Press release from Smithsonian Channel, June 6, 2017:
First Ladies have played a key role in branding their husbands’ presidencies and have each left their own mark on history. Smithsonian Channel’s new series, FIRST LADIES REVEALED, examines some of the most prominent and remarkable women – trailblazers, style icons, diplomats, war heroes, and global superstars. From Dolley Madison, Eleanor Roosevelt and Jackie Kennedy to Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama and more, the series tells the stories of some of the women who left their indelible mark on the White House and the nation. Smithsonian Channel reveals their challenges and celebrates their achievements, going beyond their public lives to tell their private stories. The series premieres Sunday, July 2 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
In four captivating episodes, FIRST LADIES REVEALED tells the stories of these women, from ladies who used style to boost diplomacy and trailblazers looking to uproot traditional ideals, to compassionate voices in days of war and those who came into the role by chance.
In the premiere episode, FIRST LADIES REVEALED: THE POWER OF STYLE, viewers get a look at how style is not just personal but political. More than any First Lady before, Jackie Kennedy’s image played a crucial role in the Kennedy years; her style and glamour helped define her husband’s Presidency and forever enshrined her as a global fashion icon. Her impact went beyond personal style and into the arts and humanities, most notably in her efforts to restore and revamp The White House and its grounds. More than a hundred years earlier, Dolley Madison took on an unprecedented role: interior decorator. A proud custodian of the White House, Dolley Madison refused to flee during the British invasion of Washington in 1814 until she was sure that George Washington’s portrait was saved from the flames. In 1981, Nancy Reagan attended eight inaugural balls, donning a glitzy $10,000 gown. She was widely criticized for her extravagance and for accepting gowns from designers, but she won the hearts of the press by mocking her glamourous First Lady style at The First State Gridiron Dinner & Show.
Subsequent episodes include:
FIRST LADIES REVEALED: LADIES BY CHANCE
Premieres July 9 at 9 p.m. ET/PT Lady Bird Johnson, Edith Roosevelt and Betty Ford inherited the role of First Lady by chance during times when the nation was looking for stability, comfort and confidence. Lady Bird Johnson had been in Washington for 30 years when JFK was assassinated and her husband Lyndon Johnson became President. While stepping into the role of First Lady during a time of national grief, Lady Bird paved her own way as she supported her husband’s run for President by touring the South to support the Civil Rights Act of 1964, making 47 speeches in eight states in only four days. Edith Roosevelt also became First Lady after a Presidential assassination when her husband, Theodore, became President. Edith created the position of Social Secretary to control access to the press, and she began renovations and expansions of the White House to separate the living space from working space, resulting in the famous West Wing. Betty Ford became First Lady in one of the most tenuous times in American history – after Richard Nixon resigned. Needing to be transparent in a time of turmoil, Betty Ford decided to go public with her breast cancer diagnosis – a decision that changed the discourse about women’s health. When she spoke candidly about pre-marital sex, marijuana, and abortion, her approval ratings soared and her impact on women’s rights left big shoes for future first ladies to fill.
FIRST LADIES REVEALED: IN TIMES OF WAR
Premieres July 16 at 9 p.m. ET/PT In times of war, First Ladies play a vital role in calming the nation, sharing in the sacrifice, comforting the wounded and raising morale – all roles Mary Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt and Laura Bush filled during their tenure in the White House. After the attack of September 11, Laura Bush became a voice of comfort for families, survivors and a troubled and scared nation. She became the first First Lady to deliver the President’s weekly radio address, attacking the Taliban for their treatment of women and children, which secured her place as an advocate for these rights at home and abroad. Sixty years before that, Eleanor Roosevelt also calmed the nation after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was her voice that was first heard after the attack while President Roosevelt was preparing his speech and arming for war. Her calming voice and powerful activism for women in the workplace became a trademark of her time as First Lady. Enduring more trauma than any First Lady before or since, Mary Lincoln’s tenure was dominated by the Civil War, the loss of two sons, and later the assassination of her husband. Southerners called her a traitor to her Kentucky roots, and Unionists had doubts about her loyalties. Unperturbed, she offered her own intelligence to the President and his advisors and made visits to the hospital to comfort the wounded.
FIRST LADIES REVEALED: TRAILBLAZERS
Premieres July 23 at 9 p.m. ET/PT The history of First Ladies is the story of American women – the changing rules and customs that have bound them, the struggle for equal rights and their gradual participation in every significant political institution. Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton were two first ladies who challenged conventional wisdom about the role of women and led the way for successive generations to occupy positions previously closed to them. Eleanor entered her husband’s administration with no clearly defined role but became the “eyes, ears and legs” of Franklin Roosevelt, travelling across the country and reporting back on the effects of the Depression. She also held the first of 348 women-only press conferences to help female reporters keep their jobs during the Depression. Nearly 40 years later, when her husband was elected President, Hillary Clinton was appointed to head a Presidential task force on healthcare reform – a public indication of how influential she would be in her husband’s administration. Her time as First Lady was one of stark contrasts and controversies, including the Whitewater investigation and her husband’s infidelity. Still she was determined to make a name for herself, running for Senate and later for President of the United States.
FIRST LADIES REVEALED is executive produced by Sue Summers and series produced by Michael Burke for Finestripe Productions. Charles Poe and David Royle serve as Executive Producers for Smithsonian Channel.