Michelle Obama: First Lady of Firsts

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Michelle ObamaMichelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama is our nation’s first African-American First Lady of the United States. Wife of our incumbent and 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, she is also mother to two daughters — Malia Ann, soon-to-be 14-years old and Sasha, age 11. She is sister to her only sibling, Oregon State University men’s basketball coach, Craig Robinson, and daughter to “First Grandmother” Marian Shields Robinson.

As the nation’s first African-American First Lady, Michelle Obama is also the first First Lady with a family history that includes forbearers who were owned as slaves before the Civil War on both sides of her family. According to genealogical research, her maternal great-great-great grandmother was a slave “became pregnant by a white man” while her “paternal great-great grandfather, Jim Robinson,” was a slave in the low country region of South Carolina.

First Lady, First Mother
As mother to her youngest daughter, Sasha, Michelle became a parent to the youngest child living in the White House since John F. Kennedy, Jr. moved in with his mother and father, former President John F. Kennedy and then-First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

When asked to define herself, the First Lady usually first answers with the response of being a mother to her two daughters, Malia and Sasha. She is very aware of the challenges of raising children whether a mother works outside of the home or not, however she frequently uses examples from her own juggling of career and motherhood to emphasize the struggles of mothers who work outside the home. Yet she fully recognizes the real work of motherhood with its own requirements and challenges, publically thanking her mother Marian and referring to her as her “rock.” In her work to support military families, Michelle often speaks at events where she specifically emphasizes the contributions of military mothers and wives as “outstanding role models” and underscores these women’s contributions to “their children, communities and country.”

The First Lady has also recognized the tremendous time and energy required in her current role, despite not working outside the White House. Toward this end, she early on invited her own mother Marian Robinson to live at the White House and help care for the First Daughters, Malia and Sasha. Finally, Michelle’s devotion to her daughters continues to be apparent even as she has challenged the role of First Lady and made it her own. When now asked to rate her accomplishments, she will often respond by pointing to her daughters’ “sanity” or their relatively normal childhood while growing up in the White House.

First Lady, First Student
Former First Ladies Hillary Clinton — now the 67th United States Secretary of State under the Obama administration — and Laura Bush both completed postgraduate degrees, making Michelle Obama the third First Lady to continue her education beyond a bachelor’s degree. In addition to this distinction, Michelle is only the second First Lady to earn a Juris Doctor (JD) degree and work as a practicing attorney, after Hillary Clinton’s inaugural degree in this area. Mrs. Obama is, however, the first First Lady to complete both stages of her education at Ivy League Schools, attending Princeton University for an undergraduate degree in sociology and black studies and earning her law degree from Harvard University.

In addition to her degrees, Michelle Obama is only the second First Lady to speak French, following her oft-compared predecessor, former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. According to some sources, she successfully challenged the way in which French was taught while still an undergraduate student at Princeton.

First Lady, First Fashion
Michelle Obama has returned a sense of fashion savvy and flair to the White House. Capable of wearing designer gowns with the same élan as did former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, Mrs. Obama chooses not to be dressed in one designer’s style, in anonymous-looking outfits that would render her wallpaper or even in outfits chosen for her by a stylist. Instead, she relies on her own sense of style and years of experience as a career woman to chose clothing appropriate to a specific occasion. Michelle has appeared at functions mixing haute couture with on the rack finds and garnered nothing but praise for her fashion savvy.

First Lady, First Food
In addition to her work on behalf of military families, First Lady Michelle Obama has established the “Let’s Move” program to fight the epidemic of childhood obesity in the US. As part of “Let’s Move,” she promotes the use of fresh, organic foods and has specified the use of such in the White House kitchen. For the first time since the Roosevelt administration, she has planted a White House garden and beehives for organic honey.