The Most Influential First Ladies (Photo: Roland Tanglao / Flickr)
by Alex Greer
During a recent address in Argentina, first lady Michelle Obama stressed the importance of empowering women across the world through education. The speech is part of Obama's Let Girls Learn initiative, which helps girls around the world go to school.
Let Girls Learn is the most recent project launched by the first lady, following Reach Higher, Joining Forces and Let's Move! Obama's busy agenda underscores how the role of first lady can be used to spearhead influential and far-reaching campaigns.
InsideGov decided to take a more in-depth look at the role of first ladies in U.S. history. Using data from the Siena College Research Institute's First Ladies Study, we ranked the 25 most influential first ladies in American history.
Siena College collaborated with C-SPAN and the White House Historical Association to create surveys for scholars and historians in American history to rank first ladies on 10 different influence indicators. Note that six first ladies were excluded from the college's original ranking because they died before getting into office or were in office for too short of a time.
25. Helen Taft
Mean Rank: 62.371
"Nellie" Taft expanded the social scene at the White House, loosening some of the social codes put in place by her predecessor Edith Roosevelt. Taft also made headlines for her decision to replace the crew of all-white male ushers at the White House with African-American men.
24. Mamie Eisenhower
Mean Rank: 62.497
A military wife for much of her life, Mamie Eisenhower supported increasing benefits for retired veterans. Eisenhower also took steps to counter segregation, including inviting African-American children to the famous White House Easter Egg Roll.
23. Sarah Polk
Mean Rank: 62.62
Like her husband, Sarah Polk had an astute mind for politics. She assisted James throughout his political career, helping with speeches and advising him on important matters.
22. Julia Grant
Mean Rank: 62.809
Despite her husband's stormy presidency, Julia Grant was a popular entertainer and hostess at the White House. After Ulysses' second term, the couple went on a world tour, meeting political leaders across the globe.
21. Grace Coolidge
Mean Rank: 62.908
With "Silent Cal" at her side, Grace assumed the more social role when entertaining guests. She was also interested in helping people with disabilities, and raised $2 million for the Clarke School for the Deaf in Massachusetts.
20. Ellen Wilson
Mean Rank: 63.164
As first lady, Ellen Wilson took up a number of political causes, including improving living conditions in Washington's poverty-stricken ghettos. However, her time in the White House was tragically cut short when she died from kidney disease in 1914. Following Ellen's death, Woodrow married Edith Galt in 1915.
19. Lucy Hayes
Mean Rank: 63.165
Nicknamed "Lemonade Lucy," Lucy Hayes was famous for her support of the temperance movement. During her tenure in the White House, alcohol was banned from all events at the mansion.
18. Louisa Adams
Mean Rank: 63.197
Like her husband John Quincy Adams, Louisa had a turbulent four years in the White House, due to a bitter political election and her own health problems. Nevertheless, she was a staunch abolitionist and supporter of women's rights during and after her tenure as first lady.
17. Lou Hoover
Mean Rank: 63.321
Even before she entered the White House, Lou Hoover was a national figure in the U.S. During World War I, she founded the American Women's War Relief Fund, and in 1924, she established the National Women's Conference on Law Enforcement.
16. Elizabeth "Bess" Truman
Mean Rank: 64.256
Following the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Bess Truman was thrust into the role of first lady. Although she stopped Eleanor Roosevelt's tradition of holding press conferences, Truman was an active hostess at the White House.
15. Nancy Reagan
Mean Rank: 65.802
During her time in the White House, Nancy Reagan led a campaign against drugs called "Just Say No." Reagan helped establish thousands of "Just Say No" clubs across the country and went on speaking tours throughout the nation.
14. Edith Wilson
Mean Rank: 66.007
President Woodrow Wilson's second wife took an immediate interest in politics and kept social events at the White House to a minimum during World War I. After the president suffered a stroke in his second term, Edith's role in managing the executive branch increased greatly.
13. Edith Roosevelt
Mean Rank: 66.265
In comparison to her husband, President Theodore Roosevelt, Edith was a quieter and more private person. She undertook extensive renovations of the White House, including new landscaping and modernizing the public rooms.
12. Laura Bush
Mean Rank: 66.669
Laura Bush was one of the most popular first ladies of the modern era. A former teacher and librarian, she took up children's education as one of her main causes while in the White House, launching the "Ready to Read, Ready to Learn" initiative in her first term.
