American First Ladies

Wives of the Presidents and White House Hostesses

While the wives of American presidents haven't always been called "first ladies," the first wife of an American President, Martha Washington, went far in establishing a tradition somewhere between a democratic family and royalty. Some of those who followed have wielded political influence, some have helped with their husband's public image, and some stayed well out of the public eye. Some presidents have called on other female relatives to carry on the more public roles of a First Lady. Learn about the women who've played these important roles:
Martha Washington about 1790
Martha Washington about 1790. Stock Montage/Getty Images
(June 2, 1732 - May 22, 1802)
Wife of the first US President, George Washington.Martha Washington did not enjoy her time (1789-1797) as First Lady (the term was not then used) though she played her role as hostess with dignity. She had not supported his candidacy for the presidency, and she would not attend his inauguration. The temporary seat of government was in New York City, where Martha presided over weekly receptions, and was later moved to Philadelphia, where they lived except for a return to Mount Vernon when a yellow fever epidemic swept Philadelphia. Martha Washington also managed the estate of her first husband and, while George Washington was away, Mount Vernon. More »
Abigail Adams in Her Youth
Abigail Adams in Her Youth. Photo by Stock Montage/Getty Images
(November 11, 1744 - October 28, 1818)
Wife of the second President of the United States (served 1797-1801), Abigail Adams is an example of one kind of life lived by women in colonial, Revolutionary and early post-Revolutionary America. While she's perhaps best known simply as an early First Lady (before the term was used) and mother of another President, and perhaps known for the stance she took for women's rights in letters to her husband, Abigail Adams should also be known as a competent farm manager and financial manager. More »
Martha Jefferson Randolph
Martha Jefferson Randolph. Hulton Archive/Getty Images
(October 19, 1748 - September 6, 1782)
Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson was the wife of Thomas Jefferson who became the third President of the United States (1801-1809). She died in 1782, 19 years before Jefferson's term of office. Martha "Patsy" Jefferson Randolph, their daughter, served as Jefferson's hostess during two winters he was president; more often, he called upon Dolley Madison, the wife of his Secretary of State, for such public duties.

Portrait is of Patsy, the eldest Jefferson daughter; no portraits are known of Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson other than one silhouette. More »

Dolley Madison

Dolley Madison
Dolley Madison. Stock Montage/Stock Montage/Getty Images
(May 20, 1768 - July 12, 1849 )
Dolley Madison (Dorothea Payne Todd Madison), was America's First Lady 1809-1817, as wife of James Madison, fourth President of the United States. Her courageous response to the British burning of Washington -- saving priceless paintings and other items from the White House -- is what she's besk known for, but she also spent years in the public eye after Madison's term was over.

Elizabeth Monroe

(June 30, 1768 - September 23, 1830)
Wife of James Monroe, who was President from 1817-1825, Elizabeth Kortright Monroe was the daughter of a wealthy merchant, and was known for her fashion sense and her beauty. She lived abroad during Monroe's work there. She played a dramatic role in freeing from the French Revolution Madame de Lafayette, wife of the French leader who assisted America in its war for independence. Elizabeth Monroe was not very popular in America; she was more elitist than her predecessors had been.
Louisa Catherine Adams
Louisa Catherine Adams. Hulton Archive/Getty Images
(February 12, 1775 - May 15, 1852)
America's only foreign-born First Lady, Louisa Adams was the wife of president John Quincy Adams (1825-1829). She wrote two unpublished books about her own life, with details about life around her in Europe and Washington: Record of My Life in 1825, and The Adventures of a Nobody in 1840. More »

Rachel Jackson

Rachel Donelson Robards Jackson
Rachel Donelson Robards Jackson. MPI/Getty Images
(June 15, 1767 - December 22, 1828)
Rachel Donelson Jackson died before her husband could take office in 1829. She married Andrew Jackson in 1791, thinking that her first husband had divorced her, but they had to remarry in 1794, giving rise to adultery and bigamy charges raised against Jackson when he ran for president. Her niece, Emily Donelson, served as Andrew Jackson's White House hostess, and when she died, that role went to Sarah Yorke Jackson, married to Andrew Jackson, jr.

Hannah Van Buren

Hannah Hoes Van Buren
Hannah Hoes Van Buren. MPI/Getty Images

(March 18, 1783 - February 5, 1819)
Hannah Hoes Van Buren died of tuberculosis in 1819, almost two decades before her husband, Martin Van Buren, became president (1837 - 1841). He never remarried. In 1838, their son, Abraham, married Angelica Singleton, and she served as the White House hostess during the remainder of Van Buren's presidency.

