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You Think Being the First Lady is a Cake-walk? Most Certainly Not

Being the First Lady
The First Lady gets plenty of attention for her hairstyle and fashion choices, but they are so much more than that. The First Ladies of the United States have been an extraordinary bunch in many ways, a long line of women who refuse to stay quiet. Even within this framework, some stand even taller.
OpinionFront Staff
Last Updated: Apr 9, 2018
The First Lady of the United States is the President's wife. That's one of the first things you learn in elementary social studies, right? And while she has her pet causes, she's basically there as the President's date, because, you know, she's the wife. Right?

Actually, wrong. That entire first paragraph is incorrect. Although everyone knows who the First Lady is, not many know what she actually does and how important her job is. She isn't whiling away the time until her husband's term is over, she is an incredibly busy woman with her own agenda - especially since the mid-twentieth century, when being the FLOTUS transitioned from simply being a highly-visible public voice to actually getting things done.
Mrs. Presidentress?
Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama
The term First Lady wasn't even widely used until 1887, in reference to Lucy Webb Hayes. Before that time, she got to decide what people called her. Martha Washington went with "Lady Washington", while others went with "Mrs. President" or even "Mrs. Presidentress". Today, we call Michelle Obama "the First Lady" when speaking about her, but simply "Mrs. Obama" when speaking to her.
We're so used to the FLOTUS being the President's wife that most people don't know that her official function is "hostess of the White House", not "President's wife". In fact, several Presidents of the past have either been bachelors or widows, so sisters or close friends have filled the role instead. During the Clinton administration, daughter Chelsea actually assumed the role for a while, while Mrs. Clinton retained the title. More on that later.
A Four-year Volunteer
The FLOTUS is not elected - she's the bonus person we get when we elect her husband. She is not paid, and she has no official duties - but she has plenty of unofficial ones. So many, in fact, that she needs a staff to manage it all.
Her first function as hostess of the White House is to organize all official events at the White House. You know how it seems like every time you look at a news website, there are pictures from some function at the White House? Well, there are many more that don't even make the news. And these are just the official functions. State dinners, ceremonies, parties, balls, visits from foreign dignitaries, even visits from friends and family - she takes care of all that.
Have you ever organized a wedding? Imagine doing an event on that scale many, many times per year, except with the whole world watching and the opinions of other Very Important People riding on what happens.
The Most Visible Woman in the World
The FLOTUS is the most-recognized woman on the planet, and each and everyone of them has taken advantage of that fact to champion a pet cause. Nothing too controversial, generally something that everyone can agree on. For Mrs. Obama, it's childhood obesity. For Laura Bush, it was women's rights. For Hillary Clinton, it was healthcare. For Nancy Reagan, it was drugs. And so on.

But although the cause itself may not be controversial, it can become so just by association with FLOTUS. Hillary Clinton was lambasted by the right for daring to think that more people should have access to health care, and Laura Bush was criticized for supporting women's rights (which includes reproductive rights) while her husband was elected on a pro-life platform. Still, even though the FLOTUS isn't an official policy maker, her influence on her husband can lead to legislation, and the types of causes she supports speak to the types of laws she may champion.
Exceptional Ladies
Most of the First Ladies have been exceptional in some way - Dolley Madison risked her life to save historic artifacts during the War of 1812, for heaven's sake. But two in particular stand out - Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton.
Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt because she was the public face of her husband's presidency. President Roosevelt was wheelchair-bound due to paralysis, and could not travel frequently - so Mrs. Roosevelt took over.
She traveled the country, wrote a newspaper column, met with union leaders, visited Depression-era workers, and became the first FLOTUS to hold a press conference. She also kept up her feminist activism, as well as her writing and lecturing work - her goal was to match her husband's salary every year, and she did - and gave the money to charity.
Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton is remarkable in that she was the only FLOTUS to hold an official post in her husband's administration, which she did with aplomb. She became so vocal about healthcare that comparisons were made to Eleanor Roosevelt. She's also notable because she was the first FLOTUS to abdicate her office, but she had a very good reason. She wanted to become a senator.
See, the Office of the First Lady is part of the Executive Branch, and had she still been First Lady as her husband left office, it would have disqualified her from running for the senate as a conflict of interest. But being the driven, focused person she is, she gave the office to her daughter, ran for the senate, won, almost became President, then became Secretary of State instead.
And she's not done yet - knowing this lady, she may eventually become the nation's first Former First Lady/President. Would that make her husband the First Man? That sounds weird.