11. Barbara Bush
Mean Rank: 66.777
Like her daughter-in-law, Laura Bush, Barbara Bush promoted literacy among America's youth. As first lady, she founded the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy and continues to support this cause today.
10. Rosalynn Carter
Mean Rank: 69.463
Rosalynn Carter took up mental health research as her main cause during her time in the White House. She supported the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980 and served as honorary chair of the President's Commission on Mental Health.
9. Martha Washington
Mean Rank: 71.521
As the first first lady, Martha Washington set a precedent for how the role could be approached. During her time in the White House, she managed the presidential household and held weekly receptions.
8. Betty Ford
Mean Rank: 72.903
One of the most politically active first ladies, Betty Ford took up numerous causes, including breast cancer awareness and the Equal Rights Amendment. She also founded the Betty Ford Center to combat substance abuse and drug addiction.
7. Lady Bird Johnson
Mean Rank: 73.784
An active environmentalist, Lady Bird Johnson dedicated herself to national beautification projects and wildlife preservation. In 1977, President Gerald Ford awarded her the Medal of Freedom for her service.
6. Hillary Clinton
Mean Rank: 74.76
As first lady, Hillary Clinton advocated for health care reform and supported children's and women's issues. Perhaps more than any other first lady, Clinton maintained a high-profile political career after leaving the White House, serving as a New York senator and secretary of State, and running for president.
5. Michelle Obama
Mean Rank: 75.919
The current first lady has taken up numerous causes during her time in the White House, including childhood obesity, veterans' wellness and education for young women.
4. Dolley Madison
Mean Rank: 78.331
Dolley Madison set an important precedent in the White House, taking up social causes and using her extensive social networks to support her husband's political career. The term "first lady" is believed to have been used for the first time during President Zachary Taylor's eulogy of her.
3. Jacqueline Kennedy
Mean Rank: 78.397
Although she served as first lady for fewer than three years, "Jackie" Kennedy was an iconic figure in American history. Following her husband's assassination, she helped support the grief-stricken nation.
2. Abigail Adams
Mean Rank: 81.967
As the first second lady and second first lady, Abigail Adams played an important role in the early days of the republic. She and President John Adams were the first couple to reside in the White House, and Abigail Adams continued her formal hosting duties in the new capital.
1. Eleanor Roosevelt
Mean Rank: 84.082
Serving as first lady for over 12 years, Eleanor Roosevelt was an influential figure during the Great Depression and World War II. She played an active role in advising her husband and was the first first lady to hold her own press conferences.
After President Franklin D. Roosevelt's death, Eleanor Roosevelt remained in the national and global spotlight, serving as chair of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.
Complete Ranking of First Ladies
The chart below shows the 25 most influential first ladies in U.S. history. Seven of the top 10 are from the modern era (since the FDR administration).
More AMERICAN POLITICS ...
- Clinton Regains Lead
- How Much Candidates Spent Per Vote
- Tim Kaine Cheat Sheet
- Mike Pence by the Numbers
- Americans Divided on Bathroom Bill
- Clinton's Stubborn 75 Percent Chance Finally Dips Following Email Revelations
- The 2016 Democratic Convention by the Numbers
- The 2016 Republican Convention by the Numbers
- Trump's Fundraising Turnaround: June Marked Best Month So Far
- Trump Captures His Largest Lead So Far in Polls
- Trump Pulls Ahead of Clinton in Key Swing States
- Donald Trump and America B
- House Sit-In Would've Been More Powerful if It Rejected 'No Fly, No Buy'
- Clinton's Foreign Policy Poses a Challenge to the Left
- Hillary Wants to Bring Back Bill. She Shouldn't
- The Real Reason Republicans Are Going after the IRS
- ISIS Must Love Trump
- Can Trump Ride the Anti-Immigration Wave to the White House?
- Trouble for Donald Trump's Campaign
- America's Most Followed Members of Congress
- Hillary Clinton's Major Foreign Policy Address Was Anything But
- Donald Trump Down in the Polls After Rough Week on the Trail
- There's No More Denying It: Trump Is Openly Racist
- Donald Trump: Joker's Wild
- After Orlando: Twitter Recoils from Islamophobia, Takes Aim at Gun Laws
- How Much Blame Should Hillary Clinton Bear for Libya?
- Countries That Receive the Most Foreign Aid From the U.S.
