On five separate occasions, Siena College Research has conducted a study on First Ladies. Historians have been asked to rate each First Lady on a scale 1-5 in ten different categories. They were collated together to create a ranking. 

I decided to do my own version using the Siena categories. To make it easier, I’ve only included First Ladies from Eleanor Roosevelt onwards, so favourites like Dolley Madison and Abigail Adams won’t be on here. Jill Biden will also not be added as she is the incumbent. Whilst the original did a value scale, I am sticking with the 1-5 divided by ten. 

As you can imagine, the views are very subjective. I’ve drawn upon my knowledge, data and sources in order to come to a fair conclusion for each. Note that apart from the background, the categories pertain to their time as First Lady, so anything legacy wise is not included. 

Categories

Background- Her life before being First Lady, including education, work and advocacy

Value to the Country- Ambassador both at home and abroad

Being The White House Steward- Caring for their presidential residence 

CourageBravery in times of adversity 

AccomplishmentsHer work as First Lady, afterwards and her legacy

IntegrityHer morality 

LeadershipGood qualities as de facto consort of the country

Being Her Own Woman- Being a separate entity to her husband

Public ImageHer popularity with the public

Value to the PresidentHow much she assists her husband personally and politically 

1) Eleanor Roosevelt – 4.6/5

Eleanor Roosevelt easily topped the leaderboard. She had the highest marks in all but one category. I rated her highest for her courage, integrity, accomplishment, leadership and being her own woman. Roosevelt is remembered for her activism in regards to civil rights, her advancement of women’s rights and assisting the poor.

Her lowest score is in White House stewardship. Roosevelt was not particularly known for her interest in the White House or its preservation. She was of great value to her husband, but her score would have been increased if he’d actually listened to her.

I’d rank her at Number 1 on my personal list. 

Personal Accolade: Most Empowering

2) Jacqueline Kennedy – 4.21/5 

One of the most beloved First Ladies and my idol, Jackie Kennnedy received consistently good marks across the board. She received excellent marks for Stewardship of the White House due to her interest in preserving 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Her public image is also high due to her immense popularity, fashion sense and class. I also ranked her highly for courage due to the hardships she faced in office. Her lowest score came in being her own woman. 

On my personal list, she’d be third after Eleanor Roosevelt and Abigail Adams. She’s my favourite person who’s been First Lady. 

Personal Accolade: Most Iconic

3) Betty Ford – 4.0/5

One of the most candid and outspoken women to ever reside in the White House, Betty Ford comes out third here. Her integrity, courage and value to the President receive the highest marks. Ford was open about the issues facing women that were usually taboo, such as mental health and breast cancer. Her openness about her mastectomy helped thousands of women check themselves. Whilst she was sometimes disparaged, her polling numbers were sky high. Ford did say she’d give her life for her husband to have her polling numbers.

Ford’s lowest score was in the Stewardship of the White House, as she did not take much of an interest.

I’d personally put her in my top 10. 

Personal Accolade: Most Honest

4) Michelle Obama – 3.95/5

One of the most recent First Ladies, Michelle Obama just misses the podium. Her background and being her own woman gets her the biggest marks – she graduated from two Ivy League colleges and had a successful career. Obama also did well in the public image category due to her general popularity. 

Her weakest category was Stewardship of the White House. 

I would rank Obama within the top half of First Ladies at least.

Personal Accolade: Most Family-Oriented

5) Laura Bush – 3.93/5

Laura Bush is often forgotten due to being sandwiched between Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama, but managed to get fifth place. Her public image, value to the President and integrity got her the highest marks. She remained very popular due to her uncontroversial nature and issues raised whilst First Lady. 

Her lowest score is in background – whilst fine, it does not compare to others. 

I’m personally a fan of Laura and would rate her in the Top 10. 

Personal Accolade: Most Refined

6) Lady Bird Johnson – 3.9/5

A formidable and intelligent woman who made the family millionaires, Lady Bird Johnson comes in at a respectable sixth. This contributes to her high background score. Her value to her husband cannot be overstated – she vetted his speeches, gave counsel and calmed him down when he went into a mood. Her lowest score is in being her own woman, as it was said she put her husband’s needs above everything. 

I’d rank her quite highly on a personal level. 

Personal Accolade: Most Savvy

7) Hillary Clinton – 3.8/5

A controversial First Lady, Hillary Clinton is exactly halfway down the table. Her best scores came in her background – an Ivy League educated lawyer at a top law firm – and being her own woman. Whilst Bill Clinton said that they were a two for one combo, Clinton was definitely her own woman.

