As is well documented, Abigail was not just a wife in the traditional manner. Abigail was not only plugged into the political atmosphere of the Revolutionary Era, she actively participated in it. As is well documented, John Adams (Founding Father, Framer and President) had a personality problem associating with other politicians - so much so that Abigail convinced him to work through surrogates to accomplish his objectives (hence the recruitment of Thomas Jefferson to write a draft of the Declaration of Independence - he knew it would be better received if written by Jefferson instead and then edited by Adams and Franklin). Abigail was John's foundation, providing both emotional and intellectual support. Most folks are unaware that for many years, John served America overseas while Abigail maintained contact with the Revolutionary Continental Congress and Army through regular dispatches to - you guessed it - George Washington. Abigail also was the mother of another President, John Quincy.
We all grew up learning that Dolly Madison "decorated the White House" except few appreciate her job was not because it was a cute thing to do. It was necessitated instead because Jefferson stripped the Executive Mansion of many of its finery (some claim even the floor boards) and shipped them to his Monticello, his Virginia home. But Dolly is not known as a close political advisor to James like Abigail was. We know the wives of each President surely had some supporting role in their husbands' political careers, but to what extent remains for the historians to discover and distill. Andrew Jackson's wife Rachel influenced his presidency, however, she did so from the grave, dying of a heart attack just after Jackson's first election to the position. We could jump next to Mary Todd Lincoln, but most historians recognize that Mary Todd was more of a distraction to Abe than a help when it came to managing the presidency and the war-torn Union. Again, I am sure historians will reveal she did much more than what is appreciated today, but Abe will probably retain his lofty status as president on his own merit.
We know of many presidents after Lincoln and the scandals tied to them, but we really don't have a close relationship with the wives of those presidents. The closest I can think of next would be Theodore Roosevelt's second wife, Edith (his first died shortly after the birth of their first child). Edith is perhaps best known for recognizing the stress placed upon the Chief Executive when having his offices in the actual White House residence itself. Demanding a complete renovation of the mansion, architects designed and built what we now know as the East and the Executive's West Wing, inclusive of the now famous "Oval Office." Kudos to Edith Roosevelt for assisting in establishing what became the Oval and related offices in the White House.
Perhaps next in line would be to recognize Eleanor Roosevelt, a cousin of Teddy's and wife of Franklin. Eleanor was not just like all other political wives. Due to the catastrophic results of Polio, Eleanor literally became FDR's political legs, all the while honing her own oratory and policy-making skills. I could write on and on about Eleanor, but to put it mildly, throughout the lengthy presidency of FDR, Eleanor was the head of our national league of moms! Eleanor championed Womens' Rights, Civil Rights, and Workers' Rights. Although it is my personal opinion, I believe that had Eleanor been alive today, she would have been elected President in her own right (move over Hillary - Eleanor would win in a landslide). Following Eleanor was clearly Bess Truman, perhaps the only person in the world that could brow-beat and corral Harry. Not unlike Harry, Bess took no crap from anyone, and made it obvious she had no desire to be First Lady. Her "Missouri" frankness often forced her husband to think in broader terms when dealing with political rivals, and always kept her husband's emotions in check - except when it came to the firing of General Douglas McArthur - where she publicly defended her husband from attacks from her very own mother, Madge Gates Wallace who made it clear Harry had no business firing the "Great General" - regardless of the fact Harry was in fact, President and Commander-in-Chief. As we all know, the Good General did simply fade away (as did Truman's popularity rating - leaving office with approval ratings in the low 20's). Should we point out Mamie Eisenhower next? Nah. Then we have Jackie Kennedy, who brought a news sense of "Camelot" to the White House. Other than being the "fashion type" mom, I can think of no serious influence on JFK's presidency. Can you? Lady Bird Johnson? Nope. Pat Nixon? Only that she remained one of the few that could love her husband. Betty Ford? Her contribution to alcohol rehabilitation aside, she added very little to the presidency. Barbara Bush should be noted, if nothing more than being H.W.'s spouse and mother of another President (George W.) and presidential aspirant Jeb. But serious political influence? Not like Abigail and Eleanor - and neither have any other First Ladies since - except perhaps Hilary Clinton - and putting her name on this list raises certain ire of many Americans.
Although clearly not a comprehensive list of the influences of America's First Ladies and Moms, it at least gives us a chance to reflect on the wives of our presidents - and to consider them worthy of a collective and retrospective Happy Mothers Day to each and every one of them along with you and yours! As First Lady Abigail Adams once wrote; "If we mean to have heroes, statesmen and philosophers, we should have learned women." Happy Mothers Day to each of our Moms - who always love and guide us and serve as our true heroes. Have a great week!