Melania Trump’s 1 Special White House Project, and How It Compares to Other First Ladies

Each president’s wife has played a historic role during her time in the White House. From women’s issues to social issues to addiction to education, first ladies have all made their mark and created a legacy with special projects.

Here we’ll look at the pet projects of first ladies from Jackie Kennedy through Melania Trump. Several of these have actually incited vast controversy: See which first lady resorted to wearing a bulletproof vest in public (page 8) and why Melania’s chosen social cause has certainly been under fire as well (page 11).

1. Jackie Kennedy

US First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy is greeted by the crowd during her visit in Paris

Kennedy believed in the importance of the arts. | -/AFP/Getty Images

  • Years as first lady: 1961-1963
  • Special project: Promoting the arts

Jackie Kennedy devoted her time as first lady to promotion of America’s arts and preservation of its history. She undertook a major restoration of the White House and hosted social events where political and artistic figures mixed. With her husband’s tragic assassination in 1963, she never got to meet her goal of creating a Department of the Arts.

However, Jackie did contribute to the founding of two agencies established under President Andrew Johnson: National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment of the Humanities.

Next: Her project started days after JFK’s assassination.

2. Lady Bird Johnson

Johnson believed in beautifying the country. | Simon & Schuster Books via YouTube

  • Years as first lady: 1963-1969
  • Special project: Preserving nature

Lady Bird Johnson commanded the planting of millions of trees and flowers throughout Washington D.C. parks in the bleak days following John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Her efforts inspired similar programs throughout he country. She promoted the Highway Beautification Act, which was nicknamed “Lady Bird’s Bill.” Its goal was to beautify America’s highways by planting along the roads and limiting billboards.

Next: She toured the nation to promote her cause.

3. Pat Nixon

Portrait of former First Lady Pat Nixon wife of American President Richard Nixon

Nixon believed in volunteering in your community. | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

  • Years as first lady: 1969-1974
  • Special project: Promoting volunteerism

While first lady, Pat Nixon promoted volunteerism, in which she encouraged Americans to volunteer at hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and civic organizations. As part of the effort, she went on tours, visiting different volunteer programs. In her second tour, she was said to boost the notion that not all students were protesting the Vietnam War.

Next: She was publicly booed for promoting women’s rights.

4. Betty Ford


Betty Ford was a champion of women’s rights. | Stephen Jaffe/AFP/Getty Images

  • Years as first lady: 1974-1977
  • Special project: Women’s rights

Betty Ford was a prominent force in the women’s movement of the 1970s. She was unapologetically pro-choice and supported the Equal Rights Amendment, lobbying state legislatures to ratify it. In public, she drew boos from demonstrators against the amendment. It stated that equal rights shall not be denied by any state on account of sex.

While the amendment was passed by Congress in 1972, 38 state legislatures needed to approve it. Ultimately, it failed to meet its 1982 deadline, falling three states short of ratification.

Next: She sought to remove stigma around a taboo subject.

5. Rosalynn Carter

President Jimmy Carter with Rosalynn and Amy

Carter believed in mental healthcare access for all. | -/AFP/Getty Images

  • Years as first lady: 1977-1981
  • Special project: Mental health awareness

As first lady, Rosalynn Carter announced early on her goal was to help every person receive mental health care who needed it and to remove the stigma surrounding mental health. “It’s been taboo for so long to admit you had a mental health problem,” she told The New York Times in 1977.

Carter served as honorary chair of the President’s Commission on Mental health and testified before the Senate on behalf of the Mental Health System Bill, enacted in 1980.

Next: She started a campaign with a well-known slogan.

6. Nancy Reagan

Reagan’s “Just Say No” slogan became an icon of the ’80s. | Ronald Reagan Presidental Library/Getty Image

  • Years as first lady: 1981-1989
  • Special project: Drug awareness

While in the White House, Nancy Reagan came to focus on drug awareness. She founded the “Just Say No” drug awareness campaign. She decided on that name when a schoolgirl asked her what to do when offered drugs and she responded, “Just say no.” Her initiative focused on drug education and informing young people of the danger of drug abuse.

As first lady, Reagan recorded public service announcements and traveled the U.S., visiting drug rehabilitation centers. Post-presidency, she continued to speak out against drug and alcohol abuse.

Next: She wanted libraries to be a welcoming place.

7. Barbara Bush

U.S. President George Bush and wife, Barbara, wave to a crowd of supporters

Bush was a literacy advocate. | J.DAVID AKE/AFP/Getty Images

  • Years as first lady: 1989-1993
  • Special project: Supporting family literacy

As first lady, Barbara Bush became involved with various literacy organizations and went on to establish the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. Its mission is to develop family literacy programs, break the intergenerational cycle of illiteracy, and establish literacy as an American family value.

Bush hoped all Americans would feel welcome at libraries. “Our young people need to know that reading is a joy as well as the most essential of skills,” she said. “Both children and adults should come to know that libraries are inviting, accessible places dedicated to the joy of reading.”

Next: She wore a bullet-proof vest during a tour.

8. Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton was pushing for healthcare reform 25 years ago. | Tim Clary/AFP/Getty Images

  • Years as first lady: 1993-2001
  • Special project: Healthcare reform

While in the White House, Hillary Clinton chaired a task force in 1993 on national healthcare reform. She crafted a proposal that would require employers to provide health coverage to employees through individual HMOs. Many in Congress opposed it, however, including fellow Democrats.

Some American protestors were so hostile that Clinton even wore a bullet-proof vest during a 1994 bus tour to rally support for the plan. The proposal was abandoned in September 1994 since it failed to gather enough support for a Congressional vote.

Next: A first lady who advocated for young children

9. Laura Bush


A former librarian, Bush wanted to improve the education system. | Paul Morigi /Getty Images

  • Years as first lady: 2001-2009
  • Special project: Promoting childhood education

As first lady, Laura Bush focused her attention on education. She testified before the Senate, advocating for higher teacher salaries and better training for Head Start programs. She also created a national initiative promoting reading at a young age.

After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, she spoke regarding America’s schoolchildren: “We need to reassure our children that they are safe in their homes and schools,” she said. “We need to reassure them that many people love them and care for them, and that while there are some bad people in the world, there are many more good people.”

Next: She changed school lunches.

10. Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama Let's Move

Obama worked hard to teach kids healthy habits. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

  • Years as first lady: 2009-2017
  • Special project: Combating childhood obesity

In 2010, Michelle Obama launched Let’s Move!, an initiative to combat childhood obesity. Its goal was to solve the epidemic within a generation. It focused on providing healthier food in public schools, helping kids be more physically active, and urging companies to market healthier foods to children.

The program updated school meal nutrition standards for the first time in 15 years and increased the number of students eligible for the meals at little or no cost.

Next: Why Melania Trump’s project incites criticism

11. Melania Trump

U.S. first lady Melania Trump hosts a roundtable discussion on cyber safety and technology

Trump has been criticized because of her husband’s behavior. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

  • Years as first lady: 2017-present
  • Special project: Curbing cyberbullying

Since Melania Trump became first lady in January 2017, she has made it her mission to help curb cyberbullying. In March 2018, she hosted executives from Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Twitter to make her first public remarks on the topic. She acknowledged her husband is criticized for using Twitter to attack opponents and critics.

“I am well aware that people are skeptical of me discussing this topic,” she said during the meeting. “I have been criticized for my commitment to tackling this issue, and I know that will continue. But it will not stop me from doing what I know is right.”

Check out The Cheat Sheet on Facebook!