JACQUELINE KENNEDY ONASSIS (White House run: 1961-1963; age she became First Lady: 31). She led a privileged childhood in New York, but had to deal with an alcoholic dad. Her mom divorced him and married someone even richer. Kennedy Onassis did well at the elite private schools she went to and graduated from George Washington University, before taking a job as a photographer for a Washington D.C. newspaper.
She dedicated her time as First Lady to decorating the White House and making it a museum of American history, while rumors swirled of her husband’s philandering ways. Among the tragedies she endured were a miscarriage, a stillbirth, and her husband’s assassination. She died in 1994 at age 64.
CLAUDIA TAYLOR (LADY BIRD) JOHNSON (White House run: 1963-69; age she became First Lady: 50). Environmental conservation was her cause, but her nickname had nothing to do with that. A nurse thought she was pretty "as a lady bird" when she was born. Her mom died when she was five, and Johnson was driving to school by age 14. She was good in school and became a reporter for the Daily Texan.
Once Lady Bird and Lyndon Johnson were married, he expected her to shine his shoes, bring him breakfast, and make sure his cigarette lighter was filled, according to "Secret Lives of First Ladies." There were also rumors he was having extramarital affairs. While in the White House, she created a First Lady's Committee for a More Beautiful Capital, and was actively involved in her husband's Head Start project for pre-school children. She died in 2007 at the age of 94.
PAT NIXON (White House run: 1969-74; age she became First Lady: 56).
Pat Nixon knew the value of hard work early on. She spent her childhood picking vegetables on her father’s Los Angeles farm. When Nixon lost her mom at 13, she took on all the household chores. Tragedy struck again at age 18, when her dad died. Refusing to give up, she worked odd jobs to put herself through college.
Nixon worked as a high-school teacher and government economist before campaigning for her husband, Richard, who she stood by even through the Watergate scandal and his resignation. She died in 1993 at the age of 81.
BETTY FORD (White House run: 1974-77; age she became First Lady: 56). A talented dancer, Betty Ford left Michigan to perfect her skills in NYC, where she also got into modeling. She ultimately returned home to teach dance, and got a job in fashion at a department store. In 1942 she married a furniture dealer who couldn’t stay in one place, forcing her to move around with him. She cared for him for two years while he suffered from diabetes and filed for divorce when he felt better. She returned to the department store as fashion coordinator, and then married Gerald Ford in 1948.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy while in the White House, leading many women to talk openly about the disease for the first time. Ford struggled with alcohol and drug abuse after her husband’s term was up and founded the Betty Ford Center for treatment. She is 90.
ROSALYN CARTER (White House run: 1977-1981; age she became First Lady: 49). Her dad died when she was 13, and as the oldest child, Carter worked beside her mom as a dressmaker to help support the family. She graduated high school as the valedictorian, and went to Georgia Southwestern College at Americus.
She’d know Jimmy Carter for years, but didn’t start dating him until she saw a picture of him in his Navy uniform. They were married in 1946. When Jimmy left the service, the Carters ran the family peanut farming business, with Rosalynn managing the accounts. As First Lady, she stressed the importance of performing arts, and encouraged programs to treat mental health and assist the elderly. She is now 81.
NANCY REAGAN (White House run: 1981-1989; age she became First Lady: 59). The stepdaughter of a rich neurosurgeon, she grew up enjoying the best life had to offer. Reagan followed her mom’s footsteps into acting, appearing on Broadway and on T.V. and even modeling. She dated Clark Gable, and dealt with the death of a fiance before meeting Ronald Reagan, also an actor. He was just getting over a divorce. They married in 1952, only inviting two guests.
Once her husband was elected president, Reagan partnered with several charities, visiting veterans, the elderly, and handicapped. But she’s best known for her campaign to “just say no” to drugs, for which she even appeared on “Diff’rent Strokes” to endorse. She is now 87.
BARBARA BUSH (White House run: 1989-1993; age she became First Lady: 63). She met George Bush at a dance when she was just 16, and they got engaged a year and a half later, right before he headed off to war as a Navy pilot. By the time he returned home to be married, Bush dropped out of Smith College to prepare for the wedding. The couple began having kids, and Bush, who’d grown up with servants, had to learn to clean and cook. She dedicated her time tending to their five kids.
Once they were raised and on their own, Bush felt alone and questioned her choice not to complete school. But she got over this depression, according to the “Secret Lives of the First Ladies,” by immersing her self in charity projects. As First Lady, she became Honorary Chairman of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.
HILLARY CLINTON (White House run: 1993-2001; age she became First Lady: 45). Her bright future was clear from high school, when she was voted “most likely to succeed.” Even after marrying fellow Yale Law School student Bill Clinton, she continued with her own career. She worked for Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign, taught at the University of Arkansas Law School, and helped Bill get elected as Arkansas attorney general and then governor.
Allegations of Bill’s cheating came up during his campaign for presidency, but things got really bad in his second term as commander-in-chief, when details of an alleged Oval office romp with an intern emerged. But Clinton stood by her man. She went on to snag one of New York’s senate seats, run a competitive campaign for the Democratic nomination for president, and is President-elect Barack Obama’s nominee for Secretary of State. She is now 61.
LAURA BUSH (White House run: 2001-09; age she became First Lady: 54). Tragedy struck when she was 17, when the car she was driving hit another. The other driver, who happened to be a friend, was killed, and Bush is unable to talk about the incident to this day. A dedicated student, she graduated college with high grades before teaching elementary school and getting her master’s degree in library science.
Working with kids as a librarian fueled her passion for reading, which Bush took as her cause as First Lady. She helped launch the first National Book Festival in Washington, D.C., which now draws more than 100,000 book lovers each year. She is 62.