Who Will Be the First Lady When We Have Our First Lady President?

I am participating in the DC Emerging Museum Professionals’ Museum Madness tournament, in which we visit eight specific museum exhibits and vote on our favorites in a bracket format. Seven of the exhibits are at DC museums (Dumbarton Oaks, Library of Congress, National Gallery of Art, National Geographic Museum, National Museum of American History, National Portrait Gallery, and National Zoo), and one is an online exhibit on the National Museum of Women’s History website.

The NMAH and NMWH exhibits are paired together, and both deal with women’s history: The First Ladies at NMAH and First But Not the Last: Women Who Ran for President from NMWH’s site.

Viewing the two exhibits together seems likely to raise the question in many others besides myself: What will happen to the role of First Lady once a woman becomes President?

NMAH acknowledges this inquiry as a Frequently Asked Question in the exhibit:

National Museum of American History

National Museum of American History. Text: “How will the first ladies collection change when a woman is elected president? It will depend on how that presidential administration chooses to handle the role traditionally played by the first lady.”

The First Ladies exhibit mostly consists of inaugural ball gowns and White House china sets. Comparable objects will still exist when we have our first Ms. President. There will presumably still be inaugurations and inaugural balls, and there will be some fancy article of inaugural ball clothing that can be displayed, whether worn by the president, her spouse, or another family member. And the president and her family will certainly need to eat, which means that there will still be dishes in the White House.

Pitcher from Mary Todd Lincoln's White House

Pitcher from Mary Todd Lincoln’s White House

On a more abstract level, though, future changes in First Family gender roles might complicate the significance of having such an exhibit. If the president and her family and White House staff pick out dishes together or through some bureaucratic process, do the dishes become less interesting to the public? Can an administration contribute interesting objects to this collection even if there is no one single person in the traditional First Lady role?

What do you think will happen to the First Lady role, and exhibit, when we have our first woman president?

Happy Women’s History Month!


March’s blog theme is Museums and Fighting Inequality.


About Laura

Paralegal with Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education, frequent museum visitor, based in Washington, DC. I care about what museums can do, both in terms of public offerings and internal practices, to make the world a better place. I blog about museum education ("informed"), the social work of museums ("humane"), and visitor experience ("citizenry").
This entry was posted in Lists of Museums, Museum Visits (Other), Museums and Holidays, Photos and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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