November 13, 2020 - May 23, 2021
“Every Eye Is Upon Me: First Ladies of the United States,” is the first major exhibition to explore the historical significance of this prominent position through the mode of portraiture. The exhibition spans nearly 250 years, from Martha Washington to Melania Trump, and features more than 60 portraits of the First Ladies, alongside related ephemera including iconic dresses. On view Nov. 13 through May 23, 2021, the exhibition is curated by Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, formerly the National Portrait Gallery’s senior historian and director of history, research, and scholarly programs.
The exhibition’s title references a quote from an 1844 letter written by Julia Gardiner Tyler to her mother after she married President John Tyler. The Portrait Gallery’s presentation uses Tyler’s quote as a point of departure to examine the responsibilities and significance First Ladies have had since 1789, when Martha Washington became the first woman to fill the role. The exhibition will highlight the women who entered the White House through marriage alongside others who were relatives or family friends recruited into service such as Dolley Madison, who served as White House hostess for Thomas Jefferson before James Madison. Through portraiture, the exhibition sheds light on the stories and personalities of each sitter, focusing on the myriad of challenges they faced and their greatest accomplishments.
The National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian Books has co-published a richly illustrated book, First Ladies of the United States, which serves as a companion for the exhibition along with the recent volume America’s Presidents (2017). A comprehensive online exhibition is also available, featuring all works in the exhibition with additional research resources.
“Every Eye Is Upon Me: First Ladies of the United States” is made possible through the support of the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative, Morgan Stanley and the generosity of many other donors.