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Abigail Adams. After a painting by Gilbert Stuart. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-10016 DLC).

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Adams, Abigail (11 November 1744–28 October 1818), first lady and woman of intellect, was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts, the daughter of William Smith, a Congregational minister, and Elizabeth Quincy. Abigail grew up in a prominent and wealthy family, descended from Puritan leaders and successful merchants. She had no formal schooling, both because of her recurrent illnesses and the limited options available to girls. Yet neither obstacle prevented her from achieving a remarkably broad and sophisticated education. She enjoyed the family’s well-stocked library, the stimulating company of educated relatives and parsonage visitors, and the attentive tutelage of her grandmother. Her studies ranged from Shakespeare to Locke, from Plato to French. She also began two lifelong habits: letter-writing to distant relatives and friends, and the practice of a deep Congregational faith....

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Louisa Catherine Adams. Engraving after painting by Charles Robert Leslie. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-14438 DLC).

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Adams, Louisa Catherine Johnson (12 February 1775–15 May 1852), first lady, was born in London, England, the daughter of Joshua Johnson, an American merchant, and Catherine Nuth (or Young). Though it is known that her father was a prominent businessman and that her uncle ...

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Frances Folsom Cleveland Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-25797 DLC).

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Cleveland, Frances Folsom (21 July 1864–29 October 1947), wife of Grover Cleveland, wife of Grover Cleveland, was born in Buffalo, New York, the daughter of Oscar Folsom, an attorney, and Emma Harmon. Frances Folsom knew Grover Cleveland as her father’s law partner. When Oscar Folsom died in an accident in 1875, his law partner took over management of his estate and became in effect, although not in fact, Frances Folsom’s guardian. Twenty-seven years her senior, he played the part of doting uncle to “Frankie” while piling up remarkable political victories, rising from mayor of Buffalo to governor of the state....

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Grace Goodhue Coolidge Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-25810 DLC).

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Coolidge, Grace Anna Goodhue (03 January 1879–08 July 1957), first lady of the United States, was born in Burlington, Vermont, the daughter of Andrew Issachar Goodhue, a steamboat inspector and a mechanical engineer, and Lemira Barrett. Coolidge graduated from the University of Vermont in 1902. After earning her degree, she took additional training for a teaching position at Clarke Institute for the Deaf in Northampton, Massachusetts. During her three years at Clarke she met ...

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Mamie Eisenhower. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-25814 DLC).

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Eisenhower, Mamie Doud (14 November 1896–01 November 1979), first lady of the United States, was born Mary Geneva Doud in Boone, Iowa, the daughter of John Sheldon Doud, a meatpacker, and Elivera Carlson. Tremendously successful in business, John Doud retired at the age of thirty-six and moved his family to Denver, Colorado; at that time he also purchased a vacation home in San Antonio, Texas. One of four daughters, “Mamie” enjoyed a well-to-do upbringing in Denver. She attended private elementary school and completed her education at Denver’s fashionable finishing school, Miss Woolcott’s....

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Fillmore, Abigail Powers (17 March 1798–30 March 1853), wife of Millard Fillmore, thirteenth president of the United States, was born in the Adirondacks town of Stillwater, New York, the daughter of Lemuel Powers, a Baptist minister, and Abigail Newland Powers. Abigail left Stillwater as a young child when her father died and her mother moved the family to Sempronius, New York, where she had relatives....

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The spouse of the president is known as the First Lady of the United States. Since the First Lady has no official duties, her role has varied according to the time period, the administration, and the personality of the first lady herself. Abigail Adams proved to be an intellectual companion to President John Adams. Dolley Madison ushered in the era of elegance and event planning that would characterize the public role of the first lady for years to come; indeed, Jacqueline Kennedy would epitomize this role in the twentieth century. First ladies such as Edith Wilson, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Hillary Clinton had more direct influence on their husbands’ policies....

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Betty Ford. 1974. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZC4-2019).

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Ford, Betty (08 April 1918–08 July 2011), first lady of the United States and public health advocate, was born Elizabeth Ann Bloomer in Chicago, Illinois, the youngest of three children of William S. Bloomer, a traveling salesman, and Hortense Neahr Bloomer. She was raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her father died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1934; at his funeral Betty learned from her mother that he had been an alcoholic. Starting dance lessons at age eight, Betty briefly thought of becoming a ballerina. However, she soon gravitated toward modern dance, which, after her 1936 graduation from high school, she studied at the Bennington School of Dance in Vermont. One of her instructors, the influential ...

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Lucretia Rudolph Garfield, c. 1860–1870. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-25793 DLC).

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Garfield, Lucretia Rudolph (19 April 1832–13 March 1918), first lady, was born in Garrettsville, Ohio, the daughter of Zebulon Rudolph and Arabella Mason, farmers. Sickly as a child, demure as an adolescent, and reared in a dutiful but unaffectionate family, Lucretia (or “Crete” as friends called her) grew into a bright, attractive but solemn young woman. At the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute in nearby Hiram, Ohio, a semicollegiate Disciples of Christ institution that her father had helped found, she pursued a formal education somewhat beyond that customary for her time and gender. She also displayed a surprising degree of intellectual independence, not only by obtaining a job as a schoolteacher but by asking, in a college essay, “Is it equitable that a woman who teaches school equally well should receive a smaller compensation than man?”...

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Julia Dent Grant. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-25791 DLC).

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Grant, Julia Dent (26 January 1826–14 December 1902), wife of President Ulysses S. Grant, wife of President Ulysses S. Grant, was born at White Haven, near St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Frederick Dent, a planter, and Ellen Wrenshall. The fifth of eight children, she enjoyed a privileged childhood on her father’s plantation and attended the Misses Mauros’ boarding school in St. Louis. When she was seventeen, her brother Frederick introduced her to his former West Point roommate Ulysses S. Grant. After a two-year courtship and a four-year engagement, Julia Dent and Ulysses S. Grant were married in 1848 and began married life in the army posted to Sackets Harbor, New York. Over the next decade, they had four children....

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Florence Kling Harding, c. 1921–1923. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-25809 DLC).

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Harding, Florence Mabel Kling DeWolfe (15 August 1860–21 November 1924), first lady of the United States, was born in Marion, Ohio, the daughter of Amos Kling, a banker, and Louisa Bouton. Florence grew up in an affluent atmosphere, attending the best school in Marion. When she demonstrated a flair for the piano, she was sent to study at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. At the age of nineteen, Florence eloped with Henry “Pete” DeWolfe, the ne’er-do-well son of a prominent Ohio family. The quick marriage was necessitated by Florence’s pregnancy; a son was born six months later. Florence sought and was granted a divorce from DeWolfe in 1886. In 1891, she was remarried to ...