Since George Washington made it clear that Martha was his partner in the presidency by providing her with her own schedule of meetings and having her serve as hostess and surrogate, first ladies have each defined the role as it best suited their backgrounds, personalities, the times, and their husbands’ views of the role. Some duties, however, remain the same since Martha and contribute to the informal or “soft” power of the first lady. This program looks at the position from the perspective of two individuals who worked for first ladies and who study them.
Moderated by Diana Carlin, featuring Michel LaRosa and Anita McBride.
Anita McBride currently serves as Executive-in-Residence at the School of Public Affairs at American University, where she directs programming on the historical influence of America’s first ladies. She is a co-founder of the First Ladies Association for Research and Education (FLARE) and has co-authored a forthcoming textbook on the legacies of U.S. first ladies. McBride’s public service spans more than 30 years during three presidential administrations, culminating as Chief of Staff to First Lady Laura Bush. She also serves on a number of boards and councils, including the White House Historical Association; is the recipient of many awards and commendations; and is a frequent speaker, print source contributor and news commentator on the operations and history of the White House and its occupants.
Michael LaRosa served as Press Secretary to First Lady Jill Biden and Special Assistant to President Joseph R. Biden. Michael planned all media/press strategy and was the chief advocate for the needs of the traveling press corps on the First Lady’s historic surprise visit to a war zone in western Ukraine and her events at the NATO, G-7, and G-20 Summits and the Summit of the Americas. He traveled with the First Lady to over 75 cities, 40 states, and 18 countries. He is currently director at Penta (formerly Hamilton Place Strategies), where he provides strategic communications counsel to clients based on his over 15 years of experience working at the intersection of media, government, and politics. Michael is also an ABC News Political Contributor, where he provides analysis of Congress, campaigns, elections, and news of the day on ABC News platforms.
Diana B. Carlin is professor emerita of communication at Saint Louis University and a retired professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas, where she taught a course on women in politics that included first ladies. In fall 2022, she taught courses on first ladies at Saint Louis University and American University. She has authored book chapters on Martha Washington, Lady Bird Johnson, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Michelle Obama, and she is currently writing one of Julia Grant. She is the co-author of the first textbook on first ladies, U.S. First Ladies: Making History and Leaving Legacies due for publication later in 2023. She is a founding member of the First Ladies Association for Research and Education (FLARE).
The Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics is dedicated to promoting political and civic participation as well as civil discourse in a bipartisan, philosophically balanced manner. It is located on KU’s West Campus and houses the Dole Archive and Special Collections. Through its robust public programming, congressional archive, and museum, the Dole Institute strives to celebrate public service and the legacies of US Senators Bob Dole and Elizabeth Dole.
The First Ladies Association for Research and Education (FLARE) was founded on June 21, 2021, through a collaboration with American University’s School of Public Affairs and its First Ladies Institute. Its mission to create and sustain a network of promote and publicize research and education relevant to the contributions, lives, impacts, and lasting legacies of U.S. first ladies.
A booksale and signing will follow the program.
This program is presented in partnership with FLARE as well as KU’s Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Political Science departments.
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