Anna Harrison

Anna Harrison
Anna Harrison. Courtesy US Library of Congress
(1775 - February, 1864)
Anna Tuthill Symmes Harrison was the wife of William Henry Harrison (president, 1841) and the grandmother of Benjamin Harrison (president 1889 - 1893). Jane Irwin Harrison, the widow of her son William, was to serve as White House hostess until Anna could be ready to come to Washington, but the president died before Anna ever moved.

Letitia Tyler

(November 12, 1790 - September 10, 1842)
Letitia Christian Tyler, wife of John Tyler, served as First Lady from 1841 until her death at the White House in 1842. She had suffered a stroke in 1839, and their daughter-in-law Priscilla Cooper Tyler took on the duties of White House hostess.

Julia Tyler

(1820 - July 10, 1889)
Julia Gardiner married the widowed president, John Tyler, in 1844, which was the first time a president married while in office. She served as First Lady until the end of his term in 1845. During the Civil War, she lived in New York and worked to support the Confederacy. After she successfully persuaded Congress to grant her a pension, Congress passed a law giving pensions to other presidential widows.

Sarah Polk

Sarah Childress Polk
Sarah Childress Polk. Kean Collection/Getty Images
(September 4, 1803 - August 14, 1891)
Sarah Childress Polk, First Lady to president James K. Polk (1845 - 1849), played an active role in her husband's political career, and was a popular hostess, though for religious reasons she ruled out dancing and music on Sundays at the White House.

Margaret Taylor

(September 21, 1788 - August 18, 1852)
Margaret Mackall Smith Taylor was a reluctant First Lady. She spent most of the presidency of her husband, Zachary Taylor, in relative seclusion, giving rise to many rumors. After her husband died in office (of cholera), she refused to speak of her White House years.

Abigail Fillmore

Abigail Powers Fillmore
Abigail Powers Fillmore. The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images
(March 17, 1798 - March 30, 1853)
While a teacher, Abigail Powers Fillmore taught her future husband, Millard Fillmore (president 1850 - 1853), and helped him develop his potential and enter politics. She remained an advisor, resenting and avoiding the typical social duties of a First Lady, preferring her books and music and discussions with her husband about the issues of the day, though failing to persuade her husband against signing the Fugitive Slave Act. She fell ill at the inauguration of her husband's successor and died soon after of pneumonia.

Jane Pierce

Jane Pierce
Jane Pierce. MPI/Getty Images
(March 12, 1806 - December 2, 1863)
Jane Means Appleton Pierce married her husband, Franklin Pierce (president 1853 - 1857), despite her opposition to his already-fruitful political career. She blamed the death of three of their children on his involvement in politics; the third, died in a train wreck just before Franklin's inauguration. Abigail (Abby) Kent Means, her aunt, and Varina Davis, wife of Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, largely handled the hostess responsibilities of first ladies.

Harriet Lane Johnston

(May 9, 1830 - July 3, 1903)
James Buchanan (president 1857 - 1861) was not married. His niece Harriet Lane, whom he adopted and raised after she was orphaned, carried out the hostess duties of a First Lady while he was president.

Mary Todd Lincoln

Mary Todd Lincoln
Mary Todd Lincoln. Buyenlarge/Getty Images
(December 13, 1818 - July 16, 1882)
Mary Todd was a well-educated, fashionable young woman from a well-connected family when she met frontier lawyer Abraham Lincoln (president 1861 - 1865). Three of their four sons died before reaching adulthood; Mary had a reputation for being unstable, spending uncontrollably, and interfering in politics. In later life, her surviving son had her committed briefly, and America's first woman lawyer, Myra Bradwell, helped get her released.

Eliza Johnson

Eliza McCardle Johnson
Eliza McCardle Johnson. MPI/Getty Images
(October 4, 1810 - January 15, 1876)
Eliza McCardle Johnson married Andrew Johnson (president 1865 - 1869) and encouraged his political ambitions, while herself largely preferring to stay out of public view. She shared hostess duties at the White House with her daughter, Martha Patterson. She likely served informally as a political advisor to her husband during his political career.

