In this lesson, students explore the role and impact of recent First Ladies through research and family interviews, then work in groups to present a documentary portrait to the class.
How have recent First Ladies contributed to American society?
Begin by talking with students about the First Lady. What do we mean by that term? Who is the First Lady today? Who are some other First Ladies the students may know about (e.g., Martha Washington, Eleanor Roosevelt)? What does the First Lady do? Explain that in this lesson they will learn more about the role of the First Lady by exploring one recent First Lady's career in the White House.
Divide the class into small research teams of 3-4 students and assign each team one of these recent former-First Ladies:
Have students research their First Lady using the resources of the National First Ladies Library website on EDSITEment. Click the "Bibliography" button on the website's homepage for a visual index of all the nation's First Ladies, shown in chronological order. Click any picture to access bibliographic information about that First Lady, including lists of magazine articles, books, and manuscript collections, as well as a link to a brief biography of the First Lady at the White House website.
As they gather facts about their First Lady, have each student research team brainstorm questions they will ask older family members about the First Lady's time in the White House. Direct students to draw up a list of at least five questions that all members of the group will use as the basis of their at-home interviews. These should include:
Have each student team member interview one or two older family members who lived during the First Lady's time in the White House. Students can record their interviews using a tape recorder or video camera, conduct the interview by email, or simply take notes. Encourage students to ask family members for their personal impressions and memories of the First Lady in order to gain a sense of her relationship with the American public and the role she played in society.
After they have conducted their interviews, have each student research team prepare a five to ten minute documentary portrait of their First Lady for presentation to the class. These presentations should include:
Close this lesson with a class discussion on how students think a man will fit into the First Lady's role when Americans elect their first woman President. To what degree is this a gender-specific role, a focus for public concern with stereotypically feminine issues (family, children, health, beauty, culture)? To what degree is it a role open to any "partner in power" willing to take advantage of the public forum afforded by the White House? Conclude this discussion by having students write a brief imaginative news story about a male "First Lady" of the future, describing what he would say and do on a visit to your community.
Have students use the resources of the National First Ladies Library website to investigate how the role of the First Lady has changed throughout our nation's history. To what extent have our First Ladies reflected prevailing American attitudes about "a woman's place" in society? To what extent have they helped change attitudes?
2 class periods