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The First Ladies of the USA and their scandalous pasts

While America’s President has always been backed up by his righthand man, the Vice President, everyone knows that it’s the First Ladies of the USA who run the show. She's the woman who Americans look up to. Some would say she's every bit as important as the Head of State himself.

There are definitely certain qualities America looks for in First Ladies. In a perfect world, we’d like them to be intelligent, elegant, witty, a supportive partner, a good mother, among a number of other idealistic characteristics. But what we don’t realise is that First Ladies are people just like us and they make just as big mistakes as the rest of us. While some Americans questioned Slovene-born Melania Trump’s ability to live up to the cherished Michelle Obama, what they conveniently forget is that the First Ladies of the past have been rumoured to be not as virtuous as they initially appeared.

Laura Bush

When it comes to haunting pasts, Laura Bush has admitted there was one incident from when she was a teenager that she never managed to recover from. The 43rd First Lady of the United States was only 17 when she ran a stop sign on a dark country road while driving to the cinema, hitting a car being driven by Mike Douglas, a fellow student at her school. Tragically, Douglas, a 17-year-old star sportsman, was killed by the impact of the crash. Years later Bush - who was never charged with anything - spoke of her guilt over the accident and claimed that she lost her faith afterwards for "many, many years".

Laura Bush, one of the First Ladies of the US Credit: Getty Images

Martha Washington

Before her marriage to President George Washington, America’s very first First Lady was married to wealthy Williamsburg plantation heir, Daniel Parke Custis, who was 20 years older than her. But some accounts of history claim that the marriage was tested when Martha grew to despise her husband’s father, John Custis IV, said to be an unreasonable man who often caused trouble in her marriage. When her husband died seven years after they married, Martha is rumoured to have paid a visit to John’s mansion to auction off his property - but not before she smashed a priceless wine glass to smithereens for vengeance.

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Betty Ford

Most Americans old enough to recall Betty Ford’s reign as First Lady will remember her fondly, although one could certainly say she welcomed controversy. President Gerald Ford is said to have been apprehensive about the marriage in the first place, as they tied the knot just weeks before election day and Betty was known for her reliance on alcohol and pain medication. But he got the job and his wife’s progressive attitude continued to shock the nation, including in an 1975 interview in which she said she "would not be surprised" if her 18-year-old daughter had unmarried sex and that her children had "probably" tried marijuana, openly admitting that she would "probably" have done so too when she was young if she'd had the chance. Oh, not to mention that she shared a bedroom with her husband, going against convention at the time.

Betty Ford, one of the First Ladies of the USA Credit: Getty Images

Jackie Kennedy

Jackie Kennedy is remembered for always looking fabulous, but did you ever wonder just how much money it takes to look that good all the time? The style icon’s expensive taste got her into some trouble when it was reported that she had spent $45,446 more on fashion than her husband’s $100,000 annual salary. No wonder she always looked so amazing!

Jackie Kennedy, one of the first ladies of the USA Credit: Getty Images

Mary Todd Lincoln

According to the historians, President Abraham Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, grew up in a wealthy family and was accustomed to a certain lifestyle - and she certainly wasn’t about to give it up anytime soon. Mary is said to have redecorated the White House using federal funds, pressuring Republican appointees into donating money, claiming that they “owed” her husband for their jobs. Apparently, eventually she began to fire off White House staff and sell excess White House manure to account for her expensive taste!

Mary Todd Lincoln, one of the First Ladies of the USA Credit: Getty Images

Rachel Jackson

Although Rachel Jackson is remembered for her marriage to President Andrew Jackson, what people don’t know is that she was married before to a man named Lewis Robards, who was said to be abusive. Shockingly, Rachel and soon-to-be-President Andrew are rumoured to have eloped while she was still married to Lewis. Despite the fact that Lewis requested a divorce soon after, this obviously meant that the validity of their union was heavily questioned by the public.

Rachel Jackson, one of the First Ladies of the USA Credit: Getty Images

Edith Wilson

First Ladies of the USA, of course, are unelected and do not interfere with government work. But it seems no one told Edith Wilson this. Reportedly, when her husband President Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke in 1919, she took control to stop Vice-President Thomas Marshall from taking over office. Edith is said to have sat in on Oval Office meetings and screened the bedridden President’s visitors. Not long after, no one was allowed access to her husband with many around her describing Edith as “commander-in-chief” until the end of the Presidency in 1921.

Edith Wilson, one of the first ladies of the USA Credit: Getty Images

Nancy Reagan

An interest in astrology could be seen as a healthy hobby - but not when Nancy Reagan got involved. Nancy is said to have taken her interest too far and, after the assassination attempt on husband President Ronald Reagan in 1981, she based her husband’s schedule around astrology, using it to determine the best times and locations for Presidential duties to remain out of harm's way. Eventually, the study of the movements of celestial objects is rumoured to have dictated the President's entire schedule. However, her relationship with her husband was not without bumps in the road with them both rumoured to have been unfaithful; him with a string of A-list actresses and her with Frank Sinatra.

Nancy Reagan, one of the first ladies of the USA, with her husband and Frank Sinatra Credit: Getty Images

Florence Harding

Florence Harding’s time as First Lady didn’t get off to a smooth start when the public food out that she had eloped at age 19 with a man named Henry DeWolfe but ended up divorcing after only six years - and after the birth of a child, something that was pretty outrageous back in 1886. But Florence’s reign was about to get even more scandalous with the death of her husband. When President Warren G. Harding died in 1923, Florence decided to skip the autopsy, prompting nasty rumours that she had poisoned him as revenge for having multiple affairs with other women.

Florence Harding, one of the First Ladies of the USA Credit: Getty Images

Eleanor Roosevelt

It’s a well-known fact that Presidents often stray from their wives, but it’s somewhat more rare to hear of First Ladies looking elsewhere. But Eleanor Roosevelt wasn’t one to play by sexist rules and is said to have embarked on multiple affairs, one with New York state trooper Earl Miller, her driver and body guard who was 13 years her junior. However, perhaps the most scandalous liaison of Eleanor’s was her rumoured passionate lesbian love affair with a journalist named Lorena Hickock, who was covering President Franklin Roosevelt's campaign trail.

Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the first ladies of the USA Credit: Getty Images

Lou Henry Hoover

Back in the day, First Ladies were expected to sit by their husband’s side, smiling pretty. But Lou Henry Hoover, wife of President Herbert Hoover wasn’t up for that. Instead, she joined the action in China during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 and was seen serving tea and supplies to troops on a bicycle. An American journalist also told of the moment when shells hit the Hoover home; apparently, Lou went to check the large hole in the backyard and then sat calmly and played cards while the stairway bannister was splintered by stray bullets. You could say she certainly wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. She is also said to have learnt Chinese so eavesdroppers wouldn’t know what she was conversing about in the White House. Pretty badass, right?

Lou Henry Hoover, one of the first ladies of the USA Credit: Getty Images

So, amid the illicit love affairs, alleged poisonings and violent tantrums, don’t you think Melania Trump is looking pretty clean cut right now? Although, I think we can all agree that as scandalous as the First Ladies of the USA were rumoured to be, they were still pretty awesome. Meanwhile, in far more recent news, Donald Trump was more controversial than all of the First Ladies put together when he ridiculed journalists in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

  • Sep
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  • Emma Brazell