Betty Ford (née Bloomer, formerly Warren)- The Outspoken
- April 8, 1918-July 8, 2011
- Tenure: 1974-1977
- Children: Michael, Jack, Steven, Susan
- Relation to President: Wife
Early Life: Elizabeth Bloomer was born to William and Hortense. She was known as Betty since childhood but did say she wished that she’d been known as Elizabeth. Betty was educated at traditional high and grammar schools, but was enrolled in a dance academy by her mother. She enjoyed all sorts of dance and was known to be rather good at it. Unfortunately, Betty lost her father when she was sixteen. William was an alcoholic and it’s believed his death could be a suicide. Betty worked to help her widowed mother by teaching dance at school and at summer camp.
She studied under Martha Graham at a dance school in Vermont for two years before moving to New York. Betty worked as a model to pay for her studies and shared apartments with her fellow students. She eventually moved back to Grand Rapids at her mother’s request. Betty worked as a fashion purchaser and continued to teach dance.
Marriages: Her first marriage was in 1942 to an old friend named William Warren. They moved around a lot due to Warren’s work as a salesman. This made Betty miserable as she wanted to settle down and have a family. Betty filed for divorce but learned that her husband had taken ill. She stayed for two years longer in order to care for him. They divorced in 1947.
In the same year, Betty was introduced to Gerald Ford, a young lawyer who’d just left the Navy. They started dating when the divorced was finalized and they soon got engaged. Ford was planning on running for Congress and he and his advisors were worried that voters would not like him marrying a divorced dancer. They nevertheless married in 1948.
Pre-Tenure: Ford was elected and the pair moved to Washington. They had four children over seven years- three sons and a daughter. Betty became a Washington housewife who was involved in Congressional wives’ events. She also acted as tour guide for her husband’s constituents. Ford was often away so Betty raised her four children largely alone, apart from the assistance of her housekeeper. They nevertheless had a loving, happy marriage. Betty was deeply involved in her childrens’ lives and volunteered in out of school activities.
In 1964, Betty suffered a pinched nerve in the neck. This left her with chronic pain and an addiction to medication. She also became dependent on alcohol. After a nervous breakdown in 1965, Betty began regularly seeing a psychiatrist. She was thrilled when Ford announced that the 1974 congressional election would be his last. Unfortunately, that wasn’t meant to be. After the Vice President Spiro Agnew was forced to resign, Republican leaders told Richard Nixon that Ford was the only acceptable choice. Ford felt obligated to agree. Betty attended his hearings, which is where the news about her psychiatric help came out. She was at pains to assert that she was the one who had the help, not Ford.
Despite having only a few months as First Lady, Betty was very active. She continued to support Pat Nixon and was open about her admiration for the First Lady. Betty travelled the country on an art tour and formed the Republican Women’s Federal Forum. She upset the administration by attending the funeral of Alberta Williams King, the assassinated mother of MLK. Other activities included hosting dinners and posing for magazines.
Betty didn’t speak out about Watergate but she surely knew that things were coming to a head. When Ford was informed that more tapes would be coming out, he reportedly quipped ‘Betty, I don’t think we’re ever going to live in the vice president’s house.’ They’d not been able to move into Number One Observatory Circle as it was being renovated.
Nixon informed Ford that he planned to resign on August 8th 1974. The resignation went into effect the next day and Ford became President.
Tenure: Betty had very little time to prepare for her role as First Lady due to the sudden nature of the resignation. She held the Bible that her husband swore the oath of office on. In the early days in the White House, Betty had to organise a lot, including a dinner for the King of Jordan.
Just over a month into the administration, Betty received news that she had breast cancer. Such a subject was usually extremely taboo. Two days after her diagnosis, Betty had a mastectomy. Betty bravely announced what happened when she was hospitalized. She received mass media attention and thousands of letters from well wishers. It is believed that Betty inspired thousands of women to get checked.
Unlike the quiet and traditional Pat Nixon, Betty was known for being extremely open and unconventional. She talked about hot button topics such as abortion, pre-martial sex and marijuana. Betty was pro-choice, understanding about pre-marital sex and relatively liberal about drug use. This was controversial in the more conservative parts of the Republican Party, but Betty proved extremely popular with the public. Crowds turned out in their thousands to see her.
Betty did not have a particular cause, but was devoted to the arts and interested in helping disabled children. She tended to champion little known causes and charities. She was also highly political, having access to all of her husband’s papers and advising him on issues. Betty was a fierce proponent of the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment and her 1975 speech on the matter is famous for its candour and spirit. She contacted politicians to encourage them to vote on the ERA, though it would eventually fail. Betty was at pains to stress her role as a wife and mother, and believed that women should be respected whether they worked or not.
