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Presidential First Ladies

Presidential First Ladies


There is an enormous amount of information about United States Presidents, but not as much has been written about the First Ladies who have worked alongside their husbands in leading this country. The purpose of this pathfinder is to provide a useful starting point for research on this topic through journal and newspaper articles, books (both reference and general), dissertations, web sites, and other resources. Since much of the information that has been published is for juvenile audiences, this pathfinder will include a section for juvenile readers as well.


When searching for print resources, it is best to begin with biographical resources. Some of the best biographical resources that concentrate on all the First Ladies are as follows:

Diller, Daniel C. The Presidents, First Ladies, and Vice Presidents: White House Biographies, 1789-1989. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1989.

Mayo, Edith. The Smithsonian Book of the First Ladies: Their Lives, Times, and Issues. New York: H. Holt, 1996.

Paletta, Lu Ann. The World Almanac of First Ladies. New York: World Almanac, 1990.

Schneider, Dorothy, and Schneider, Carl J. First Ladies: A Biographical Dictionary. New York: Facts on File, 2001.

Watson, Robert P. First Ladies of the United States: A Biographical Dictionary. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1962.

Other books about the First Ladies deal with specific aspects of their lives, such as their clothing or entertaining.  Some books only deal with the early presidential wives or the more current ones.  Books in these categories are the following:

Anderson, Alice E. and Baxendale, Hadley V. Behind Every Successful President: The Hidden Power and Influence of America's First Ladies. New York: Shapolsky Publishers, 1992.

Anthony, Carl Sferrazza. First Ladies: The Saga of the Presidents' Wives and Their Power. New York: W. Morrow, 1991.

Durbin, Louise and Smith, Marie. White House Brides. Washington, DC: Acropolis Books, 1966.

Foss, William O. First Ladies Quotation Book: A Compendium of Provocative, Tender, Witty, and Important Words from the Presidents' Wives. New York: Barricade Books, 1999.

Gould, Lewis L. American First Ladies: Their Lives and Their Legacy. New York: Garland Publishing, 1996.

Healy, Diana Dixon. America's First Ladies: Private Lives of the Presidential Wives. New York: Atheneum, 1988.
Jensen, Amy La Follette. The White House and Its Thirty-Four Families. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1965.

Klapthor, Margaret. The Dresses of the First Ladies of the White House as Exhibited in the United States National Museum. Washington, DC: Smithsonian, 1952.

Klapthor, Margaret Brown. The First Ladies. Washington, DC: White House Historical Association with the Cooperation of the National Geographic Society, 1981.

Langford, Laura Carter Holloway. Ladies of the White House: or, In the Home of the Presidents being a Complete History of the Social and Domestic Lives of the Presidents from Washington to the Present Time - 1789-1881. Philadelphia : Bradley, 1881.
Means, Marianne. The Women in the White House: The Lives, Times and Influence of Twelve Notable First Ladies. New York: Random House, 1963.

Smith, Nancy Kegan, and Ryan, Mary C. Modern First Ladies: Their Documentary Legacy. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1989.

Whitton, Mary Ormsbee. First First Ladies, 1789-1865: A Study of the Wives of the Early Presidents. New York: Hastings House, 1948.

Juvenile Literature

Many children and young adults are interested in information about the first ladies. Some excellent resources for these younger readers are as follows:

Franz, Leslie. America's First Ladies Coloring Book. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1991.

McConnell, Jane (Tompkins), and McConnell, Burt Morton. Our First Ladies, from Martha Washington to Pat Ryan Nixon. New York: Crowell, 1969.

Melick, Arden Davis. Wives of the Presidents. Maplewood, NJ: Hammond, 1972.

Pastan, Amy. First Ladies. London, New York: DK, 2001.

Smith, Elizabeth Simpson. Five First Ladies: A Look into the Lives of Nancy Reagan, Rosalynn Carter, Betty Ford, Pat Nixon, and Lady Bird Johnson. New York: Walker, 1986.

Articles tend to deal with a particular aspect of the First Ladies or are about a particular First Lady.  While some articles deal with biographical information, most are related to a current event. 

Auster, Bruce. "Defining the First Lady's Difficult Role." U.S. News & World Report 5 (February 1996).

Brodeur, Nicole. "A Select Sorority: Insights Into Life at the Right Hand of the President." Raleigh News and Observer (16 January 1994).

Bumiller, Elisabeth. First Ladies, So Alike and So Different." New York Times (12 May 1999).

Clark, Charles S. "First Ladies: What is the Proper Role for the President's Spouse?" CQ Researcher (14 June 1996).

Ferris, John. "Discovering the Past in the Papers of First Ladies." Magazine of History 15 (2001), 26.

"First Ladies Reflect on Their Years in the White House." Life Magazine (July 1986).

Johnson, Andrews. "Ladies Who Went to War." US Weekly (15 October 2001).

O'Connor, Karen, Bernadette Nye, and Laura Van Assendelft. "Wives in the White House: The Political Influence of the First Ladies." Presidential Studies Quarterl. (Summer 1996).

"Special Issue: Focus on the First Ladies." The Social Science Journal 37 (2000), 499-618.


Only two dissertations were found related to the study of the presidential wives, and they are as follows:
Garvey, Barbara Oney. "Rhetorical-humanistic Analysis of the Relationship Between First Ladies and the Way Women Find a Place in Society." Ph.D. dissertation: Ohio State University, 1978.

Gutin, Myra Greenberg. "The President's Partner: The First Lady a Public Communicator, 1920-1976." Ph.D. dissertation: University of Michigan, 1983.

Web Resources

A great deal of information may be found through the Internet. Some excellent sites that cover the lives of all the First Ladies are as follows:

"By Popular Demand Portraits of the Presidents and First Ladies. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/odmdhtml/preshome.html

"White House Historical Association History Timeline: The First Ladies." http://www.whitehousehistory.org/04_history/subs_timeline/b_ladies/frame_b_1790.html 

First Ladies' Gallery."

"First Ladies: Partners in the Presidency." http://www.usnewsclassroom.com/resources/activities/act010115.html

"Information on First Ladies and Their Roles at the Inaugurations." http://www.zweb.com/parpro/Inauguration.html

"National First Ladies Library."

Other Materials
In addition to written material, there is available information through multimedia.  Below is a list of videos, engravings, museums, and large print editions that are available on the First Ladies:

Biographies of the First Ladies of the United States. Huntsville, AL: Phoenix Multimedia, 1998.Volumes 1-5.

Brown, Coleman T. Portfolio of Official Portraits of the Presidents and First Ladies. Chicago: Coleman Engraving Co., 1929.

Caroli, Betty Boyd. First Ladies. Garden City, NY: Doubleday Book & Music Clubs, 1993. Large Print.

First Ladies. MPI Home Video, 1989 Document.

First Ladies. Public Media Video, 1989.

Museum of Presidents and First Ladies, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, Washington, DC: Permanent installation, "First Ladies: Public Image and Political Role," 1992, curated by Edith Mayo.

For information on individual First Ladies, see

Individual First Ladies

Presidential First Ladies