It’s true that presidential candidates themselves get most of the spotlight when it comes to buttons, but the First Lady is also a popular subject for adorning a pinback. While First Ladies aren’t elected per se, they certainly campaign for office, in addition to having supporters (and detractors) of their own. The Button Museum has a small, but growing, collection of both pro- and anti- First Lady buttons. Check out a few of our favorites–
The Eleanor in question on this button is Eleanor Roosevelt. This design was one in a series created by FDR opponent Wendell Wilkie in the run-up to the 1940 election. Franklin Roosevelt was up for his third term and Wilkie hoped to stir anti-Eleanor sentiment that would work in his favor. Wilkie and other detractors disliked that Eleanor Roosevelt’s redefined the role of First Lady, expanding it from that of just a hostess and supporter of her husband to a position that existed on the national, and international, stage.
While the subject of this button is arguably Richard Nixon and not Lady Bird Johnson, she’s certainly the butt of the joke. In fact, poor Lady Bird was the subject of more than on version of the same gag in 1968– versions of this button are available for other candidates, but, since neither George Wallace nor Barry Goldwater got the nomination, perhaps the joke is really on them.
This photo of Pat Nixon that appears on these buttons is the perfect counterpart to her husband’s conservative image. For her own part, Pat Nixon was nicknamed “Madam Ambassador,” and was the most well-traveled First Lady in history, a record she held until the 1990s.
Better Ford was an outspoken First Lady, fully appreciating the power that came along with the position. She was criticized for speaking openly about controversial issues including abortion, drug use and women’s rights. Some conservatives called her “No Lady,” but the public didn’t seem to mind– her national approval ratings reached as high as 76%. Betty Ford was also known to proclaim her views with buttons which, of course, we appreciate as well.
Following Betty Ford’s lead, both Hillary Clinton and Tipper Gore, First Lady and Second Lady respectively, were outspoken on various social issues during their time in office. Hillary Clinton was best known as First Lady for her push for universal healthcare, and for playing a more important advisor role to the president than any First Lady before her. Tipper Gore is most remembered for her campaign to label music for objectionable content and the resulting very public conflicts with musicians such as Frank Zappa and Jello Biafra, among others.