Her value to the country’s score is lowest due to the scandal and her failed healthcare reform. I was unsure about public opinion due to her eventually being able to be voted to the Senate, but she was also very Marmite.

Whilst I’m not a fan of the woman herself, she did make some impact. She’s not in my Top 10 but she’s far from the worst First Lady. 

Personal Accolade: Most Feminist 

8) Barbara Bush – 3.78/5

Slightly underneath her immediate successor, Barbara Bush makes eighth place. She scores highly for being a Steward of the White House due to her affability, humour and excellent social skills. Bush’s integrity, public image and value to the President also rank highly. She was popular for her candid nature and had strong moral values. 

Her background is generally unremarkable, though I cannot fault her commitment to family. 

I like Barbara Bush – she had her traditional values but was witty and cared about the issues. I’d put her higher than Hillary Clinton.

Personal Accolade: Most Sharp 

9) Rosalynn Carter – 3.7/5

A true Steel Magnolia, long-lived Rosalynn Carter gets ninth place. Her courage and accomplishments get high marks. She bravely spoke up about mental illness and encouraged the nation to understand the taboo. Her advocacy helped pass the monumental Mental Health Act of 1980. Carter would also sit in on her husband’s cabinet meetings and wasn’t afraid to spar with him on policy, making her a huge value to the President. 

The background and being her own woman categories were her weakest. 

Personal Accolade: Most Underestimated 

10) Pat Nixon – 3.6/5

A true lady, Pat Nixon gained tenth place. She scores highest in public image, value to the President and Stewardship of the White House. Nixon took great care of the residence, personally guided tourists and ensured the disabled had equal access. She was also well regarded for her dignity, though she was often derided as ‘Plastic Pat.’ Nixon was also a huge help to her husband through her successful trips abroad.

Her lowest score is in being her own woman. Nixon was often seen as being an extension of her own husband and ensured she did nothing to ruin her husband’s career.

I’d personally put Pat Nixon quite high as she was a pretty remarkable woman who people often dismissed. She was also extremely warm hearted and kind. I’d put her above several others on this list.

Personal Accolade: Most Underrated 

11) Nancy Reagan – 3.43/5

Few can think of Ronald Reagan without thinking of Nancy Reagan. She scores best on value to the President. Few can argue that Reagan wasn’t absolutely dedicated to her husband and his career. Reagan also does well on being a Steward of the White House as she dedicated significant resources to its restoration.

Her lowest scores came in public image and being her own woman. Reagan put her husband above everything, even her own children at some points. Her popularity also waxed and waned due to her apparent snobbishness and spendthrift nation.

Whilst not a spectacular First Lady, Reagan did make her own mark in the role. 

Personal Accolade: Most Devoted 

12) Mamie Eisenhower – 3.4/5

Known for her love of the colour pink, Mamie Eisenhower makes it to number 12 on the list. She scores best in leadership, value to her husband and public image. As a former army wife, Eisenhower knew how to run the White House with a firm hand. She was also a very popular housewife whose recipes were widely copied. 

Her lowest score comes in her background and being her own woman, as she seemed to another extension of her husband.

Not the greatest First Lady but played well with the gender roles of the time. I also can’t fault someone who likes pink. 

Personal Accolade: Most Domestic 

14) Bess Truman- 3.02/5

An unexpected First Lady, Bess Truman is first from bottom. Truman did best in the value to the President as she was a constant support and helpmate to her husband. She was generally average in most categories, for Truman didn’t particularly want to be First Lady.

Her weakest scores were in public image and accomplishments simply because we didn’t see much of her.

I wouldn’t rate her too highly.

Personal Accolade: Most Private 

15) Melania Trump – 2.96/5

The most recent former First Lady, Melania Trump sadly ranks bottom but received a respectable score. Her best rating is in Stewardship of the White House. Trump did a lot of work when decorating and restoring the residence, including the controversial garden project. Her public image is ranked fairly well- she was more popular than her husband and seen as a very elegant figure.

Trump’s remaining scores were average to low. This is generally because she wasn’t interested in being First Lady and picked a simple issue to champion. 

It’s a bit too early to vote on her legacy but she’s probably not the absolute worst First Lady. 

Personal Accolade: Most Reserved 

What do you think? What would be your ratings for each category? 

Share.
Avatar photo

Sarah Stook is a freelance writer with a great interest in US politics. Her area of interest is the Republican Party, presidential elections and how campaigns are conducted. You can follow her on Twitter at @sarah_stook.

