‘The First Lady’ reconsiders US leadership from behind-the-scenes women at the White House

In a scene from Showtime’s new series “The First Lady”, Michael Pfeiffer’s Box Ford tells “60 Minutes” from a Michigan homemaker about the impossible tab for the woman behind the most powerful man in the United States in 1975.

“Washington would be the hardest city for a political wife, do you agree?” Boris McGuire, as Morley Safe, he asked.

“Well, I agree, but I had 26 years of experience as a congressional wife,” Betty told her husband, President Gerald Ford. “But I think a congressional wife should be a special kind of woman.”

These are the “special type” women, including the first ladies Michelle Obama (Viola Davis) and Eleanor Roosevelt (Gillian Anderson). History of the White House.

Dakota Fanning as Susan Ford in “The First Lady”, Michael Pfeiffer as Betty Ford and Aaron Accord as Jerry Ford. Murray Close / Showtime

The first lady had “no status details, no legal obligations and nothing coded in Congress,” said Anita McBride, director of the First Women’s Initiative at the American University’s School of Public Affairs. “But every woman feels a responsibility to use their experience, their background and adapt to the character.”

Catherine Jellison, a professor of history at Ohio University, said that it was those personal experiences and personalities that made these women so attractive to researchers, the general public, and the media.

“People like to hear about first ladies because every first lady owns her own character,” Jellison said. “If you think about the last six years, you go from a Michelle Obama to Melania Trump to Jill Biden – different women with different life experiences like this and the different women they played the role of first lady in different ways.

“It stimulates the public’s imagination,” he said.

The women behind ‘The First Lady’

The show, which starts on Sunday, jumps between three different timelines (1933-1945, 1974-1977 and 2009-2017) to tell the stories of the first three women.

According to experts, it is not surprising that these women were chosen as the center of the series – considering their significant contribution to American history both inside and outside the White House.

“Eleanor Roosevelt is really in a category of her own, in which she was the first lady for 12 years longer than anyone else because the Constitution was amended,” Jellison said.

Picture: Gillian Anderson as Eleanor Roosevelt
Gillian Anderson as Eleanor Roosevelt in “The First Lady”Boris Martin / Showtime

But Eleanor Roosevelt is a woman who, with the exception of her long tenure, was committed to civil rights, and her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was paralyzed by polio. Frequent traveler to cities instead of Roosevelt. Even after he left the White House, he served in public service and human rights for nearly two decades.

“Of course, she was the first woman during two major crises of the 20th century: the Great Recession and World War II,” Jellison said.

On the other hand, Betty Ford came into the White House when the women’s rights movement was gaining strength, McBride said.

“He spoke his mind on issues that did not apply to the presidency or the administration,” he said, citing his argument for breast cancer, equal rights and abortion – and continued – those issues were controversial.

Jellison hailed Betty Ford as “our first television first lady” who was able to communicate with the American people on difficult topics.

“Betty went to Ford Television and spoke from her heart, not from a script, not from a teleprompter, it really connected people with her as a real life wife, mother and 1970s woman,” Jellison said.

“She gave me a picture of the first lady who became very familiar with other middle-aged women in the United States and shared the same experiences they had.”

Finally, Michelle Obama, along with her husband Barack Obama, is featured in the history books as America’s first black woman and president.

Most importantly, Michelle Obama came into the White House during her “first social media presidency,” McBride said.

“She used it so well that it helped her … help people across the country, especially African Americans like her, know her story,” he said.

On the other hand, Michael Obama also handled her husband’s political opponents, who criticized him in racist and misogynistic ways – but according to Jellison, he always rose above that.

“One of his most famous quotes is ‘When they go down, we go up.’ In fact, she was the first woman to do so, and she still does. ”

During his tenure, Michael Obama also brought two young children to the White House, while Betty Ford and Eleanor Roosevelt’s children grew up, and tackled issues such as childhood obesity by emphasizing children’s health and nutrition, Jellison said.

Picture: Story walker as young Malia Obama, Viola Davis as Michelle Obama, Jordan McIntosh as young Sasha Obama and Evan Park as agent Alan
Story Walker as Young Malia Obama, Viola Davis as Michelle Obama, Jordan McIntosh as Young Sasha Obama and Evan Park as Agent in “The First Lady”.Jackson Lee Davis / Showtime

‘Good TV’

Aside from their status, all three of the first women featured in the series “shared dramatic experiences that make good television,” Jellison said.

“They need to balance entertainment with reality,” McBride said, adding that she was concerned about how accurately the show would portray these extraordinary women.

But regardless, both first-time female experts said they were excited about the lives of these women being exposed to a wider audience – and hoped the show would inspire people to learn more about other first-time women.

“It’s important to value these women, their lives, what they came to, how the country progressed or did not happen, human beings,” McBride said.

“What people forget is that they have personal lives, they have families, they have sorrows, they have joys, they usually face everything we face, but the difference is, they have to do it on a national public platform – that’s hard.”

Both McBride and Jellison said they were looking forward to the day when the United States would have the first man.

In one of the final scenes of the premiere episode, it was said that Pfeiffer’s Betty Ford was only the first woman on management.

“It’s not a job,” she replies. “That’s my situation.”

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