On the whole, modern First Ladies’ reputations matter almost as much as those of their presidential husbands. And as a result, it could be said that the respective spouses of recent U.S. leaders have often strived to cultivate images that are practically blemish-free. By contrast, however, former First Lady Julia Tyler was often held in rather ill repute. In fact, Julia’s notoriety even preceded her time in the White House; it lasted, moreover, until she and her husband retired to their Virginia estate.
The title of First Lady originated in the United States – although, for many years, there was no single term to refer to the wife of the president. For instance, when George Washington served as the nation’s first president, most people called his wife, Martha, simply “Lady Washington.”
And a 1838 article in the St. Johnsbury Caledonian described how Martha Washington still kept some of the same rituals in which she had engaged before her husband had become president. The author – an individual going under the name of “Mrs. Sigourney” – wrote, “The first lady of the nation still preserved the habits of early life. Indulging in no indolence, she left the pillow at dawn.” By 1877, meanwhile, the term “first lady” had gained national attention, leading it to become more commonly used as a manner in which to refer to presidents’ wives.