Two of the nation's most revered and influential First Ladies, Eleanor Roosevelt and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who also achieved great professional success and personal fulfillment as life-long New Yorkers, are explored in a special loan exhibition at the New-York Historical Society, First Ladies of New York and the Nation.
The Historical Society loan exhibition, featuring some rarely displayed personal items of Mrs. Roosevelt and Mrs. Onassis from the Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy Presidential Libraries and the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, opens March 22 and runs through July 31.
The Historical Society exhibition will run in tandem with First Ladies: Political Role and Public Image, a Smithsonian traveling exhibition that celebrates and showcases the achievements and contributions made by First Ladies throughout American history. U.S. Senator and former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton inaugurated the opening of the two exhibitions at the Historical Society's annual Strawberry Festival benefit luncheon on March 21.
First Ladies of New York and the Nation explores how the life experiences of Eleanor Roosevelt and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis as consummate New Yorkers not only shaped their early development as accomplished young women, but ultimately defined who they were to become and what they achieved from their unique vantage points. The exhibition follows shared trajectories and self-defined milestones in each woman's multi-faceted life, from childhood and school days, through marriage, motherhood and support for powerful husbands, to proud professional achievements after life in the White House. In addition to exploring commonalities in their paths through life, the exhibition examines the relationship between the two, as Eleanor Roosevelt not only forged new ground as First Lady, but also encouraged Jacqueline Kennedy as she assumed that role. "New York is the home of two of America's most famous First Ladies. They were creative and dynamic women who indelibly changed the role of First Lady," said Dr. Mirrer, New-York Historical Society President and CEO. "The modern First Lady is a political campaigner, a spokesperson to the press, someone who actively shapes and promotes the direction of public policy and advocates social causes," Mirrer further noted.
The life of Eleanor Roosevelt is revealed through photos of her as a young New York socialite, her letter to Jacqueline Kennedy offering advice on raising children in the White House, and through her important work as an advocate for the poor and for human rights worldwide. The exhibition shows how Eleanor was instrumental in reshaping the role of the modern First Lady as a powerful advocate for improving the lives of immigrants and the working poor in New York City, and her creation of Val-Kill Industries-located on the Roosevelt estate in Hyde Park, NY-which was a successful social experiment in improving the lives of farmers and the economy of Upstate New York. Although she had already won international respect and admiration in her role as First Lady to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eleanor's later work as a delegate to the United Nations and the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights would become her greatest legacy. She was, without a doubt, the most influential member of the UN's Commission on Human Rights, and this work is explored through the N-YHS exhibition.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' impeccable taste and sense of style influenced far more than fashion. While First Lady she undertook the most ambitious period restoration of the White House in history. Later, her passionate interest in historic preservation and active membership in the Municipal Arts Society resulted in preserving Grand Central Terminal and other cherished landmarks in New York City. Mrs. Onassis' report cards as a student at The Chapin School in Manhattan, to photos of her as an editor at Viking Press, a Carolina Herrera gown she wore at an American Ballet Theater benefit and correspondence from her campaign to save Grand Central Terminal, this exhibition demonstrates how she helped change the way Americans, and the world, perceive our First Ladies. Mrs. Onassis' life is also explored through images from her early childhood, her life with President John F. Kennedy, and her dealings with world leaders in art and politics, including architects I. M. Pei and Philip Johnson, Gloria Steinem, Ed Koch, and former Congressman Adam Clayton Powell. Photographs and objects reflecting her career as an editor at Viking Press and her steadfast and generous support for a number of New York's artistic and cultural institutions, provide a deeper insight into this quintessential New Yorker.
Visitors will also have an opportunity to view the famous 1962 CBS TV program, "A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy," in a special screening on May 17 at 6:30 p.m. and the A&E Network has produced a 10-minute documentary about the life of Eleanor Roosevelt exclusively for this exhibition. Judith Lieber's handbag designs for four First Ladies will also be on view in the exhibit devoted to Eleanor Roosevelt and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
The N-YHS special exhibition complements the Smithsonian's First Ladies: Political Role and Public Image, which is drawn from one of the most popular permanent exhibitions at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. The installation features a variety of White House artifacts, campaign memorabilia, personal belongings and an impressive display of evening gowns worn by First Ladies over the past 200 years, including a black pants suit worn by another First Lady with a distinctly New York presence, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Organized by the National Museum of American History and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), First Ladies: Political Role and Public Image is made possible by the A&E Network.
In addition, a mini-exhibition has been curated in the N-YHS library display cases, by Interim Library Director Nina Nazionale. Included are hand-written letters written by Abigail Adams, Martha Jefferson, Mary Todd Lincoln, Lucretia Garfield and Eleanor Roosevelt.