Swain Talks First Ladies

Susan Swain '76, H'15, co-chief executive officer and president of C-SPAN, wrote a book about the U.S. first ladies, "from Martha to Michelle." Read what she has to say on the topic here.

Susan Swain '76, H'15
Susan Swain '76, H'15

“C-SPAN's yearlong effort of telling the life stories of first ladies, from Martha to Michelle, first on television and the Internet, and then in a nonfiction book. We went on location with cameras, to all the places significant to these women. Everyone got their own segment, every first lady, even those seemingly lost to history.”

“They all had stories to tell about what society was like during their time, and many used their role to advance issues important to them.”

“Here we are again, as a nation, asking what we expect from a first lady. Melania Trump has set her own standards as she gets started in the role, initially by remaining in New York City."

“I think from Eleanor Roosevelt forward, women in this role have said, ‘How do I survive the public scrutiny?’ Today, with the relentlessness of social media and the growth of the personality culture, the public expects a lot from them. Each woman has had to figure out for themselves, "How can I respond to this level of expectation yet eke out some sort of private life for me and my family?" Each of them has different experiences based on their interests. Rosalyn Carter was the first of the more recent first ladies who really wanted to be involved in policy, and there was public pushback. Nancy Reagan was very involved but behind-the-scenes. You saw pushback with Hillary Clinton when she took on health care as first lady. Michelle Obama had some early challenges on the campaign trail, which may be why she decided that as she started out, "Mom-in-Chief" was a more publicly acceptable role.”

“2016 was bound to be historical from a first ladies' perspective: Melania Trump, as the second non-American first lady or, had Hillary Clinton won, we'd have the first 'first gentleman'! It was going to be intriguing, no matter what happened.”

Read the profile of Swain here.

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