I am totally getting my geek on with the C-Span series, First Ladies: Influence and Image. While I'm pretty conversant about the ones of my lifetime, I've learned about the women who played a role in our early history.
1) Martha Washington. During the Revolutionary War, she visited General George and his men at Valley Forge and other difficult campsites. This troops loved this lady of means for slogging through the mud and snow to mend their socks and help them write letters home.
2) Abigail Adams just totally rocks. Both wise and literate, she wrote voluminous letters that reveal her influence on at least three of the most important men in American history (John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams).
3) Dolley Madison was the first President's wife to be known as "First Lady," though she didn't live to hear it. A beloved figure for decades, President Zachary Taylor called her "America's First Lady" when he eulogized her.
4) Elizabeth Monroe. When husband James was Minister to France, Elizabeth very publicly visited Madame de LaFayette in prison, which is credited for helping to secure her release.
5) Louisa Adams met and married John Quincy in London and then went with him when he served as a diplomat in Berlin. So she not only is our only foreign born First Lady, she never set foot on American soil until she was in her mid-20s.
6) Rachel Jackson died before her husband took the oath office and was buried in dress she planned to wear to his Inauguration. Andrew loved her to distraction, even though she was controversial during his campaign because she was not only (gasp!) a divorcee but her divorce hadn't been finalized, so she and the future President were unknowingly "living in sin."
7) Angelica Van Buren was widower Martin's daughter-in-law and acted as his hostess. Dolley Madison played matchmaker, bringing Angelica to the White House to meet Van Buren's oldest son.
8) Anna Harrison. At 65, she was the oldest First Lady when her husband took office.
9) Letitia Tyler was of frail health and appeared in public only once as First Lady. She died in the White House at age 51.
10) Julia Tyler was the daughter of David Gardiner, who lost his life in a naval accident during his service to President Tyler. They comforted one another through grief (her father/his wife) and married a year later.
11) Sarah Polk was the first First Lady to host a formal Thanksgiving Dinner at the White House.
12) Margaret Taylor was a genteel, religious yet rather stubborn lady. She made a deal with God when husband Zachary was fighting in the Mexican War -- if He returned her husband to her safely, she'd completely give up the society life she was raised to. As good as her word to Him, she never took part in formal activities at the White House. This caused much rumor and scandal, but didn't have any impact on her behavior.
13) Abigail Fillmore was the first First Lady to have a paying job before marriage. She had been a school teacher.