- Hillary Clinton Secures Democratic Nomination
- Welcome to Half Dome, Sponsored by Nike
- Companies Need to Stop Bankrolling Hate
- For Billionaire Donors, Academic Integrity Comes Cheap
- America's Cosmic Tax Gap
- Trump's 'Realty Check' on Climate
- Putin and Trump: Symptoms of Creeping Caesarism
- Obama Promised Open Government, But Hasn't Delivered Yet
- A Coalition of the Unhinged
- Putting Free Speech Out to Pasture
- The Only Sane Conclusion from Orlando
- Orlando Shooting Fuels Debate on Gun Control
- They're Killing Us. Help Us Stop Them
- A Commencement Address for the Most Indebted Class Ever
- Our Poverty Myth
- Which States Have Banned Assault Weapons?
- Government Agencies that Spend the Most
- The Government Agencies that Employ the Most People
- Odd Ways Political Campaigns Spend Their Money
- Congressional Districts with the Youngest and Oldest Voters
- Trump Nabs First Lead Against Clinton in Poll
- Bernie's Bucks: Sanders' Fundraising and Spending Prowess in 5 Charts
- Clinton Holds Razor-Thin Lead
- Doling Out the Dough for Pro-Clinton Super PACs
- States with the Most Women in Politics
- Do First Ladies Influence the Popularity of Baby Names?
- Counties Where Medicare Spends the Most per Patient
- We Live in a Democracy, Not a Theocracy
- Is Trump an American Exceptionalist?
- Sanders vs Clinton on Economic Inequality
- Nine Lessons for Navigating National Security
- Trumped Up Alliances?
- Big Money in Politics Drives War
- Why Clinton Supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Trump Does Not
- The Trans-Pacific Partnership and the 2016 US Presidential Election
- Obama: The Conflict Resolution President?
- Bernie Sanders Still the 2016 Fundraising Champ
- Inequality Will Get Worse Until There's a Revolution
- Crime Can Pay if It's Big Enough
- Political Campaigns May Put Your Personal Data at Risk
- Fear, Anger and Attitudes Toward Immigration
- The New (Anti-)Secularism
- Clinton, Trump Poised for Northeastern Sweep on Tuesday
- Trump's Bad Ideas Aren't Un-American After All
- The Death Gap
- Why Trump Is No Longer a Safe Bet
- 22 People, $43 Million: The People Doling Out the Dough for Pro-Clinton Super PACs
- It's Literally Impossible to Deport 11 Million Immigrants
- Here's What a Budget That Prioritizes Peace Looks Like
- Does the Military Support Trump?
- Where Are the Wealthiest Voters?
- How the Pentagon Wastes Your Money
- This Election, We Can't Afford to Ignore the Climate
- The Children's Crusade
- When Islam Polices Extremists
- Hillary Clinton's State Department Armed Saudi Arabia to the Teeth
- Free From Jail, Imprisoned by Debt
- American Cities Most at Risk of Zika Virus
- Operation Paul Ryan
- What Trumpism Means for Democracy
- Trump Opens Floodgates of Hate
- Missing in Action: Political Reality and Leadership
- Give 'Tax and Spend' a Chance
- Donald Trump: Foreign Policy's Useful Idiot?
- When Red Tape Is a Good Thing
- Trump Holds Strong Lead in New York, Clinton-Sanders Race Tightens
- These States Give the Most Money to the Presidential Race
- The Most Influential Presidential Power Couples
- The Most Influential First Ladies
- Wall Street Should Pay a Sales Tax, Too
- Cruz, Not Trump, Has Shot to Beat Clinton
- Republicans Who Really Don't Like Donald Trump
- What Would Nancy Reagan Say?
- The Humpty Dumpty Party
- What Are Trump's Values -- and America's?
- Primary Trends: Media Goes Crazy, Bettors Yawn
- Most Liberal Members of Congress
- Most Conservative Members of Congress
- 25 Facts About Abraham Lincoln
- 25 Facts About John F. Kennedy
- Marco Rubio Is Winning the Neocon Primary
- Obama: The Fairy-Tale President?
- Terrorism & Trump: New Challenges for Social Justice Organizations
- How Sky-High CEO Pay Pollutes Our Planet and Our Politics
- Foucault's Analytic of Power
- The Cliché of Civilizations
- Religious Politics & Illiberal Religion
- Endless War, Undeclared and Undebated
- Bernie Sanders Has America Talking About Denmark
- Paul Ryan vs the People
Article: Courtesy InsideGov.com.
"The Most Influential First Ladies"