The most intriguing piece of the trip was the differences between the Presidents and First Ladies exhibits in the National Museum of American History. The two displays share an entrance which then divides into the two different exhibits. It should be noted that as you walk into the room the two exhibits share, you are immediately facing a wall with pictures of each and every President as well as the dates of their terms. It is only when you make a one-eighty degree turn that you can spot the wall introducing the First Ladies exhibit. This wall is hidden from your view when you walk into the room, causing you to immediately focus on what you can see – the Presidents. Additionally, this introductory wall only has pictures of five of the First Ladies without any names. This gives each of the First Ladies a generic feeling, like each of them are just filling a role which never changes and their individual identities just seem unimportant. The layout of these two exhibits even begins what you can think of as the difference in the care that went into them – everyone cares about the Presidents and that was obviously given priority, and the First Ladies were merely an afterthought they threw in so no one would be offended.
As you go on, these differences become even clearer to their viewers. As you go through the exhibits, you come across various signs which say interesting facts about different presidents or the roles that they played as president. In the President’s display, the signs are extremely formal and praise specific accomplishments and deeds done by various presidents. Additionally, each display is packed with information and artifacts, giving viewers plenty to view and read wherever they look. However, in the First Ladies exhibit, literally the entire showing is just china and dresses. As opposed to the jam-packed Presidents hall, the First Ladies exhibit has a few dresses which take up a lot of room. There is not a lot of information on the various First Ladies or many of their achievements. As opposed to the Presidents exhibit, the First Ladies did not place any emphasis at all on what they had been able to do during their tenure as First Ladies. While I was walking around, I heard a few people saying, “Oh wow that is such a nice dress; I really like the way the dress looked on her.” Thus, the way they set up the exhibit puts a focus on the First Ladies’ dresses, bringing a reaction from the audience that almost doesn’t seem to care about anything but how nice they were dressed. The Presidents exhibit is set up in a way that makes you acknowledge all the great things they had done, giving you a feeling of admiration for them. However, the First Ladies fail to do this as it makes its viewers focus much more on how they dressed
Finally, it should be noted that in the picture of Michelle Obama, which included a description of her First Lady achievements, she is featured next to Obama. In the President’s hall, the Presidents were pictured alone, just pictures of them. But in the First Ladies hall, she has to go and be pictured with her husband; it is almost like she cannot be allowed to stand alone and she has to be pictured with the President. All of these cause the two exhibits to have extremely different purposes which create completely different reactions from the audience as they go through the rooms.