Duties and ceremony
While the traditions and expectations of a First Lady vary by country and have changed significantly over time, they typically include responsibilities such as:
- hosting during receptions at the Presidential Palace
- presiding over selected welfare institutions
- accompanying the spouse in official travels abroad
- ceremonial duties.
Since the First Lady is not an elected or appointed official, she can not be impeached. For this reason, no country explicitly grants the role of the First Lady with any formal governmental authority. Any authority granted to the First Lady is derivative of the president's authority.
Several First Ladies have, however, exerted considerable power and influence over the course of government despite the lack of a legal mandate. They have exercised personal and charismatic authority and have, in some cases, been the de facto head of state acting in the name of their spouse. That use of power has also been a frequent source of controversy and scandal when discovered.
Famous and/or powerful First Ladies
- Elena Ceausescu née Petronescu (Romania; also became Deputy Prime Minister)
- Hillary Clinton née Rodham (United States)
- Michèle Duvalier née Bennett (Haiti)
- Simone Duvalier née Ovide "Mama Doc" (Haiti)
- Betty Ford née Bloomer (United States)
- Magda Goebbels (Germany)
- Nexhmije Hoxha (Albania)
- Jiang Qing (People's Republic of China)
- Eliza Lynch (Paraguay)
- Graça Machel (Mozambique)
- Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (South Africa)
- Dolley Madison née Payne (United States)
- Imelda Marcos née Romualdez (Philippines)
- Evita Perón née Duarte (Argentina)
- Eleanor Roosevelt (United States)
- Marta Sahagún de Fox (Mexico)
- Soong May-ling (Republic of China)
- Sinéad de Valera (Republic of Ireland)
- Khaleda Zia (Bangladesh; later became prime minister)
The entire family of the head of state may be known familiarly as the "First Family".
The spouse of the second in command (such as a Vice President) is commonly known as the "Second Lady". Less frequently, the family would be known as the "Second Family".
If the elected leader's spouse is a male, he may be called the "First Gentleman" though some male spouses of elected heads of state have preferred to use no title at all.
First lady is a translation of the Italian Prima donna, the leading lady in an opera.