Julia Grant

Julia Dent Grant
Julia Dent Grant. MPI/Getty Images
(January 26, 1826 - December 14, 1902)
Julia Dent Grant married Ulysses S. Grant and spent some years as an Army wife. When he left military service 1854 - 1861, the couple and their four children did not do particularly well. Grant was called back to service for the Civil War, and when he was president (1869 - 1877), Julia Grant enjoyed the social life and public appearances. After his presidency, they again fell on hard times, rescued by the financial success of her husband's autobiography. Her own memoir was not published until 1970.

Lucy Hayes

Lucy Ware Webb Hayes
Lucy Ware Webb Hayes. Brady-Handy/Epics/Getty Images
(August 28, 1831 - June 25, 1889)
Lucy Ware Webb Hayes was the first wife of an American president to have a college education, and she generally well-liked as First Lady. She was also known as Lemonade Lucy, for the decision she made with her husband Rutherford B. Hayes (president 1877 - 1881) to ban liquor from the White House, and she's also known for instituting the annual Easter egg roll on the lawn of the White House.

Lucretia Garfield

Lucretia Garfield
Lucretia Garfield. The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

(April 19, 1832 - March 14, 1918)
Lucretia Randolph Garfield was a devoutly religious, shy, intellectual woman who preferred a simpler life than the social life typical of the White House; her husband James Garfield (president 1881) who had many affairs, was an anti-slavery politician who became a war hero. In their brief White House time, she presided over a rambunctious family and advised her husband. She became seriously ill, and then her husband was shot, dying two months later. She lived quietly until her death in 1918.

Ellen Herndon Arthur

Ellen Lewis Herndon Arthur
Ellen Lewis Herndon Arthur. MPI/Getty Images
(August 30, 1837 - January 12, 1880)
Ellen Lewis Herndon Arthur, wife of Chester Arthur (president 1881 - 1885), died in 1880 at age 42, suddenly, of pneumonia. While he permitted his sister to perform some of the duties of a First Lady, and to help raise his daughter, he was reluctant to let any woman seem to take his wife's place. He is known for placing fresh flowers in front of his wife's portrait every day of his presidency, and he died the year after his term ended.

Frances Folsom Cleveland

Frances Cleveland
Frances Cleveland. Fotosearch/Getty Images
(July 21, 1864 - October 29, 1947)
Grover Cleveland was the law partner of Frances Clara Folsom's father; Cleveland had known her from her infancy, and helped manage her mother's finances and Frances' education when her father died. After Cleveland won the 1884 election, despite charges of having fathered an illegitimate child, he proposed to Frances, who accepted after she took a tour of Europe to have time to consider the proposal. She was America's youngest First Lady, and considerably popular. They had six children during, between, and after Grover Cleveland's two terms of office (1885 - 1889, 1893 - 1897). Grover Cleveland died in 1908 and Frances Folsom Cleveland married Thomas Jax Preston, Jr., in 1913.

Caroline Harrison

Caroline Lavinia Scott Harrison
Caroline Lavinia Scott Harrison. The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

(October 1, 1832 - October 25, 1892)
Caroline Lavinia Scott Harrison (Carrie), wife of Benjamin Harrison (president 1885 - 1889), helped to found the Daughters of the American Revolution -- serving as its first president general -- and also helped open Johns Hopkins University to women students. Benjamin, grandson of President William Harrison, was a Civil War general and attorney. She oversaw a considerable renovation of the White House and established the custom of having special White House dinnerware. She died of tuberculosis which was first diagnosed in 1891. Her daughter, Mamie Harrison McKee, took over White House hostess duties for her father.

Mary Lord Harrison

(April 30, 1858 - January 5, 1948)
After the death of his first wife, and after he'd finished his presidency, Benjamin Harrison remarried in 1896. Mary Scott Lord Dimmick Harrison never served as a First Lady.

Ida McKinley

Ida Saxton McKinley
Ida Saxton McKinley. The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images
(June 8, 1847 - May 6, 1907)
Ida Saxton McKinley was the daughter of a wealthy family and was well-educated, and had worked in her father's bank, beginning as a teller. Her husband, William McKinley (president 1897 - 1901), was a lawyer and later fought in the Civil War. In quick succession, her mother died, then two daughters, and then she was stricken with phlebitis, epilepsy, and depression. In the White House, she often sat next to her husband at state dinners, and he covered her face with a handkerchief during what were called euphemistically "fainting spells." When he was assassinated in 1901, she gathered strength to accompany her husband's body back to Ohio, and to see to the construction of a memorial.

