32 Impressive First Ladies Whose Strengths & Passions Made The United States What It Is Today

You know that saying, "Behind every great man there stands a great woman"? Nowhere does that quote ring more true than at the White House. The United States of America has seen some distinguished presidents, but there's no way they could have done it alone — that's where a long list strong, smart women comes in. The first ladies of the United States didn't just support the country's endeavors, they also had amazing accomplishments of their own.The first one that comes to mind is current First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign against obesity, but she is far from the only first lady to start a movement, found an organization, or advocate for a cause.From Dolley Madison's charity that helped young female orphans to Betty Ford's famed rehab center and Laura Bush's literacy programs, the first ladies of the United States have never been ones to just sit around and watch their husbands work. I mean, Abraham Lincoln might not have championed abolition as fervently if it weren't for First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, who many believe was an even more passionate abolitionist than her husband. It's time to give credit to these women, without whom America would not be the country it is today.

Martha Washington

Washington was an advocate for veterans of the American Revolution, helping by providing charitable donations and other resources.

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Abigail Adams

Letters between Adams and her husband revealed that she strongly tried to convince him to consider women’s rights.

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Dolley Madison

Madison supported the Washington Female Orphans Asylum, an orphanage for young girls, by lending her name, donating a live cow for dairy products, and helping to sew their uniforms.

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Louisa Adams

Adams helped her husband with abolitionist causes.

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Julia Tyler

Texas might not be a U.S. state if it weren’t for Tyler, who lobbied alongside her husband.

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Abigail Fillmore

She helped her husband, Millard Fillmore, create the first permanent reference library of the White House.

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Harriet Lane

Lane advocated for the protection of Native American Indians living on reservations.

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Mary Todd Lincoln

A staunch abolitionist, Lincoln actively contributed to the Freedman’s Bureau, an organization that helped freed slaves find access to housing, education, and employment.

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Lucy Hayes

Hayes supported organizations that helped orphans, Native American and African-American girls, and veterans.

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Frances Cleveland

Cleveland was an organizer of the Washington Club, a charity that helped impoverished African-American children of Washington, D.C.

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Caroline Harrison

Harrison was the first president-general of the Daughters of the American Revolution and helped to found the Johns Hopkins Medical School on the condition that women students be allowed to attend.

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Ida McKinley

McKinley championed to help single, divorced, and widowed women with job placement and career promotions.

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Edith Roosevelt

Roosevelt aided New York reformer Jacob Riis, who helped immigrant families living in cramped tenements.

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Helen Taft

Taft was the first First Lady to successfully lobby for federal legislation, which created health and safety standards in the federal workplace.

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Ellen Wilson

Woodrow Wilson’s first wife lobbied to get Congress to pass a bill to demolish the unsanitary housing surrounding the Capitol building.

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Edith Wilson

Wilson’s second wife helped the Red Cross with fundraising and led the country’s food and fuel rationing programs.

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Florence Harding

Harding was a triple force who championed for animal rights, WWI veterans, and gender equality.

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Grace Coolidge

The former teacher of the deaf launched a national capital campaign to create a foundation for the Clarke School of the Deaf in Northhampton.

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Lou Hoover

Hoover was the national president of the Girl Scouts and encouraged young women to help ease Great Depression suffering through civic duties.

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Eleanor Roosevelt

Like Hillary Clinton, Roosevelt was often considered “co-president” to Franklin D. Roosevelt. She advocated for civil rights and women’s rights, as well as unemployed World War I veterans, women and African-Americans seeking employment with the federal government, student unions, European refugees, and coal miners and their families.

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Bess Truman

As an advocate of many causes, Truman lent her name to several charities, including March of Dimes, Red Cross, Girl Scouts, and charities for muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy.

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Mamie Eisenhower

Eisenhower served as the national leader of the Heart Fund, which raised money every year for combating heart disease.

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Jacqueline Kennedy

Perhaps the quintessential first lady, Kennedy launched a White House restoration project and helped improve the public opinion on her husband’s administration.

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Claudia "Lady Bird" Johnson

Lady Bird Johnson basically made D.C. into the beautiful city it is today through her beautification program. She said, “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.”

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Thelma "Pat" Nixon

Nixon was an advocate of volunteerism, encouraging Americans to help solve social issues at the local level.

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Betty Ford

Besides championing for women’s rights, Ford raised awareness for breast cancer research and later established the famed Betty Ford Center.

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Eleanor Rosalynn Carter

Carter counted mental health research among her initiatives and created The Carter Center Mental Health Task Force.

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Nancy Reagan

The perennially elegant Reagan was famous for coining the anti-drug phrase “just say no” and launching the “Just Say No” drug awareness campaign in 1982.

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Barbara Bush

Bush was well-loved by the people, and it’s not hard to see why. She advocated for several important causes, including homelessness, literacy, and AIDS awareness.

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Hillary Clinton

Besides going on to become U.S. Secretary of State and possibly someday president, Clinton was often referred to as husband Bill’s “co-president” because she was so involved. There was even the brilliant portmanteau “Billary.”


Laura Bush

Bush made education and literacy her priorities as first lady, starting several programs, including Take Time For Kids, Reach Out and Read, and Ready to Read.

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Michelle Obama

Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign promotes healthy eating and physical activity in order to fight child obesity.

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