How First Ladies Have Changed U.S. History

The 2016 election cycle is still in its relatively early stages; the time during which campaign stops, interviews, and even debates are a free-for-all to secure higher approval ratings and media attention. But as the primaries progress and certain candidates get weeded out, we have more than just the next U.S. president to look forward to (or loathe). We also get to look forward to the next first lady (or gentleman, if Hillary Clinton is elected), which is a much easier task to anticipate. In its 239 years, America has had some pretty extraordinary first ladies -- especially the ones who chose to defy the conventional role that their title suggests. In fact, there have been plenty of first ladies who changed America as we know it.

As we prepare to get to know the candidates' wives -- from Columba Bush to Jane Sanders to even Melania Trump -- and picture what they could be like in the White House, we can also look back at the ladies who blazed the trail before them. Hopefully, whoever takes up residence in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue come 2017 will take a cue from our past first ladies and really try to make a difference with their position. If they need some examples of projects and initiatives they can work on, then they need look no further at these seven U.S. first ladies who changed history.

Abigail Fillmore Created The White House Library

Millard Fillmore, the 13th President, met his wife Abigail when she was one of his teachers at New Hope Academy (she was only two years older than him, to be clear). Their love of reading together led her to create the White House Library.

Caroline Harrison Modernized The White House

All of the subsequent inhabitants of the White House have Caroline Harrison to thank for the modern conditions. She spearheaded renovations that gave the White House electricity, updated plumbing, and additional floors. She also introduced the first White House Christmas tree. And on top of that, she was a major women's rights advocate and the first president-general of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

What Didn't Eleanor Roosevelt Do?

Eleanor Roosevelt singlehandedly redefined the role of the first lady. Refusing to be relegated to domestic tasks, Roosevelt fought as hard as her husband did for the causes she believed in, like women's rights, civil rights, and human rights. She eventually became a member of the first American delegation of the United Nations, where she helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and was the first chairman of the UN Human Rights Commission. International human rights legislation would not be what it is today had it not been for Roosevelt.

Betty Ford Was A Champion Of Social Issues

Handout/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Betty Ford wasn't afraid to discuss her private life in order to raise awareness for important issues like breast cancer and alcoholism. A proponent of equal rights, Ford was publicly pro-choice and supported equal pay and gun control, which, given that she was Republican, would be unheard of these days. Then, of course, there's the Betty Ford Center, which helps thousands of Americans overcome addiction each year.

Nancy Reagan Fought For A Drug-Free America


Nancy Reagan's tenure as first lady in the '80s coincided with America's crack epidemic, prompting her to launch the "Just Say No" campaign against drugs. The awareness campaign sought to educate young people on the dangers of drugs while its title and slogan became a ubiquitous part of popular culture.

Hillary Clinton Could Change U.S. History As We Know It

Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Of all the first ladies on this list, Hillary Clinton is indisputably the most groundbreaking. Besides her many accomplishments as first lady, senator, and secretary of state, she could potentially make history not only as the first female president of the United States, but also the first woman to have been both first lady and president.

Michelle Obama Has Made America Healthier

Mario Tama/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Michelle Obama's legacy will undoubtedly include her work to combat childhood obesity. Obama's "Let's Move!" campaign is changing the way kids and families eat and exercise. Some of the initiative's biggest accomplishments includes a deal with Disney that requires all food and beverage products advertised through Disney-owned media outlets meet certain nutritional requirements, revamped healthier lunch menus at schools across America, and working with the Department of Defense to improve food for U.S. troops and their families.

Images: Wikipedia Commons (3)