Edith Roosevelt

Edith Roosevelt
Edith Roosevelt. Hulton Archive/Getty Images
(August 6, 1861 - September 30, 1948)
Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt was a childhood friend of Theodore Roosevelt, then saw him marry Alice Hathaway Lee. When he was a widower with a young daughter, Alice, they met again, and were married in 1886. They had five more children; Edith raised the six children while serving as First Lady when Theodore was president (1901 - 1909). She was the first First Lady to hire a social secretary. She helped manage the wedding of her stepdaughter, Alice, to Nicholas Longworth. After Roosevelt's death she remained active in politics, wrote books, and read widely.

Helen Taft

Helen Herron Taft
Helen Herron Taft. Library Of Congress/Getty Images
(June 2, 1861 - May 22, 1943)
Her father's law partner was Rutherford B. Hayes, and Helen Herron Taft was impressed with the idea of being married to a president. She urged her husband, William Howard Taft (president 1909 - 1913), in his political career, and supported him and his programs with speeches and public appearances. Soon after the inauguration, she suffered a stroke, and after a year of recovery, threw herself into active interests including industrial safety and women's education. She was the first First Lady to give interviews to the press. It was her idea to bring cherry trees to Washington, DC, and the mayor of Tokyo then gave 3,000 saplings to the city. She is one of two First Ladies buried at Arlington Cemetery.

Ellen Wilson

Ellen Axson Wilson
Ellen Axson Wilson. Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
(May 15, 1860 - August 6, 1914)
Ellen Louise Axson Wilson, wife of Woodrow Wilson (president 1913 - 1921), was a painter with a career in her own right, and was also an active supporter of her husband and his political career. She actively supported housing legislation while a presidential spouse. In the second year of her husband's first term, she succumbed to kidney disease. Both Ellen and Woodrow Wilson had fathers who were Presbyterian ministers; Ellen's father and mother died when she was in her early twenties and she'd had to arrange for the care of her siblings.

Edith Wilson

Edith Bolling Galt Wilson
Edith Bolling Galt Wilson. MPI/Getty Images
(October 15, 1872 - December 28, 1961)
After mourning his wife, Ellen, who died in his first term of office, Woodrow Wilson married Edith Bolling Galt on December 18, 1915. Widow of Norman Galt, a jeweler, she met the widowed president while she was being courted by his physician, and they married after a short courtship that was opposed by many of his advisors. She actively worked for women's participation in the war effort. When her husband was paralyzed by a stroke for some months in 1919, she actively worked to keep his illness from public view, until he recovered enough to work for his programs, especially the Versailles Treaty and the League of Nations. After his death in 1924, she promoted the Woodrow Wilson Foundation.

Florence Harding

Florence Harding
Florence Harding. MPI/Getty Images

(August 15, 1860 - November 21, 1924)
Florence Kling DeWolfe Harding had a child when she was 20 -- and likely not legally married -- and after struggling to support him by teaching music, gave him to his father to raise. She married the wealthy newspaper publisher, Warren G. Harding, when she was 31, working on the newspaper with him. She supported him in his political career, and in the early "roaring twenties" even served as White House bartender (during Prohibition) during his poker parties. His presidency (1921 - 1923) was marked with corruption charges, and on a trip she had urged him to take to recover from stress, he suffered a stroke and died. She destroyed most of his papers in her attempt to preserve his reputation.

Grace Coolidge

Grace Coolidge
Grace Coolidge. MPI/Getty Images
(January 3, 1879 - July 8, 1957)
Grace Anna Goodhue Coolidge was a teacher of the deaf when she married Calvin Coolidge (president 1923 - 1929). She focused her duties as First Lady on remodeling and charities, helping her husband establish a reputation for seriousness and frugality. After leaving the White House and after her husband died, Grace Coolidge traveled and wrote magazine articles.

Lou Hoover

Lou Henry Hoover
Lou Henry Hoover. MPI/Getty Images
(March 29, 1874 - January 7, 1944)
Lou Henry Hoover was raised in Iowa and California, loved the outdoors, and became a geologist. She married a fellow student, Herbert Hoover, who became a mining engineer, and they often lived abroad. She used her talents in mineralogy and languages to translate a 16th century manuscript by Agricola. While her husband was president (1929 - 1933), she redecorated the White House and became involved in charity work, heading the Girl Scout organization for a time, continuing this charity work after her husband left office. She headed England's American Women's Hospital during World War II until her death in 1944.
Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt. MPI/Getty Images

