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Study Notes

First Lady of the United States

AQA, Edexcel, OCR, Eduqas

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

The First Lady of the United States is a title given to the wife or partner of the President of the United States. The role has no constitutional basis and no prescribed powers, despite the modern importance of the role.

Five First Ladies - Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Bush, Rosalynn Carter

The Role

The role is entirely ceremonial and often involves running the White House. The First Lady is often the hostess for the White House and organises the various functions and social occasions. Whilst this is true for most of the role's history, during the 20th century the role has expanded with First Ladies taking on a policy role or cause to champion. They would often hire staff to form the Office of the First Lady to help them with this.

Causes taken on by First Ladies:

Lady Bird Johnson: Environmental Protection
Pat Nixon: Volunteering
Betty Ford: Women's Rights
Rosalynn Carter: Championing those with learning difficulties
Nancy Reagan: Just Say No to Drugs campaign
Barbara Bush: Promoting Literacy
Hillary Clinton: US Healthcare System
Laura Bush: Women's Rights & Literacy
Michelle Obama: Childhood Obesity & Military Families

The Office of the First Lady
Despite the role of the First Lady not having a constitutional basis the East Wing of the White House is home to the First Lady's Office. It typically has around 24 staff who coordinate all the Office's functions including hosting in the White House but also the campaigns and causes that they embark on.

Like the President in the West Wing, the First Lady does have a Chief of Staff who can help coordinate the First Lady's agenda. Recent First Lady's such as Laura Bush and Michelle Obama have made extensive use of the Office. How much Melania Trump will use the Office remains to be seen.

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