Is it the White House or the wife’s house?

Anna-Claire Kilcoyne, features writer

The top 10 most influential First Ladies in U.S. history (from least to most):

  1. Abigail Fillmore (1850-1853)

Abigail Fillmore had a great love of books, and this led to her creating the first White House library. She helped select which books would be included, overriding Congress’ fear that a library would make the president too powerful.

  1. Caroline Harrison (1889-1883)

Caroline Harrison oversaw major renovations to the White House including adding electricity, updating plumbing and adding additional floors. She also painted the White House china and had the first Christmas tree erected in the White House. She was a women’s rights activist and the first President-General of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

  1. Edith Wilson (1913-1921)

When President Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke in 1919, Edith Wilson essentially took control of her husband’s presidency. She made daily decisions about what issues should or should not be taken to her husband for input, something she was widely criticized for doing. To this day, it is still unclear how much power she truly yielded during that time.

  1. Jacqueline Kennedy (1961-1963)

Jacqueline Kennedy worked to restore and refurnish the White House. When she was done, she took America on a televised tour of the White House. She was revered as First Lady for her fashion sense and poise and dignity after JFK’s assassination.

  1. Rosalynn Carter (1977-1981)

Rosalynn Carter acted as one of her husband’s closest advisers during his presidency. She sat in on many cabinet meetings, which was unprecedented. She was also an advocate for mental health issues and became the honorary chair of the president’s Commission on Mental Health.

  1. Betty Ford (1974-1977)

Betty Ford openly discussed her experiences with psychiatric treatment and was a major advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment and the legalization of abortion. She went through a mastectomy during her husband’s presidency and spoke out about breast cancer awareness. Her candor and openness about her private life was unprecedented for such a high profile public figure.

  1. Michelle Obama (2009-2016)

Michelle Obama was a strong advocate for youth leadership, health and education. She fought strongly against childhood obesity and launched several programs and campaigns in attempt to educate society about healthy eating habits, mainly for children. She also worked with many sports and exercise groups, advertising the need for children to exercise.

  1. Dolley Madison (1809-1817)

Dolley Madison remained active with weekly social events and entertaining dignitaries and society during her husband’s presidency. During the War of 1812 when the British burned down the White House, she refused to leave without saving the many national treasures stored inside. Without her efforts, many items that were saved would have been destroyed in the fire.

  1. Hillary Clinton (1993-2001)

Hillary Clinton was involved in directing policy and was appointed head of the Task Force on National Health Care Reform. She spoke out on women’s and children’s issues and supported important legislation like the Adoption and Safe Families Act. During her husband’s second term, she became junior senator from New York. After he left office, she was elected to be Barack Obama’s Secretary of State. In 2016, Hillary Clinton became the first female presidential nominee of a major party and if her campaign is successful, in November 2016 she will become the first female president of the U.S.

  1. Eleanor Roosevelt (1933-1945)

Eleanor Roosevelt fought for New Deal proposals, civil rights and rights of women. She believed education and equal opportunities should be guaranteed for all, and she was on the board of directors for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She was a leader in the formation of the United Nations at the end of WWII and she helped draft the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” In 1946, she became the first chairperson of the UN Human Rights Commission.