The First Lady joined her husband on twelve international trips but did not make any solo expeditions. When orphaned Vietnamese children were airlifted to America, Betty and Ford went to greet them. Betty did consider adopting an orphan but the idea ultimately went nowhere.
As the 1976 election occurred, Ford saw his unpopularity soar as he faced the previously unknown Jimmy Carter. Betty would state that she’d give her life so that her husband could have her solid approval ratings. Her candid nature was seen as a liability by Ford’s allies but the President himself never told his wife to keep quiet. They were an extremely open and loving couple who openly kissed and shared their affection publically. Betty even got in trouble for alluding to their sex life.
Post-Tenure: Betty Ford continued to lead a very public life after her husband lost the 1976 election. Jimmy Carter had her join the National Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year. She remained a fierce advocate for the ERA and joined both Rosalynn Carter and Lady Bird Johnson at the National Women’s Conference in 1977. Betty fought for the ratification of the ERA until it expired in 1981. Despite her loyalties to the Republican Party, Betty was pro-choice, believed in same-sex marriage and didn’t agree with the restrictions on LGBT soldiers. She was a strong advocate of HIV/AIDS patients and received awards for her philanthropy.
Following her time at the White House, Betty’s drinking and addiction to prescription medication spun out of control. In April 1978, Betty was the subject of an intervention by President Ford, their daughter Susan and other close relations. Finally realising that she needed help, Betty checked herself into rehab. She was open with the public about why she was there. During her stay, Betty shared a room with other patients, cleaned and was required to do group therapy.
In 1982, she founded the Betty Ford Clinic (now called the Betty Ford Center). Her plan was to focus on women’s addiction, but men are also accepted by the facility. It has 100 inpatient beds and a children’s centre among other things. Betty wrote about her addiction in three books and joined the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse in the 90s. She remained head of the clinic until 2005, when health problems forced her to give the role to Susan. President Ford also quit drinking in solidarity with his wife.
Betty became an avid gardener and nature lover later in life. She worked to create conservation areas in the Gerald R. Ford Park in Colorado. There are thousands of plant species in the area as well as educational facilities.
President Ford died in 2006. His funeral was her last major public appearance. She was unable to attend the funeral of Lady Bird Johnson and the Obama inauguration in 2009, but sent Michelle Obama a letter of congratulations.
Betty died in 2011. She is buried beside her husband in Michigan. Several First Ladies attended her funeral.
Appearance and Character: Betty was a petite woman with brown hair and blue eyes. She maintained her trim dancer’s figure throughout her life. Outspoken, fun and charismatic, Betty proved to be a very different First Lady to her predecessors. She never kept quiet about her beliefs and strongly believed in openness after Watergate. Betty was an extremely loving spouse and mother. Ford and Betty had one of the happiest relationships seen in the White House. She suffered through mental and physical issues, yet used them to help others and raise awareness.
Advocacy: The arts and other charities.
Rosalynn Carter (née Smith)- The Advocate
- August 18, 1927-Present
- Tenure: 1977-1981
- Children: Jack, James, Donnel, Amy
- Relation to President: Wife
Early Life: Eleanor Smith was born to Wilbur and Frances ‘Allie.’ She has used her middle name of Rosalynn all of her life. Both of her parents held multiple jobs as they lived in relative poverty. Rosalynn’s father died when she was only thirteen and her maternal grandmother died a year later. This meant that Allie was responsible for four children under fourteen and her elderly father. As a result, Allie had to work many jobs over several years.
Rosalynn graduated valedictorian of her high school class and had dreams of being an architect. She attended college for two years, but the poverty of her family forced her to leave. After her father’s death, she worked in a hair salon.
Marriage: The Smith and Carter families had been neighbours and friends for many years. Jimmy Carter was attending the US Naval Academy when he was reintroduced to Rosalynn. He proposed after a few months of dating but Rosalynn thought it to be too soon. Rosalynn agreed to his second proposal in 1946. They married in July of that year and Rosalynn chose to drop her college plans.
Pre-Tenure: Over the first seven years of their marriage, Carter and Rosalynn moved around a lot due to his naval role. They would have four children over twenty years, with their daughter Amy coming a lot later than their sons.
Carter’s father died in 1953 and the family returned to Plains. Rosalynn wasn’t thrilled about returning but was eventually resigned to the issue. Though Carter’s father had been relatively wealthy, debts meant that his son was struggling to get by. The Carters initially had to live in public housing. They eventually managed to turn a profit. Carter took classes whilst Rosalynn assisted with the books.