57 Comments

  1. I think Melania should be around Jackie Kennedy. Both women were elegant, gracious and had impeccable taste in clothes. Laura Bush should be next, then Barbara Bush. Hillary should be close to the bottom with being devious, stretching the truth, etc. Both Jackie and Melania were shy and did not like to be big mouths. They let their husbands handle the government affairs and they just stayed in the background doing what they loved the most and that is being a mother. Neither Jackie nor Melania really cared about being in the spotlight. Also, people did not like Melania due to her husband which is very childish. She had some of the most elegant Christmas decorations of anybody but because she was Melania, they were terrible. Also, I did like Hillary as a First Lady until she started trying to run everything.

    • Being elegant does not make you a good first lady. First ladies also had their own things that they supported. Melanie was don’t be a bully – yea trump is the biggest bully of all. Melanie hated doing anything – obvious listening to the secret tape. She cursed like a barmaid. She had the worst decorations that anyone could have done at the White House – Black was the theme. Why are you anonymous – are you Melania.

    • Teresa Eileen Padua on

      absolutely the worst 1st lady. He had no class. She did absolutely nothing to earn the title of first lady. She lied about her education, her citizenship and her past background. Horrible first lady

      • No she never lied about anything…you must be listening to fake news. Milania out does Michael Obama and killary. These are the two worst ones to ever enter the white house oh and our current one. All three are just as corrupt and anti American as the puppets and ant American they are married to. These three are a disgrace to have even had the first lady title. Milania may not be ranking number 1 but her and Jacqueline Kennedy are definitely in the top 5.

        • Agree with you 100%, politics here as usual…
          You can’t get an honest answer from any of today’s so called authorities in the know…
          Such a sad day we live in the so called free press…

    • I would have to say that Malenia Trump was not an impressive first lady. She was never interested in being FLOTUS and it showed. Like her hustand, sh w as opportunistic, ingnorant about Americ and o urgovernment, and did nothing for Ameria, more for her own self interests. I would have to give her an ‘F’ rating as FLOTUS.

      • Silent Rage on

        YES, she was ignorant like your typing. Please, if you don’t have anything Nice to say, just don’t say it. “Like her hustand, sh w as opportunistic, ingnorant about Americ and o urgovernment, and did nothing for Ameria, …… copied from your message. GOOD GRIEF….smh
        And if you do say something that isn’t nice, learn to type before you hit Send.

    • You said Melania Trump was not interested in being First Lady. Just shows how biased you are against the Trumps. Which shows me your article is not worth my time. Next time try writing without your unfounded theories.

    • You’re kidding right? I’m not saying Melania was the worst, but she’s certainly no Jackie Kennedy. And Melania showed zero interest in being the First Lady, and did as little as possible in the role.

  2. Eleanor was the most inspirational and set the standard for activism

    Bess is more under the radar and not getting as much attention for her role as advisor

    Mamie was charming as WH hostess and didn’t invite Joe McCarthy to a senate dinner showing her grit .

    Jacqueline was the most charismatic and restoration of the WH went beyond decorating

    Lady Bird was the most diligent. Sharp observations and took an early interest in the environment.

    Pat was the most hands on travel abroad on her own, answering much of her own mail, promoting voluntarism and was friendly with reporters

    Betty was the most unfiltered and made it easier for people to come out with their problems and health issues

    Rosalynn was the most purposeful and connected mental health with healthcare. She also helped begin lessen the stigma of mental health issues similar to Betty

    Nancy was most protective of the President to the point of being a shield. Like Hillary she was polarizing

    Barbara was the most shrewd sometimes too pointed with her remarks. Traditional but more of a feminist than she sometimes appeared to be it would seep through at times.

    Hillary was the most resilient. Advocating for women and girls. She also shepherded individual bills for healthcare especially for children and families.

    Laura was the most gracious and least controversial in this group.

    Michelle was the most fun and personable. She took on a number of serious issues but updated the role of First Lady making it less staid.

    Malania was the most detached and disinterested. She did some unnecessary things to the WH.

    • Janis Sanderson on

      Michelle Obama is 4th and there is a write up. But, there are only 14 women on the chart. On the write up the author skipped the number 13. So, it showed the chart differently for Truman and Trump, who are supposed to be 13 and 14, not 14 and 15.

    • Melanie was by far the worst First Lady. She’s married to the worst president ever and they both disgraced this country.

  3. The rankings seem pretty fair. I might put Michelle Obama one step higher, time will tell. One thing I would do is put Melania Trump at 46th just for wearing the jacket “I Really Don’t Care Do U?” Outrageous for a First Lady to wear that anywhere. Course, she probably doesn’t care.

  4. Trump should not even be in the top of any best list. Sleeping her way with an already married man such as he was just for the money and to get her own citizenship and then to gain citizenship for her parents while wearing the despicable jacket at the border disrespecting illegal immigrants when she was one herself shows her callous and hypocritical way of treating others and her selfishness. Stealing other people’s speeches and passing them off as her own shows what she is. But what do you expect from a lying, worthless con artist who is no better than her mob boss husband? No other first lady ever tarnished the office like she did in recent times..

    • First thing… wearing the jacket boo hoo ..second do your research before making false accusations. It was proven her speech she didn’t write her speech writer wrote it. As all the others ladies speeches have been written. She didn’t come her illegally. She came over the correct way.

    • IT’S GRAND BEING A FREE SPEAKING AND THINKING AMERICAN AS WE ARE… TAKE OUR OBSERVATIONS OF HER AS A FIRST LADY AND A MOTHER, KEEPING HERSELF CLEAR OF THE ALREADY WAITING PRESS, LOOKING FOR ANY TIDBIT OF WRONG DOING TO TRASH HER NAME… I BELIEVE SHE DID EXACTLY THE BEST SHE COULD WITH THE NEGATIVITY AND LIES, YES, WE ALL NOW KNOW WITH OUT A DOUBT, THE WELL CALIBRATED LIES FROM THE DNR AND HILLARY AS THE LEADER…
      AT THE TIME I WAS A DEDICATED DEMOCRAT FOR 47 YEARS, NOW, NEVER AGAIN… NOW I AM AN INDEPENDENT BECAUSE, I CAN’T TRUST THE REPUBLICANS EITHER…

      • Melania Trump ranked below Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton? Whoever put this list together must have been strung out on drugs.
        Melania has a higher IQ than Clinton and Obama combined. She is far more beautiful and elegant than the other two. Clinton is a criminal and should be in jail. Obama was never proud of being an American until she got to the WH.
        Clinton + Obama = horse_ _ _ _.

          • Yes it is who he did… Thing is, LIKE MANY OTHERS, HIS REASONS WHY ARE VERY OBVIOUS
            WHY HE VOTED THAT WAY…
            I WAS 47 YEARS AS A DEMOCRAT…
            HILLARY CLINTON’S WAYS AND NOTHING IS SEEN WRONG WITH IT BY THE DNC, WHO WERE CO-CONSPIRATOR WITH HER !!! TIME TO CHANGE PARTIES, I’M NOT A PART OF THAT GROUP… AN INDEPENDENT NOW…

        • I hope you are joking about Melania’s IQ. She is not an intelligent woman and still has not learned to speak correct English even though she has been in this country for over 20 years. She was the worst 1st. lady we ever had. Please do not compare her to intelligent women like Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton. It is embarrassing for you to even make that claim!

        • Marie Lester on

          You need to read. Melania was a woman of disreputable. Mrs. Clinton and Mrs.. Obama are very educated women with clout. And beauty…..beauty is as beauty does. Check out Melania’s past. You will be the only one shocked.

        • Thank you well said.. everyone wants to talk about Trump being Melania husband…well obamaass…clinton..Biden fall below trump. They are crooked criminals

  5. Jacqueline j Johnson on

    I agree with ranking..*Michelle Obama’s 1st Inauguration outfit worse along with 2.Melania Trump’s.. Those Easter Egg Colors & Jimmy Choo green kitten heels* 2. Blue Dress, & Evening dress with split..

  6. Blondie17432 on

    Melania spoke 5 languages but the theiving woke wouldn’t allow her one second of her due. Trump was a president of the people and the only one who left the white house poorer than he came in. Democrat party is self serving for the greedy politicians and not for the people as is suppose to be. The arts support are their only redeeming feature. Everything is a money grabbing power and personal enrichment power grab. Feeble minded follow and virtue signal with their muzzles and deadly jabs. The politicians DID NOT TAKE THE REAL JAB. Died suddenly has become the norm. The only redeeming point there… weeding out the dregs. WAKE UP.

    • Did u ever hear Melania speaking any language she’s been in America 50years and can hardly speak English.
      U believe anything saying hi in French doesn’t mean u speak it to converse

    • Robert Ayler on

      “Trump was a president of the people and the only one who left the white house poorer than he came in”

      This is actually hilarious.This is comical.

