Yesterday was International Women’s Day, and I totally dropped the ball on making it a big deal. I tried to recover on Twitter, but I should have been more on top of the day dedicated to celebrating us ladies. Because I am a day late (better late than never?), and everyone else already got their lady chants on yesterday, I guess I’ll just have to come up with something to hold your attention for one more measly little post.
Actually, I would like to write a little about the wives of our Presidents.
Yesterday, on the actual International Women’s Day, my good friend and colleague had the opportunity to attend an event hosted by the current First Lady, Michelle Obama. While my friend did get a hug from the President’s wife, she did not get the secret to those famously toned arms (my only request for the meeting).
Mrs. Obama’s big focus right now, and the reason for this event yesterday, is her “Let’s Move!” campaign. The main goal of Let’s Move! is to work on raising healthier kids so that we can curb childhood obesity within a generation. Because of the potential catastrophic health impacts of lifelong obesity, I think that the mission of this campaign is timely and necessary. With type 2 diabetes knocking on everyone’s door, children these days do need someone who they can look up to as a role model for healthy living (and amazing arms). After thinking about the significance of a woman, the First Lady, leading such a big national effort, I began to think more about the role of the First Lady and her campaigns throughout recent history.
As a former teacher and librarian, Laura Bush, lovely wife of George W. Bush, was a big advocate of education for children. She partnered with the Library of Congress in 2001 to create the annual National Book festival, with the goal of promoting education and reading. Mrs. Bush was also named as an honorary ambassador for the United Nations Decade of Literacy. In 2006, she hosted a Conference on Global Literacy to acknowledge many of the successful literacy programs around the world, as well as encourage a constant effort to promote literacy globally.
Mrs. Bush was also a big proponent of women’s health issues as First Lady. Not only did she establish the Women’s Health and Wellness Initiative, but she was also active in two major health campaigns: The Heart Truth, and the Susan G. Komen For the Cure breast cancer advocacy organization. In 2007, the Laura W. Bush Institute for Women’s Health opened at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. According to the website, “The Laura W. Bush Institute for Women’s Health (LWBIWH) was established to create a new approach to women’s health care. Working through a collaborative multidisciplinary network, amazing discoveries will be made. Knowledge gained will propagate further research and educational programs to benefit communities, patients and health care providers.”
During Ronald Reagan’s presidency in the 80s, Nancy Reagan came up with the slogan, “Just Say No” to combat the war on drugs. This particular slogan eventually turned into a campaign geared towards encouraging young people to stay away from the bad stuff. It all started when the First Lady visited a grade school and a young girl asked her what she should say if someone were to offer the girl drugs. Mrs. Reagan simply answered, “Just say no,” and a First Lady mission was born.
In 1985, Mrs. Reagan’s anti-drug campaign was expanded internationally. Wives of leaders from thirty nations were invited to the White House for a conference called, “The First Ladies Conference on Drug Abuse.” Nancy Reagan was later invited to address the United Nations on the issue; making her the first First Lady invited to address the assembly.
First Lady, Betty Ford, was also a strong advocate for women’s rights and health issues. After undergoing a mastectomy shortly after entering the White House, Mrs. Ford became very open about her breast cancer struggles, which in turn, raised awareness of the disease where there had not been much previously. Mrs. Ford was also a prominent force in the Women’s Movement of the 1970s, and was named by Time magazine as 1975’s “Woman of the Year.” It was not until after her husband’s presidency, and her own confrontation of her addictions, that Mrs. Ford founded the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California.
While these are only a few short examples of First Lady campaigns, I’m sure that I could write for days about all the good that these women, and many more, have accomplished during their time as First Ladies, and beyond. I applaud generous women who are lucky enough to be given a place in society where they have a platform to influence, and who use that platform to give back in an attempt to make a positive impact. From reading and education to women’s health to childhood obesity, First Ladies have been doing more than just biding time while their husbands run the country; they are working hard to make our country better.