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First Lady of the United States

"First Lady of the United States" is the unofficial title of the hostess of the White House. The position is traditionally filled by the wife of the President of the United States, and the title is sometimes taken to apply only to the wife of a sitting president. The current First Lady is Laura Welch Bush. Some of the more notable former First Ladies include Martha Washington, Dolley Madison, Jacqueline Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Hillary Clinton. Several women, other than wives of presidents, have been recognized as being a "First Lady". This situation has arisen due to the President being a bachelor or widower, when the position was then filled by a female relative or friend of the President. Less commonly, the First Lady has delegated her duties to another woman when she is unable or unwilling to fulfill them herself. (The government jargon that often acronymizes the President of the United States as "POTUS" similarly applies "FLOTUS" to the First Lady.)

The title was used as early as 1849 when Dolley Madison was eulogized as "America's First Lady", but did not gain wider recognition until 1877 when newspaper journalist Mary Clemmer Ames used it while reporting on the inauguration of Rutherford B. Hayes.

The First Lady is not an elected position, carries no official duties, and brings no salary. Nonetheless, she attends many official ceremonies and functions of state either along with or in place of the President. Furthermore, many have taken an active role in campaigning for the President they are associated with. Hillary Rodham Clinton took the role one step further when she was, for a time, given a formal job in the Clinton administration to develop reforms to the health care system.

The wife of the president is referred to by her married name--the couple is formally referred to as, for example, "The President and Mrs. Washington."

The term is also used to describe the wife of other government officials, or for a woman who has acted as a leading symbol for some activity (as in "First Lady of California" or "First Lady of Jazz" respectively).

The wife of the Vice President of the United States has been referred to by the colloquial term, the Second Lady of the United States.

First Ladies of the United States

The following women have been recognized by The National First Ladies' Library as "First Lady":

