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First Ladies at the Smithsonian

First Ladies at the Smithsonian

December 19, 2008 – October 31, 2011

Museum: American History Museum

Location: 2nd Floor, West Wing

This exhibition highlights the role of the first lady and features in two galleries a total of 24 first ladies' gowns and more than 100 other objects, including portraits, White House china, and personal possessions from the Smithsonian's collection. A section discussing the tradition of the first ladies' inaugural gown answers some of the most frequently asked questions about the gown collection. Another section focuses on the contributions of the first ladies, the country's expectations of them, and the ways in which they have supported the most powerful office in the country.

Gowns on view in the first gallery include those worn by Helen Taft (2), Martha Washington, Mary Todd Lincoln, Lucy Hayes, Frances Cleveland, Florence Harding, Grace Coolidge, Dolley Madison, Julia Grant, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mamie Eisenhower, and Jacqueline Kennedy.

The Modern Gown Gallery: A First Lady's Debut
March 10, 2010-October 10, 2011 (new closing date)
This new gallery features 11 inaugural gowns from the country's contemporary first ladies, beginning with Mamie Eisenhower to Michelle Obama. It focuses on the public interest and media coverage of the first lady's "debut" during the inauguration, using contemporary accounts to relay first impressions of each woman and the role she might play in the White House. The white chiffon, one-shoulder, floor-length gown that Jason Wu designed for Michelle Obama to wear to the 2009 inaugural balls, along with shoes by Jimmy Choo and the diamond jewelry she wore, is displayed in a case in the center of the gallery. Also on view in the hallway outside this gallery are watercolor sketches of 14 gowns from the collection.

YouTube Video: Museum staff members provide a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the work involved in conserving the first ladies' dresses and accessories.

6-minute video featuring First Lady Michelle Obama's donation of her inaugural gown to the museum, with remarks by designer Jason Wu mand Secretary Clough (runs continuously in the exhibition)

More Information

Online Exhibition