As Barack and Michelle (hey, are we all still on a first name basis, now that they are official?) settle into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, I find myself fascinated by every move they make.Â And it’s hard not to make comparisons.Â Everyone from Jezebel to the WSJ has compared Michelle O to Jackie O (try here, here, and here) and the fashion mags are all gaga over her style, but it seems to me there are some far more interesting–and more substantive–historical analogies going on.
Check out these excerpts from a March 1933 AP article reported by Lorena Hickock, about Eleanor Roosevelt’s first day as First Lady.Â The article is titled “New ‘First Lady’, Made Solemn By Inaugural, Lays Plans To Simplify White House Life; To Cut Expense”:
“The crowds were so tremendous,” Mrs. Roosevelt added softly. “And you felt that they would do anything – if only someone would tell them what to do.
“I felt that particularly, because when Franklin got to that part of his speech in which he said it might become necessary for him to assume powers ordinarily granted to a President in war time, he received his biggest demonstration.”
Mrs. Roosevelt moved over to one of the wide windows and stared thoughtfully out across the White House grounds at the Virginia hills, softly outlined against a grey afternoon sky.
“No one,” she said, “at all close to people in public life today can fail to realize that we are all of us facing extremely critical times.
“No woman entering the White House, if she accepts the fact that it belongs to the people and therefore must be representative of whatever conditions the people are facing, can light-heartedly take up her residence here.
“One has a feeling of going in blindly, because we’re in a tremendous stream, and none of us knows where we’re going to land.
“…Neither Franklin nor I would want to do anything that would detract from the White House dignity, which we both love,” she said. “But I believe things can be made a good deal simpler without that.
“It should be done, I think, to save the time and the strength of a man as busy as a president must be. And now, of all times, there is no occasion for display.
“…My feeling about the White House is that it belongs to the people. Their taxes support it. It is really theirs. And as far as possible they should be made to feel welcome here. They shouldn’t have the feeling that they are shut out.
“I realize, of course, that there are limitations. There are times when one can’t receive visitors. There are times when a family has got to have privacy. After all, we’re living here, you see.
“But the lower floors, away from our living quarters, will be open to the public even more, if I can manage it, than they have been in the past. And I want the visitors to be given every courtesy.”
Interesting, given the way the Obamas opened the White House to public visitors on Day 1.Â For a good counter to the Jackie-Michelle comparison, check out this historically-informed little piece in Newsweek, “Why Michelle Obama Is Not the Next Jackie O”.
And on a less serious note, how’s this for bit of useless yet kind of interesting First Lady trivia: Eleanor Roosevelt was the only first lady taller than Michelle Obama (who stands at 5’11).Â Eleanor topped her by an inch.
(Thanks to Marco for the heads up.)