Michelle Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention is already the stuff of legend. Many were moved to tears and some pundits immediately started conjecturing on a presidential run for the First Lady. The Army Corps of Engineers even started clearing space on Mount Rushmore.
Well, maybe not that last bit, but the speech really was extraordinary. It capped a remarkable eight years in which the First Lady championed health and education initiatives from the White House, and cemented her legacy as the coolest First Lady ever. But what exactly are the duties of the First Lady, and how powerful is the position?
As Trace Dominguez explains in today's Seeker Daily report, the answers are "none" and "depends," respectively. The First Lady has no official duties or salary. In fact, there is no designated government position at all for the spouse of the president. There is, however, an Office of the the First Lady, with several staffed and salaried positions.
That's because the First Lady has many unofficial duties in the executive branch, depending on how busy she wants to be. The role has changed gradually over time. Martha Washington and Abigail Adams, America's first first ladies, were public figures by association, but nothing more. Dolley Madison, our fourth first lady, initiated the tradition of championing social causes from the White House. Madison focused on helping orphaned children and furthering women's rights.
RELATED: What Has Obama Accomplished As President?
Eleanor Roosevelt is credited with significantly expanding the role of the First Lady. Outspoken in her political views, Roosevelt contributed to newspaper columns and often disagreed publicly with her husband's public policy positions. After her husband left office, Roosevelt stayed involved in government herself, eventually heading up the UN Commission on Human Rights.
With Hillary Clinton on the 2016 ballot, it's entirely possible that a former First Lady will be running the country. It turns out that an active First Lady unofficially assumed that role 100 years ago. When President Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke in 1919, his wife Edith took over many of his duties and essentially ran the executive branch for about a year and half.
Of course, if Hillary Clinton does win the presidency, it will result in the unprecedented situation. Former president Bill Clinton will become the inaugural First Gentleman of the United States. As such, Bill will be unofficially in charge of White House social functions, which is like a celestial gift from the comedy gods. Fingers crossed1 -- Glenn McDonald
The Atlantic: Michelle Obama's Speech For the Ages
PBS: The Role of First Lady
USA TODAY: What's a first lady to do? Role not specified, highly scrutinized
Pacific Standard: Remember the First Ladies