From First Lady to President?

Friday, October 5, 2007

Hillary Clinton's campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination certainly has Americans and the world talking. Her historic move also speaks volumes about the ever-growing role of women in politics. As a former First Lady, does Clinton have some advantages? One Saint Joseph's University historian says yes.

"First, she knows the pressures the president faces, having been part of an administration that was subject to relentless scrutiny for most of its eight years," said Katherine Sibley, Ph.D., chair and professor of history. "She also had, at least initially, a hand in policy-making herself, unlike most First Ladies. In addition, having been a member of both the opposition and now the majority in Congress, she should be able to understand and influence policy making as few candidates have."

This run also speaks to the changing role of First Ladies, says Sibley, who has researched the history of First Ladies. She is working on a book entitled Florence Kling Harding: Transition and Tragedy in the White House, 1921-1923, to be published by the University Press of Kansas.

"First Ladies are certainly more prominent and more active in the political realm than in the past. Even Laura Bush, considered a traditional First Lady and not an activist in the style of Mrs. Clinton, is much more visible than, for example, the first Mrs. Roosevelt was," she added. "Still, in contrast to nearly all First Ladies with the exception of Eleanor Roosevelt, who also took an important post after being First Lady—as Ambassador to the UN—Hillary Clinton is most unusual in expanding her political activity to become Senator after leaving the White House."

"And if she is elected, her husband will need a new title, as well!"

Sibley can be reached for comment at 610-660-1741 or at

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