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First Ladies of the Republic: Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, and the Creation of an Iconic American Role

by Jeanne E Abrams New York University Press
Pub Date:
Hbk 328 pages
AU$59.99 NZ$60.86
Product Status: Available in Approx 9 days
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How the three inaugural First Ladies defined the role of First Lady of the United States for future generations and carved a space for women in America


Eleanor. Jackie. Michelle. Melania. Americans are on a first-name basis with their First Ladies, iconic women who loom large in the public imagination. As one of the most prominent women in American politics, the First Lady must be a chameleon - at once cheerleader, advocate, host, diplomat, and stateswoman, not to mention wife and mother. Hers is a life of competing pressures, to be the kindly matriarch to every American, while simultaneously supporting her husband’s political agenda. It is not an easy job. And it was harder still for the United States’ first First Ladies - Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, and Dolley Madison - who were tasked with defining the nature of the American presidency to the fledgling nation and to the world.


From a wealth of primary and secondary sources, First Ladies of the Republic breaks new ground by examining the lives of Martha, Abigail, and Dolley as a group. As fellow members of the burgeoning elite political class, their lives were intertwined. Each supported and influenced the others, evolving their ideas on the new nation’s politics, on family and marriage, and on the nascent role of the presidential spouse. The position of First Lady was not officially authorized or defined (as it remains), and the place of women in society was much more restricted than it is today. So, Martha, Abigail, and Dolley together created the traditions and set the expectations for what the wife of the president would look like, say, and do. Not only did they show future generations of First Ladies the way, but set about defining a role for women in public and private life in America.

"Jeanne Abrams’s First Ladies of the Republic  offers a compelling new approach to understanding the meaning and significance of the position of 'First Lady.' Examining the lives of Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, and Dolley Madison, she shows how these spirited women invented this new role from scratch to accommodate the demands of a new republican government . Written in an engaging and informative manner, the book combines recent research on  early American women's history with a deep knowledge of the women's own lives and words."-Rosemarie Zagarri,George Mason University, author of Revolutionary Backlash

Jeanne E. Abrams is Professor at the University Libraries and the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Denver. She received her Ph.D. in American history from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a specialization in archival management. She is the author of Jewish Women Pioneering the Frontier Trail: A History in the American West (New York University Press), Dr. Charles David Spivak: A Jewish Immigrant and the American Tuberculosis Crusade (University Press of Colorado), and Revolutionary Medicine: The Founding Fathers and Mothers in Sickness and in Health (New York University Press, 2013)as well as numerous articles in the fields of American, Jewish and medical history which have appeared in scholarly journals and popular magazines.