Hillary Clinton was the first First Lady ever elected to national office (Senator from New York) and the First Woman to win a presidential primary, in New Hampshire in 2008. She was not the first First Lady to be influential; Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt, is recognized as one of the most influential women of the twentieth century. She was not an appendage to her husband, but active in her own right. She was also a First Woman: the first presidential spouse to hold press conferences, speak at a national convention, or write a newspaper column.
Eleanor Roosevelt was not the only first lady to be a First Woman, although history does not do other first ladies the honor of recognizing their contributions. For instance, Claudia Alta Taylor who became “Lady Bird” Johnson, wife of Lyndon Johnson, is known for using her “office” to adopt a cause and work to beautify the country. What is less known is that she was a wise investor, responsible for her family’s wealth. She was the first First Lady to hire a press secretary, work directly with Congress, and electioneer on her own.
Two other First Ladies were also First Women. Rose Cleveland was the first First Lady to publish a book. One of her books, published with feminist leader Frances Willard in 1887 was How to Win: A Book for Girls. Herbert Hoover’s wife, Lou Henry Hoover, was proficient in Chinese, the first First Lady to speak an Asian language.
How many other First Ladies were strong in their own rights? It stands to reason that, just as powerful men today often appreciate strong women by their sides, powerful men in the past might also have preferred a thinking helpmate.