On Nov. 19, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter passed away at the age of 96. She is survived by her husband, former President Jimmy Carter, who fondly remembers his spouse as “[his] equal partner in everything [he] ever accomplished.”
All five living first ladies appeared at Rosalynn Carter’s memorial service, paying their respects to the woman who forever altered the position of FLOTUS.
Below, WWD recounts the legacies of Carter and the five most recent first ladies.
Carter greatly expanded the definition of what it means to be a first lady. She was the first FLOTUS to install her own chief of staff, a position that’s existed in the White House since.
Unlike her predecessors, Carter was a frequent fixture at her husband’s cabinet meetings. She also took hints from Eleanor Roosevelt, using her status to champion important causes. Carter lobbied to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, and she frequently advocated for mental health awareness. “I don’t think there will ever be another first lady who will be just a hostess and pour tea,” Carter once told the New York Times.
While Carter wasn’t known for her sense of style, she pioneered sustainable dressing in the White House. At the time, the recycled gown she wore to her husband’s inauguration was panned by the press, but today, first ladies including Michelle Obama and Jill Biden are praised for bringing their pre-worn garments out of the closet.
Much like Carter, Hillary Clinton saw her role as FLOTUS as a stepping stone to political involvement. She’s the only former first lady to hold a cabinet position, becoming Secretary of State following then-President Barack Obama’s election in 2008. Years later, Clinton broke the glass ceiling again as the first woman to receive a presidential nomination from a major party.
By the time the Bushes moved into the White House, Laura Bush was no stranger to the role of first lady, having held the position when her husband, George W., was the governor of Texas. During her tenure as FLOTUS, Bush supported health-related causes including fundraising for The Heart Truth, a foundation that raises awareness for women with heart disease.
One of Obama’s biggest contributions as FLOTUS was the founding of the Let’s Move! campaign, which focuses on reducing childhood obesity and fostering healthy habits in children. During her husband’s presidency, she was also an advocate for LGBTQIA+ equality, including same-sex couples in the Joining Forces campaign, a national program that supported military families through education, wellness and employment opportunities.
After her husband, Donald Trump, took office, Melania Trump launched the Be Best campaign, which advocated against cyberbullying and drug abuse. The former first lady promoted the initiative through nationwide events, as well as during global engagements in Ghana, Malawi, Egypt and Kenya.
Biden, the current first lady, is championing several causes, advocating for military families, educational opportunities and health care initiatives. After a hiatus during Trump’s presidency, Biden revived the Joining Forces program. She’s also established herself as one of the Democratic party’s biggest fundraisers.