First Lady Relation to President From To
Martha Dandridge Custis Washington wife of George Washington April 30, 1789 March 4, 1797
Abigail Smith Adams wife of John Adams March 4, 1797 March 4, 1801
Martha Jefferson Randolph daughter of widower Thomas Jefferson March 4, 1801 March 4, 1809
Dolley Madison friend of widower Thomas Jefferson March 4, 1801 March 4, 1809
Dolley Madison wife of James Madison March 4, 1809 March 4, 1817
Elizabeth Kortright Monroe wife of James Monroe March 4, 1817 March 4, 1825
Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams wife of John Quincy Adams March 4, 1825 March 4, 1829
Emily Donelson Jackson niece of widower Andrew Jackson March 4, 1829 March 4, 1837
Sarah Yorke Jackson daughter-in-law of widower Andrew Jackson March 4, 1829 March 4, 1837
Angelica Van Buren daughter-in-law of widower Martin Van Buren March 4, 1837 March 4, 1841
Anna Tuthill Symmes Harrison absent wife of short-termed William Henry Harrison March 4, 1841 April 4, 1841
Jane Irwin Harrison daughter-in-law of short-termed William Henry Harrison March 4, 1841 April 4, 1841
Letitia Christian Tyler first wife of John Tyler April 4, 1841 September 10, 1842
Priscilla Cooper Tyler daughter-in-law of widower John Tyler September 10, 1842 June 26, 1844
Julia Gardiner Tyler second wife of John Tyler June 26, 1844 March 4, 1845
Sarah Childress Polk wife of James Knox Polk March 4, 1845 March 4, 1849
Margaret Mackall Smith Taylor wife of Zachary Taylor March 4, 1849 July 9, 1850
Abigail Powers Fillmore wife of Millard Fillmore July 9, 1850 March 4, 1853
Jane Means Appleton Pierce wife of Franklin Pierce March 4, 1853 March 4, 1857
Harriet Lane niece of bachelor James Buchanan March 4, 1857 March 4, 1861
Mary Todd Lincoln wife of Abraham Lincoln March 4, 1861 April 15, 1865
Eliza McCardle Johnson wife of Andrew Johnson April 15, 1865 March 4, 1869
Julia Dent Grant wife of Ulysses S. Grant March 4, 1869 March 4, 1877
Lucy Ware Webb Hayes wife of Rutherford B. Hayes March 4, 1877 March 4, 1881
Lucretia Rudolph Garfield wife of James A. Garfield March 4, 1881 September 19, 1881
Mary McElroy sister of widower Chester Alan Arthur September 19, 1881 March 4, 1885
Rose Cleveland sister of bachelor Grover Cleveland March 4, 1885 June 2, 1886
Frances Folsom Cleveland wife of Grover Cleveland June 2, 1886 March 4, 1889
Caroline Lavinia Scott Harrison wife of Benjamin Harrison March 4, 1889 October 25, 1892
Mary Harrison McKee daughter of widower Benjamin Harrison October 25, 1892 March 4, 1893
Frances Folsom Cleveland wife of Grover Cleveland March 4, 1893 March 4, 1897
Ida Saxton McKinley wife of William McKinley March 4, 1897 September 14, 1901
Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt second wife of Theodore Roosevelt September 14, 1901 March 4, 1909
Helen Herron Taft wife of William Howard Taft March 4, 1909 March 4, 1913
Ellen Louise Axson Wilson first wife of Woodrow Wilson March 4, 1913 August 6, 1914
Edith Bolling Galt Wilson second wife of Woodrow Wilson December 18, 1915 March 4, 1921
Florence Kling Harding wife of Warren G. Harding March 4, 1921 August 3, 1923
Grace Anna Goodhue Coolidge wife of Calvin Coolidge August 3, 1923 March 4, 1929
Lou Henry Hoover wife of Herbert Hoover March 4, 1929 March 4, 1933
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt wife of Franklin Delano Roosevelt March 4, 1933 April 12, 1945
Elizabeth Virginia Wallace Truman wife of Harry S. Truman April 12, 1945 January 20, 1953
Mamie Geneva Doud Eisenhower wife of Dwight D. Eisenhower January 20, 1953 January 20, 1961
Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy wife of John F. Kennedy January 20, 1961 November 22, 1963
Claudia Taylor "Lady Bird" Johnson wife of Lyndon B. Johnson November 22, 1963 January 20, 1969
Patricia Ryan Nixon wife of Richard Milhous Nixon January 20, 1969 August 8, 1974
Elizabeth Bloomer Ford wife of Gerald R. Ford August 8, 1974 January 20, 1977
Rosalynn Smith Carter wife of Jimmy Carter January 20, 1977 January 20, 1981
Nancy Davis Reagan second wife of Ronald Reagan January 20, 1981 January 20, 1989
Barbara Pierce Bush wife of George H. W. Bush January 20, 1989 January 20, 1993
Hillary Rodham Clinton wife of Bill Clinton January 20, 1993 January 20, 2001
Laura Welch Bush wife of George W. Bush January 20, 2001 Present

The following women are known to have acted as hostess on behalf of the First Lady when she was otherwise unable or unwilling:

First Lady Relation to President From To
Maria Jefferson Eppes daughter of widower Thomas Jefferson
Eliza Monroe Hay daughter of James Monroe
Letitia Tyler Semple daughter of widower John Tyler
Mary Elizabeth Taylor Bliss daughter of Zachary Taylor
Mary Abigail Fillmore daughter of Millard Fillmore
Martha Johnson Patterson daughter of Andrew Johnson
Jennie Hobart wife of William McKinley's vice president, Garret Hobart
Helen Taft Manning daughter of William Howard Taft
Margaret Woodrow Wilson daughter of widower Woodrow Wilson
Helen Woodrow Bones cousin of widower Woodrow Wilson
Chelsea Victoria Clinton daughter of Bill Clinton January 3, 2001 January 20, 2001

NOTE: Chelsea Clinton took over the First Lady's duties when Hillary Rodham Clinton was sworn in as senator from New York.

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Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45