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Women of the White House: First Ladies Exhibits

“We should all do something to right the wrongs that we see and not just complain about them.”

Jacqueline Kennedy summed up the responsibility of citizens of the United States, and her words ring especially true for the women who have been some of the most influential in righting the wrongs and working to better the country. It has traditionally been the role of presidents’ wives to serve alongside their husbands, to showcase America’s greatness to the world and to give back to various causes to better the population.

Many presidential sites highlight the contributions of first ladies alongside those of their husbands; here are five museums that feature the iconic moments and contributions of these great women.

Dwight Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum

Abilene, Kansas

Dwight Eisenhower was a no-nonsense kind of man famous for his military service during World War II, so it should come as no surprise that his wife, Mamie Doud Eisenhower, ran a White House that could pass a military inspection. During the eight years Ike was in office, Mamie Eisenhower balanced the White House budget while still hosting more state dinners than any previous presidential family up to that point. The Eisenhower Museum and Boyhood Home in Abilene, Kansas, pays tribute to the accomplishments of both Ike and Mamie.

One of Mamie Eisenhower’s famous contributions was her work for the American Heart Association, a cause in which she was personally invested. Mamie Eisenhower had a weak heart, and her doctor prescribed that she be on bed rest three days a week, but in her no-nonsense way that was so much like her husband, said she had too much to do. So instead of three days a week, she compromised to spend each morning in bed meeting with her staff, preparing for state dinners and writing letters. A testament to her tenacity is included in the museum. Many of her bed jackets, silver and china are on exhibit. The museum collection includes hundreds of items of her clothing, jewelry and hats, which rotate on display.

In 2018, the museum will be closing temporarily for renovation, with plans to expand the facility to include more exhibit space and artifacts connected to Mamie Eisenhower. Until it reopens in 2019, the rest of the campus, including the Presidential Library and the Boyhood Home, will remain open.

LBJ Presidential Library and Museum

Austin, Texas

Lyndon B. Johnson’s political career took place during a time when media was changing and nearly every American home owned a television for the first time. Since his wife, Lady Bird Johnson, was a journalism graduate of the University of Texas and in the public eye, media played a big role in her life. The LBJ Presidential Library and Museum in Austin, Texas, is home to more than 650,000 photographs and video recordings belonging to the president and first lady.

Throughout the library, guests can hear and see snippets of the Johnsons’ personal and public lives. Lady Bird Johnson made daily recordings that covered the happenings of the White House and important events. There is even a recording from the day Johnson was sworn in and the JFK assassination. She recognized the significance of that event and recorded her emotions and everything she saw to preserve it for history. The recordings also give insight into the relationship between the president and his wife. In another recording, LBJ had just given a speech and called his wife to see what she thought about it. You can listen to her praise, as well as her blunt criticism of his speech, and she ends up giving him a “B+” for his performance.

Guests also enjoy seeing family photos and watching clips from home videos of the Johnson family. LBJ gave his wife a movie camera, and she recorded many of these events herself. These videos cover the time when LBJ was a Texas senator, as well as the couple’s White House days.

A favorite site in the museum is Lady Bird Johnson’s office, located across from the replica of President Johnson’s Oval Office. The room overlooks Austin and the University of Texas campus and still features the coral-colored furniture and her “filing system” that consisted of stacks of papers on the floor. This was her working office for many years after the library was built in 1971, and the items have been left just as they were when she used the space.