary Todd Lincoln becomes the first First Lady whose husband, Abraham Lincoln, is assassinated.

March 5, 1877: Lucy Hayes becomes the first wife of a president to have a college degree.

1886: Martha Washington becomes the first and only woman to be featured on the one dollar bill.

June 2, 1886: Frances Cleveland marries President Grover Cleveland who is 27 years her senior. She is the first wife of a president to get married in the White House, to give birth in the White House, and to remarry after her husband dies.

March 4, 1889: Caroline Harrison becomes First Lady and introduces the tradition of having a Christmas tree in the White House.

October 3, 1891: Frances Cleveland gives birth to a daughter and becomes the only First Lady to have a candy bar named in the honor of daughter Ruth (Baby Ruth).

1890s: Julia Grant becomes the first wife of a president to write her memoirs. They are finally published in 1975.

Events during the 1900s

March 4, 1909: Helen Taft becomes the first wife of a president to own and drive a car.

March 4, 1913: Ellen Wilson is the only professional artist to become a First Lady.

1914: Helen Taft becomes the first former First Lady to write and publish her memoirs, Recollections of Full Years.

1919: Edith Wilson is the only First Lady to run the White House during her husband’s illness. She was also a direct descendant of Pocahontas and is the first wife of a president to receive Secret Service protection.

November 2, 1920: Florence Harding is the first wife of a president to be able to vote for her husband.

March 4, 1929: Lou Hoover becomes the first wife of a president to have a degree in geology from Stanford University and to be able to speak fluent Chinese.

January 5, 1933: Grace Coolidge becomes the first former First Lady to receive an honorary degree from an American university (University of Vermont).

March 4, 1933: Eleanor Roosevelt becomes the first First Lady to hold press conferences, write weekly and monthly newspaper columns, and host a radio show.

January 20, 1941: Eleanor Roosevelt becomes the first and only wife of a president to serve for more than eight years. She ended up being First Lady for 12 years.

1945: Bess Truman becomes First Lady of the United States. She held one press conference, hated it, and never had another one.

1951: Jaqueline Kennedy interviews her future husband and future president, John F. Kennedy. They got married in 1953.

January 20, 1953: Mamie Eisenhower becomes First Lady of the United States. Besides loving the color pink, she is the first wife of a president to not only appear on television but to also actually be in a presidential campaign ad.

1962: Jaqueline Kennedy becomes the only First Lady to win an Emmy award for her television special on the renovated White House.

1963: Lady Bird Johnson becomes the first wife of a president who already is a millionaire before becoming First Lady. She owned a media empire in the Austin, Texas, area.

January 20, 1969: Pat Nixon becomes the first wife of a president with a graduate degree, and she also was the first to wear pants in public as First Lady.

January 20, 1977: Rosalynn Carter becomes First Lady. She establishes her own workspace in the East Wing of the White House, which today is called the Office of the First Lady.

January 20, 1981: Nancy Reagan becomes the first actress to become First Lady.

January 20, 1989: Barbara Bush becomes the only First Lady to write a bestseller from the point of her dog. It is called Millie’s Book as dictated to Barbara Bush.

Events during the 2000s

November 2000: Hillary Clinton becomes the first former First Lady to be elected to public office when she is elected U.S. Senator from the State of New York.

January 20, 2001: Laura Bush becomes the only First Lady who had twins.

November 17, 2001: Laura Bush becomes the first wife of a president to substitute for her husband in the weekly presidential radio address.

January 20, 2001: Barbara Bush becomes the second First Lady whose husband and son were presidents of the United States.

January 2009: Hillary Clinton becomes the first former First Lady to become Secretary of State. She held the position until 2013.

January 20, 2009: Michelle Obama becomes the first African American First Lady.

2016: Hillary Clinton becomes the first wife of a president to be nominated by a major political party to be its presidential candidate. She loses a close election to Republican Donald Trump.

January 20, 2017: Melania Trump becomes the second foreign-born First Lady. She was born in Slovenia, back then a part of the former Yugoslavia.

January 20, 2017: Melania Trump becomes the first naturalized citizen to become First Lady.

January 20, 2021: Jill Biden becomes the first wife of a president to have a doctorate.

January 20, 2021: Jill Biden becomes the oldest First Lady to date at the age of 69.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Marcus A. Stadelmann, PhD, is a professor of political science and chair of the Department of Political Science and History at the University of Texas at Tyler. Along with teaching at universities in California, Utah, and Texas, Dr. Stadelmann has published and given presentations in the fields of American politics and international relations.

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