Carter ran for the Georgia State Senate in 1962; Rosalynn’s help was instrumental in the campaign. He ran for Governor in 1966 but failed. Carter ran again in 1970. Rosalynn served as an active First Lady of Georgia. She was interested in helping the mentally ill and those with learning disabilities. Rosalynn had been aware of the issue but the 1970 campaign really opened her eyes. She volunteered at a hospital, was Honorary Chairperson of the Georgia Special Olympics and spoke before government committees.
When Carter ran for the 1976 Democratic nomination for President, he had a name recognition of around 3% and was the clear outsider initially. Rosalynn stumped heavily for her husband. She travelled around the country and courted media attention. Rosalynn also pledged that she would help the mentally ill if she were First Lady.
Tenure: Carter and Rosalynn famously walked the Inaugural route together, hand in hand. Rosalynn immediately proved to be an activist First Lady. Though she did not vocally participate, she sat in cabinet meetings and wrote notes. Carter admitted to listening to his wife’s counsel on policy. They had a working lunch every Wednesday to hash out ideas.
Rosalynn maintained an office in the East Wing and had her own meetings with official figures. Her role was recognised more formally and Congress appropriated money for paid staff. Rosalynn also took extremely important foreign visits to Central and South America. She was the President’s personal representative and she travelled the region to ensure good relations. Rosalynn visited Thailand to meet the Cambodian refugees that had flooded the country. She pushed for the creation of a crisis center and succeeded. Rosalynn got Carter to increase the number of refugees allowed in the country and increase the support given to them.
Her pledge to help the mentally ill came to fruition. In 1977, Rosalynn became Active Honorary Chair of the President’s Commission on Mental Health. This role saw her oversee staff, tour the country, speak to committees and develop task forces among other things. Rosalynn volunteered at a hospital for special needs patients and helped pass the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980.
Other interests included volunteering and the elderly. Rosalynn was a fervent supporter of the ERA and joined her predecessors Betty Ford and Lady Bird Johnson at the Women’s Conference of 1977. Rosalynn pushed for more women to be included in campaigns, federal positions and in the military. She hoped to see a woman appointed to the Supreme Court. Rosalynn agreed with Roe v Wade but opposed federally funded abortion.
Rosalynn was a huge help to Carter during the 1980 election. She headed around the country for speeches and helped get delegates on board during the convention. It was unfortunately in vain and Carter lost to Ronald Reagan.
Post-Tenure: Carter and Rosalynn have enjoyed one of the longest lives post-Presidency. This has allowed Rosalynn to partake in a huge number of activities over the 41 years since the Carters left the White House. These include championing women’s rights and anti-poverty reform.
Mental health has continued to be Rosalynn’s passion project. Her particular interest is in children’s mental health and she has spoken up about high suicide rates. She meets with others around the world to discuss it. Her work on mental health could be an article on its own but we’ll leave it brief for the sake of the article.
As of writing, the Carters have been married for nearly 76 years. They were unable to attend the 2021 inauguration due to their age and health. Rosalynn lives with her husband in their hometown of Plains, Georgia.
Appearance and Character: In her youth, Rosalynn was a woman of medium height with auburn hair and hazel eyes. Rosalynn is a kind, charitable woman who is an underrated political force. She genuinely cares about the mentally ill and handicapped. Her relationship with Carter is a famous one and she’s proven to be an extremely loving wife. Being out of the White House has not stopped her charity and drive. She was well regarded as a hostess and political spouse. Rosalynn, like her husband, is a deeply devout Christian.
Advocacy: Mental health, special needs people, the elderly and women.
Nancy Reagan (née Davis, born Robbins)- The Astrologer
- July 6, 1921-March 6, 2016
- Tenure: 1981-1989
- Children: Patti, Ron
- Relation to President: Wife
Early Life: Anne Frances Robbins was born to Kenneth and Edith. She was known as Nancy from birth. Her parents had married five years before her birth but were separated soon after Nancy was born. They officially divorced in 1928. Edith resumed her career after the separation and sent Nancy to live with relatives. Upon Edith’s marriage to neurosurgeon Loyal E. Davis 1929, the family moved to Chicago in 1929. Nancy was very close to Davis and he legally adopted her; she took his surname.
Nancy attended Sidwell Friends School initially, the school is known for educating the children of prominent politicians in DC. Alumni include the Obama and Nixon sisters. She attended the Girl’s Latin School in Chicago from 1929 until graduation. In 1943, Nancy graduated from the all-girls Smith College with a major in dramatic arts.
