Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

First Ladies and their Causes
Maureen Funk
US History
Time Frame:
1-2 class periods
Grade Levels:
4, 5, 6

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:

Students will learn about the First Ladies of the United States and the social causes they championed. Using primary and secondary sources, students will research a First Lady and then share their findings with others. After small group discussion and reflection, students will write a short essay describing what personal cause they would pick if given the opportunity and why they chose that cause.  Examining social causes helps students relate to changes in the role of First Lady through the years. This lesson is adaptable based on grade, interest level, and time constraints.


This lesson explores the social causes supported by the First Ladies. These causes reflect the changes in society and culture throughout our history. The duties and expectations of First Lady of the United States have changed a great deal over time. Though not an elected office, the position of First Lady has developed into one of tremendous influence. The causes that the First Ladies choose often become a personal legacy of their time in the White House. For example, Nancy Reagan’s advice to “Just Say No to Drugs” is still a topic of discussion today, decades after she served as First Lady.

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:

Missouri Standards

Social Studies

Concept 6.1 Identify how ideas, concepts, and traditions have changed over time in the United States.

Concept 7.E Generate compelling research questions about a social studies topic.

Concept 7.G Research an appropriate social studies question and share results with an audience

Communication Arts —

Concept 1.B Choosing an appropriate organizational structure and building on one main idea to create a multiple-paragraph text appropriate to the genre.

Concept 3. A

Apply research process to create a research question to address relevant to a chosen topic

  • use organizational features of print and digital sources efficiently to locate  information
    • convert graphic/visual data into written notes
    • record bibliographic information from sources according to a standard format.

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:


“A Brief History of First Ladies and Their Causes





First Ladies Contributions to Political Issues and National Welfare

   https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/womens-history/essays/first-ladies-contributions-political-   issues-and-national-welfare


First Ladies and Their Powerful Legacy


Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

Eleanor Roosevelt


Bess Truman


Jackie Kennedy


Video of the white house tour broadcast https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ft1wgQ0VYrc


Lady Bird Johnson




Roselyn Carter



Nancy Reagan






Barbara Bush



Laura Bush



Hillary Clinton



Michelle Obama



Full description of activity or assignment.
  1. Introduce the lesson with the powerpoint on First Ladies and their causes.

 http://content.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1962281,00.html.  Assign each student a first lady to research. The research should include 10 facts about their First Lady including at least one primary source and one visual (picture, video, letter, etc.) as well as information about the First Lady’s social cause. Students should document sources for their information.


2. Have students report to their research results others in small groups or as a class. Research could be made into a poster or powerpoint including 10 facts, a picture and text describing their cause. 


3. For a classroom activity or homework, students will write a two or three paragraph essay about what cause the students would pick to champion if they would have the opportunity. 

The first paragraph will describe the cause they have chose, the second paragraph will explain why they picked this cause.


Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:

What Would Be My Cause Essay Scoring Guide








Ideas clear and organized fashion. Focus is clear.  Essay is easy to read.

Ideas pretty clear, but the organization could have been better.

Ideas somewhat organized, but were not very clear. It took more than one reading to figure out what the essay was about.

The essay seemed to be a collection of unrelated sentences.

Content Accuracy

The essay contains at least 5 accurate facts or opinions about the topic.

The essay contains 3-4 accurate facts or opinions about the topic.

The essay contains 1-2 accurate facts or opinions about the topic.

The essay contains no accurate facts or opinions about the topic.


The essay is 2 or more sentences with at least 5 complete sentences each. Paragraph.

The essay two paragraphs with 4 sentences each paragraph. sentences.

The essay two paragraphs with 3 sentences eacha sentences.

The essay is one paragraph is one paragraph.

Sentences & Paragraphs

Sentences and paragraphs are complete, well-constructed and of varied structure.

All sentences are complete and well-constructed (no fragments, no run-ons). Paragraphing is generally done well.

Most sentences are complete and well-constructed. Paragraphing needs some work.

Many sentence fragments or run-on sentences OR paragraphing needs lots of work.

Grammar & spelling (conventions)

Writer makes no errors in grammar or spelling.

Writer makes 1-2 errors in grammar and/or spelling.

Writer makes 3-4 errors in grammar and/or spelling.

Writer makes more than 4 errors in grammar and/or spelling.

Capitalization and Punctuation

Writer makes no errors in capitalization and punctuation.

Writer makes 1-2 errors in capitalization and punctuation.

Writer makes 3-4 errors in capitalization and punctuation.

Writer makes more than 4 errors in capitalization and punctuation.