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HIS 51 — First Ladies: A History

Quarter: Spring
Day(s): Tuesdays
Course Format: On-campus
Duration: 6 weeks
Date(s): Apr 23—May 28
Time: 7:00—8:50 pm
Drop Deadline: May 6
Unit: 1
Tuition: $355
Instructor(s): Margo Horn
Status: Open
7:00—8:50 pm
Apr 23—May 28
6 weeks
Drop By
May 6
1 Unit
Margo Horn
The institution of the first lady is unique to the United States. It has been called the “most demanding, unpaid, unelected job in America.” It has no job description. This course looks at the many forces that have shaped the often-complicated role of first lady. How has the institution changed throughout US history? What were the personalities and commitments of the women who held that post? While all first ladies served as role models for women and for wives in particular, in what ways did first ladies intersect with changing gender roles and engage with the women’s movement? Finally, what influence have various first ladies had on their husbands’ presidencies and on the nation as a whole? We will begin with an overview of first ladies in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, including Abigail Adams and Dolley Madison. We will then focus on a series of 20th-century first ladies beginning with Lou Henry Hoover, touching briefly on Eleanor Roosevelt, and turning to Jacqueline Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, Betty Ford, Nancy Reagan, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Michelle Obama, with a brief closing nod to Melania Trump. Finally, we will also learn how each of these women navigated the many demands of being the president’s wife.

Margo Horn, Lecturer, Program in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Stanford

Margo Horn is a social historian specializing in the history of women, the history of family, and the social history of medicine and psychiatry. Her research projects concern the history of single women in 20th-century America, and women and mental illness in America during the same period. She is the author of Before It’s Too Late: The Child Guidance Movement in the United States, 1922–1945. She received an MA and a PhD from Tufts.

Textbooks for this course:

There are no required textbooks; however, some fee-based online readings may be assigned.