After working as a sales clerk and a nurse’s aide, Nancy became involved in theatre and musicals. She got a seven year screen test with MGM in 1949. Nancy was in eleven feature films but never achieved a high level of stardom.
Marriage: Nancy found herself mistakenly put on the Hollywood Blacklist of communist sympathisers and went to Ronald Reagan, the President of the Screen Actors Guild. She’d been mistaken for a different actress of the same name. Reagan and Nancy started dating for several years but were not exclusive. The end of Reagan’s previous marriage had been painful for him. They eventually wed in 1952.
Pre-Tenure: Nancy continued working, albeit at a lesser pace, after marriage. She appeared frequently in General Electric Theater, a show hosted by her husband. Viewers would see Reagan, Nancy and their children modelling their technologically advanced home, paid for and kitted out by General Electric. She and Reagan had two children together- Patti and Ron, and she was stepmother to Maureen and Michael.
She spent two terms as First Lady of California. Her interests included the elderly, veterans and those with special needs. She donated the salary from her writing to the National League of POW/MIA Families. Nancy was especially interested in the welfare of Vietnam veterans and the families of those missing or captured. She encouraged bringing the elderly and handicapped children together as a sort of adopted grandparents situation.
Nancy was worried and upset when Reagan ran for the 1976 Republican nomination. She generally stayed in the background when it came to the campaign and was uncomfortable campaigning. This changed in 1980 as Nancy became more comfortable. She began to make her own appearances. The ticket of Reagan/Bush won against the uncomfortable Carter.
Tenure: An event that occured only two months after the first Reagan inauguration provided Nancy with one of her biggest challenges ever. On the 30th March 1981, seventy year old Reagan was shot in an assassination attempt. Nancy rushed to his side, where the cheerful Reagan told her ‘honey, I forgot to duck.’ Reagan managed to make a full recovery but the incident deeply upset Nancy. She took on the services of astrologer Joan Quigley, whom she had become acquainted with some years before. Quigley would tell Nancy when it would be safe for Reagan to make appearances. Nancy took the role of her husband’s protector, to the ire of his staff.
Her pet issue was her anti-drug crusade, commonly known as ‘Just Say No.’ Nancy’s focus was on drug prevention among teenagers and young people. She travelled all over the country and spoke at the UN. President Reagan was pushed to sign the Anti-Drug Bill of 1986, which he did. Whilst Nancy no doubt had good intentions, she was criticised for pushing hard punishments instead of treatment.
Nancy was well known for her fashion and interior design taste. She was a fan of red and it became her signature colour, much like Mamie Eisenhower and pink. Nancy’s collaborations with American designers pleased the fashion industry and she was loaned many luxury items. She also purchased an expensive set of china through private donations. Despite the fact her clothes were loaned and the china paid by donations, she was criticized for her extravagance. She was given the derogatory nickname ‘Queen Nancy’ and criticised as a snobbish Queen Bee.
In an attempt to regain her popularity, Nancy attended the 1982 Gridiron Dinner wearing a set of zany clothing, hat and feather boa. She went up on stage, to the surprise of other performers, and performed a skit by singing a song called ‘Second Hand Rose.’ The ability to laugh at herself took the heat off Nancy and the press backed off.
Unfortunately, Nancy did have a reputation for being difficult. She was very demanding to White House staff and did not have a close relationship with them like her predecessors had. Her relationship with her husband’s staff was very bad and she often locked horns with Don Regan, the Chief of Staff. Nancy had a lot of influence in hiring and firing. She took a dislike to the Bush family and never invited them to the private dinners or other events. Nancy’s relationship with her children and stepchildren was poor. She and daughter Patti were estranged for years. After Reagan’s death, her relationship with stepson Michael was so severe that she wouldn’t be alone with him.
Nancy was, however, absolutely devoted to her husband. She designated herself as her husband’s protector and immersed herself fully in his life. Any staff member she thought was disloyal was at risk of being fired. Nancy blamed his staff for Iran-Contra, believing Reagan had been misled by them. She was the one who pushed for Reagan to reach out to Mikhail Gorbachev. Many went to Nancy in order to get Reagan’s ear. Throughout their long marriage they were absolutely in love and never afraid to show affection, much to the discomfort of others.
Post-Tenure: Upon leaving the White House, Nancy continued her anti-drug work. She set up the Nancy Reagan Foundation and later an after school programme to keep kids away from drugs. In 1989, the IRS investigated the Reagans over taxes owed on items they’d been loaned. The couple paid the taxes back. She also released a book in that year, a memoir called ‘My Turn.’
