Remarks by Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution
Thank you, Brent. Mrs. Obama, ladies and gentlemen, good morning. I, too, would like to welcome you to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History on this special occasion.
Special thanks to all the museum board members, especially board chair John Rogers for the generous donation of his time, talent, and resources over the years—and particularly today.
The First Ladies Collection is one of the most enduring and popular exhibitions at the Smithsonian. Today, we celebrate the newest addition to the First Ladies collection—the ball gown worn by First Lady Michelle Obama on inauguration night. As you can see, it is stunning.
On behalf of the Smithsonian, I would like to thank Mrs. Obama for highlighting the significance of this presentation. And we thank Jason Wu for his beautiful design that we will add to our collection.
As Brent said, Flag Hall in this museum is America’s “public square.” It is our public square on our National Mall—where history is made and celebrated. More than a million people were on the National Mall for the historic swearing in of President Obama—who can ever forget that? At the Smithsonian, we are dedicated to making sure that no one ever does. During that four-day weekend, we had nearly 750,000 visitors at our many museums and the National Zoo here in our nation’s capital. There is clearly a curiosity on the part of the public for information about our country’s art, science, history and culture.
As you see in this beautifully restored building, we present some of America’s greatest treasures, including the Star-Spangled Banner. We tell the story of all Americans to every American. We do this here, across the country, and around the world. We offer our nation’s best. And this month, across the Institution, we celebrate Women’s History Month with many exhibitions and public programs.
The First Ladies Collection is a display of the creations of talented designers such as Jason Wu. It is also the story of the challenges of our nation’s First Ladies. Fortunately, in times of war and peace, our nation has been blessed with many gifted, determined women such as Dolley Madison, Eleanor Roosevelt, Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama.
Their lives are inspiring stories for all young women and men—such as the students from Huntington High School we have here today. They are our future designers, poets, politicians, athletes, scientists and explorers. It is the job of our generation to pass on the values and beliefs that make this country great to the next generation. The Smithsonian, with more than 137 million items in its collections, offers many ways to do that.
Take the one example we celebrate today—clothing. In our collections we have Amelia Earhart’s flight jacket, Sally Ride’s space suit, Celia Cruz’s shoes, Billy Jean King’s tennis dress, Marian Anderson’s fur coat, and moccasins from the Lakota Tribe.
The First Lady’s gown is just the starting point for what we hope will be a journey of discovery into design, art, politics, culture—wherever your curiosity leads you. We are here to initiate, engage, and continue the dialogue. We do so thanks to the generous support of our friends in the Administration, on Capitol Hill, and here in this room. We take our duty to the American people seriously.
At the re-opening of this museum in November of 2008, historian David McCullough said, “…Never has an understanding of our story as a people, of who we are and how we came to be the way we are, and what we stand for, been of such importance as right now.”
We thank the First Lady for coming to our National Museum of American History today, and for her previous support of our Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum when she graciously hosted a White House event.
As First Lady, she’s active on a number of issues, supporting military families, helping working women balance career and family, encouraging national service, promoting the arts and arts education, and fostering healthy eating and healthy living for children and families across the country.
In a speech last year, the First Lady said, “The arts are not just a nice thing to have or to do if there is free time or if one can afford it. Rather, paintings and poetry, music and fashion, design and dialogue, they all define who we are as a people and provide an account of our history for the next generation.”
Please welcome First Lady, Michelle Obama.