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  • George W. Bush Presidential Center

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George W. Bush Presidential Center Hosted an In-Depth Look at the Significant Role of the American First Lady

September 14, 2012

The George W. Bush Presidential Center convened the second in a series of three Texas conferences exploring the role and historic significance of the First Ladies of the United States. Through expanded collaboration with the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, American University, The White House Historical Association and Southern Methodist University, the conference highlighted the policy influence of America’s First Ladies, pulled back the curtain in the East Wing and gave an intimate glimpse of the lives of some of the world’s most powerful women.

“As First Lady, you think of the challenges our country has faced and what we’ve overcome,” said former First Lady Mrs. Laura Bush. “It’s comforting to know that we can overcome things like 9/11, and there’s a great continuity of living in the house where all of the Presidents have lived.”

President George W. Bush introduced his mother, Barbara Bush, and his wife, Laura Bush, who reflected on their experiences as First Ladies with Pulitzer Prize winning author and Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.

The conference included a probing look at First Ladies as influence makers with Emmy Award-winning journalist Cokie Roberts, Catherine Allgor, Professor of History and UC Presidential Chair at the University of California at Riverside, Allida Black, executive editor of the fdr4freedoms Digital Initiative and the founder of the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, and Amity Shlaes, the director of the 4% Growth Project at the George W. Bush Institute.

“What is so remarkable about all of these women is the guts they’ve shown, the brains they have, their stamina beyond imagination and their ability and willingness to rise above it all,” said Allida Black.

Presidential historians and White House insiders shared their perspectives on the role of First Lady, for which there is no job description.

“Each First Lady plays a slightly different role based on her interests and passions, what she cares about and what she pursues,” said Anita McBride, former Special Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to First Lady Mrs. Laura Bush, and Chairman of the First Ladies Conference series. “First Ladies are some of the most publicly scrutinized figures in the world, but these conferences serve to unlock some of the mystery behind the job of the person who is closest to the leader of the free world.”

Throughout American history, First Ladies of the United States have played an influential role in American politics, domestic policy, and global diplomacy. The women who shared this unique experience have served as policy advisors, diplomats, hostesses and national role models. They helped shape societal attitudes and have

used their platform to advocate for important initiatives and policies affecting the United States and people around the world.

Presidential historian Richard Norton Smith moderated a panel of former White House social secretaries Bess Abell, Catherine Fenton and Laurie Firestone. Former White House photographers David Hume Kennerly, Carol Powers and Susan Sterner took conference participants on a visual tour of the life of a First Lady, each presenting a series of images they captured while serving during the Ford, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush presidencies.

The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum hosted the first conference in the series in November 2011 and the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum will host the final conference later this year.

To view a recorded version of the conference, please visit www.bushcenter.com.

About the George W. Bush Institute: The George W. Bush Presidential Center will be located on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas. It is made up of the Presidential Library and Museum, and the Bush Institute, an action oriented policy institution. For more information, please visit www.bushcenter.com or follow us onFacebook and Twitter.