Reagan had excitedly planned for an extensive and active post-presidency. That shattered when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 1994, a disease that he’d been showing signs of for some years. In his statement that announced his illness, his first thought was for his wife. Nancy spent the next ten years as his caretaker. Her public appearances became more infrequent, especially outside of their home of California, but she and Reagan founded Ronald and Nancy Reagan Research Institute in Chicago. The institute is dedicated to Alzheimer’s research. In 2002, Nancy received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
President Reagan died in 2004. In his last moments, he looked lovingly at his beloved Nancy. She was admired for her quiet dignity during the memorial period and as one might expect, she took control of the funeral. Before leaving the casket for the final time, she mouthed ‘I love you.’
Nancy continued to make public appearances until her death. After the passing of Reagan, Nancy became a devoted supporter of stem cell research. This put her in conflict with George W. Bush’s administration. Bush opposed stem cell research on moral and religious grounds, using his first veto to stop federal funds for it. When Barack Obama reinstated it, Nancy was glad.
She supported the Republican Party at events and was seen campaigning for John McCain in 2008. During the 2010 midterms, she voiced enthusiasm for candidates Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina. She endorsed Mitt Romney in 2012 and hosted a Republican debate the previous year. Nancy would unveil her husband’s statue in the Capitol Rotunda and receive medals in his memory.
Nancy Reagan died at home in March 2016 at the age of 94. All First Ladies bar Barbara Bush attended as well as a large cohort of politicians and entertainers such as Mr. T. Nancy was buried with her husband in California.
Appearance and Character: Nancy Reagan was a petite, slender woman with bouffant brown hair and hazel eyes. She was an extremely devoted wife who put all of her energy into her husband, though this came at the cost of her children and others. The two genuinely loved one another deeply. Nancy contrasted with her predecessor Rosalynn Ford, as she was more of a conservative traditionalist. She was known for her difficult nature and perfectionism. Her anti-drug campaign was no doubt made with good intentions and she truly pushed for stem cell research, despite Republican opposition. Nancy did help foster the relationship between Reagan and Gorbachev that helped to end the Cold War
Advocacy: Anti-drugs, veterans and the elderly
Barbara Bush (née Pierce)- The Literary Lover
- June 8, 1925–April 17, 1918
- Tenure: 1989-1993
- Children: George, Robin, Jeb, Neil, Marvin, Dorothy
- Relation to President: Wife
Early Life: Barbara Pierce was born to Marvin and Pauline. She was distantly related to Abigail Adams and was the fourth cousin four times removed of Franklin Pierce. Barbara lived most of her life in Rye, New York. She was an avid reader who was inspired by her father’s publishing career. The family would often read together. Barbara was a mischievous young woman who enjoyed athletics, tennis in particular.
She was educated initially at a girls’ school in Rye; this was followed by a boarding institution in South Carolina. Barbara then attended Smith College for a year and a half. This was a huge step for the sheltered Barbara as she’d never attended an integrated school. During the summer she worked, including in a factory that made parts for the war effort.
Marriage: 16 year old Barbara met high school senior George H. W. Bush at a Christmas dance. They began a correspondence and she was his date to his senior prom. Bush proposed just before he headed out to the war as a fighter pilot. He got leave in early 1945. Barbara dropped out of college and the pair wed in January 1945. Bush had named three of his WWII planes after her.
Pre-Tenure: The pair moved around several times in the first few months of their marriage before Bush was accepted at Yale. Barbara worked at the campus shop until the birth of the pair’s first son, George Jr. After Bush graduated Yale, the family headed to Texas so that he could join the oil business. Barbara suffered a personal tragedy when her mother died in an accident. The family briefly lived in Whittier, California, where they became acquainted with Richard Nixon.
Bush and Barbara would have six children. Barbara was a homemaker who cared for her children. She enjoyed hobbies such as Sunday school, amateur dramatics and the YMCA. The family summered in Maine but moved over twenty eight times during their life. The Bush family suffered from a huge tragedy in 1953 when daughter Pauline- who’d been named after her deceased grandmother- died of leukaemia.
When Barbara discovered that two of her African-American companions couldn’t stay in the same hotels as her, she refused to sleep in places that barred blacks from staying. In 1966, Bush was elected to Congress. This introduced Barbara to political life. She was a traditional political spouse who focused on their large family. Barbara enjoyed her time in New York when Bush was Ambassador to the UN. She befriended diplomats and world leaders.
She also liked her time in China, where she rode about on a bicycle and learnt about local culture. Barbara was less happy when her husband became Director of the CIA, as his work was so confidential that he couldn’t tell her anything about it. This loneliness led to a depression that Barbara later said she wished that she would have got help for.
