Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Making of a First Lady

While the wife of the president has no power or authority under the U.S. Constitution, she has long held an influential and symbolic role. One need only think of Mary Todd Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, or Jackie Kennedy to see this. What makes a successful First Lady? Barbara Bush writes that "one summer," as a graduate student at the University of Texas after completing her Bachelor's Degree, she

spent nearly every day reading the classics of Russian literature, traveling through the frigid, snow-laden novels of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.

An appreciation for world literature is an important cultural skill, given that the First Lady is often involved in diplomatic receptions. While working on her Master's Degree, she recalls spending days in the library school,

a treasure trove of rare manuscripts from Shakespeare's First Folio to manuscripts by the Bronte sisters and John Keats and the page proofs from James Joyce's Ulysses. I was learning about the conservation of books in a place with some of the most beautiful pieces of literature in the world.

Representing, even if unofficially, the United States, the First Lady needs to be conversant with history and culture.