Ask the average American to list the five most influential U.S. presidents of the 20th century and a handful of names will be quickly mentioned. Ask the same person to name the five most influential first ladies of the 20th century and you’ll likely be met with silence. That’s not surprising, because for much of American history, first ladies have been in the background as their husbands ran the country.
Yet beginning with Eleanor Roosevelt and continuing into the latter half of the century, first ladies began taking a more active role in promoting social and charitable causes. That made compiling this list a challenge in choosing the first ladies whose influence has had a lasting impact on our society. For example, Lady Bird Johnson was left off the list although she inspired highway beautification efforts. Hillary Clinton would have made the top five save for the fact her legacy is still evolving.