Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Political Science

First Advisor

Lori Marso




First Lady, societal expectation, female, leaders


In spite of the fact that First Ladies are usually depicted as just helpmates to their husbands, they can in fact be very powerful figures, even if only as symbols. Indeed, First Ladies are free to mold, shape and define their role how they choose. Throughout history, we have seen First Ladies act in a variety of ways: some use the platform as a way to promote non-partisan issues; others focus on being symbols for the perfect American mother and wife; and there are few activist First Ladies who get involved in partisan politics. But although free to shape their own role as First Ladies, these very visible women have been highly scrutinized and criticized when they are seen to stray away from the “idealized American woman.” In this very important way, these prominent and successful women have been constrained by society’s expectations. How do First Ladies differently deal with these constraints and possibilities? Their choices, in fact, have the potential to hurt the progression of women’s powers and leadership in America. I have researched and compared two diametrically opposed First Ladies-Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush—to examine how First Ladies might be exemplary female leaders or simply helpmates to the male President.