By Lizann Lightfoot
Today, America has a new First Lady. Like all First Ladies before her, Melania Trump will be known for her husband’s career more than her own.
Military spouses can relate to this situation. Even a military spouse who has more education than their service member and a higher earning potential will still be called a military dependent. Just as many military spouses struggle to define themselves outside the shadow of their spouse’s military career, the new First Lady will also have to grow into her role.
Like military spouses, each First Lady forges a unique path
Each military spouse forges their own path, just as each First Lady has. Some First Ladies were simply good entertainers, but many First Ladies have been shining examples of strength and independence. While they all had different personalities, every First Lady has filled the role with their own unique talents. Here are a few of their accomplishments:
Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, knew all about long separation from her husband and keeping the home fires burning because of his political career. Military spouses can relate to the supportive and emotional letters that she wrote him during the American Revolution.
Abigail Fillmore, wife of Millard Fillmore, was actually one of her husband’s teachers in school, because she was older than him. As First Lady, she created the White House library.
Caroline Harrison, wife of Benjamin Harrison, had a degree in music. She modernized the White House by adding electricity. She also fought for women’s rights and became the first President-General of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Edith Wilson was president Woodrow Wilson’s second wife. When he suffered a stroke during his presidency, the First Lady took charge, making daily decisions and deciding what information to take to the president.
Lou Hoover, wife of Herbert Hoover, was a national political figure before her husband was elected president. During World War I, she established the American Women’s War Relief Fund, and was the first First Lady to deliver radio broadcasts.
Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of Franklin Roosevelt, was one of America’s most influential First Ladies, possibly because she was the only one to have the position for 12 years! She used her role to support New Deal proposals and to fight for Civil Rights and women’s rights. She was the first First Lady to hold her own Press Conferences. She was on the board of the NAACP (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). After World War II, Eleanor Roosevelt helped form the United Nations, and was the first chairman of the UN Human Rights Commission.
Mamie Eisenhower knew the challenges of being a military wife and a First Lady. But she was no ordinary ‘dependent.’ She fought for veterans’ rights and made steps to end segregation.
Jackie Kennedy, wife of John F Kennedy, had a degree in French literature. She was a popular First Lady, renowned for her fashion sense and for redecorating the White House.
Lady Bird Johnson was an environmentalist who focused her efforts on land and wildlife preservation. For her efforts, she was later awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Ford.
Betty Ford, wife of Gerald Ford, was one of the most outspoken First Ladies. She openly discussed psychiatric treatment, her mastectomy, and breast cancer awareness. She also supported the Equal Rights Amendment and abortion rights.
Rosalynn Carter, wife of Jimmy Carter, was the first First Lady to attend Cabinet meetings. She became the honorary chair of the President’s Commission on Mental Health.
Our modern First Ladies have all pursued numerous programs to improve the quality of American lives, particularly in the areas of nutrition (Michelle Obama), health (Hillary Clinton), literacy (Laura Bush), and education (Barbara Bush).
Melania Trump may be different from every First Lady before her. And that’s OK.
Today, Melania Trump enters the White House with some very big shoes to fill. Probably, she feels like many new military spouses, who find themselves uprooted and overwhelmed. Just as every military spouse eventually finds their place in the community and becomes a stronger individual, the new First Lady will find her way to contribute to America.
Ultimately, whether she is outspoken like Betty Ford, a public activist like Eleanor Roosevelt, or a model of fashion and dignity like Jackie Kennedy, Melania Trump will go down in history as President Trump’s wife. She has an opportunity to contribute to improving America. No matter what she does, she will be so much more than a dependent. Just like any military spouse is.