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Op-Ed

Wisdom from candidates' wives

Eleanor Roosevelt was first, but Barbara Bush was such a hit at the 1992 Republican convention that spouses' speeches have become a tradition.

September 09, 2012
  • Ann Romney, wife of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, spoke at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. on Aug. 28. The following week, on Sept. 4, First Lady Michelle Obama addressed the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
Ann Romney, wife of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, spoke… (Brian Cassella/Chicago…)

Today, it is practically mandatory for the wife of a presidential candidate to address her party's political convention. But it wasn't always so.

Eleanor Roosevelt was the first candidate's wife to address a political convention. That was in 1940, when her husband was running for his third term and she'd already been first lady for more than seven years. In her brief address, she never mentioned family. She spoke extemporaneously, referring to a single page of typed notes.

Mamie Eisenhower was the next candidate's wife to appear at a convention, but she didn't address the delegates. Nevertheless, she was a huge hit, and in the weeks that followed her husband would be repeatedly asked by the crowds he addressed, "Where's Mamie?"

VIDEO: Watch the 2012 DNC speeches

Pat Nixon addressed the GOP convention in 1972, but it has only been since Barbara Bush's well-received speech in 1992 that hearing from wives has become an expected and highly anticipated part of the proceedings.

Today's speeches by wives bear little in common with that first one by Eleanor Roosevelt. Highly scripted, with nothing left to chance, they tend to focus on "women's issues." And it's a certainty that every candidate's wife will focus at least part of her speech on the importance of family.

—Sue Horton

VIDEO: Watch the 2012 RNC speeches

Eleanor Roosevelt

July 18, 1940

You must know that this is the time when all good men and women give every bit of service and strength to their country that they have to give. This is the time when it is the United States that we fight for, the domestic policies that we have established as a party that we must believe in, that we must carry forward, and in the world we have a position of great responsibility.

We cannot tell from day to day what may come. This is no ordinary time. No time for weighing anything except what we can do best for the country as a whole, and that responsibility rests on each and every one of us as individuals.

No man who is a candidate or who is president can carry this situation alone. This is only carried by a united people who love their country and who will live for it to the fullest of their ability, with the highest ideals, with a determination that their party shall be absolutely devoted to the good of the nation as a whole and to doing what this country can to bring the world to a safer and happier condition.

Barbara Bush

Aug. 19, 1992

You know, when George and I headed west after World War II, we already had our first child. George was a veteran. He was a college graduate, and he had a job here in Texas. And we eventually settled in Midland, a small, decent community where neighbors helped each other, a wonderful place to bring up a family, and it still is. In many ways, these were the best years of our lives. George's days in the fields were dusty, with long hours and hard work, but no matter when he got home, he always had time to throw a ball or listen to the kids. I carpooled, was a den mother and went to more Little League games than I can count. We went to church; we cheered at Fourth of July picnics and fireworks, and we sang carols together at Christmas…. You know, to us, family means putting your arms around each other and being there.

Hillary Rodham Clinton

Aug. 27, 1996

I want to talk about what matters most in our lives and in our nation — children and families.

I wish we could be sitting around a kitchen table, just us, talking about our hopes and fears, about our children's futures. For Bill and me, family has been the center of our lives. But we also know that our family, like your family, is part of a larger community that can help or hurt our best efforts to raise our child….

For Bill and me, there has been no experience more challenging, more rewarding and more humbling than raising our daughter.

And we have learned that to raise a happy, healthy and hopeful child, it takes a family, it takes teachers, it takes clergy, it takes businesspeople, it takes community leaders, it takes those who protect our health and safety, it takes all of us.

Yes, it takes a village.

Laura Bush

July 31, 2000

George and I always read to our girls — Dr. Seuss' "Hop on Pop" was one of his favorites. George would lie on the floor and the girls would literally hop on pop, turning story time into a contact sport.

We wanted to teach our children what our parents had taught us ... that reading is entertaining and interesting and important. And one of the major reasons George is running for president is to make sure every child in America has that same opportunity.…

One day, God willing, George will be a fabulous grandfather. In the meantime, he'll make a great president.

Cindy McCain

Sept. 4, 2008

From the beginning of time, no matter how accomplished in other fields, women have always sought a husband with an eye to what kind of father that man would be.

Well, I hit a home run with John McCain!

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