A Brief History of First Ladies and Their Causes

Since the days of Dolly Madison, the job of presidential spouse has often involved picking a signature issue.

Ellen Wilson, 1913-1914
After visiting the squalid streets where many of Washington D.C.'s poor black and immigrant denizens lived, Woodrow Wilson's first wife took up the need for better urban housing. In early 1914, "Ellen Wilson's bill" — the first legislation to be so publicly spurred on by a first lady — was introduced. Although Congress initially squabbled over who would pay, lawmakers quickly passed the bill after hearing of Ellen's rapidly declining health. She lived just long enough to get the news before succumbing to kidney disease that August.

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