True to the Donald Trump Presidency: Role of First Lady Expected to Change

Jan 24, 2017

The new first lady of the United States, Melania Trump, is expected to bring a different style to the role, one that Americans have not seen for generations, said University of Scranton political science professor Jean Wahl Harris, Ph.D.

Melania Trump is expected to be a more “traditional first lady,” serving more commonly in the manner of a “social hostess” and much less visibly in the public eye, said Dr. Harris, an expert on first ladies. Mrs. Trump has indicated she plans to reside in New York at least until her son’s school year is completed, rather than in Washington, D.C. President Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, who will be in Washington, D.C., is expected to pick up some of the roles publicly adopted by first ladies in recent decades, namely those of advisor and confidant to the president.

“Although Ivanka’s role is not unprecedented, it’s not familiar to Americans today. Female family members have taken on the social duties of first lady for past presidents who were unmarried, widowed, or whose wife was unable to fulfill the duties. However, Americans have not seen ‘surrogate’ first ladies for generations,” says Dr. Harris, who has been quoted in several news articles about the new first lady, including USA Today and WNEP-TV, as well as about the legacy of the outgoing First Lady Michelle Obama in Politico

According to Dr. Harris, Americans have already gotten a glimpse of the new first family during the campaign. Mrs. Trump, unlike recent wives of presidential candidates, took on a much less public role and did not campaign extensively alongside her husband.

“Americans already knew Donald Trump before the campaign and the role his children played in his businesses, so they seemed to accept the role his family played during the campaign. Now the question is if Americans will accept these roles for the president,” said Dr. Harris.

The role of first lady is determined by “who she is and what her husband expects,” as well as the expectations of the American people said Dr. Harris, who noted both Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton adjusted their roles as first ladies after initial public criticism.

Only time will tell how Melania Trump will interpret her role as first lady.

But one thing is certain, Dr. Harris – and the world – will be watching.


Back to Top