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America's First Ladies: An Enduring Legacy

Date(s): November 15, 2011
Time(s): 1-6:30 p.m.
Location: George Bush Presidential Library Center

The role of First Lady of the United States, and the attitudes toward this role, has evolved throughout our history — an evolution that mirrors the changing status of women in America.

First ladies have the power to shape societal attitudes and have used their platform to advocate for issues they care about. The first lady is often the symbol of a change that has happened or she is the bellwether of future changes.

Held Nov. 15, 2011, America's First Ladies: An Enduring Legacy provided insight into how these leaders behind the leaders help affect change and advance our society in valuable ways. Although first ladies are not elected officials, their influence, convening authority, high visibility, and 'soft power' allow them to use their voice to support and advance an administration's agenda. The evolving role and influence of America's first ladies is a fascinating topic in American culture. However, their position remains largely mysterious to the general public.

This conference reviewed the choices these women have made and the forces that have empowered them, as well as challenged their ability to help shape their work and support the president and the nation.

Panel 1 — Influence Makers: First Ladies in American History

Leading historians and archivists reviewed first ladies throughout history and how the position has evolved. They explored their activism and the traditional role of first lady as guardian of the family and public image. The discussion included anecdotal and interpretative perspectives on how a first lady's background shaped her personality and work.

Moderator: Mark Updegrove, director of the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum
Panel participants: Allida Black, project director and editor of the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers; Edie Mayo, Curator Emerita, National Museum of American History; Lynda Johnson Robb, daughter of President and Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson

Panel 2 — Behind the Scenes in the East Wing: Senior Advisors to the First Ladies

Chiefs of staff and close advisors shared how they and first ladies decide upon, design and implement specific domestic and global programs and campaigns. The panel provided accounts of little known facts, behind the scenes experiences and unsung legacies.

Introduction of panel: Alan Lowe, director of the George W. Bush Presidential Library
Moderator: Allida Black, project director and editor of the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers
Panel Participants: Julie Cooke, former projects director for Barbara Bush; Bobbie Greene McCarthy, deputy chief of staff to Hillary Clinton; Noelia Rodriguez, former press secretary for Laura Bush; Susan Sher, former chief of staff to Michelle Obama

Evening event — Reflections of First Ladies Mrs. Barbara Bush and Mrs. Laura Bush

Mrs. Barbara Bush and Mrs. Laura Bush gave firsthand accounts from their extraordinary lives. Although they share a unique connection to former First Ladies Abigail and Louisa Adams, these two first ladies have had the historic experience of sharing each other's White House journeys.

Introduction of panel: Andy Card, acting dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service
Moderator: Richard Norton Smith, historian
Panel participants: Mrs. Barbara Bush and Mrs. Laura Bush

America's First Ladies: An Enduring Legacy was presented under the direction of Conference Chair, Anita McBride, former Chief of Staff to First Lady Laura Bush, in partnership with American University, the White House Historical Association, George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, George Bush Presidential Library Foundation and Texas A&M University.

The conference was the first of three conferences focusing on first ladies to be held at the Texas Presidential Libraries; future conferences will be held at the George W. Bush Presidential Library in Dallas in March 2012, and at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum in Austin in November 2012.

For more information about the America's First Ladies: An Enduring Legacy education program, including TEKS Curriculum Standards, and to view primary sources documents about Mrs. Barbara Bush, please Click Here.

081111-01 News Release, First Ladies Conference
Barbara Bush biography
In the News


George Bush Presidential Library and Museum
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