By Julie Provost
On January 20th, 2017, Melania Trump became the 47th official First Lady of the United States. While not elected leaders, First Ladies have used their position to help the American people. For some First Ladies, they’ve done this through their support of the military and their families.
As military families, we love all the support we can get. If the First Lady chooses to help the military and the military community, she can help us navigate military life, whether we are at war or during peacetime. The military community has benefited from the work of these First Ladies over the years.
1. Martha Washington
Our first First Lady was never called that during her lifetime. She was known as “Lady Washington” and was our First Lady from 1789-1797. Before her husband became President she already had a heart for the military because she was a military spouse. In 1780, she showed her compassion for the soldier by beginning a campaign with other prominent women to provide direct aid to soldiers in the Continental Army. Money was collected and then donated to soldiers at George Washington’s discretion.
Martha Washington would also go to George Washington’s winter encampments and would stay for months at a time. She was there to not only assist her husband and be his confidant but also to help and comfort sick and wounded soldiers and sponsor social activities to help get through the long winters. She was able to boost morale during a time with the soldiers and their wives needed that support.
2. Lucy Hayes
Lucy Hayes was married to our 19th President, Rutherford B. Hayes and was First Lady from 1877-1881, the years after the Civil War. During the war, she spent time in the Army camps and battlefields. She was a field nurse and spent time mending uniforms and listening to soldiers’ stories. The troops called her “Mother Lucy” for all that she did for them.
In 1870, when her husband was the Governor of Ohio, she work towards establishing a soldier’s orphans home for children of those who lost their father in the Civil War.
3. Florence Harding
Florence Harding was married to our 29th President, Warren G. Harding. During WWI, she made regular visits to wounded servicemen. She would talk with them, play cards, and helped boost morale. After she became First Lady, she continued to visit them.
Our First Lady from 1921 to 1923, she opened the White House grounds for a garden party for wounded veterans. The veterans were given food and refreshments. The garden parties continued for the next three years until her husband died in office.
4. Eleanor Roosevelt
Roosevelt had four sons serving during WWII, so she truly understood what it meant to be part of a military family. Eleanor Roosevelt was married to Franklin D. Roosevelt, our 32nd President from 1933 to 1945.
Not only did she promote issues that were important to the troops during the war, but she worked to boost morale among service members. She took three overseas trips during the war: One to England and Ireland, one to the South Pacific, Australia and New Zealand and one to the Caribbean Basin and South America. During these trips she would speak to the troops, visit the wounded, and offer to write to their families once she was home.
She also felt that the letters the President wrote to the families of those who had been killed in action were a little too rough. She rewrote them to soften the blow to Gold Star families.
5. Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton is married to our 42nd President, Bill Clinton, and was our First Lady from 1993-2001. During this time she visited troops and worked to have Gulf War Syndrome investigated and recognized. She started this fight after receiving complaints from Gulf War veterans who returned from the war with mysterious symptoms.
After her time as First Lady, she co-sponsored legislation to expand military health benefits to members of the Reserves and National Guard, which members still rely on today.
6. Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama is married to our 44th President, Barack Obama. She was First Lady from 2009-2017. In 2011, she started Joining Forces with Dr. Jill Biden, Vice President Joe Biden’s wife. Joining Forces was created to help bring attention to the needs of the American military community and connect them with the resources in the private sector. In addition to Joining Forces, Michelle Obama has hosted military families at the White House every holiday season.