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The Evolving Role of America's First Ladies

The White House

This program originally aired in March 2018.

When polls rank America’s first ladies, the top spot often goes to Eleanor Roosevelt.

“She was the person who really embraced the role of the first lady and made it more public,” says political scientist Dianne Bystrom of Iowa State University. “She was the first first lady to give her own press conferences, she built the first lady staff […] and she was a spokesperson on African American and civil rights.”

Presidential historian Tim Walch adds, “She really was an exceptional individual – a real paradigm shift among our first ladies.”

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer asks Bystrom and Walch to compare first ladies throughout American history and explore how that role has changed. Also, how Melania Trump has broken the traditional mold of first ladies in several ways.

Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River