As the West Wing has grown in power and organizational complexity during the modern presidency, so has the East Wing, office home to the First Lady of the United States. This groundbreaking work by MaryAnne Borrelli offers both theoretical and substantive insight into behind-the-scenes developments from the time of Lou Henry Hoover to the unfolding tenure of Michelle Robinson Obama.
Political scientists and historians have recognized the personal influence the First Lady can exercise with her husband, and they have noted the moral, ethical, and sometimes policy leadership certain presidents’ wives have offered. Nonetheless, scholars and commentators alike have treated the personal relationship and the professional relationship as overlapping.
Borrelli offers a compelling counter-perspective: that the president’s wife exercises power intrinsic to her role within the administration. Like others within the presidency, she has sometimes presented the president’s views to constituents and sometimes presented constituents’ views to the president, thus taking on a representative function within the system. In mediating president-constituent relationships, she has given a historical and social frame to the presidency that has enhanced its symbolic representation; she has served as a gender role model, enriching descriptive representation in the executive branch; and she has participated in policy initiatives to strengthen an administration’s substantive representation. These contributions have been controversial, as might be predicted for a gender outsider, but they have unquestionably made the First Lady a representative of and to the president and, by extension, the president’s administration.
What Readers Are Saying:
"Borrelli highlights a much neglected yet immensely important aspect of presidential politics that richly adds to our knowledge of the less visible behind the scenes work and world of presidential spouses. This valuable corrective to the historical record drives home the importance of presidential spouses and the role they play in presidential politics."--Michael A. Genovese, Loyola Chair of Leadership, Professor of Political Science, Loyola Marymount University, Director for the Institute for Leadership Studies
"In a thoroughly researched and well-documented analysis, Borrelli provides a deeper appreciation for the concept of representation and the representative functions of first ladies. Combining insights from gender, presidential, and organizational theory studies, Borrelli reminds us of the importance of interdisciplinary lenses in informing new and insightful ways that help us move beyond the anecdotal story of individuals to a more systematic explanation of the dynamics and roles that these unelected actors play in our democracy."-- Victoria Farrar-Myers
"Examines the exercise of power by First Ladies within the context of presidential administrations; covers Lou Henry Hoover to Michelle Obama."--The Chronicle Review
"...fascinating new book...not simply a study of first ladies' outside crusades...describes how they function as eyes and ears of the president."--Steve Goddard, History Wire
"An excellent approach to the study of America's first ladies. This study encompasses "gender, representation, power." --W.K. Hall, Bradley University, Choice Magazine
"MaryAnne Borrelli does an admirable job justifying First Ladies studies as vital to understanding the U.S. Presidency. Borrelli has provided an engaging and insightful examination of the political role of the president's wife."--Lisa M. Burns, Journal of American History
"Through this comprehensive study of first ladies, Borrelli forces readers to explore prevailing conceptions of power, identity and office and to further examine the presidency as an evolving philosophical, cultural and political creation."
--Connecticut College News
“The Politics of the President’s Wife…is chock-full of interesting examples of first ladies being involved in campaign activities, public speaking, and both social and political roles within the White House. The author argues that the first lady does not share presidential power, yet influences the president, the public, and the policy agenda. Accordingly, they fulfill a policy role and have assumed a representative function in the American political system. This is Borrelli’s main argument and a unique contribution of the book. The book is part of the Joseph V. Hughes Jr. and Holly O. Hughes Series on the Presidency and Leadership, which has included some outstanding titles. MaryAnne Borrelli, a professor of government at Connecticut College, has produced a solid piece of scholarship, backed by extensive research with archival and primary source materials and offering scholars a new theoretical perspective for studying the first ladies.”—Robert P. Watson, Congress & the Presidency