What Type of First Lady for the US?

author
Dr. Louis Perron
blog post louis

As the race for the White House 2024 is about to start, there are also media reports about the possible First Ladies, or first Gentlemen for that matter. Historically, the US had three types of First Ladies:

Traditional: First Ladies such as Laura and Barbara Bush made it clear that they see their roles foremost as supporting their husbands. A variant of this is Jill Biden. While she is the first First Lady to still pursue a paying job on her own, she is mostly seen accompanying her husband in official events. During the campaign, she made sure Joe would respect social distancing and health protocols. I don’t know how much of a support Melania Trump was to Donald Trump, but by default, I would also put her into that category.

Political: The pioneer of a First Lady that took on an active political role is of course Eleanor Roosevelt. She actively campaigned for her husband. As a human rights advocate, she received a standing ovation at the United Nations. Hillary Clinton followed the same model. After two terms at the White House as First Lady, she launched her own political career. She won the election as Senator from the state of New York, ran for president twice, and served as Secretary of State under President Barack Obama.

Behind the scenes: There are First Ladies who play the traditional role in public, but are politically and strategically heavily involved behind the scenes. It is said that the description would match Casey DeSantis. The classic, historic example for it is of course Nancy Regan, who was compared to her husband’s de facto Chief of Staff. There is this story that the official Chief of Staff hung up the phone on the First Lady; and was moved out soon thereafter. Even decades later, other people who served in the Reagan administration and who were well aware of Nancy Regan’s role talk about the episode almost in disbelief.