Patricia Ryan Nixon, 1969-1974

 

Pat Nixon’s Inaugural Gown, 1969

Gift of Mrs. Richard M. Nixon

 

Mimosa silk satin gown embroidered in gold and silver and encrusted with Austrian crystals. The designer was Karen Stark for Harvey Berin. Pat Nixon carried a purse by Morris Moskowitz and wore shoes made by Herbert Levine.

 

Pat Nixon considered many ideas for “first lady projects,” but encouraging volunteerism became her primary focus. At home she expanded public access to the White House and added more than 500 pieces of antique furniture to its collections. Abroad, her skill at personal diplomacy resulted in visits to eighty-twcountries, both with the president and on her own as his personal representative.

 

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Betty Bloomer Ford, 1974-1977

 

Betty Ford’s State Dinner Dress, 1975 and 1976

Gift of Elizabeth B. Ford

 

Since there were no formal inaugural celebrations when Gerald Ford became president, Betty Ford chose this pale-green sequined chiffon gown embroidered in a chrysanthemum pattern to represent her in the Smithsonian’s collection. The dress was designed by Frankie Welch.

 

Betty Ford took over the role of first lady in August 1974 when Richard Nixon resigned and her husband, Gerald Ford, was sworn in as president. She campaigned for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment but is probably best remembered for her response to a diagnosis of breast cancer. The first lady’s open discussion of her illness heightened public awareness of the disease.

 

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Rosalynn Smith Carter, 1977-1981

 

Rosalynn Carter’s Inaugural Gown, 1977

Gift of Rosalynn Carter

 

Rosalynn Carter had previously worn this gold-embroidered sleeveless coat over a gold-trimmed blue chiffon gown to the 1971 ball celebrating her husband’s inauguration as governor of Georgia. The dress was designed by Mary   Matise for Jimmae. For the 1977 inaugural balls Mrs. Carter carried a purse by After Five.

 

Rosalynn Carter planned to be a social advocate and established a Projects and Community Liaison staff to work on social policy issues. A top priority was the President’s Commission on Mental Health, where she was the honorary but very active chair. Always her husband’s partner, Mrs. Carter traveled as his representative for talks with Latin American leaders, provided support during the 1978 Camp David peace talks, and actively campaigned in the 1980 election.

 

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Nancy Davis Reagan, 1981-1989

 

Nancy Reagan’s Inaugural Gown, 1981

Gift of Nancy Reagan

 

Beaded, one-shouldered white sheath gown of lace over silk satin, designed by James Galanos. With it Nancy Reagan wore white gloves by Galanos and beaded shoes by David Evins and carried a purse designed by Judith Leiber.

 

Nancy Reagan made the Just Say No anti-drug campaign her signature program. The first lady’s concerns for her husband’s safety and legacy prompted her to become more involved with West Wing scheduling and staffing decisions. Most significantly, Mrs. Reagan countered the hard-line influence of some of the president’s foreign policy advisors and encouraged Ronald Reagan in his efforts to build a peaceful relationship with the Soviet Union.

 

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Barbara Pierce Bush, 1989-1993

 

Barbara Bush’s Inaugural Gown, 1989

Gift of Barbara Bush

 

Royal-blue gown with velvet bodice and asymmetrically draped silk satin skirt, designed by Arnold Scassi. Barbara Bush wore her trademark costume pearls with her inaugural gown and carried a purse designed by Judith Leiber.

 

Barbara Bush, a long-time advocate of literacy programs, continued that work as first lady. In 1989 she founded the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy and supported literacy projects with profits from her 1990 “collaboration” with the family dog, Millie’s Book. During the Gulf War she spoke to military audiences in encouragement and support and joined the president on a visit to American troops stationed in Saudi Arabia.

 

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Hillary Rodham Clinton, 1993-2001

 

Hillary Clinton’s Inaugural Gown, 1993

Gift of Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Presidential Inaugural Committee of 1993

 

Violet beaded lace sheath gown with iridescent blue velvet silk mousseline overskirt, designed by Sarah Phillips and made by Barbara Matera Ltd., a New York theatrical costume maker. Hillary Clinton wore beaded shoes by Bruno Magli and carried a purse designed by Judith Leiber.

 

From an office in the West Wing, Hillary Clinton worked with the president’s staff on domestic policy issues. She chaired the president’s Task Force on National Health Care Reform and advocated for family and children’s issues. She became an international figure speaking on women’s issues in Beijing at the World Conference on Women. In 2000, she became the first first lady to run for political office and was elected senator from New York.

 

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Laura Welch Bush, 2001-2009

 

Laura Bush’s Inaugural Gown, 2001

Gift of Laura Welch Bush

 

Ruby-red gown of crystal-embroidered Chantilly lace over silk georgette, designed by Michael Faircloth. Mrs. Bush carried a purse designed by Judith Leiber.

 

Laura Bush brought her commitment to literacy to the White House. Her Ready to Read, Ready to Learn initiative supported the president’s goals for education reform. After September 11, she took the lead in comforting and reassuring American children, and spoke out for the rights of women in Afghanistan in the first presidential weekly radio address given by a first lady. Mrs. Bush traveled to more than seventy-five countries promoting women’s rights and human rights.

 

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Inaugurations

and Opportunities

 

Inaugurations are times of optimism and new beginnings. In addition to attending ceremonies and balls, incoming first ladies announce the agendas and special projects they intend to pursue. Some projects are ambitious. Some are traditional. Some may be controversial. They allow the first lady to influence national opinion on a subject that is meaningful to her.

 

Once in the White House, first ladies find that international, national, and political events offer unexpected opportunities to expand their original plans or take on

new challenges.