First Ladies exist in a kind of political gray area. When you consider what it's like to be First Lady of the United States, you must remember that the position is not a political one. It is largely ceremonial and social in nature. With that said, First Ladies can wield enormous influence both inside and outside the White House. Spouses like Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton, for instance, took on the formal role of First Lady while also working on their own favored social causes and furthering their political goals and agendas. And then there's Nancy Reagan, who, in some circles, has long been thought of as a Machiavellian figure that served as the "brains" behind her husband's presidency.
However she chooses to fill her time, there are certain rules the First Lady must follow. These rules are mostly concerned with upholding a specific image of the First Lady as someone supportive of her husband while also passionate about the civic affairs of her country. As a result, the role of First Lady can sometimes be a balancing act between being involved, but not too involved, with issues that affect the presidency and, by extension, the nation.
Keep reading to discover some interesting facts and things you didn't know about the role of United States First Lady.
In one of the more surprising revelations learned about life in the White House, neither a First Lady nor anyone in the First Family is allowed to open the windows of their home or their vehicle. Obviously, it's a security concern. In an interview with Ellen DeGeneres, Michelle Obama, when she was First Lady, said one of the things she missed most about civilian life was open windows.
"I look forward to getting in a car and rolling down the window and just letting the air hit my face. I mean, I haven’t been in a car with the windows open in about seven years if you can imagine that. So I'm gonna spend that first year just hanging out the window."
Even though their positions are highly public and take them around the world, no First Lady is paid for her work or her time. Their rent and lodgings for the duration of their tenure are paid for, but not much else is. According to Marketplace, "The president and first lady pay for their food, parties, vacations, butlers, housekeepers, ushers… and at Ritz Carleton prices." Ronald Reagan put it another way. "You know, with the First Lady the government gets an employee free," he once said. "They have her just about as busy as they have me."
No paycheck. An underpaid staff. Not even an open window as far as the eye can see. First Ladies must get free clothing as a perk of the (unpaid) job, right? Nope. First Ladies are expected to buy their own clothes, but for certain significant events, the rule has some wiggle room. "For official events of public or historic significance, such as a state visit, the first lady's clothes may be given as a gift by a designer and accepted on behalf of the U.S. government," Michelle Obama's press secretary said in 2014. "They are then stored by the National Archives." All this begs the question: who paid for the now-infamous (and wildly inappropriate) spiked heels that Melania wore to "help" hurricane victims?
As a member of the First Family and a constant presence at public events, the First Lady receives the same level of Secret Service protection as her husband. This means that the Secret Service gives her a codename as a way to enhance security and better safeguard her identity. Eleanor Roosevelt was called Rover. Nancy Reagan was Rainbow. Jackie Kennedy was Lace. Pat Nixon was Starlight. Michelle Obama was Renaissance. Melania Trump is Muse.