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FIRST LADY: the term is seen less and less often in print. Recent presidential spouses have preferre

April 8, 2009

Summary: the wife of a U.S. president has been given this honorary term, but it is not an official title. Thus, the "problem" of what to do with a female president's spouse is moot; he will be known simply as "Mr. Last-Name." Presidents' wives were not always referred to as "first ladies"; in 1849 President Zachary Taylor eulogized Dolley Madison: "She will never be forgotten, because she was truly our First Lady for a half-century." But the term did not become part of the vocabulary until 1911, with the hit play about Dolley Madison titled, "The First Lady in the Land." The term is seen less and less often in print. Recent presidential spouses have preferred to be known by a name, rather than by a role. (Jacqueline Kennedy said, "The one thing I do not want to be called is 'First Lady.' It sounds like a saddle horse.")

For more information on the forthcoming Unspinning the Spin: The Women’s Media Center Guide to Accurate, Bias-Free Language, click here.

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