It began in the late 1920s when Lou Henry Hoover, the wife of President Herbert Hoover, sat for a portrait taken by photographer Edward Steichen. The stately image appeared in the May 11, 1929 issue of Vogue—just a few months before the stock-market crash that precipitated the Great Depression—and started a now long-standing tradition of the nation’s First Ladies appearing in the pages of the magazine. Here are some images of the smart, powerful women who stood beside the U.S. Presidents —from Eleanor Roosevelt to Jacqueline Kennedy to Nancy Reagan to Michelle Obama.
Now that you have seen lots of these photos, I want you to notice something: all the first ladies look regal, beautiful, powerful. But they also all look passive. I love Michelle Obama’s photo most of all because it shows her as active as a participant in life, in work, in politics. A partner, not a decoration.
Am I reading too much into this? Maybe.
Did other first ladies work and make a difference in politics? Certainly.
But, I love the photo of Michelle doing something because it helps to convey power and too often women who are active and powerful hide that in the name of beauty. So, enjoy: