The Candidates’ Spouses: Not All Cute Little Buttons

An anti-Clinton button from 1996. (NFLL)

From her husband’s 1996 re-election campaign, this button focused on Hillary Clinton’s overt political role in the presidency. (NFLL)

For far longer than conventional wisdom would have us believe, Americans voting for a President et of the United States have given consideration to a matter that had – at least on the surface – nothing to do with policy.

Who did they marry and how might they influence their spouses if there y’re elected Chief Executive?

The 2016 presidential campaign’s caucusing and primary voting is about to begin and as the weeks and months unfold, the candidates’ spouses will become inevitably more visible.  They’ll be seen not only in the church halls, country clubs, and coffee shops and of New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Michigan – but also on winter coats, suit jackets, pants suits, evening gowns, sweaters and tee-shirts.

Because, they’ll be used to convey messages in support of their candidate-spouses….or opposition to their rivals. with a slogan or a smile from the front of a metal pinback campaign button.

And this year there’s far less conventionality among the group. Among the 2016 Republican and Democratic presidential candidates’ spouses are two born in foreign countries, two Wall Street brokers and two men. And some are already drawing media scrutiny. Mary Pat Christie last week assumed her husband’s New Hampshire speaking schedule as he returned to deal with the snowstorm. Heidi Cruz was drawn into potential scandal for arranging an unreported campaign loan. Melania Trump engenders curiosity from her purposeful silence and glitzy Instagram pix. And Bill Clinton….there’s too much to say in a little bit of space.

A bit of context for them all is the new and free Electing First Ladies: Presidential Candidates’ Spouses as Campaign Symbols  the very first history of how the spouses have been used by both supporters and opponents as images and ideas on campaign buttons, some posters, envelopes and even a parachute. It’s online at the National First Ladies’ Library website’s Blog.

The ten-part series, eight of which are already up and available, also traces the evolution of American women’s slow but growing importance in the national elections for the presidency.

As some subscribers here may know, this website’s creator works as the NFLL Historian, and the series authored by yours truly. To those especially interested in what is a genuinely fascinating and integral part of the presidency, subscribing to the NFLL Blog will ensure email alerts on new articles and series, all of which are deeply researched to provide original content. Another upcoming series focuses on the untold story of Jacqueline Kennedy’s uniquely imaginative, creative, even handcrafted gifts she gave over the course of her life to close friends, family and special heads of state. Membership in the NFLL provides further benefits.

In the meanwhile, here a small sampling of some of those buttons.



The first known use of a candidate’s spouse on campaign memorabilia was in 1856, with Jessie Fremont on an envelope, “Our Jessie” to Republicans supporting her husband.



Frances Cleveland was placed above and between the Democratic presidential and vice presidential candidates in 1888.


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For the indecisive, there was this paper plate, perhaps used as a fan, depicting both of the 1896 presidential candidate spouses together, Ida McKinley and Mary Bryan.



Edith Wilson was feared by campaign advisors as a liability because she married President Wilson just a year and four months after his first wife’s death. But she made it onto this button with Woodrow for his 1916 re-election campaign.


No buttons used Florence Harding during the 1920 election, but famed World War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker dropped these paper parachutes in Ohio calling for her to be “elected” First Lady.


When President Franklin Roosevelt made his bid for an unprecedented third term, opponents tried to make the social activism of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt one more reason to vote against him. He won. And then went on to run and win one more election in 1944.


In the Fifties, few women public figures better seemed to epitomize the archetypal Fifties housewife than did the spouses of the Republican candidates, Mamie Eisenhower and Part Nixon – the first time the wives of a presidential ticket were featured together.


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This Jackie Kennedy stickpin was actually manufactured in Holland and sold as an import in time for the 1960 election. It was sold again when the Kennedys made their initial state visit to Europe in May of 1961.


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In a caricature that bore little resemblance to Lady Bird Johnson, she and LBJ are warned to “Start Packing!” in a pin worn by supporters of his 1964 rival Barry Goldwater. This is the first campaign button using a candidate’s dogs, the LBJ beagles Him and Her; a closer look shows them to be dead ringers for the cartoon beagle Snoopy from the popular Charlie Brown cartoon strip.


Supporters of her husband's second term bid in 1984, put a positive spin on the Eighties "Just Say No!" slogan coined by Nancy Reagan.

Supporters of her husband’s second term bid in 1984, put a positive spin on that ubiquitous Eighties “Just Say No!” slogan coined by Nancy Reagan.


This 2012 Obama re-election campaign button touted the First Lady's progressive efforts and projects and her into the national figure of Lady Columbia.

This 2012 Obama re-election campaign button touted the First Lady’s progressive efforts and projects and her into the national figure of Lady Columbia.


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By the time her son ran for President in 2000, former First Lady Barbara Bush had made white pearls her trademark – this button was distributed set a women’s fundraiser days before the controversial 2000 election.


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He may make history too.


Categories: First Ladies, Presidential Campaigns and Elections

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4 replies »

  1. Thank you for all your hard work Mr. Anthony …….. ps Jackie will always be my #1 First Lady ! —- do you know the story of how she once said that being called the First Lady made her feel she just won a horse race !

  2. Fascinating, as always, Mr. Anthony. I’m sorry, that I have not been in touch with you, these past several months, but my wife died, suddenly, three months ago. I have a question, which is along the lines of this article. When did they start using all four candidates and spouses (for president and vice-president) names and likenesses, on buttons? I seem to recall, back in 1976, seeing pictures of the Carters and Mondales, on buttons.

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