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Historians rank The most revered First Ladies of the United States


Why is Eleanor Roosevelt ranked number 1 by historians?


… Siena College study by experts ranks the best

With the passing of Rosalyn Carter, I wanted to evaluate the First Ladies whom historians rank as being the best. Here is what I found.


She was First Lady longer than anyone else in history, and those experts who rank the importance of those ladies in history have once again ranked Eleanor Roosevelt as best exemplifying the ten characteristics of a positive First Lady.


Wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt, she was followed by Abigail Adams (John), Michelle Obama, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Dolley Madison in the top five of the experts in the Siena College Expert Survey of American First Ladies released in 2020.

The historians, politicians, and scholars ranked all of the First Ladies from Martha Washington to Melania Trump in the survey based on their team categories:

  • Background

  • Value to the country

  • Being the White House steward

  • Courage

  • Accomplishments

  • Integrity

  • Leadership

  • Being her own woman

  • Public image

  • Value to the President

Sixth consecutive ranking


The Siena College research institute has been ranking First Ladies since 1982, doing so six times — 1993, 2003, 2008, 2015, 2020. Eleanor Roosevelt has been first in each of their studies.

In the 2020 study, the top ten included Betty Ford, Lady Bird Johnson, Hillary Clinton, Rosalynn Carter, and Martha Washington in positions from six to 10.

This is not a popularity contest. Instead, like most Siena College presidential rankings, this is based on their contributions to history.


Mrs. Roosevelt is first in the category of “Creating a lasting legacy” and “Performed greatest service after leaving office” among 20th and 21st Century First Ladies. She was also top in “Advancing women’s issues” and as being the “Greatest political asset.”


According to the website, This Siena College Research Institute survey of historians, political scientists and published scholars was conducted from February 12 – June 23, 2019 via online interviews with 209 experts.”


I had not read much about Mrs. Roosevelt until the biography by Doris Kearns Goodwin entitled "No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, The Home Front in World War II." It is a fascinating look at President Roosevelt's role in guiding the U.S. through World War II. My favorite college historian said that his effort was why FDR is ranked among the best presidents in history.


However, I never realized much about the relationship between FDR and Eleanor and how an affair by him prior to his becoming president would tarnish their relationship forever. This is an interesting book for history lovers.

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