The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
September 4, 2003

Mrs. Bush's Remarks at the National First Ladies Library Dedication of the Education and Research Center
National First Ladies Library
Canton, Ohio

Thank you, Mary for your warm welcome and for your dedicated work to bring this historic building and the history of America's first ladies to life. Thank you, Congressman Regula, Janet (Voinovich), Hope (Taft), and Mayor Watkins for welcoming me to the great state of Ohio. The heartland of America is a fitting place to honor our first ladies, who are the heart of the White House. Thanks also to the talented members of the Fairless High School Band for the musical welcome. I felt as if the Marine Band itself were greeting me.

As a former teacher and librarian and a first lady, I'm glad to be here to commemorate the opening of this center for history, her-story, and for learning. The memorabilia and personal affects of our first ladies are priceless. And the display of the original dresses of Ohio's first ladies is fascinating. But as Mary says, "This is not a first ladies fashion show." This is a national archive which chronicles the lives and legacies of America's first ladies - and the significant political and social contributions they've made.

Since the days of Martha Washington, the role of the first lady has broadened and changed and the First Ladies Library captures this historic evolution with books, artifacts and information. Visitors can learn about our first ladies hopes and sacrifices and their tragedies and triumphs as they strived to fulfill their duties and the expectations of an ever-watchful media and public.

This isn't always easy, as some people agree with Bess Truman's view that the role of the first lady is to "sit quietly on the podium next to her husband and make sure her hat was on straight." In 1863, after hearing Mary Lincoln speak, a bystander said the President's wife "holding levees at which she indulges in a multitude of silly speeches is looked upon as very shocking."

But the fact is first ladies, whether giving "silly speeches" or serving as the president's advisor, have made and changed history.

One of the first ladies I admire most, Lady Bird Johnson, said, "The Constitution of the United States does not mention the first lady. She is elected by one man only. The statute books assign her no duties; and yet, when she gets the job, a podium is there if she cares to use it." Over the last two hundred years, America's first ladies have stepped up to the podium to help shape the presidency and the nation.

As official hostess of the White House, Julia Tyler, who was dubbed "the Presidentress", arranged for a reporter to cover social gatherings there so all the world could read about them. This reporter was essentially the first press secretary of the White House. Anna Harrison had ten children, the most of any first lady, and she outlived all but one. Caroline Harrison designed her own White House china and started the collection of presidential china that is a valuable record of American artistry.

Abigail Fillmore, a onetime schoolteacher, built the first library in the mansion. With sets of Dickens and Thackeray, she filled the upstairs sitting room where she and President Fillmore spent many evenings. I'm glad that this library will be recreated here to share her collection with all booklovers. Edith Wilson was one of her husband's most trusted advisors. She was the first presidential wife to attend an inaugural swearing-in and to make an overseas trip with the president.

Given their popularity with the public, many first ladies hit the campaign trail to support their husbands. Lady Bird Johnson even had her own train, the Lady Bird Special, and made the first independent whistle-stop campaign by a candidate's wife. The first lady who inspires me the most is, of course, my mother-in-law, Barbara Bush. I have relied on her advice and guidance for years, and especially since I came to the White House. A lover of books and reading, she used her podium to increase awareness for family literacy and continues to support programs to combat illiteracy today.

These are just a few of the fascinating women and stories that can found in this center for history and learning. The First Ladies Library, like thousands of libraries across America, stands as a beacon for education and information. If we have a question about the world, the library is the place to find the answer. And someone will always be here to help us find the answer - our dedicated librarians. Thanks to the librarians and docents here today for helping to educate and inform the public - and for inspiring people to learn their history.

It is vitally important for every American - and particularly for young people - to learn about our democracy. An understanding and appreciation of history makes every American a more engaged citizen. John Adams said, "Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people." And what knowledge we can gain from the stories of these great women.

The stories of our first ladies are a vivid reflection of American women and of American history itself. Their stories deserve to be told and remembered. As Edith Roosevelt honored first ladies before her by displaying their portraits in the White House, The National First Ladies Library honors the lives of these great women.

John Adam's wife, Abigail, once reminded her husband to "remember the ladies." Thanks to the First Ladies Library, the history of America's first ladies will continue to be told - one remarkable woman at a time. Thank you.

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