Contenders for the Republican presidential ticket are currently throwing punches on the debate floor and in the media. If you want to take a break from the political boxing ring, why not focus on the more amicable first ladies’ roles?
It’s an easy trip from Huntsville to Washington D.C., where the Smithsonian National Museum of American History is showcasing “The First Ladies” exhibit. It’s a display that features premier objects from the nearly century-old First Ladies Collection.
For decades the First Ladies Collection has been one of the most popular attractions at the Smithsonian, featuring 26 dresses and more than 160 other objects, ranging from those of Martha Washington to Michelle Obama, and includes White House china, personal possessions and other objects from the Smithsonian’s unique collection of first ladies’ materials, established in 1912.
Among the dresses displayed in the exhibition are Grace Coolidge’s flapper-style evening gown, Jackie Kennedy’s yellow-silk gown worn to the Kennedy administration’s first state dinner in 1961 and Eleanor Roosevelt’s slate blue crepe gown, which she wore to the 1933 inaugural ball.
First ladies are unofficial but critical members of presidential administrations. For more than 200 years the public has judged their clothes, their parties, their projects and their roles in the White House.
The exhibition examines this in four main sections:
The Nation’s Hostess looks at the role that the First Lady has played for the nation and the presidential administrations. Each reception or dinner is an opportunity for the First Lady to help build America’s international relationships, win political friends and public support for the President, or further his administration’s legislative agenda.
Inauguration and Opportunities looks at the inauguration of a President as a time of optimism and new beginnings. In addition to attending ceremonies and balls, incoming first ladies announce the agendas and special projects they intend to pursue. Some projects are ambitious. Some are traditional. Some may be controversial.
Changing Times, Changing First Ladies highlights Dolley Madison, Mary Lincoln, Edith Roosevelt and Lady Bird Johnson, who all fashioned their own ways of handling the White House, families, parties and politics. Over different times and circumstances they crafted significant roles for themselves that they believed would allow them to best serve the President and the country.
The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history.
To learn more about the museum, visit the museum’s website. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000. If you are traveling from Huntsville, you can catch nonstop flights to Washington D.C. on Air Tran and U.S. Airways.