First Ladies Man Talks of Women in the White House

By Gabrielle Fellows

When former first lady Hillary Clinton announced her entrance in the 2016 presidential race, political sites and television stations discussed the place of women in the White House.

Andy Och, documentarian and expert on the past and present first ladies, had the answer: “Women have always been important in the White House.”

Och spoke to students on Monday at Youngstown State University regarding the first ladies, their lives and their, sometimes hidden, importance.

He explained how these women have changed history in an attempt to spark interest in these behind-the-scenes role models.

“After my documentary work with the C-SPAN series ‘First Ladies: Influence & Image,’ I’ve retained an amazing amount of knowledge from my travels studying historic location and lives of the first ladies from Martha Washington to Michelle Obama,” Och said. “What I try to do in this program is try to have an interactive program that tells people things about the first ladies that they wouldn’t think to ask about.”

Between Eleanor Roosevelt’s participation in the push for equality and Michelle Obama’s campaign to get schoolchildren living a more active lifestyle, women have always held a prominent position in the Oval Office; in America’s earlier years, it was more discreet.

Now a former first lady can run for president of the United States and be a prominent figurehead instead of living in the shadow of her husband.

Jay Gordon, associate professor at YSU and friend of Och, said these women achieve incredible things and deserve more recognition.

“I think it’s important to learn about the first ladies, to better understand not only their own lives, but also to understand the presidents to whom they were married and the nature of the times in which they lived,” Gordon said. “I hope people will see that, despite our political differences, the people who occupy the White House are human beings much like ourselves in so many ways. Their lives are tied up with politics, to be sure, but they also have rich lives outside politics. And I hope people simply find the lives of these first ladies fascinating and make an effort to learn more about them and any aspect of history that they find interesting.”

Whether the women of the White House were behind, beside or in front of their husbands, they all have an important role in American culture.

Och said he would use his presentation to bring the significance of these women to the forefront.

“These women were girls and young women and are now wives, mothers, grandmothers, widows — there’s so much to these women outside of the White House and outside of their husband’s presidential careers,” Och said. “I’m bringing these ladies to light.”