Bush ran for President in 1980. He was initially in the lead but Ronald Reagan eventually stole the show. Barbara presented herself as a traditional wife but shocked the conservative wing of the party by openly supporting the ERA and Roe v. Wade. Bush became Reagan’s running mate and they won over the incumbent Carter/Mondale ticket.
Barbara was a confident Second Lady at ease meeting people. She contrasted herself to Nancy Reagan in that she was less uptight and had no interest in luxuries. Bush and Barbara were never personal guests of the Reagans due to Nancy’s dislike of them. Barbara’s focus was on literacy, which we’ll see more of in her First Lady section. Her sharp tongue got her into trouble- in 1984, she said that her views on Geraldine Ferraro ‘rhymed with rich.’ Barbara later apologised.
Bush ran for the 1988 Presidential election and won.
Tenure: Barbara did not like the trappings of the White House. She hated the security, the fuss and the restrictions. Barbara was nevertheless a popular First Lady. Her eight years as Second Lady had prepared her for the role. Barbara was at ease in meeting people and doing speeches.
Her chosen issue was that of literacy. Her son Neil was dyslexic and Barbara had become interested in literacy because of him. Barbara championed reading across the country, especially in regards to children and new immigrants from Latin America. She helped found the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. Barbara encouraged parents to read aloud to children. During her time in the White House, Barbara wrote a book written from the perspective of her spaniel, Millie.
She was outspoken about civil rights. Barbara encouraged the hiring of more African-Americans and hired the first black Press Secretary. She appeared at Martin Luther King Day events, openly admired Civil Rights heroines and spoke at HBCUs. Barbara also supported those with HIV/AIDS. One example of this was when she lit candles in the White House window in memorial of those who’d died.
Her wit and charm made her hugely popular with the press. One of her children remarked that she was a media genius. Though Barbara was not a particularly political person, she was seen as an essential part of the administration. She did say abortion and homosexuality should be personal decisions.
Post-Tenure: Barbara was upset that her husband lost the 1992 election but took the result with grace. One month after the Clinton inauguration, the Bushes headed on a cruise. She spent her new free time volunteering. Barbara continued her passion for literacy, establishing reading programmes and fundraisers. She also wrote several memoirs after she left office.
Barbara didn’t want her son George to run for Governor of Texas but was pleased he won. She was nervous during his 2000 Presidential election, refusing to watch the debates and believing that he wouldn’t win. Upon his inauguration, Bush Jr would become one of only three presidents whose both parents were alive upon his ascension into office.
She continued to be active during her son’s presidency. Her views on Sarah Palin courted controversy after she remarked that she wished she’d stayed in Alaska. Barbara also didn’t want Jeb to run for President either but supported him nonetheless. She had a deep dislike of Donald Trump, hating him for his attacks on her sons. Trump himself said she had reason to dislike him. Barbara, in her later years, said she no longer considered herself a Republican.
In April 2018, it was announced Barbara had been hospitalised recently but was now seeking palliative care at home. Two days later, Barbara passed away. She was buried in Texas. Her husband George survived her by only a few months. He is buried beside her.
Appearance and Character: Barbara Bush was 5’8 with brown hair and green eyes. Her hair turned snowy white early on and it became her feature. Barbara was a witty, fun and warm woman who was widely admired. She and her husband had a loving relationship, whilst her children remembered her fondly. She could be very outspoken but rarely rude. Some of her views caused upset, such as the comments regarding Ferraro and Palin. Barbara cared passionately for literacy and books. She was also very progressive when it came to civil rights and HIV/AIDS.
Advocacy: Literacy, civil rights and HIV/AIDS help
Hillary Clinton (née Rodham)- The Feminist
- October 26, 1947-Present
- Tenure: 1993-2001
- Children: Chelsea
- Relation to President: Wife
Early Life: Hillary Rodham was born to Hugh and Dorothy. Dorothy had lived a difficult life and had been tricked by her mother into not attending college, so she encouraged her daughter’s education. Hillary was an overachiever from an early age. In elementary school, she won her first election, gaining the role of co-Captain of the safety patrol. Throughout her years, Hillary was a National Merit Scholar and member of the National Honors Society among other things. Her father Hugh was a devoted Republican and an early Hillary leaned conservative.
Hillary started at the girls’ only Wellesley College in 1965. Classmates remember her as a fierce and intelligent woman. She shifted from her original position as a moderate Republican to Democrat over these years. In 1968, she officially left the GOP. She became the first student to perform an address at graduation.
In 1969, Hillary entered Yale Law School. Her focus was on children’s law as well as labour rights. She spent the summer of 1971 at a radical law firm in California. After graduating in 1973, Hillary did a postgraduate year. Following this, Hillary worked for the Children’s Defence Force and was part of Nixon’s impeachment hearings.
