- Campaigner

The First Ladies at the Smithsonian

Campaigner (page 1 of 2)

Mary Lincoln wrote letters urging state party leaders to support her husband.  Helen Taft helped convince Theodore Roosevelt to support William Taft as his presidential successor. Eleanor Roosevelt spoke at the 1940 Democratic convention to support FDR’s nomination to an unprecedented third term. The wives of presidential candidates have campaigned at their sides, voiced opinions on strategy, and sometimes helped manage campaigns.

Successful presidential candidates thank their spouses in acceptance speeches with good reason—they play an important part in helping win elections.

Florence Harding campaigning

Florence Harding pinning a flower on actor Al Jolson’s lapel during a campaign appearance by the “Harding-Coolidge Theatrical League”
 
Managing the Campaign

Florence Harding acted as one of Warren Harding’s campaign managers. She lobbied delegates and talked to the press at the 1920 Republican convention, arranged photo opportunities during the campaign, played a part in determining strategy, and actively courted the votes of newly enfranchised women.
 

Lady Bird Special, 1964

Lady Bird Johnson aboard the “Lady Bird Special” Courtesy of Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum
 
Speaking for the Candidate

As women’s participation in politics has grown, spouses have increasingly acted as surrogates for candidates on the campaign trail. In 1964, Lady Bird Johnson made her own whistle-stop tour from Richmond, Virginia to New Orleans, Louisiana. She met with state party leaders and spoke to sometimes hostile crowds angered by the president’s support of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Her trip rallied support for Lyndon Johnson’s election.

Whistle Stop campaign image of Lou and Herbert Hoover

Lou and Herbert Hoover during the 1928 whistle-stop campaign © Bettmann/Corbis
 
Campaigning Together

Candidates’ wives made their first campaign appearances in the late 1800s by publicly receiving delegations of their husbands’ supporters at their homes. Appearances on campaign trains and at public events followed in the 1920s and 1930s, and soon the candidates’ wives were an eagerly anticipated part of campaign appearances. Now a spouse’s absence from the campaign trail can provoke negative press and public speculation.
 

Pat and Richard Nixon campaigning

Pat and Richard Nixon during the final week of the 1960 presidential campaign © Bettmann/Corbis
 
Running for First Lady

In 1960, Pat Nixon became the first candidate’s wife to “run” for first lady when the Republican National Committee Women’s Division proclaimed the first week in October “Pat for First Lady” week. Richard Nixon campaigned for his wife, declaring “whatever you may think of me, Pat would make a wonderful First Lady.”