- Presidents aren’t the only ones who are subject to scandals. First ladies have also been the center of media storms throughout US history.
- Mary Todd Lincoln was considered scandalous for an excessive spending habit, while Betty Ford was accused of not being conservative enough for the Republican party.
- Edith Wilson and Hillary Clinton were both openly criticised for taking on too much political responsibility while first ladies.
- Laura Bush made headlines when she refused to talk about a fatal car accident that happened when she was in high school.
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Although the job of first lady is largely a symbolic role, they are all held to a certain standard.
Throughout history, first ladies have worked to uphold this standard while doing everything from representing America abroad to decorating the White House for Christmas to tackling larger social issues. But as figures in the public eye, they are just as susceptible to scrutiny and condemnation as their famous husbands.
From Julia Tyler to Melania Trump, here are some of the biggest first lady scandals in US history.
Rachel Jackson was labelled a bigamist after marrying President Andrew Jackson while technically still being married to another man.
In 1785, Rachel Donelson married a landowner named Lewis Robards but they quickly separated. She moved back home and met future president Andrew Jackson. The two married without realising that Robards never officially filed for divorce. Jackson and Donelson remarried in 1794 but not before negative publicity got out.
When Andrew Jackson ran for president in 1824, the comments resurfaced, many calling Rachel Jackon a bigamist and an adulteress. Jackson’s opponent, John Quincy Adams, said a woman with her morals has no place in the White House.
Before meeting and marrying President Tyler, Julia Tyler was sent away by her family after posing in an advertisement.
Before becoming first lady in 1844, Julia Gardiner came from a wealthy family in Long Island. In 1839, she posed for a picture that was placed in an advertisement selling dry goods and clothing. Her family considered this a deeply embarrassing scandal and sent her away to Europe. Upon returning, she fell in love with then-President John Tyler, who was 30 years older.
Mary Todd Lincoln allegedly had an expensive spending habit while in the White House.
As first lady, Mary Todd Lincoln had a bad reputation for overspending and lavishness. Most of the nation did not like her for this. As the country descended into war, Mary Todd Lincoln was seen redecorating the White House, spending money on gowns, and overspending her budget.
When President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in front of her, she allegedly openly grieved for her loss, which was also looked down on at the time.
Edith Wilson was accused of running the country when her husband, President Woodrow Wilson, had a stroke.
Though not officially elected or sworn-in, Edith Wilson has long been thought of as the first woman to run the US, albeit for a short time. Edith would often sit in on President Wilson’s meetings, and she took on the role as his personal secretary.
When President Wilson had a stroke in 1919, Edith took over the administration, determined to keep the vice president from taking over and to keep the president’s mental state a secret. She became the point person for his cabinet, enabling operations to continue while her husband was incapacitated.
Eleanor Roosevelt was rumoured to have had an affair with a female journalist.
When her husband was elected in the ’30s, Eleanor Roosevelt openly said she did not want to be first lady nor be in the public eye. To escape, she would spend time with journalistLorena Hickok. The two grew very close during the presidency, becoming confidantes and eventually housemates when Hickok moved into the White House. The two would even take day trips together.
Although nothing has ever been confirmed about the nature of the relationship, many suspected that the pair was intimately involved, according to The New York Times.
Betty Ford was criticised for being too liberal and not conservative enough for the Republican party.
First lady Betty Ford was often criticised for being too moderate and too liberal. On an episode of “60 Minutes,” she said she would help her children if they had pre-marital sex or used recreational drugs. Republicans were quick to lash out, calling her “No Lady” and demanding for her resignation from the White House. While on the campaign trail, some even argued that she was more liberal than the Democratic nominee’s wife.
The conservative base was also concerned about her background. As a trained modern dancer, they were convinced she wasn’t Republican enough. She also battled a public addiction issue, leading her to open her own rehabilitation center that even helped the LGBTQ community during the HIV/AIDS crisis.
Nancy Reagan was chastised for using astrology to plan President Ronald Reagan’s schedule.
First lady Nancy Reagan got herself into some hot water when she admitted to consulting an astrologer to help schedule the president’s day-to-day. She wouldn’t allow White House Chief of Staff Donald Reagan to schedule anything without first checking with her personal astrologer to see how the stars and planets were lining up.
Regan said he made his re-election announcement on the day their astrologer said would be best, and he scheduled his inauguration at 12:10 a.m. because that was the best time for the planetary alignment.
Hillary Clinton was often criticised as a first lady because she was too politically involved.
While campaigning with her husband, Bill Clinton, in 1992, Hillary Clinton was called out for saying she could have “stayed home and baked cookies,” prompting some to accuse her of disrespecting homemakers.
Later, when her husband was accused of having sexual relations with a White House intern, she was chastised for standing by and supporting the president through the scandal and impeachment.
Laura Bush was cause for much speculation during President George W. Bush’s presidential run when the press found out she was in a car accident that killed a high school friend.
In 2000, during her husband’s run for president, it was revealed that Laura Bush was involved in a fatal car accident in high school. For the next eight years of her husband’s presidency,the press was barred from asking her anything about it. Her hometown even blocked the release of the police records.
The first lady finally opened up about the incident in her memoir “Spoken From the Heart” in 2010. She explained that she was driving a car and chatting with a friend when she accidentally drove through a stop sign. Her car smashed into another and its driver, a star athlete in her school, was tragically killed.
Melania Trump wore a jacket that read “I don’t really care. Do u?” while visiting detained migrant children.
One of Melania Trump’s biggest scandals as first lady was when she wore a jacket that read “I don’t really care. Do u?” while visiting detained migrant children at the Texas border. Although she only wore it on the way, the outfit caused a media firestorm. When asked about the choice, the first lady’s communication director said, “It’s [just] a jacket.”
During the 2016 presidential campaign, she was also accused of plagiarizing a speech first lady Michelle Obama gave in 2008.
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