First ladies don’t get paid, but their jobs are certainly more than simply standing by the president.
Michelle Obama advocates for military families and children’s health with her “Let’s Move” initiative. First lady Laura Bush championed literacy and education. And beyond their causes, first ladies often act as advisers to their husbands behind the scenes. C-SPAN’s new series “First Ladies: Influence and Image” explores these topics.
C-SPAN talked to current first lady Michelle Obama, “I would have never thought that living in the White House and being first lady would feel natural. I try to bring a little bit of Michelle Obama into this. But at the same time, respecting and valuing the tradition that is American.”
“This is not a current phenomenon. It really begins all the way back you can even take a look at Abigail Adams, who was lobbying her husband for the rights of women—saying that if you do not keep in mind the ladies, when you’re taking a look at the Declaration of Independence and also the Constitution—we may foam at the rebellion,” said Mark Farkas, the program’s executive producer.
Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, a historian who consulted for the program mentioned Mary Todd Lincoln as a first lady who wielded a lot of influence—somewhat different from the role played by Sally Field in the movie, “Lincoln.”
“They didn’t know the behind the scenes lobbying that she did. She was an abolitionist, believe it or not. And she was perhaps President Lincoln’s biggest influence on abolishing slavery,” Terborg-Penn said.
Farkas added later, ”There may only be one person who comes to a president without someone else’s agenda in mind and that is the first lady. And over the years, they’ve had tremendous influence over their husbands.
“They often turned out to be fundraisers, campaign managers, they also had special projects that they liked. I think that began back with Dolly Madison and continued on into the present,” Terborg-Penn said.
The C-SPAN series will last for two years, airing Mondays at 9 p.m.