The Evolution of the Role and Office of the First Lady: The Movement Toward Integration with the White House Office

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Date: Oct. 2000
From: The Social Science Journal(Vol. 37, Issue 4)
Publisher: Elsevier Science Publishers
Document Type: Article
Length: 7,867 words

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The increasing influence and activism of first ladies is not without consequence. Two results have been the growth and professionalization of the first ladies' office and its integration with the Office of the President. Indeed, it benefits our understanding not only of the first ladyship but of the presidency as well to develop approaches for assessing the first ladies many roles and functions. This article proposes a model to understand and study these phenomena.

As the 21st century opens, it does so with an unprecedented and historic event pertaining to first ladies. Hillary Rodham Clinton became the first presidential spouse to announce a candidacy for the United States Senate. While it is true that the New York political establishment once attempted to enlist Eleanor Roosevelt in a campaign for the Senate, they were not successful. Mrs. Clinton's candidacy demonstrates the increasing influence of first ladies throughout the political and policy processes. Indeed, there has been a slow evolution toward this increasing influence in the modern era since Eleanor Roosevelt occupied the office of the first lady. This influence attracted attention in the 1996 presidential campaign when some observers suggested that all potential first ladies announce their agendas before the election (Cooper, 1996 p. 36). Others suggested that a debate take place between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Elizabeth Dole (Watson, 1999 p. 5).

This essay will trace the evolution of the roles and office of first ladies. It is the hypothesis here that the Office of the First Lady has become more professional in nature and has been moving in the direction of full integration with the President's White House Office. This movement has primarily occurred through the efforts of a few activist first ladies but even nonactivist occupants have moved the office marginally in this direction. This study will first provide models pertaining to the influence of first ladies. The time frame for this study is the modem era, defined as post-Eleanor Roosevelt. Second, it will trace the historical evolution in the direction of full integration with the White House Office and document the contributions of various first ladies towards this end. Finally, it will categorize the various elements necessary, but not necessarily sufficient, for full integration with the White House Office.


The study of first ladies is a new field. Historians have pioneered the field but in recent years the disciplines of political science, psychology, and sociology have contributed to this emerging field. These disciplines have been interested in the modem era of first ladies but this era presents some problems. Since Eleanor Roosevelt only ten first ladies have occupied the office and the tenure of seven of them was less than two terms. Two, Jacqueline Kennedy and Betty Ford, served less than one term. Only Mamie Eisenhower, Nancy Reagan, and Hillary Clinton have served two terms. Only three can be classified as strong activists: Lady Bird Johnson, Rosalynn Carter, and Hillary Clinton. Only one of these, Hillary Clinton, served two full...

Source Citation

Source Citation
EKSTEROWICZ, ANTHONY J., and KRISTEN PAYNTER. "The Evolution of the Role and Office of the First Lady: The Movement Toward Integration with the White House Office." The Social Science Journal, vol. 37, no. 4, Oct. 2000, p. 547. Accessed 22 Jan. 2022.

Gale Document Number: GALE|A69711831