Thinking perhaps of such hapless compatriots as Joan of Arc and Marie Antoinette, Alphonse Lamartine, the 19th century French poet, declared: "Women are very frequently heroic, but seldom statesmanlike." Today, more than ever, given charm, taste, tactand looksthe wife of a ruler can be statesmanlike simply by being a woman. In the color pages that follow, TIME surveys a new and lively generation of First Ladies who are adding style and spirit to statecraft from Abidjan to Washington. Whether entertaining at home or making the foreign rounds with their husbands, the reigning beauties of 1962 are the West's best argument for face-to-face diplomacy.
Of the nine most fetching and effective Queens and Presidents' wives, none was born to the role. The richest was a souless Paris architecture student when she met her royal husband, the youngest a none too efficient stenographer. Only three come of wealthy families. One Queen was born a princess; one princess had been a movie queen. One President's wife is d escended from the Spanish conquistadors, another from African warriors.
For all their differences, the nine First Ladies would probably get along famously at one of the hen parties that are among the most onerous burdens of Queens and Presidents' wives. All but two could gossip in English and in French. Jacqueline Kennedy and the Empress Farah are both amateur painters of competence. Jordan's Princess Muna and Brazil's Maria Tereza Goulart both think Frank Sinatra is the most. They are fond of serious music; almost all play the piano. Iran's Farah, the Ivory Coast's Marie-Thérèse Houphouet-Boigny and Monaco's Princess Grace all buy clothes from Dior, though Grace also fancies Balenciaga (who designed Belgian Queen Fabiola's mink-trimmed bridal gown), and in her Hollywood days was dressed by Oleg Cassini (now Jackie's couturier). Save for Fabiola, who had a miscarriage last summer but is reported pregnant again, all the reigning beauties are devoted mothers whose main occupational complaint is that their children have to spend too much time in the hands of nannies.
The prevalence of beauty and charm in high places is largely a byproduct of democracy; outside Britain, even royalty nowadays is generally free to choose and marry for love. Most of the reigning beauties also meet democracy's most demanding criterion of successful first-ladyship: each, in her way, embodies her country's ideal of womanhood. They are fond of outdoor life; they swim, ride horseback, play tennis or golf. They are enthusiastic and effective sponsors of charitable and cultural causes. Virtually without exception, they are chic, vivacious, quick-witted and warm. Above all, they are immense political and social assets to their husbands. Watching their wives at the center of attention during a recent Washington banquet, John Kennedy quipped to the Shah of Iran: "We might as well have both stayed at home."