O, FOR HISTORY: Funerals for First Ladies

Today was the funeral service for former First Lady Barbara Bush.

I watched most of it, remembering funeral services of previous First Ladies during my lifetime:

  • Bess Truman (not televised) (1982)
  • Mamie Eisenhower (1979)
  • Jackie Kennedy (1994)
  • Lady Bird Johnson (2007)
  • Patricia Nixon (1993)
  • Betty Ford (2011)
  • Nancy Reagan (2016)
  • Barbara Bush (2018)



Nancy Reagan funeral, 2016

A funeral for a former First Lady brings together The Sorority: the current and any surviving former First Ladies.  They come together in solidarity despite current or past political war fronts.


Sitting presidents tend to not attend funerals for former First Ladies; therefore, our current sitting president is not stomping on any traditions.  In fact, for a former First Lady’s funeral, there are no traditions like the traditional state funerals for presidents.



Bess Truman funeral, 1982

Bess Truman, the wife of President Harry Truman, was one of our most private modern First Ladies. Margaret Truman Daniel, the only child of Harry and Bess Truman, was quite surprised when two former First Ladies, Betty Ford, and Roselyn Carter, as well as the then current First Lady, Nancy Reagan, appeared at her mother’s funeral.  Margaret had banned all press from Bess Truman’s services, and it was her husband, newspaper editor, Clifton Daniel, who eventually convinced his wife to allow this one photo, for history’s sake, to be taken.


Throughout history, these sitting presidents attended the funerals of these former First Ladies:

  • President Zachary Taylor attended Dolley Madison’s funeral, 1849
  • President Theodore Roosevelt attended Julia Grant’s funeral, 1902
  • President Theodore Roosevelt attended Ida McKinley’s funeral, 1907
  • President John Kennedy attended Eleanor Roosevelt’s funeral, 1962
  • President Bill Clinton attended Jacqueline Kennedy’s burial, 1994
(Left) Funeral service for Eleanor Rooselt; (Top Right) Luci Johnson kisses the casket of her mother, Lady Bird Johnson; Rev. Billy Graham escorts former President Nixon from the funeral service for former First Lady Patricia Nixon.

A touching tribute came in the way of tender loyalty as First Lady Barbara Bush’s secret service detail stood vigil during the public visitation.


About Wright Flyer Guy

Darin is a single adoptive father, a teacher, playwright, and musical theatre director from Kettering, Ohio.
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