(October 11, 1884 - November 6, 1962)
Eleanor Roosevelt, orphaned at ten, married her distant cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt (president 1933 - 1945). From 1910 on, Eleanor helped with Franklin's political career, despite her devastation in 1918 to discover his affair with her social secretary. Through the Depression, New Deal, and World War II, Eleanor traveled when her husband was less able to. Her daily column "My Day" in the newspaper broke with precedent, as did her press conferences and lectures. After FDR's death, Eleanor Roosevelt continued her political career, serving in the United Nations and helping create the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She chaired the President's Commission on the Status of Women from 1961. More »

Bess Truman

Bess Truman
Elizabeth Virginia Wallace Truman, about 1940. MPI/Getty Images
(February 13, 1885 - October 18, 1982)
Bess Wallace Truman, also from Independence, Missouri, had known Harry Truman from their childhoods. After they married, she remained primarily a housewife through his political career. She didn't like Washington, DC, and was quite angry with her husband for accepting the nomination as vice president. When her husband became president (1945 - 1953) only a few months after taking office as vice president, she took her duties as First Lady seriously, while avoiding such practices as some of her predecessors as having press conferences. She also nursed her mother during the White House years.

Mamie Eisenhower

Mamie (Marie Geneva Doud) Eisenhower
Mamie (Marie Geneva Doud) Eisenhower. Hulton Archive/Getty Images
(November 14, 1896 - November 1, 1979)
Born in Iowa, Mamie Geneva Doud Eisenhower met her husband Dwight (president 1953 - 1961) in Texas when he was an army officer. She lived an army officer's wife's life, either living with "Ike" where he was stationed, or raising their family without him. She was suspicious of his relationship during World War II with his military driver and aide Kay Summersby, but he assured her that there was nothing to the rumors of a relationship. She made some public appearances during her husband's presidential campaigns and presidency. In 1974 she described herself in an interview: "I was Ike's wife, John's mother, the children's grandmother. That was all I ever wanted to be."
Jacqueline Kennedy during her official visit to Paris 1961
Jacqueline Kennedy during her official visit to Paris 1961. RDA/Getty Images
(July 28, 1929 - May 19, 1994)
Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, First Lady 1961-1963, was the wife of John F. Kennedy. During his Presidency, "Jackie Kennedy" became known mostly for her fashion sense and for her redecoration of the White House. After the assassination of her husband in Dallas on November 22, 1963, she was honored for her dignity in her time of grief. More »
Lady Bird, wearing a pearl necklace and a rose brooch on her sweater
Lady Bird Johnson, 1962. Hulton Archive/Getty Images
(December 22, 1912 - July 11, 2007)
Lady Bird (Claudia Alta Taylor Johnson) financed her husband Lyndon's first campaign for Congress, using her inheritance. While he served in the military, she maintained his congressional office back home. Lady Bird took a public speaking course in 1959, and in the 1960 campaign began more active campaigning. Throughout his career, she was known as a gracious hostess. Lady Bird Johnson became First Lady after Kennedy's assassination in 1963, and she actively campaigned in 1964 for her husband (president 1963 - 1969). She supported highway beautification and Head Start as First Lady and after his death in 1973, continued to be active with her family and causes. More »

Pat Nixon

Pat Nixon, 1968
Pat Nixon, 1968. Hulton Archive/Getty Images
(March 16, 1912 - June 22, 1993)
Born Thelma Catherine Patricia Ryan, Pat Nixon was a housewife when that was becoming less popular as a vocation for a woman. She was the first First Lady to declare herself pro-choice regarding abortion and she urged appointment of a woman to the Supreme Court. She met Richard Milhous Nixon (president 1969 - 1974) at theatre tryouts, and while she supported his political career, she remained largely a private person, loyal to her husband despite his public scandals.

Betty Ford

Betty Ford and Lady Bird Johnson at ERA Rally, October 1981
Betty Ford and Lady Bird Johnson at ERA Rally, October 1981. Penelope Breese/Liaison

(April 8, 1918 - )
Wife of Gerald Ford, the only U.S. President (1974 - 1977) who wasn't elected as President or Vice President, she was an unexpected First Lady in many ways. She made public her battles with breast cancer and chemical dependence (the Betty Ford clinic is named for her), and she endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment and women's right to abortion.