Marriage: Hillary met Bill Clinton at Yale Law. The story goes that she saw him staring at her in the library, marched up and introduced herself. Clinton spent the summer of 1971 in California with Hillary and the pair lived together when they arrived back at Yale. Following graduation, Clinton proposed a number of times but the cautious Hillary rejected him several times. In 1974, Clinton headed to Arkansas to practice law and Hillary followed him, to the shock of friends and family.
Hillary Rodham married Bill Clinton in October 1975. It was a small wedding in their front room.
Pre-Tenure: Upon arriving in law school, Hillary became a law professor and a court appointed defender. In 1976, Hillary briefly moved to Indianapolis to work for Jimmy Carter’s successful presidential campaign. Carter himself had asked Hillary to work on the campaign. When Hillary returned to Arkansas, she and Clinton moved to Little Rock as he had been elected Attorney-General of the State. After his inauguration, Hillary joined the Rose Law Firm. Founded in 1820, it is one of Arkansas’ most influential law firms. In 1979, she became its first female partner. Her focus remained children’s law.
Clinton was elected the Governor of Arkansas in 1978 as one of the youngest governors in the country. Hillary continued to work whilst heading a local health committee. Her choice to retain her maiden name was controversial in the deeply conservative and traditional Arkansas.
In 1980, Hillary had the couple’s only child, a girl named Chelsea. Clinton lost the gubernatorial election of that year and some blamed Hillary for this, as her choice in keeping her maiden name had been controversial. He won again in 1982. By that point, Hillary started going by Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Hillary was First Lady of Arkansas for a total of 12 years, though it was non consecutive. She chaired the Arkansas Education Committee, fighting for higher standards. Hillary also continued her legal work and wrote a weekly column.
Bill Clinton announced that he was running for President on the 3rd October 1991. Hillary campaigned heavily for her husband but proved to be extremely divisive. The campaign focused on her legal work, especially regarding children, whilst Clinton proclaimed that they were a two for one package. Compared to her predecessors, Hillary was a more modern woman, having worked for most of her life.
Comments she made upset traditionalists. In one interview, she was asked about her career. Hillary responded by saying: “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas.” Though she said this in response to attacks by Jerry Brown, another 1992 candidate, she received blowback.
One of her more memorable moments happened in a January 1992 interview. When asked about their marriage, Hillary replied with: “You know, I’m not sitting here – some little woman ‘standing by my man’ like Tammy Wynette.” This caused a firestorm and particularly hurt Wynette herself. The country star was upset by the remark and asked for an apology.
Nevertheless, Hillary did find admirers among women who shared her ideology. Clinton and his running mate, Tennessee’s Al Gore, won against the incumbent George H. W. Bush.
Tenure: Hillary set up her office in the West Wing, specifically the Old Executive Office Building. This was unprecedented. Her mainly female staff was known as ‘Hillaryland.’ She was famously extremely political, especially compared to her predecessors, and lived up to the ‘two for one’ combo that Clinton had talked about.
Only a few days into the administration, Hillary was appointed by her husband to the role of Chair of the President’s Task Force on Health Care Reform. This was immediately controversial as it was not an elected role and there were cries of nepotism. The role of the group was to release a recommendation as to how healthcare could be reformed in the United States. Hillary and the committee eventually recommended a path to universal healthcare. After a backlash, the administration chose not to back it. It officially died in September 1994.
Hillary was more successful with the bipartisan Children’s Health Insurance Program. It ensured that children would receive health care if their parents couldn’t afford it.
Known as a feminist, Hillary also championed women’s rights. She spoke out against the Taliban’s treatment of women, something we would see her successor Laura Bush do. In a famous speech in Beijing, Hillary declared that “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.” She also continued her work with children and worked on foster/adoption reform.
Scandal did plague Hillary, however. The first major crisis was Whitewater, which was kicking off in the early days of the Clinton presidency. In short, the Clintons had invested in a vacation home development run by a friend. The investment failed so the friend, Jim McDougal, bought a savings and loan company. He defrauded it and cost the government over $70 million. The Clintons were accused of using political influence to help McDougal. It was eventually decided that there wasn’t enough evidence to convict them, though they did acknowledge the Clintons promoted lies.
A second crisis came in the form of Travelgate. In 1993, several staff members were fired from the White House Travel Office. It then transpired that they were fired to make way for friends of the Clintons. Whilst both Clinton and Hillary were eventually exonerated, it’s believed that Hillary made false statements.