    • Melania does not speak 5 languages. She speaks the language in the country where she was born and after way over 20 years living in America, she still cannot speak English correctly.

  7. Personally, I’d rate Melania Trump dead last. It was obvious that she never wanted to be First Lady. But, her most disgusting act was the jacket that she wore to visit the children at the border that had been separated from their parents by her husband’s policies. The jacket said “‘I Really Don’t Care, Do U?”. I don’t care what she claims the meaning was or was not. It was disgusting, and a disgrace to the children, their families, her position as First Lady, and the country. If she really was interested and cared about those children, she would not have disgraced herself by wearing that jacket. I don’t care about her intent, do U?

  8. William Bailey on

    A concern is that a comprehensive evaluation of political leaders should consider their individual achievements, policies, leadership qualities, and impact on the country. This ranking fails to consider these important factors and instead focuses solely on marital status or gender; it can be seen as flawed and not representative of a meaningful assessment.

    Lists or rankings that do not consider relevant qualifications and achievements may not provide a well-rounded or accurate representation of a person’s capabilities as a political leader. It’s essential to approach rankings with critical thinking and consider multiple perspectives when evaluating the qualifications and accomplishments of political figures.

    The methodology used to create this list is flawed. This ranking is not important. This ranking is a 2023 popular contest.

    • Helena O’Kekai on

      Why we are even ranking FLOTUS? A few such as Rosalyn Carter made mental health a priority along with Betty Ford. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton worked hard to get universal healthcare for all Americans which was finally passed by Obama administration. Michelle was much loved except by racists finally getting kids and adults to eat healthier. Rank the presidents which is already being done by actual historians. Leave families out of it. I may not agree with politics but these women were NOT elected.

  9. I think this is so funny Hillary Clinton is a criminal & she should be behind bars possibly Michelle Obama but God will be the one to judge them! Haters keep Hating & Sorry But No Matter How Much You Try Your Can’t Stop The inevitable President Trump will Be President Cause You Can’t Change The Fact Americans Are tired of your constant lies & Broken Promises! We See How Democrats Are Trying To Favor Themselves By Allowing people here illegally so they can force them to vote for Democrats or else they’ll be sent back! Democrats are not for American Citizens the Tax Payers & Only For Themselves! They Do More For Other Places That Do Absolutely Nothing For Us Yet Look Around The United States Tell Me The Homeless Hasn’t Been Growing taking over Trashing Our Neighborhoods & what about homeless Veterans Who Fought For Our Freedoms Yet We Can’t House & Make Sure Medical Is Covered Otherwise Who wants To Fight FoR Someone Who Couldn’t Care Less About Them? We Need To Quit The BS Don’t Blame Republicans for the Border When Biden Stopped Trumps Way That was Perfectly Fine So he doesn’t need Republicans to Put Back What He Was Able to Stop In The First Place . Also Quit Pretending That The Bill Democrats Came up With Is Going To Go Towards The Border Crisis It’s A Way They Think That We Are Stupid Enough To Sign or Agree Without Reading The Small Print Giving Ukraine $ That Isn’t A Priority Or What The Tax Payers Want To See There $ Go Towards! Was a Democrat But The Way They Are Is FAKE 100% President Trump 2024 Make America Great Again Funny How Obama Was All About Shipping People here illegally out no Questions Asked Yet Biden Is Opposite Maybe because Biden Needs To Add Votes By Any Means Necessary It Looks Like!

  10. “I dont care, do you?”… Elegant? Tasteful? Melania Trump never did anything besides what she normally does… “fashion & design”. She ruined the rose garden by removing all of the roses!!! She had a horrible attitude and was just like her husband but less public about it. The entire Trump family hates America and viewed the presidency as an easy get rich quick scam. They’re still grifting the dull minded masses.

  11. Melania Trump in 2018 announced BE BEST, an awareness campaign that strives to promote a world for children based on healthy living, kindness, and respect. The initiative consists of three pillars representing key areas of concern for Mrs. Trump: well-being, including the social and emotional health of children; social media, focusing on understanding its positive as well as negative effects on children; and opioid abuse, striving to protect the most vulnerable from the effects of drug abuse while educating people of all ages about the detrimental effects of opioids. Since its launch, BE BEST has affected local communities across the country and world, spreading its message of kindness and shining a spotlight on successful programs and services that help children and families with the support and tools they need to thrive. Mrs. Trump continues to evolve and expand her campaign based on research and information learned from her many visits to schools, hospitals, organizations, and companies, and from speaking to children directly about their ideas and concerns.

Leave a Comment