Former first ladies from left, Barbara Bush, the late Betty Ford, Nancy Reagan, and Rosalynn Carter gather for a photo at a fund-raising event saluting Betty Ford and the Betty Ford Center in 2003.
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Even with all the scrutiny that the nation's first ladies endure, their patriotism and loyalty to their husbands in the Oval Office doesn't always seem apparent. That would change if the editor emeritus of the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers has her say.
Eleanor Roosevelt broadcasts on NBC radio in 1948.
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“I want the country to not look at them only as wives. I want them viewed in terms of the contributions they make,” said Allida M. Black, research professor of history at George Washington University. “The women who are in this office are incredibly brave, examined down to the split ends. They are supposed to serve their husbands, represent all women in the country, and have their own opinion and the emotional and intelligent strength to say what they disagree with.”
Black will lecture about “The Other Leaders in the White House — First Ladies from Lucy Hayes to Michelle Obama” in a program that begins at 5 p.m. Sunday at the Hayes Museum, at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont. The $30 cost covers a reception, dinner, and the lecture. It is $10 to attend only the lecture, set to begin at 7 p.m.
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“The first ladies are incredibly powerful, no matter how public or private they are in their influence. They have to be incredibly strong,” she said. That's because “they are going to be examined in ways that would just humiliate and emotionally devastate women who are not used to being under such a microscope.”
While the women of the White House are “a litmus test for American women,” Black said they are also “supposed to represent the hopes and aspirations of all women of the nation.” Meanwhile, they are also parents, policy advisers, and media savvy.
First women of the nation are "indefatigable. It's an exhausting and energizing and uplifting role.”
Black also takes notice of another responsibility that the wives of U.S. presidents fulfill: They are the persons with whom their husbands can let off steam.
Professor and author Allida Black will lecture on the first ladies of U.S. presidents at the Hayes Presidential Center.
“She is her husband's most intimate confidant. She has to be astute. She has to read the people around him, and know the policies in his head all the time so she can be an effective spouse and adviser,” the history professor said.
In her discussion about first ladies on Sunday, Black said she hopes “people see Eleanor Roosevelt in all her complexity, not as a co-president but as a shrewd politician in her own right.”
Meanwhile, Betty Ford was profoundly underrated.
“When you look at the role the Bush women played, they were steely and shrewd political advisers,” she added.
“People need to see her fierce patriotism,” Black said about Hillary Clinton. “She is a woman who has fierce devotion of American values and she has made remarkable contributions to this country that I don't think people see yet.”
Reservations for the 2014 Hayes lecture on the presidency are required. To RSVP and for more information, call 419-332-2081.
Contact Rose Russell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-725-6178.