WASHINGTON, DC.- The Smithsonian First Ladies Collection is a lavishly illustrated book inspired by one of the most popular attractions at the Smithsonian: The First Ladies exhibition at the National Museum of American History. The book showcases dresses, tableware, invitations and other memorabilia from the collection. It features the treasures of many First Ladies, from Martha Washingtons silk dress to Michelle Obamas 2009 inaugural gown and jewelry, and covers the complete collection, even the many objects too rare or fragile to be put on public view.
Not only a visual celebration of these treasures, the book also illuminates the lives and legacies of the extraordinary women who owned them. Personal biographies of the First Ladies explore how they adapted when thrust into an influential and visible role by happenstance of marriage (or, as in the case of the daughters and nieces who filled the role, happenstance of birth). Since the job of First Lady is unofficial and does not come with a specific list of responsibilities, each First Lady made it her own. Over time, First Ladies took on significant roles as campaigners, hostesses, policy advocates and role models, influencing their presidential administrations and American society as a whole.
The Smithsonian First Ladies Collection also includes archival photographs of the featured First Ladies in action; an insiders look at the acquisition, conservation and exhibition of the pieces; and a timeline of all 46 First Ladies. It is a testament to these women and their roles in American culture and political life.
Lisa Kathleen Graddy is deputy chair of the Division of Political History at the National Museum of American History. She is the curator of The First Ladies exhibition and the collections of woman suffrage and womens political history. Amy Pastan is a Washington, D.C.-based author, editor and photo researcher. A former staff editor at the Smithsonian, she currently writes and produces books for both adults and children. Among her recent titles is The Smithsonian Book of Presidential Trivia.