Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Kennedy, Nancy Reagan, Michelle Obama. All of these women share a prestigious commonality — a lifetime membership to the first ladies club.
I have always been fascinated by the unofficial job description of the wife of the president. Their duties include: cultivate the White House garden, select china patterns, elegantly host diplomatic dinner parties and ultimately act as the backbone to the presidency.
Now, as the newest first family plans to put down roots at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., I am both interested and excited to watch Melania Trump come into her own as first lady.
She, it seemed, unlike many other contemporary first ladies, avoided the spotlight during the campaign as much as possible, even though her husband attracted it like no other. I do not see Melania acting as the delicate decorator and hostess of the White House, or initiating key meetings with international leaders on political issues. Melania is a conundrum.
As a female journalist with a deep interest in political history and culture, I have looked up to presidents, but more often I have looked to first ladies for inspiration and hope. First ladies are frequently the bright spot in a cloudy political atmosphere or murky presidency.
Breaking the mold of a traditional first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt became a trailblazer for politically involved women in the 1930s. She voiced opinions all her own, and created a new sense of the phrase “the role of the first lady.”
Jackie Kennedy, the stylish and sophisticated icon of the 1960s, led the effort to redecorate and restore the neglected architecture and aesthetic of the White House. Her role may have looked small, but in a time of national unrest and change, Jackie’s ability to bring a strong sense of patriotism to the United States provided a glimmer of hope.
Nancy Reagan led the memorable “Just Say No” drug awareness campaign during her husband’s presidency. It was a position that coincided with the views of the president, but she made it all her own by becoming politically active on the subject without the shadowing presence of her husband.
Michelle Obama, the woman I watched take the country by storm while growing up, most recently created a lasting impression on the White House. Along with being a strong presence next to the president, she created platforms to fight childhood obesity and aid struggling military families. In the growing digital age, Michelle made the act of being first lady not just graceful, but cool.
Each first lady created their own legacy, large and small. This is where I struggle to find a place for Melania. She does not fit into any of the molds established before her, but that might just be what makes her so fascinating.
On the campaign trail in 2016, Melania was soft spoken and reserved compared to her bold and forward husband. Still, she attended the speeches, posed for photos and shook hands with Washington’s elite.
Now that the current president has settled into the Oval Office, Melania still seems to be missing from the picture.
After the inauguration, the #FreeMelania surfaced on all kinds of social media platforms, suggesting that Melania needed to be saved — that she needed help escaping. I don’t think that is what Melania needs.
I believe Melania is her own person. She is someone who, although she might seem reserved and often sport what many call a “resting bitch face,” didn’t plan on becoming the first lady of the U.S. I believe she will make the most of the ups, downs and zig-zags that come along with being in the presidential spotlight.
It is unfair to propose that Melania will only be the quiet wife of a rather controversial and rambunctious president for the next four or more years. But it is also unfair to assume that she must promote a platform so important that it will go down in history.
She will serve the U.S. in a time where media and public scrutiny lurks at every corner. She will explore the treacherous waters of raising a son in a time where not even presidential children are exempt from rude comments. She will, in fact, be tasked with taking on the duties of a first lady, even when the description of those obligations are more muddled than ever.
Although I cannot yet find a place for Melania in the White House, I hope that she will make one for herself. When the craziness of the first month in office dies down and when her family can all settle into their new home, I believe that Melania, like all first ladies before her, will show that women in the White House are more than just hostesses.
Hailey Stewart can be reached at email@example.com