Probably the hardest time for Hillary in the White House years was during the Lewinsky scandal. Clinton initially told his wife that the claims that he’d had an affair with staffer Monica Lewinsky were untrue. Hillary believed him and called it a ‘vast right-wing conspiracy.’ Eventually, Clinton was forced to tell Hillary the truth. The First Lady put on a brave face in public but was extremely angry at the president. Critics contended that she was staying with him in order to gain power for herself. Others were sympathetic.
In July 1999, Hillary announced that she was running for the open New York Senate seat. As Clinton was term limited, they could move to New York and Hillary didn’t have to worry about the 2000 election. This raised eyebrows, as Hillary doesn’t have a solid connection to New York State. She nevertheless threw herself into campaigning, focusing on upstate New York in order to win over Republicans and independents. Hillary won and was sworn in on the 3rd January 2001, seventeen days before the inauguration.
Post-Tenure: Only a few months after Hillary was sworn into office, 9/11 happened. As Junior Senator of New York, Hillary was at the frontline of the response to the crisis. One of her legacies is her managing to secure $2.4BN in tracking the health of those who were on the ground on the day. She also got funding for Ground Zero to be redeveloped. Hillary voted for the invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq, though she later regretted it.
In the 2006 Senate election, Hillary ran once again and won easily. She sat on several Senate committees, voted against the Bush tax cuts and his Supreme Court nominations.
When Hillary announced her run for the Presidency in 2008, it seemed as though she was the locked in favourite. She found a strong opponent in Illinois Senator Barack Obama. The pair fought for months but in the end, Obama sailed ahead. Hillary endorsed Obama and there was even talk of her being his Vice Presidential Candidate.
After Obama won, it was announced that he’d be nominating Hillary to be his Secretary of State. Hillary served one term in the role but oversaw a hugely changing world. She travelled to a huge number of countries, from Cuba to Kazakhstan. One of her areas of interest was security in Afghanistan. Hillary encouraged an extra 40,000 troops in a surge but was forced to compromise.
The Arab Spring kicked off when Hillary was Secretary of State. Hillary favoured intervention in Libya and Syria, though she was overruled in the latter case. When it came to assassinating Osama Bin Laden, Hillary supported going after him. This was in contrast with Vice President Joe Biden, who was against it.
On the 11th September 2012, the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked by Islamic militants. The four dead included two CIA contractors, a Foreign Service worker and US Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens. Hillary and other senior officials immediately came under fire. Hearings were held and Hillary was required to speak before Congress. Committees and hearings lasted for several years but Hillary was exonerated of any official wrongdoing.
Hillary left after Obama’s second inauguration, as had been her plan. She spent her time as a private citizen heading the Clinton Foundation, doing paid speeches and writing books. It was still widely believed that Hillary would run again. This was confirmed in April 2015, when she officially announced that she was running for 2016.
Once again, Hillary was widely expected to win the Democratic nomination. Her competition this time was Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, an outspoken socialist who appealed to younger voters. He beat her in New Hampshire and nearly did the same in Iowa. Hillary eventually won the nomination and selected Virginia Senator Tim Kaine as her running mate. It was widely believed that Hillary would beat Republican nominee Donald Trump. She led the polls by a wide margin and many thought Trump would lose badly.
The email controversy heated up during the campaign. Hillary had used a private email server instead of a federal one during her time in the State Department. It was initially decided that Hillary would not be charged, despite her carelessness. A few days before the election, FBI Director James Comey announced they’d be looking into a new batch of emails. This was controversial, as it was believed this would negatively impact the Clinton campaign. It was still believed that Hillary would win, as Trump’s infamous Access Hollywood tape had seemingly sunk the Republican campaign.
On the 8th November 2016, America went to the polls. Instead of winning in a landslide, Hillary won the popular vote but not the electoral college. Much of the loss can be pinned down to the Rust Belt, which either ignored Hillary or went for Trump. Hillary had not written a concession speech but conceded nonetheless.
Since 2016, Hillary has lived as a private citizen. She has written several books, including a memoir about her electoral loss. She has received several honours and was appointed Chancellor of Queen’s University, Belfast. A documentary about her was released in 2020. Hillary is a strong critic of Donald Trump.
Appearance and Character: Hillary Clinton is of medium height with short blonde hair. She is an extremely intelligent and passionate woman with lots of political experience. Her feminism is a point of pride and she is arguably the first ‘modern’ First Lady. Hillary managed to keep a dignified face during her husband’s indiscretions. She is, however, a very controversial figure who has been involved in more than her fair share of scandals. Some have accused her of difficulty and rudeness, though her staff has been extremely loyal.
Advocacy: Women’s rights, healthcare and children.