Detailed Pedia

List of memoirs by first ladies of the United States

The First Lady of the United States is the hostess of the White House. The position is traditionally filled by the wife of the President of the United States, with some historic exceptions. Eleven First Ladies have written memoirs, and several others have had their correspondence published. Every memoir by a First Lady published in the 20th and 21st centuries has been a best seller, at times outselling those of their presidential husbands.[1][2]


Abigail Adams had her correspondence published as Letters of Mrs. Adams, the Wife of John Adams in the early 1800s, and Louisa Adams "made several attempts at an autobiography", though she never sought to publish them.[1] The Memoirs and Letters of Dolley Madison, Wife of James Madison, President of the United States were published in 1886 but were actually written by Lucia Cutts.[3] Julia Grant was the first to write and attempt to publish her memoirs, writing The Personal Memoirs of Julia Dent Grant in the 1890s after the death of her husband, Ulysses S. Grant. However, she never found a suitable publisher for them before her death in 1902, in part because she had unrealistic expectations of their value. The memoirs were eventually published in 1975.[4] Helen Taft was the first First Lady to get her memoir published during her lifetime.[1] After Taft, several First Ladies wrote their own memoirs, including Edith Wilson, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Lady Bird Johnson.[2] In the 1930s Grace Coolidge published her memoirs as several articles in The American Magazine.[3] Memoirs by presidential spouses were uncommon until the publication of Betty Ford's in the 1970s. Since then, every First Lady has written and published at least one memoir about their life.[2]

Early published memoirs focused on relatively trivial matters and were aimed at women, for instance, Helen Taft's memoirs were described by The New York Sun as "bright, witty, delightfully entertaining reminiscences," upon publication. Edith Wilson's were criticized for focusing on clothing and social events. Eleanor Roosevelt, who wrote four autobiographies, marked a shift in the content of the memoirs, writing more about political issues and less on her personal life. Lady Bird Johnson condensed a dictated two-million-word transcript into 300,000 for A White House Diary, which outsold her husband Lyndon B. Johnson's memoir.[5] In the 1960s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was involved in editing two books by Molly Thayer, Jacqueline Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years.[3]

Memoirs written by Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter and Barbara Bush also outsold the memoirs of their husbands.[1] My Turn by Nancy Reagan, published in 1989, was nicknamed My Burn for its "vengeful" coverage of Reagan's life, particularly in the White House. The book sold very well, remaining on The New York Times Best Seller list for more than three months.[5][6] Michelle Obama's memoir Becoming was published in 2018.[7] She received over $60 million in advance of publication, and the book has sold over 11.5 million copies.[8][9]


Note: Only publication information for the first edition is given.
Title First Lady Publisher Date Identifier Note(s)
The Personal Memoirs of Julia Dent Grant Julia Grant Putnam Publishing Group 1975 ISBN 9780399113864 [note 1]
Recollections of Full Years Helen Taft Dodd, Mead & Company 1914 OCLC 1071952821
My Memoir Edith Wilson Bobbs-Merrill Company 1939 OCLC 300015696
This is My Story Eleanor Roosevelt Harper & Brothers 1937 OCLC 1222392544
This I Remember Eleanor Roosevelt Harper & Brothers 1949 OCLC 1222358304
On My Own Eleanor Roosevelt Harper & Brothers 1958 OCLC 1007583041
The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt Eleanor Roosevelt Harper & Brothers 1961 OCLC 241967 [note 2]
A White House Diary Lady Bird Johnson Holt, Rinehart & Winston 1970 ISBN 0030852544
The Times of My Life Betty Ford Harper & Row 1978 ISBN 978-0-06-011298-1 [note 3]
Betty — A Glad Awakening Betty Ford Doubleday 1987 ISBN 978-0-385-23502-0 [note 3]
First Lady from Plains Rosalynn Carter Houghton Mifflin 1984 ISBN 9780395352946
Everything to Gain: Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life Rosalynn Carter Random House 1987 ISBN 9780394558585 [note 4]
Nancy: The Autobiography of America's First Lady Nancy Reagan HarperCollins 1980 ISBN 978-0-688-03533-4 [note 5]
My Turn: The Memoirs of Nancy Reagan Nancy Reagan Random House 1989 ISBN 0-394-56368-9 [note 6]
Barbara Bush: A Memoir Barbara Bush Scribner 1994 ISBN 978-0-02-519635-3
Reflections: Life After the White House Barbara Bush Scribner 2004 ISBN 978-0743255820
Living History Hillary Clinton Simon & Schuster 2003 ISBN 978-0-7432-2224-2
Hard Choices Hillary Clinton Simon & Schuster 2014 ISBN 978-1-4767-5144-3
What Happened Hillary Clinton Simon & Schuster 2017 ISBN 978-1501175565
Spoken from the Heart Laura Bush Scribner 2010 ISBN 9781439155202
Becoming Michelle Obama Crown Publishing Group 2018 ISBN 9781524763138

See also



  1. ^ Grant tried but was unable to secure a publisher for her memoirs during her lifetime.[4]
  2. ^ Compiled material from her first three autobiographies with additional chapters.[10]
  3. ^ a b Written with Chris Chase.[11][12]
  4. ^ Written with husband Jimmy Carter.[13]
  5. ^ Written with Bill Libby.[14]
  6. ^ Written with William Novak.[15]


  1. ^ a b c d Fehrman, Craig (May 21, 2010), "First Lady Lit", The New York Times, retrieved March 30, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c Sánchez, Bianca. "The History of First Ladies' Memoirs". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 2020-11-20.
  3. ^ a b c Anthony, Carl (May 18, 2016). "First Ladies as Author". The National First Ladies' Library. Retrieved 2020-11-21.
  4. ^ a b "The Personal Memoirs of Julia Dent Grant". U.S. National Park Service. Retrieved 2020-11-20.
  5. ^ a b Brockell, Gillian. "Julia Grant couldn't find a publisher for her memoir. Michelle Obama got paid millions for hers". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2020-11-20.
  6. ^ Fehrman, Craig (2012). "Reagan and the Rise of the Blockbuster Political Memoir". American Literary History. 24 (3): 468–490. doi:10.1093/alh/ajs031. ISSN 0896-7148.
  7. ^ Haring, Bruce (February 25, 2018). "Michelle Obama Memoir 'Becoming' Set For November Release". Deadline.
  8. ^ "Michelle Obama's book is set to become the best-selling memoir in history". NBC News. Retrieved 2020-11-20.
  9. ^ "Michelle Obama signs 'Becoming' copies on book's anniversary". AP NEWS. 2019-11-19. Retrieved 2020-11-20.
  10. ^ Laski, Marghanita (3 August 1962). "Eleanor Roosevelt's autobiography – archive,". the Guardian. Retrieved 2020-11-21.
  11. ^ Howard, Jane (2018-12-21). "Notes From the Book Review Archives (Published 2018)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-11-21.
  12. ^ "Betty — A Glad Awakening". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved 2020-11-21.
  13. ^ Carter, Jimmy; Carter, Rosalynn (1987). Everything to Gain: Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life. University of Arkansas Press. ISBN 978-1-55728-388-7.
  14. ^ Quinn, Sally (1980-05-01). "Nancy Reagan On the Road To the Realm". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2020-11-21.
  15. ^ "My Turn". Publisher's Weekly. Retrieved 2020-11-21.

Further reading

  • Wertheimer, Molly Meijer, ed. (2004), Inventing a Voice: The Rhetoric of American First Ladies of the Twentieth Century, Rowman & Littlefield, ISBN 9780742529717.

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