Each First Lady of the United States has been slightly different from her predecessors. Each has historically taken up their own social cause, typically a seemingly bipartisan issue for which she champions during her tenure in the White House. Michelle Obama made nutrition and wellness her priority, for example, and Nancy Reagan famously took on drug use. Melania Trump has announced her mission as First Lady will be the eradication of cyberbullying, and in that regard, has fallen into First Lady tradition. In fact, on the surface,
Melania often compares easily with other famous First Ladies.
She supports her husband, she mimics his syntax, and she reiterates that she is, above all, devoted to her children. In this way, she is not dissimilar to those that came before her. But not all First Ladies were entirely similar. Some, like Nancy Raegan or Laura Bush, were
decidedly traditional, occupying a strictly defined "feminine" role. Others have been more candid with the press, like Betty Ford, who spoke openly about, among other things, her struggle with alcoholism.
It's impossible to know how Melania will be represented by historians when her husband is no longer president, but these quotes illustrate some uncanny similarities — and occasional stark differences — between Melania and First-Ladies-past.
On Putting Yourself First
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images Melania Trump: [T]ake care of yourself, because when you take care of yourself first, you will do a much better job taking care of others. Michelle Obama: We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own "to do" list.
Both first ladies agree that self-care is an important part of being happy in other areas of life. And while they hail from wildly different backgrounds, both are familiar with the trials of being both a wife and mother in the White House.
Melania: I am a full time mom; that is my first job. The most important job ever. I started my business when he started school. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: If you bungle raising your children I don't think whatever else you do well matters very much.
Along with self-care, Melania also prioritizes her role as mother to son Barron. Similarly, Jackie Kennedy also agreed that child-rearing was one of the most important responsibilities a person can take one.
STEPHEN JAFFE/AFP/Getty Images Melania: We are very strong, we are two independent people, thinking on their own, and we have a very open conversation. And I think that's very healthy for the relationship. Betty Ford: I have an independent streak. You know, it's kind of hard to tell a independent woman what to do.
Sometimes it's easy to accidentally lump first ladies in with their husbands. They often campaign together, echoing the same opinions and political perspectives. But both Melania and Betty Ford agree that, at least when it comes to their relationships, it's important to separate yourself as an individual entity.
Paul Morigi/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images Melania: In one way, it's hard because press — it's very dishonest and it's a lot of lies that they've written also about me, my husband, and you need to defend yourself all the time. ... they accused me of doing stuff that I never did in my life and they wrote lies. And I will not allow that. Laura Bush: I think that a lot of times the media sensationalize or magnify things that aren't — that really shouldn't be. ... I do think there's a big move away from actual reporting, trying to report facts. It's in newspapers and everything you read — that a lot more is opinion.
Both Melania and Laura Bush had harsh words for the news cycle that they have often been part of. Though Donald Trump is
particularly antagonistic toward reporters, Melania's opinion that journalists neglect facts is similar to Laura's.
On How Their Husbands Treat Women
Melania: [My] husband is real. He's raw. He tells it like it is. He's kind. He's a gentleman. He supports everybody. He supports women. He encourages them to go to the highest level, to achieve their dreams. He employs many, many women. Abigail Adams: Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could.
Since the election, Melania has been frequently been asked to vouch for her husband's treatment of women, as she does in the above quote from an interview with Anderson Cooper. Melania expressed optimism about her husband's inner thoughts about treating women with dignity, as equals — Abigail Adams was less hopeful.
On Political Opinions Within Their Marriage
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images News/Getty Images Melania: Do I agree with everything he says? No. I have my own opinions too, and I tell him that. Sometimes he takes it in and listens, and sometimes he doesn't. Laura Bush: I'm not the one who was elected. ... I would never do anything to undermine my husband's point of view.
It may be unrealistic to expect first ladies to publicly disagree with their husbands because it could be perceived as a lack of faith or organization. However, Melania has made clear that while she supports President Trump, they do not agree on everything. Laura Bush, meanwhile, explicitly said she would only seek to protect her husband's opinions.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images News/Getty Images Melania: I follow a law the way it's supposed to be. I never thought to stay here without papers. ... So I went by [the] system. I went by the law, and you should do that. Hillary Clinton: I am, you know, adamantly against illegal immigrants.
It's important to note that
Hillary Clinton's views on immigration have become more nuanced over the years. As a presidential campaign she promoted, among other things, a path to citizenship, as well as DACA. Whether Melania's views are more complicated is unclear. STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images Melania: My husband is kind. He’s a gentleman. He cares about people. He cares about women. He’s not the man that we saw, that we heard on the tape. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: I don't think there are any men who are faithful to their wives.
Melania's husband was recorded saying he would
physically grab a woman he found attractive. Jacqueline's husband, similarly, has a lengthy record of alleged affairs. However, when asked to comment about Trump's statements, Melania seems to prefer optimism to Jacqueline's more cynical pragmatism.
When Women Are Diminished
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images Melania: [W]herever women are diminished, the entire world is diminished with them. Hillary Clinton: Human rights are women's rights, and women's rights are human rights.
It would be impossible to quantify the number of times that Hillary Clinton has explicitly championed women's rights, but in March 2017, Melania echoed one of Clinton's most famous quotes. Strikingly similar in sentiment, she spoke of the impossibility of extricating women's issues from human issues at large.
BOB PEARSON/AFP/Getty Images Melania: I would be very traditional. Like Betty Ford or Jackie Kennedy. Betty Ford: I figured, OK, I'll move to the White House, do the best I can and if they don't like it, they can kick me out, but they can't make me somebody I'm not.
Melania referenced iconic First Ladies Betty Ford and Jackie Kennedy when she predicted how she would fill the role. However, Betty Ford wrote in her memoirs that
she didn't want her husband to be president, and expressed insecurity about becoming First Lady. But instead of bowing to the traditional expectations associated with the position, she attempted to maintain a level of individuality. Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images Melania: My opinion is that more languages you speak, better it is, but when you come to America, you speak English. Michelle Obama: Some folks out there have a different perspective. They believe that diversity should be contained instead of a resource to be tapped.
Melania, who is known to be fluent in
at least five languages, said that English is what people speak in America. Her husband only speaks English, which she has described as "okay" because she wouldn't tell him what to learn. Michelle Obama, meanwhile, in her last commencement speech as First Lady, urged graduates to embrace diversity instead of shying away from it, according to The Root.
Melania has not given many one-on-one interviews, and in
interviews conducted with her husband, she rarely says anything that wasn't previously said in a public speech. Because of this, her personal views by and large remain a mystery to the public. But regardless of what her tenure becomes, or who she becomes as First Lady, scholars will undoubtedly study and scrutinize her words and actions for years to come.