“Behind every great man, there’s an even greater woman.” Yeah, you’ve heard the expression before. Now read about some of these bad bitches.
1. Abigail Adams, 1744-1818
“Remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could.”
Abigail Adams strongly supported the American Revolution, women’s rights, and women’s education. She, along with her husband, did not own any slaves at a time when owning another human being was not only legal in the United States, but considered acceptable. Going against this social norm was a strong statement and one not made by those of weak character.
Abigail and her husband shared a close, supportive relationship more indicative of modern relationships where equitable roles and shared counsel are the norm. They’d write each other whenever apart. More than 1,100 of their letters still survive. John Adams could not function without his wife. The president would write Abigail letters saying, “You must come, you must come. I cannot do this without you! Come, I can’t do this!”
In a letter to the president, Abigail urged her husband to, “remember the ladies” when he wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1776. She sweetly and simply signed the letter, “Forever Yours, Abigail.” Her statements regarding women were among the first feminist statements from a First Lady.
She was also the first woman to both be a president’s wife and the mother of a president. Clearly she knew how to encourage an ascent to power.
2. Eleanor Roosevelt, 1884-1962
“A woman is like a tea bag—you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water.”
Anna “Eleanor” Roosevelt had an unhappy childhood. Orphaned at 8 years old when her mother died and her alcoholic father committed suicide, she was raised by her maternal grandmother.
Eleanor was one of the first to use her role as First Lady to advance causes she found important. She fought for civil rights, women’s rights, and believed equal opportunities and education should be guaranteed for all.
According to firstladies.org, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s wife was the first First Lady to write a daily newspaper column and a monthly magazine column, hold regular all-women press conferences, and host a weekly radio show. She was a prime example for the people of her time that women could indeed have their cake and eat it too.
She was appointed by Harry Truman as a United Nations delegate and became a driving force behind the U.N.’s Declaration of Human Rights. She also served as Chairperson of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women during Kennedy’s presidency.
The infamous First Lady also earned 35 honorary degrees (FDR only earned 31) and once went flying with Amelia Earhart, appropriate as they were two women who helped modern feminism take flight.
3. Jacqueline “Jackie” Kennedy Onassis 1929-1994
“The first time you marry for love. The second for money. And the third for companionship.”
Born Jacqueline Lee Bouvier, the brunette beauty attended Vassar and George Washington University, graduating with a degree in French literature. In 1952, she got her first job working as a reporter for the Washington Times-Herald. Before she married John F. Kennedy, she was briefly engaged to Yale grad and Wall Street banker John Husted. 22-year-old Jackie abruptly called off the engagement. A few months later she began dating future husband and president John F. Kennedy.
As First Lady, Jackie captivated the American public with her impeccable fashion sense and style. She spoke fluent French, gave speeches in French-speaking countries, and opened a school in the White House for kindergarteners. Onassis also launched a massive renovation of the White House—transforming the presidential mansion into a more elegant space. Jackie even won an Emmy Award for her famous televised tour of the renovated White House.
On November 22, 1963, Jackie was sitting next to her husband when he was killed by an assassin’s bullet. Her notorious pastel-pink wool suit was spattered with blood—but she refused to change out of the garment—even as Lyndon Johnson swore in as the new president. Lady Bird Johnson asked if Jackie wanted a new outfit but Onassis replied, “Oh no, I want them to see what they’ve done to Jack.” The bloodstained ensemble is now held in the National Archives. But its matching pink pillbox hat was lost that day of the assassination and has never been recovered.
Jackie moved to New York City after her last husband, greek billionaire Aristotle Onassis, died. She worked as a successful book editor until her death.
4. Hillary Clinton, 1947-
“People can judge me for what I’ve done. And I think when somebody’s in the public eye, that’s what they do. So I’m fully comfortable with who I am, what I stand for, and what I’ve always stood for.”
The young Hillary Rodham Clinton was not interested in politics. At the ages of 13 and 27, Hillary applied to the NASA astronaut program. She was rejected both times. At 27, she tried to join the marines, but was also rejected.
She attended Wellesley College and Yale Law School, where she met husband Bill Clinton. When they married in 1975, she initially rejected the name “Clinton” and kept her maiden name of “Rodham”.
Before she was First Lady, Hillary brought home a bigger paycheck than her husband. According to insidegov.com, in 1991, when Bill Clinton was the governor of Arkansas, Hillary—then a lawyer at a private firm—brought in a total of $188,000 earnings per year.
Hillary is the first First Lady to earn a postgraduate degree and she’s also the only First Lady to be elected to national office, serving as Secretary of State during the Obama Presidency. She also sold 23,015 copies of her 2014 book, “Hard Choices”… per week. It ranked as the number one political book of 2014.
And maybe we should also mention she’s, um, the only First Lady to ever run for the Presidency. And like many strong, influential women, Hilary is often the subject of intense criticism. Regardless of one’s political opinions, it’s hard to miss the impact this one woman has had on the political scene. Like her or hate her, Hilary is paving the way for generations to come.
5. Michelle Obama, 1964-
“I never cut class. I loved getting A’s. I liked being smart. I thought being smart is cooler than anything in the world.”
Michelle Obama grew up in a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment. She shared the living room with her older brother, which was separated by a room divider. Her father worked in the boiler room at Chicago’s water purification planter.
She attended Princeton and majored in Sociology. She then received her law degree from Harvard.
She was assigned to be Barack Obama’s mentor when he came to her Chicago firm for a summer job. At first, she declined when he asked her out on a date.
Before she was First Lady, she served as the Vice President of Community and External affairs at the University of Chicago Medical Centre.
These women played important roles in furthering the status of all women in our society. The role of First Lady is largely one designed by tradition—yet each of these women broke through the walls created by those traditions—expanding not just the role of First Lady, but the role of women in our society.
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