First Lady Rosalynn Carter
First Lady Rosalynn Carter. Adapted from an image courtesy of the White House
(August 18, 1927 - )
Eleanor Rosalynn Smith Carter knew Jimmy Carter (president 1977 - 1981) from childhood, marrying him in 1946. After traveling with him during his naval service, she helped run his family's peanut and warehouse business. When Jimmy Carter launched his political career, Rosalynn Carter took over managing the business during his absences for campaigning or at the state capital, and she also assisted in his legislative office and developed her interest in mental health reform. As First Lady, Rosalynn Carter eschewed traditional First Lady activities, instead playing an active role as her husband's advisor and partner, sometimes attending cabinet meetings. She lobbied for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). More »

Nancy Reagan

Portrait Of Nancy Reagan
Portrait Of Nancy Reagan. Stock Montage/Getty Images
(July 6, 1921 - )
Nancy Davis Reagan and Ronald Reagan met when both were actors. She was stepmother to his two children from his first marriage as well as mother to their son and daughter. During Ronald Reagan's time as California governor, Nancy Reagan was active in POW/MIA issues, and as First Lady focused on a "Just Say No" campaign against drug and alcohol abuse. She played a strong behind-the-scenes role during her husband's presidency (1981 - 1989), and criticized for her "cronyism" and for consulting astrologers for advice about her husband's travels and work. During her husband's long decline with Alzheimer's disease she supported him and worked to protect his public memory through the Reagan Library.
Barbara Bush speaks from the podium at Wellesley College Commencement, 1990
Barbara Bush speaks from the podium at Wellesley College Commencement, 1990. Arnold Sachs/Consolidated News Pictures/Getty Images
(June 8, 1925 - )
Like Abigail Adams, Barbara Pierce Bush was wife of a Vice President, First Lady, and then mother of a President. Barbara Bush met George H. W. Bush at a dance when she was 17, and dropped out of college to marry him when he returned on leave from the Navy during World War II. When her husband served as American Vice President under Ronald Reagan, Barbara Bush made literacy the cause on which she focused, and continued that interest in her role as First Lady (1989 - 1993). Barbara Bush also raised money for many causes and charities. In 1984 and 1990, she wrote books attributed to family dogs, with proceeds were given to her literacy foundation. More »
Lady Bird Johnson and Hillary Clinton, 2000
First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and former First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, celebrating the 200th anniversary of the White House, 2000. Getty Images / Michael Smith
(October 26, 1947 - )
Hillary Rodham Clinton, educated at Wellesley College and Yale Law School, served in 1974 as counsel on the staff of the House Judiciary Committee which was considering impeachment of then-President Richard Nixon. She was First Lady during her husband Bill Clinton's presidency (1993 - 2001). Hillary Clinton managed the failed effort to seriously reform health care, she was the target of investigators and rumors for her involvement in the Whitewater scandal, and she defended and stood by her husband when he was accused and impeached during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. She was elected to the Senate from New York in 2001 and in 2007 began a campaign for the US presidency. More »

Laura Bush

Picture of Laura Bush, from the National Portrait Gallery, by Aleksander Titovets
Picture of Laura Bush, from the National Portrait Gallery, by Aleksander Titovets. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; Gift of friends of President & Mrs. Bush
(November 4, 1946 - )
First Lady Laura Lane Welch Bush (2001-2009) met George W. Bush during his first campaign for Congress; he lost the race, but won her hand and they were married three months later. She had been working as an elementary school teacher and librarian. Uncomfortable with public speaking, she nevertheless used her popularity to promote her husband's candidacies, to promote reading for children, and to work on awareness of women's health problems including heart disease and breast cancer.

Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama June 2009
Michelle Obama gives the commencement address at the Washington Math Science Technical High School, June 3, 2009. Getty Images / Alex Wong

The first African American First Lady, Michelle Obama is a lawyer who grew up on the South Side of Chicago, graduated from Princeton University and Harvard Law School, and who worked on the staff of Mayor Richard M. Daley and for the University of Chicago doing community outreach. She met her future husband Barack Obama when she was an associate at a Chicago law firm and he briefly worked there.

Melania Trump

Ivanka and Melania Trump, January 2017
Melania Trump (right) and her stepdaughter Ivanka at her husband's 2017 inauguration. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

 (April 26, 1970 - )
Third wife of Donald J. Trump,  Melanija Knavs is a former model and an immigrant from Slovenia in the former Yugoslavia.  She is the second foreign-born First Lady, and the first for whom English is not her native language.

Declaring her intention to live in New York and not Washington, DC, Ivanka was expected to fulfill only some duties of a First Lady, with her stepdaughter, Ivanka Trump, filling in for others.