The place of the First Lady in modern democracies has come to stay. As spouse of the president, they are not just his first ally, but bring to bear elegance, temperance and a measure of diplomacy.
History have the good, bad and overly terrible First Ladies. For those who are good and noble, they bring stability and some dignity and class to their husband’s Presidencies. But for those who choose the undignified route, it is opprobrium, mockery and division like we have in our country. Unfortunate!
It would interest you to note that Dolley Madison was 17 years younger than her husband, James Madison, yes 17 years! But she was one of the well-loved first ladies of the United States. Why? She worked hard to aid the work of her husband without the fury of a ‘scorned’ and power-grabbing ambition. During the war with the British, she risked her life to salvage the treasures of the United States not like “this house is for my family’ wailing we have today.
What of Sara Childress Polk, First Lady of James Polk? She was notably well-educated, attending one of the few higher learning institutions available to women at the time. As first lady, she used her education to help her husband, James K. Polk. She was known to craft speeches and write correspondence for him and not sounding shrill, adding no value other than discontent and giving the opposition barbs like is the case here.
And to Eleanor Roosevelt, regarded by many to be America’s most inspiring and influential first lady. She married Franklin Roosevelt in 1905 and was one of the first to use her role as first lady to advance causes she found significant. She fought for New Deal proposals, civil rights, and the rights of women. She believed education and equal opportunities should be guaranteed for all. Eleanor was not about “I must have this if not this house will know no peace.” Haba!
To recent history, Hillary Rodham, wife of Bill Clinton since 1975! It is generally known that Hillary Clinton was an extremely powerful first lady who was involved in directing policy, especially in the realm of health care. She was appointed the head of the Task Force on National Health Care Reform. Further, she spoke out on women’s and children’s issues. She espoused important legislation like the Adoption and Safe Families Act.
And to the beloved Michelle Obama who is a lawyer, businesswoman, and philanthropist, as a First Lady, she focused on building bridges across the aisle that President George Bush, a staunch opponent of her husband, is her dear friend.
Back home, remember Victoria Gowon; the charming Maryam Babangida, and even the boisterous Patience Jonathan. Notwithstanding the obvious failings of their husbands, they showed restraint, decorum and class unlike the inelegant, shrill and insecurities that give the façade that there are more than one president. Such a shame!
Mariam Mohammed Maktoub is an Abuja-based publisher/political PR consultant.