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Strong and active, meet the White House First Ladies

Jan 19, 2009 11:49 AM IST India India
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New Delhi: She is a woman as familiar with the names Harvard and Princeton as she is with Gucci and Prada. That apart, she is a lawyer with a six figure salary, and a dedicated mother. When Michelle Obama strode onto the world stage early in the campaign, her easy wit captured the imagination of America. “That's why I married Barack, because of those values. He was cute too. That helped,” says Michelle Obama. Her comparisons with Jackie Kennedy are inevitable. A young Jackie Kennedy used style in much the same way, pulling off cultural coups across the world, even convincing the French Minister of Culture to loan her country the Mona Lisa. “I think she had studied the role of first lady. She always had a spark. Her sense of humour was incredible,” says Social Secretary and Chief of Staff for Jacqueline Kennedy 1961 – 1963, Letitia Baldrige. But well before Jackie, Eleanor Roosevelt broke new ground as one of the most politically active and outspoken first ladies. Through the 1920's, she struggled for women's right to vote. “Eleanor Roosevelt was to be no mere decoration for the Roosevelt White House. when polio struck down her dynamic young husband in 1921 she fought to restore his confidence and became a tremendously active democratic party organiser,” says Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Harvard University, Barbara Johnson. Decades later Hillary Clinton played a similar role. She headed the President's Task Force on Health Care Reform, wrote a newspaper column and authored books, winning a Grammy for her recording of one. “I suppose I could've stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but I decided to fulfill my profession,” says Hillary Clinton. In contrast to Hillary's activism was Laura Bush's nurturing avatar. Even as one former first lady prepares to take over as Secretarey of State, another is bowing out of the White House. Whatever role the latest First Lady choses to play, she already is breaking new ground. I