As soon as one enters the “American Presidency” exhibit at the National Museum of American History it is obvious that there is an utmost respect that Americans have for their presidents. There are many different sections in the exhibit that highlight either policies made by the presidents or significant events that occurred during their presidencies. To begin the exhibit, there is a large wall that has every president listed chronologically and basic information about them, such as political party and dates that they served. Also at the beginning of the exhibit is a sign that is entitled “Presidential Roles.” This states “As a nation, we place no greater responsibility on any one individual than we do on the president.” This puts extreme emphasis on the fact that presidents are highly revered. There were over nine hundred objects from the Smithsonian’s collection in the exhibit and each one helped to show different accomplishments made by specific presidents. The main “argument” of the exhibit is that without help from a president, America would not be the nation that it is today. Sections of the exhibit included information on the Space Race, the emancipation of slaves, and the Civil Rights Movement.
The “First Ladies” exhibit, located directly next to the “American Presidency” exhibit, is one that is of vast contrast to its supposed partner. The exhibit is centered around the gowns that were worn by first ladies throughout their time in the White House and how they were thought to play an important role in the matter of national politics. There was also a section dedicated to the china sets that each first lady picked out to be used during their husband’s terms. These parts of the exhibits helped to show the traditional role of first ladies in the White House. There were also tiny sections on the accomplishments of well renowned first ladies like Mary Todd Lincoln, but these were tiny when compared with their husband’s counterparts. These tinier sections included extra objects used by the first ladies, such as their fans and other accessories. The main “argument” of the exhibit is how the first ladies impact the presidencies of their husbands through their appearance to the general public. One interesting part of the exhibit was a quote that had to do with Michelle Obama’s inauguration address. It discussed how for one night of the year the inaugural gown of the first lady is the most talked about piece of clothing around the world, which is quite true.
There were major differences between the “American Presidency” and “First Ladies” exhibits, specifically in the parts of their lives that were emphasized. The president exhibit focused mainly on their accomplishments as “men” and how they shaped our country with their intelligence and decision making skills. The first lady exhibit focused mainly on their looks and how the way they dressed and decorated the White House affected their husbands. However, the exhibit itself made it seem like their dress and decorations were very important to society. It is easy to see what values America held strongly and how their views of the roles of first ladies held them back from making larger accomplishments. It will be interesting to see what happens if Bill Clinton becomes the first male spouse to a female United States president in all of history.