Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Michelle Obama isn't the First Lady?





All About the firs
t, yet somehow forgotten, First Ladies of Washington D.C. Society-


Well, Martha Washington wasn't really the first "First Lady". No other former Presidents' wives were either. Now before you get upset with me, this is not a political statement. It is simply a statement for historical reference.

I applaud the wives of our Presidents. They do wonderful work for the people of our country. They are to be commended for simply helping their spouses through the grueling hours and painful intrusions into their most private lives. However, the First Lady (an honorary title, by the way) was always the spouse of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, as those on the Supreme Court have their jobs until they die, or retire, if they so choose. They are the only such lifetime jobs our government offers. The Presidency was, and still is, simply a "temp job".

Writers of etiquette books, and those in Washington society, were horrified in 1877 when journalist Mary C. Ames referred to Lucy Webb Hayes as "the First Lady of the Land". Prior to Ms. Ames pilfering the "First Lady" title for her article, no references to wives of the President were anything but just that; The wife of the President. Aside from the fact that Washingtonian etiquette prescribed the social duties involved in being a First Lady at that time, and the Supreme Court Justices wives took their duties very seriously, many wives of Presidents were not all too happy that their husbands were running for the office. Some wives were very content to stay in their homes, close by to their friends, and they did not wish to pull up stakes for a move to Washington.

Take Anna Harrison for example. She was 66 years old when her husband William Henry Harrison was elected President. She loved her home was not too keen on moving. She had bore many children, and six had died over the years prior to her husband winning the Presidency. She had no political or social agenda, or desires. She is often quoted as saying, "I wish that my husband's friends had left him where he is, happy and contented in retirement." She skipped the festivities in Washington after her husband's win, and decided to wait until after his inauguration to move to Washington. She missed his record breaking inaugural speech in the freezing Washington air. Six weeks into his term, Harrison died from pneumonia and pleurisy. Anna received the news as she was packing to move to Washington D.C.

Nowadays, I wonder how the original First Ladies, those "Forgotten First Ladies" of Washington if you will, would react to the title being even more corrupted to include titles like "The First Dude", "The First Dog", "The First Cat", etc... Probably with the same amount of mild horror, amusement and confusion that celebrities must feel when saddled with other media generated titles like Wacko-Jacko, The Governator, Bennifer, Brangelina, or ScarJo.
One last note on the subject...
A favorite of my reference books is an etiquette book written by Eleanor Roosevelt, and I will post some snippets of that book here at a later date. You can read Duffy's 1877 book on etiquette at Google Books for more insight into Washingtonian etiquette.

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