Michelle Obama: White House Gets a New First Lady

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "A Promised Land" by Barack Obama. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What was Michelle Obama’s role in the White House? What did she do as First Lady?

For Michelle Obama, the White House was an opportunity and a challenge. She faced incredible scrutiny in her role as First Lady, but strove to make the role her own.

Read more about Michelle Obama, The White House, and her early days as First Lady.

Michelle Obama: White House and First Lady

One of Barack’s deepest joys in these early days of his presidency was seeing how Michelle grew into the role of first lady. In addition to being a superb mother to Malia and Sasha, Michelle now had a very public position. Michelle Obama had to adjust to the White House life in addition to her duties as first lady.

Although first ladies might not be caught up in the day-to-day scrum of Washington politics, they still could be lightning rods for controversy. In her role, Michelle was expected to be the face of modern American womanhood. In the 21st century, this meant that she faced pressure to break down gender barriers and speak out against the traditional forms of exclusion and marginalization faced by women in social, economic, and political life. At the same time, she had to raise her daughters and be careful not to be seen as “overstepping her bounds” or intruding too directly into politics (as Hillary Clinton had been vilified for doing). 

The demands of the role were nearly impossible and Michelle initially chafed at being first lady, feeling that it did not make adequate use of her talents. But she managed to find a way to put her unique stamp on the office, making childhood obesity her signature issue. She started initiatives to make school lunches more healthy and to make physical exercise more central to the K-5 curriculum.

Perhaps her most famous and beloved initiative was to start a homemade White House vegetable garden as a way of promoting healthy lifestyles for American families. To Barack and Michelle’s joy, the vegetable garden became a highly popular stop on White House tours, especially for children.

Domestic Life in the White House

Beyond watching Michelle grow into a highly respected and popular first lady, Barack found joy in the new rhythms of family life.

Although he was the most famous and powerful person in the world, his schedule as president in many ways left more time for family intimacy than was the case when he was a senator. With the whole family now in Washington, Barack found himself generally able to be home for dinner with Michelle and the girls by 6:30 and to participate in domestic life—attending dance recitals, discussing school projects with his daughters, and reading them bedtime stories. Although his new life as president was unimaginably strange in so many ways, he found his evenings at home with the family to be a much-needed and comforting oasis of normalcy.

Michelle Obama: White House Gets a New First Lady

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Barack Obama's "A Promised Land" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full A Promised Land summary :

  • How Barack Obama went from relative obscurity to the first Black president
  • What principles guided his political leadership style
  • Why Obama retained an unshakable faith in the potential and promise of America

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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