Q+A His­tory of ‘first ladies’

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA -

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.

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