At times in this political season, I have felt full of hope; at others, full of discouragement. Always, I have felt how important it is, in this historical moment, for women to continue striving toward great achievement, visionary leadership, and strong community with each other.
Since at least Abby Adams’s “Remember the ladies,” America’s First Ladies have often led the charge on women’s rights, education, and influence in society. This year, I’m inspired by the many ways women have conquered challenges and championed each other’s cause from the White House.
Edith Wilson practically ran the country as she vetted issues of state and gaged their suitability for her husband’s limited strength; Dolly Madison effectively established the First Ladyship, taking an active role in her husband’s work and founding an orphanage for young girls. Florence Harding was the first First Lady to vote, offering her political opinions freely, and Betty Ford shocked and helped millions with her open, honest discussion of breast cancer, addiction, and women’s health. She believed that “the search for human freedom can never be complete without freedom for women” (International Women’s Year meeting, 1975). We women have much to be proud of in the first ladies of our past.
As a toast to our vinas and a rallying cry for 2017, here’s what three of my very favorite First Ladies have had to say about friendship and life.
“We should always have three friends in our lives – one who walks ahead, who we look up to and we follow; one who walks beside us, who is with us every step of our journeys; and then, one who we reach back for and we bring along after we’ve cleared the way.”
–National Mentoring Summit, 2011
“Do not bring people in your life who weigh you down. And trust your instincts … good relationships feel good. They feel right. They don’t hurt. They’re not painful. That’s not just with somebody you want to marry, but it’s with the friends that you choose. It’s with the people you surround yourselves with.”
–Remarks by the First Lady at an Event with Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Students, 2011 (click to read the whole speech!)
“I have always believed that women are not victims, we are agents of change, we are drivers of progress, we are makers of peace — all we need is a fighting chance.”
–Women in the World Summit, 2013
“If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all. Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to speak freely — and the right to be heard.”
–U.N. World Conference in Beijing, 1995
“Always aim high, work hard, and care deeply about what you believe in. And, when you stumble, keep faith. And, when you’re knocked down, get right back up and never listen to anyone who says you can’t or shouldn’t go on.”
–Campaign suspension speech, 2008
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”
“Friendship with oneself is all important, because without it one cannot be friends with anyone else in the world.”
–As quoted in The Beacon Book of Quotations by Women, 1992
“A mature person is one who does not think only in absolutes, who is able to be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally, who has learned that there is both good and bad in all people and in all things, and who walks humbly and deals charitably with the circumstances of life, knowing that in this world no one is all knowing and therefore all of us need both love and charity.”
–You Learn By Living, 1960
“There is no human being from whom we cannot learn something if we are interested enough to dig deep.”
–You Learn By Living, 1960
What first ladies do you admire? Let us know in the comments below and make sure to download Hey! VINA for more inspiring women in your life.
(Feature image via @michelleobama)