Colleges of America’s First Ladies

Every year the president is honored on President’s day in the United States of America, but what about the first ladies? Many of the presidents and first ladies that have graced the White House have been educated at some of the finest colleges and universities in the country.

Many of the great presidential wives have used their education and experience to enrich their lives while at the White House, from health and public relations to international relations and beyond. The following notable first ladies are great leaders in their right, and some them have their education to thank for part of their success.


Michelle Obama

In the same way as her husband, Michelle completed her degree at Princeton University. Michelle’s senior thesis is still discussed today as it was based upon what some would consider a controversial title, this being “Princeton-Educated Blacks Community.” Princeton has become a firm favorite with Michelle’s family as her brother studied with her and her niece is currently a freshman, who knows the Obama girls, Malia and Sasha could be the next to follow in their parent’s footsteps.

Laura Bush

Laura was born and grew up in Texas and attended college in her hometown eventually graduating with a degree in education from Dallas Southern Methodist University. Although neither of Laura’s children followed in her footsteps, Jenna did carry the Texas trend on by choosing to study at UT-Austin.

Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton

Both Hillary and Nancy attended women’s colleges finally graduating from Wellesley and Smith. Surprisingly, during her time at Wellesley Hillary did not come out as a Democrat. Instead she was the president of the Young Republicans group. She was also the president of the Wellesley student government being elected at the last minute to speak at the 1992 commencement. While at Smith, Nancy majored in drama and went on to become an actress once she had graduated.


Jackie Kennedy

Jackie Kennedy was a transfer student from a small college and spent her first two years at Vassar. Following this, she enrolled at the George Washington University after having spent a year in between abroad.

Pat Nixon

Pat Nixon received a scholarship while on the West Coast to study at the University of Southern California. While Pat was a student she held a variety of campus jobs but still managed to graduate without any problems.

Amongst the other females that have made their mark in history about the political sphere have all received their degrees from various universities. Graduating from the University of Denver was Condoleezza Rice, Sandra Day O’Connor graduated from Stanford, Ruth Bader Ginsberg spent her time studying at Cornell. Both Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan attended Princeton graduating within five years of each other.

First Ladies and their Degrees

It ‘s hard to provide a definitive number of first ladies that attained degrees. However, it is far more difficult to make a judgment of the level of study some of them may have achieved at their various schools which are no longer.

Taking this into account the following first ladies are just some of those who have studied formally in higher education which went on to provide accredited degrees:

Julia Tyler, New York – Madame N.D. Chagaray’s Institute
Sarah Polk, North Carolina – Moravian Female Academy
Harriet Lane, Washington D.C – Georgetown Visitation Academy
Mary Lincoln, Kentucky – Dr. Ward’s Academy
Eliza Johnson, Tennessee – Rhea Academy
Caroline Harrison, Ohio – Oxford Female Institute
Ida McKinley, Pennsylvania – Brooke Hall
Ellen Wilson, Georgia – Rome Female College followed by New York – Art Students League
Florence Harding, Ohio – Cincinnati Conservatory of Music
Grace Coolidge, Postgraduate in teacher training – the University of Vermont at Burlington
Lou Hoover, California – Stanford University, degree in geology
Lady Bird Johnson, Texas – University of Texas majored in history, followed by one-year postgraduate extension resulting in a second bachelor’s degree in journalism
Betty Ford, Vermont – Bennington College, did not graduate
Rosalynn Carter, Georgia Southwestern College
Barbara Bush, Massachusetts – Smith College, did not graduate
It can be said that the majority of First Ladies came from the upper class and therefore they were privileged and fortunate enough to receive a far higher level of education that was the norm for women of their and in their region. Interestingly, Grace Coolidge was one of the first ladies in the White House to have come from a middle-class background yet managing to attain a degree from an established university. When it comes to middle and working class families all of the following first ladies can be said to have come from these humble beginnings Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama.