The beautiful weather this weekend inspired DC’s residents to get out and relish the sun’s last warm rays. The ceremonial drum of the Turtle Women Rising American Indian festival rang out across the field, the chants, beats and teepees providing an entrancing spectacle. The National Monument cast its assertive shadow as children cartwheeled against the golden evening sky, reduced to mere silhouettes. I almost didn’t want to leave my spot on the lawn, but I had come here to see The First Ladies exhibit at the National Museum of American History. As it turns out there is much more to this popular exhibit than flashy clothing.
I went in curious about the popularity of a dress collection when there are so many fascinating historical and war relics to see, but the exhibition’s relevance goes beyond the superficial (yet exquisite) history of fashion design. Almost 100 years old, The First Ladies was the first exhibit to be dedicated to women and was a trailblazer for future exhibits about women. The exhibit has sections dedicated to first lady contributions to policy and society, which brought both public praise and criticism. This sparks discussion on the perception of women in politics and suggests that, despite great social advances in women’s rights, the presidency has not yet reflected equality between the sexes. This has not stopped some determined wives of the presidents, such as Ellen Wilson and Eleanor Roosevelt, from breaking boundaries and influencing policy.
With an inaugural ball on the horizon, The First Ladies is more relevant than ever and reminds us of the contributions some activist first ladies have made. I can’t wait for a First Gentleman addition.