- 1Betty Ford was the First Lady of the United States from 1974 to 1977 (the tenure of her husband, Gerald Ford, as President), and during that relatively brief time, she made her stamp on American politics. One of the most influential feminists of her day, Ford was a staunch advocate of abortion rights, the Equal Protection Amendment and equal pay for women. She also helped to raise awareness about breast cancer, a disease from which she suffered herself. (A short time after moving to the White House, she underwent a mastectomy.)
But Ford is best remembered today for her career after her time in the White House. After being treated for her own alcohol and drug addiction, she founded the Betty Ford Center - probably the world's most famous rehabilitation clinic - in Rancho Mirage, California.
Ford died in July of 2011 at the age of 93, making her the third longest-lived First Lady of all time. (Her late husband, Gerald, had also lived to be 93.) She will be remembered as one of our most outspoken, influential and political First Ladies, compared frequently to icons like Eleanor Roosevelt.
- 2To say Elizabeth Edwards has had a tumultuous last couple of years is an understatement. Even saying she's had a tumultuous life is borderline inaccurate. Elizabeth Edwards has gone through almost every painful experience imaginable to get her to everything she accomplished in her life.
Her quiet yet firm submission to cancer is remarkable considering the other personal dramas going on in her life, including husband and presidential hopeful John Edward's infidelity, that she's had to battle with.
In 1996, her first born son Wade Edwards was killed in a car accident at the age of 16.
Edwards then created the Wade Edwards Foundation which focuses on the academic and overall excellence of young people. In 2004, she went on the campaign trail with Jon Edwards and his running mate Senator John Kerry and was diagnosed with invasive ductal cancer the same day Edwards and Kerry conceded the presidential race to George Bush. Not until Elizabeth Edwards finished stumping for her husband though did she see a specialist.
In 2007, believed to be in remission, Elizabeth once again stood by her husband's side as he started his campaign as a presidential candidate. When the cancer came back, Elizabeth said at a press conference: "I'm absolutely ready for this. I don't look sickly, I don't feel sickly. I'm ready as any person can be for this."
True to her word, she blazed ahead, working the campaign trail and raising two young children.
Then, the affair.
The ubiquitous affair between Jon Edwards and a former video campaign aide, Rielle Hunter, which also produced a hidden pregnancy rattled Elizabeth and the Edwards family. Through the entire episode, Elizabeth remained respectable, only saying that "John's conduct through this whole thing was terrible."
When the news hit that the cancer had spread to her liver and that further treatment would be ineffective, Elizabeth responded in her characteristically good nature, going on Facebook and posting to her fans and supporters a hopeful message: "I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces--my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope."
This inspiring view of life in spite of hardships make Elizabeth Edwards shine much brighter than her one-time U.S. Senator, long-time cheating husband John Edwards.
- 3As the saying goes, "Behind every great man is a great woman."
Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt definitely fit the bill of that statement. In fact, some may argue that Eleanor Roosevelt is actually a greater woman for seeing him through everything, as well as accomplishing everything she did.
Even long after the death of her husband, Eleanor Roosevelt continued to work in politics, even being appointed a delegate to the General Assembly in 1945 by President Harry S. Truman.
She championed many civil rights, working to enhance the status of working women and overseeing the committee that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Even during her time as First Lady of the United States, Eleanor was very vocal in her support of the African-American civil rights movement. She also made a significant mark in racial progression when she appointed Mary McLeod Bethune, an African American, as head of the Division of Negro Affairs.
Eleanor received 48 honorary degrees throughout her life and at news of her death on November 7, 1962, UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson said, "The United States, the United Nations, the world, has lost one of its great citizens. Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt is dead, and a cherished friend of all mankind is gone."
Now if that doesn't say great, it definitely says greater.
- 4If there's anything that describes Hillary Clinton, it that she's got grit, strength and--dare we say all it--balls.
After her husband Bill Clinton completed his run as the 42nd President of the United States, Hillary set out with an agenda of her own. And wished to prove that she could do it better than Bill himself.
In fact, after being elected as a U.S. Senator in 2000 and re-elected in 2006, Hillary went for the big leagues and set out to run in the 2008 presidential race like her hubby. Even Bill admitted that she would be a better president than him because: "I think she wouldn't make as many mistakes. She is far more experienced now in all the relevant ways than I was when I took office."
He has a point. Hillary was a second-term U.S. senator serving on the Senate Armed Services Committee; Bill never served in Congress. In addition, Hillary was staff attorney for the Children's Defense Fund, served on the board of directors of the Legal Services Corporation and co-founded Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.
Even though Hilary lost by a close margin in the presidential race to Barack Obama, she now serves as 67th Secretary of State in the administration. She is the first former First Lady to serve in a president's cabinet and that in itself is an incredible feat that no MAN has ever been able to do.
- 5Eva Peron was the First Lady of Argentina from 1946 until her death in 1952. She is widely and affectionately remembered throughout history as Evita; the remembrance stemmed from just her first name alone shows how much of an impact she has made on the collective public consciousness of Argentina and the world.
Despite the fact that she never was an elected head of state, Evita received a state funeral after she died from cancer.
During her life, she became popular with pro-Peronist trade unions, often speaking on behalf of labor rights. She also ran the Ministries of Labor and Health, insisting on providing free health care to the country. During her husband's presidency, she created the charitable Eva Peron foundation and became a international symbol for helping others in need. Eventually, she founded the first large scale feminist political party in Argentina: the female Peronist Party.
Despite opposition from the military and the upper-class, her popularity was so great that her own party rallied for her to campaign for the Vice-President of Argentina in 1951. She declined, even though there was great political support from the bulk of Argentinian citizens.
Remembered for her compassion and her dedication to providing the best of health and fair rights to all citizens of Argentina, Evita has always been a major force in Argentinian culture, many years after her death.
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