“Someday, I hope that someone will take the time to consider the role of the First Lady and assess the many burdens she has to bear and the many contributions she makes.” Harry S. Truman, President, 1945-1953

Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Roselyn Carter, Betty Ford; 1993

Before the invention of photography most Americans had little idea what their president or his wife looked like. As photograph and film images became available it was easier for the American public to develop a relationship with the First Family. The activities of the First Family became a part of the everyday life of John Q. Public. Researchers call this kind of relationship, “para-social interaction.” Viewers begin to believe that they know the people they see in print or on television in the same way they know their friends and associates. Psychologically these relationships have the same characteristics as a real friendship or enmity which is why there is often a massive outpouring of public grief when a President is injured or ill, or a national frenzy over a wedding in the White House.

Lady Bird Johnson

America’s interest in and affection for the various women who have served as First Lady has depended largely on the way the media has portrayed her. Jacqueline Kennedy was the first president’s wife to have her own press secretary who managed the relationship between the President’s wife and the media. Each First Lady since then has developed her own relationship with the press through her own efforts and through the careful attention of the President’s advisers. Presidential advisers closely monitor the way the First Lady is perceived by the media and the public because her approval rating can have a direct effect on the popularity of the President.

Bess Truman

The role of the First Lady of the United States of America has evolved since the days of Martha Washington. Each of the women who served in this capacity has made her own contribution to the position. Some of the women such as Abigail Adams, Dolly Madison, and Eleanor Roosevelt publicly played active roles as adviser to their husbands and were influential in his decisions about political issues. Other women such as Leticia Tyler, Lucretia Garfield, Eliza Johnson and Ida McKinnley played little or no role in public life after their husbands were elected. The first three women had serious illnesses that prevented them from participating in social or ceremonial activities; Mrs. McKinnley was in deep mourning for her son who died shortly before her husband’s election.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Even though she is neither elected or appointed to her position, the job requires that the First Lady be on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. She receives no salary or other monetary compensations for her work. She has to be willing to accept that everything she says, everything she wears, every action she takes will be closely monitored, reported, and commented on by the media. Every thing she does in her role as First Lady will be criticized and praised. Her life before her time in the White House will be closely scrutinized and it will be necessary for her to build a relationship with the American public that is based primarily on how the media portrays her.

Jackie Kennedy

All of them have faced challenges that might break a lesser woman. Each of them has touched a different place in America’s heart. Being the First Lady is a difficult job that each of these women performed with their own particular grace and style.

The first musical I ever wrote was begun the spring of 1987. I was intending to write a rather lengthy choral piece on the life of Lincoln and was including a moment with Mrs. Lincoln. I had always believed her to be the shrew portrayed in history, and thought, “Poor Abraham Lincoln, married to Mary Todd.” After finishing my initial research my thought was, “Poor Mary Todd, married to Abraham Lincoln.”

My musical, Love Is Eternal, is a tender, thorough portrayal of the vilified former first lady, opening with the widow in the asylum to which she was confined after her eldest, and only surviving son had her committed for fear she would spend his inheritance.

The story of Mary Todd Lincoln, one of history’s most misunderstood heroines, cannot fail to leave its audience moved and breathless, no matter what their age. The fierce divisions and blistering passions of post-Civil War America, as well as the ever-changing influence of women in the halls of American power, are made profoundly personal in this highly accurate account of an extraordinary first family.

Historians have often recognized Mrs.Lincoln as America’s first “first lady,” in the modern sense. Never content to sit idly by, Mary Todd took an active interest in her husband’s administration, causing ever-increasing controversy and uproar among congressional leaders who resented her access and influence. Also, she took it upon herself to redesign and refurbish a White House that had been woefully neglected. She added heating and plumbing, often at personal expense, ultimately throwing herself heavily into debt. Having already lost two sons prior to the horror at Fords Theater, she plunged into a depression made even worse by bankruptcy. Then, in what seemed a final finishing blow, she lost yet another son to illness and in her grief became delusional and uncontrollable. Though well intentioned, her oldest and only surviving son, Robert, added one last insult to injury. Fearing for her safety, he went to court to have her committed, causing a lasting rift in both her family and in the already scandalized southern society in which she was raised.

Mary Todd made a miraculous recovery. Swiftly recapturing her sanity and grace, she held tenaciously to the wit, lucidity, and love for life and family that were the hallmarks of her character. Hers is a story of an unquestionable triumph. Against all odds, Mary Todd Lincoln emerged as an indomitable woman who refused to surrender her spirit and dignity, and found the strength to rise above the unbelievable trauma and loss that had been repeatedly dealt to her.

To see photographs or portraits of our country’s first ladies, please visit: http://images.google.com/imgres

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