Beyond the Pillow Talk: How Gender, Media and Politics Shape the Role and Legacy of First Ladies, 1961-2012

Elizabeth Anne Stoltz


By analyzing the initiatives and involvements of first ladies through the lens of political party affiliation, this study provides a unique way to understand the manner and extent to which each political party leveraged the first lady’s office and each woman’s impact and legacy. This study explores the political relationship shared between each presidential couple as deemed important by the administration and press. Ultimately, the study’s content analysis indicates that there is a relationship between party affiliation, initiative selection and influence exertion. While Republican first ladies pursue initiatives that more closely align with the president’s domestic social policy priorities, Democratic first ladies are more systematically integrated into the traditional political sphere. Republican first ladies are most frequently associated with education and Democratic first ladies with health. Examining the changing role for the first ladies adds great depth to the conversation surrounding the evolution office as it relates to gender dynamics and party affiliation. As the United States elects more females into decision-making roles and holds greater expectations for its presidential spouses, it is critical to understand how not only first ladies, but all elected female officials and women navigate obstacles to influence national political discourse and policies.


First Ladies; Women’s Studies; Media Framing

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