White House

The Bush Center Looks at First Ladies Through the Years

From Martha Washington to Melania Trump, the role of America’s First Lady has evolved dramatically over time.

The Bush Center is opening a new exhibit called, “First Ladies: Style of Influence,” which opens March 1.

The gowns of first ladies grab headlines, but former First Lady Laura Bush says there is so much more to each woman’s unique story, like the incredibly active Eleanor Roosevelt.

“She had to be the president's eyes and ears and that's what she said, because he was in a wheelchair," Mrs. Bush said as she walked through the new exhibit at the Bush Center in Dallas.

“Lou Hoover was particularly interested in the Girl Scouts. That's her uniform,” Mrs. Bush pointed out.

On display are artifacts and replicas from first ladies through the years.

The exhibit highlights the role of the first lady as hostess in The White House and also the initiatives modern-day first ladies pursue.

Among the highlights are items from Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" to drugs campaign and Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" initiative.

For more information about the first ladies exhibit, click here.

Mrs. Bush said she most closely identifies with her mother-in-law and former First Lady Barbara Bush.

A blue suit from Barbara Bush is on display in the exhibit -- the same one she wore on the cover of her book.

Laura Bush said the role of first lady is filled with good times with family and friends, but there can be some times when she had to be known as the "comforter-in-chief" after the 9-11 attacks.

"A member of the press said, 'what do you say to the children?' and that really led me to say, 'turn off the television and don't let your little children see it," she said.

She said first ladies don't gather together often, but they are all a tight-knit group.

"We always have a lot to talk about when we are together," she said. "We are sisters in a sense that we know what it's like to live there [The White House] and what the criticism is."

Mrs. Bush has continued her work away from The White House by working with with the Bush Institute on the Afghan Women's Project, which features the struggles and successes of Afghan women. 

Away from her work, Mrs. Bush said it is a relief to have a private life again outside of Washington.

"I love to walk. George [W. Bush] calls me an urban hiker," she said. "And there's a relief of not having the responsibility that you feel like you have in those years you lived there [The White House]." 

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