The University Archives and Special Collections department recently installed a new long-term exhibit, featuring materials from the Tim Anthony Jackson Collection of Political Memorabilia. The Tim Anthony Jackson Collection contains over 12,000 political and historical artifacts from over 100 years of U.S. Presidential history, including campaign buttons, posters, banners, bumper stickers, dolls, board games, statues, masks, and campaign literature. The exhibit is on display at the UT Tyler Robert R. Muntz Library.
Capturing the Public’s Attention
Mrs. Frances Folsom Cleveland (1886-1889; 1893-1897) was the youngest First Lady in history and the first to be married in the White House. The wedding attracted international attention, with top journalists vying for glimpses of the wedding cake, the bridal train, and the floral displays. White House historians consider Mrs. Cleveland “one of the most popular women ever to serve as hostess for the nation.” The National First Ladies’ Library reports that “Frankie” Cleveland attracted so much attention from admirers and journalists that the president feared for her safety at public events. Her style was so widely emulated that national trends were swayed by mere rumors about her preferences. Much to the Clevelands’ annoyance, Frances’ likeness was used heavily in campaign paraphernalia for the 1888 and 1892 campaigns.
Seventy-five years later, the American public found another First Lady to idolize in Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy (1961-1963). Much like Frances Cleveland, Jackie left an indelible impression on national fashion trends. While Frances Cleveland had attracted an unprecedented level of commercial and media attention, Jacqueline Kennedy’s role in the public eye was so prominent that she became the first presidential spouse to hire her own press secretary. Jackie was bolder than many of her predecessors in the political realm, whether leading a campaign to restore the historic White House, promoting the establishment of a national cultural center, or traveling in support of her husband’s foreign policy aims.
Rise of the Political Family
Jacqueline Kennedy was the first mother to raise youngchildren in the White House since Theodore Roosevelt’s wife Edith (1901-1909). In the wake of the Kennedy administration, the “First Family” played an increasingly prominent role in election campaigns. Presidential couples were varyingly depicted to deliver messages about the candidate’s values, character, and leadership potential. In contrast, campaigns for female presidential and vice-presidential candidates have historically downplayed the role of a prospective “first gentlemen.”
A Candidate in Her Own Right
Since the days of Frances Cleveland, First Ladies have increasingly featured in campaign materials. This display case shows a progression of campaigns featuring First and Second Ladies (the official term for the wife of the Vice President). In some case, wives were not the only women to attract campaign attention. Lillian Gordy Carter, nicknamed “Miss Lillian” by the press, was a popular personality in the 1976 and 1980 presidential campaigns.
Themes in Electoral Campaigns
Designers of campaign memorabilia often revived successful slogans from years past. Refrains of “move over” and “start packing,” signaling the ouster of an incumbent president, were especially popular. Another recurring slogan, “We don’t want Eleanor, either,” was coined by Republic opponent Wendell Willkie during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s third presidential campaign. The slogan was briefly revived against Hillary Clinton, who was frequently compared to Eleanor, and Laura Welch Bush (2001-2009).
Collateral Damage: Negative Portrayals of First Ladies
Like their famous husbands, First Ladies were not immune to public scorn. First Ladies increasingly attracted political and personal criticism as they became more visible in campaigns and administrations. Ranging from mockery about their appearance and fidelity to snide observations about their upbringings, some First Ladies were caricatured merely in association with the White House. Others attracted criticism with a more singular focus. One of the earliest and most vicious smear campaigns was directed at Andrew Jackson’s wife, Rachel, who had failed to obtain a clear divorce from her first husband before marrying Jackson. Eleanor Roosevelt (1933-1945), perhaps the first presidential spouse to claim an active role in politics, was famously criticized for her political ambitions and civil rights activism; Roosevelt’s biographer, Blanche Wiesen Cook, referred to her as “the most controversial First Lady in United States history.” Even relatively innocuous programs like Lady Bird Johnson’s project to beautify the interstate highway system and Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign triggered harsh reactions from political opponents.
Perhaps no First Lady has attracted the opposition’s ire like Hillary Rodham Clinton (1993-2001). Hillary was the first presidential spouse to hold a postgraduate degree and have her own professional career before taking up residence in the White House. Promoted by the Clinton campaign as a key advisor in the Clinton administration, Hillary drew stark criticism for her appearance, involvement, and political views. Years before the “Lewinsky scandal” triggered an impeachment trial against her husband, Hillary Clinton was lambasted for her 1993 health care reform initiative and her 1996 book It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us.
Want to learn more about the women featured in this exhibit? Check out this reading list from the Muntz Library catalog.