What America’s First Ladies Can Teach Us About Our Own Humanity

Kent State alumna Michelle Gullion is at the center of an emerging field – capturing the history of America’s first ladies

In her 18 years as director of collections and research for the National First Ladies Library and Museum, Michelle Gullion has amassed a treasure trove of knowledge about America’s first ladies. And while she’s been able to access inside information and artifacts on some of the nation’s most captivating first ladies, she’s most interested in what the first ladies throughout history can teach us about ourselves.

“These are women just like I am and they are making tough decisions. I just relate to them,” Gullion shared with East Wing Magazine.

In the article, Gullion references monumental events in history during which first ladies showed courage and grace. Examples she cited included Jacqueline Kennedy’s strength and composure following the assassination of John F. Kennedy and a speech Laura Bush gave after 9/11.

Gullion first became interested in history as a young girl, a time that included trips to museums and historic sites with her family. But it wasn’t until college that it occurred to her that she could turn an interest into a career.

Gullion, who earned her Master of Library and Information Science from Kent State University in 2004, said it was an undergraduate Introduction to Art History class where she first learned that working in a museum was a career option.

“You mean you can actually work in these places that I just revere?” Gullion recounted to East Wing.

From that moment, a whole new world of possibilities opened up, she said. After earning her undergraduate degree at Hiram College, she began working at the Akron Art Museum as a curatorial assistant. She went on to complete her master’s at Kent State and then joined the National First Ladies Library and Museum, located in Canton, Ohio.

In her time with the National First Ladies Library and Museum, she has become known as the international “point person” for information on presidential wives. Yet, in the nearly two decades that she’s been in her current role, Gullion said women’s history has really been regarded as an emerging field with plenty of research yet to be done.

“It's changing,” Gullion shared with East Wing. “I see all these wonderful [female] scholars coming together and writing books and adding and finding new information about these women and really adding to our knowledge of them.”

Read Gullion’s full article in East Wing Magazine here.


Photo credit: East Wing Magazine, courtesy of Michelle Gullion

POSTED: Wednesday, October 18, 2023 04:40 PM
Updated: Friday, January 19, 2024 09:57 AM
Amy Antenora