PublicationsFirst Ladies of the United States
Since this nation’s founding, the first ladies of the United States have been shaping the landscape of American history and culture.
This richly illustrated catalogue, published to coincide with the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition Every Eye Is Upon Me: First Ladies of the United States, serves as a handbook for the museum’s collection of first ladies’ portraits. Exploring the achievements and stories of these remarkable women through representation, we come to see how much has evolved since Martha Washington stepped into the position in 1789. What can we learn about these formidable women—their roles, personalities, and public and private lives—through portraiture? In First Ladies of the United States, Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, the National Portrait Gallery’s senior historian, responds to those very questions with a lively, thoroughly researched essay and more than fifty insightful entries.
The portraits of the nation’s first ladies have become the most requested by the museum’s public, signaling increased recognition and respect for their contributions. This book uses a contemporary lens to reflect upon the role and its history and makes important connections among the individuals—and their portraits. Politics and time periods are distinct; personal tragedies and triumphs are singular. But it is made evident in First Ladies of the United States that the lives of each of these women are just as tightly woven into the fabric of this country as those of this nation’s presidents.