Q+A History of ‘first ladies’
Editor’s Note: Due to their unique social status and personal charm, contemporary first ladies actively engage in public affairs and are gaining increasing worldwide attention.
When did the term “first lady” come into popular usage?
The term “first lady” seems to have originated in the United States. Some sources say that, in 1849, President Zachary Taylor called Dolley Madison, the wife of former president James Madison, “first lady” in a eulogy at her state funeral. The term became consistently used in the early 20th century.
What are the main duties of first ladies?
No legal provisions prescribe the duties for first ladies. But by convention, they play mainly a ceremonial role in areas such as health, education and medical services. Since the end of World War II, US first ladies have displayed growing interest in participating in international affairs.
What role have US first ladies played in US diplomacy?
The role of first ladies in international affairs has been seen as a kind of “soft diplomacy” by US society. The first lady is largely considered as a spokesperson for the president because her remarks on important issues have to be approved by her husband. Despite that, first ladies seldom talk about politics while traveling without their husbands.
When did US first ladies begin to visit foreign countries on their own?
The tradition of US first ladies visiting foreign countries on their own dates back to World War II when Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and a representative of the International Red Cross, visited Great Britain, Ireland and many US military bases in the Pacific without her husband.