National First Ladies Day is on June 2 every year. This day recognizes and applauds the unique role America’s leading women played in serving the nation. From actresses and artists to scholars and activists, women have occupied this role, each shaping it uniquely. The role of the First Lady is both flexible and constraining, granting the opportunity to make a change and a high degree of public scrutiny that is often rather critical. It’s a difficult job with no rule book or formal procedure, but with great cultural and political significance.
History of National First Ladies Day
The role of First Lady started in 1789 with Martha Washington, the wife of the first U.S. President, George Washington. When America was all very new to the office of the President, she had the task of defining the role of First Lady. It’s important to note that social norms were antiquated at this time, and women were homemakers rather than leaders. Gender equity was not yet a concept. As such, many of the early First Ladies’ roles were that of hostess and homemaker.
It wasn’t until the mid-1940s that the role of First Lady began to expand into more than its early foundations. First Ladies like Lou Hoover and Eleanor Roosevelt took an active role in the presidency by speaking at press conferences and weighing in on current affairs. Bess Truman even worked as President Truman’s aide — with no salary. By the 1960s, First Ladies realized that despite lacking a formal office and mandate, they could still use their position and the press to promote public relations for the President and push for initiatives that would help the American people. Claudia Johnson actively campaigned for her husband Lyndon B. Johnson. Jacqueline Kennedy used her media savviness to demystify the White House.
In 1986, First Lady Nancy Reagan, a former actress, launched an anti-drug campaign using television commercials. Hillary Clinton used her visibility as First Lady in the 1990s to launch a successful political career, becoming the first First Lady to run for President. Today, the role of the First Lady is more about policy advocacy and women’s leadership, and they exert a lot more influence than in the past.
National First Ladies Day timeline
Martha Dandridge Custis Washington becomes the first First Lady of the U.S.
First Lady Betty Ford opens a drug and alcohol facility in California.
Jacqueline Kennedy wins an Emmy for her television tour of the White House.
Michelle Obama launches the ‘Let’s Move!’ initiative to fight childhood obesity.
National First Ladies Day FAQs
Who is considered the first First Lady?
Martha Washington, the wife of George Washington, is the first woman to occupy the role.
When was the term ‘First Lady’ first used
Zachary Taylor was the first to use the phrase in a eulogy to Dolley Madison in 1849.
Which president did not have a First Lady?
President of the United States, James Buchanan, was the only president who remained a bachelor for life.
National First Ladies Day Activities
Learn about the First Ladies
With 54 women to choose from, you won’t run out of content on National First Ladies Day. Learn more about their lives, contributions to the nation, and influence on the men who governed America. You can do this by reading memoirs or watching documentaries.
Plant a cherry blossom
Cherry blossoms are a long-standing White House tradition introduced by the Japanese as a gift in 1912. First Lady Bird Johnson also planted a new cherry tree on the White House grounds in 1965.
Donate to a charity organization
All the First Ladies championed specific causes that gave back to society. Lady Bird Johnson campaigned for environmental protection, Betty Ford founded a rehab center in California, and Michelle Obama started an initiative against childhood obesity. Donate to a charity organization so you can help.
5 Interesting Facts About First Ladies
First Lady, first mother
Abigail Adams, President John Adams’ wife, was mother to President John Quincy Adams.
Lou Hoover, Herbert Hoover’s wife, was the first woman to graduate from Stanford University.
Florence Harding was the first First Lady to vote, own a radio, operate a camera, and fly a plane.
Eleanor Roosevelt was the first First Lady to write a newspaper column and host a radio show.
Woodrow Wilson’s first wife, Ellen Wilson, was the only First Lady who was a professional artist.
Why We Love National First Ladies Day
Supporting causes and initiatives
From opening rehabilitation facilities and advocating for aid to military families to fighting childhood obesity and lobbying for safety standards in the workplace, First Ladies have played a significant role in supporting national causes and initiatives. Despite not having a formal office in the federal government, First Ladies have always done their part to better the nation. Their efforts helped thousands of Americans.
An example to us all
First Ladies, just like presidents, serve as an example of American values and ideals. They represent what we’d like to see in our society, inspiring others to emulate their thoughts and actions.
Defining the role
Laura Bush once said, “The role of the First Lady is whatever the First Lady wants it to be.” Every First Lady has taken on the role in their way. They shaped it according to their temperament and areas of interest but always sought to impact the lives of their citizens positively.
National First Ladies Day dates