Presidents' Day honors the 43 men who have served as chief executive. A C-SPAN series premiering Monday night provides rich background on their spouses - who in many cases were driving forces in their husbands' climbs up the political ladder to the White House.
"First Ladies: Influence And Image" (firstladies.c-span.org) profiles the often lesser-known halves of First Couples. Filled with biographical data, historian interviews and an interactive timeline, viewers will come away from the series with a deeper understanding of their husbands' presidential legacies.
It's clear that not all first ladies were thrilled about their time in the national spotlight. Before Franklin Pierce won the 1852 Democratic presidential nomination as a dark-horse compromise, Jane Pierce pleaded with him husband to abandon his political career for family life. He had bowed to her wishes in the past, even resigning a Senate seat a decade earlier.
Her ambivalence about becoming first lady heightened when Franklin Pierce was president-elect. On Jan. 6, 1853 their son Benjamin was killed in a train accident. Jane was overcome with melancholia and became distant from her husband during his presidency. She was known as "the shadow in the White House."
But just as often first ladies have been willing partners in their husbands' political ambitions - if not a driving force. Mary Todd Lincoln is famous for having said early on she would marry a president. More than a century later Rosalynn Carter sat in on Cabinet meetings during the administration of her husband, President Jimmy Carter.
And the nation's highest office still remains in the grasp of former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. Elected senator from New York during the waning days of Bill Clinton's presidency, she was a near-miss Democratic White House candidate herself in 2008 and then went on to a highly-praised stint as secretary of state. She's been coy about her 2016 plans she remains the leading contender for the open Democratic presidential nod.
The diversity of background and experiences of first ladies is presented in the C-SPAN series. It's appointment viewing this President's Day.