Every Eye Is Upon Me
First Ladies of the United States
I very well know every eye is upon me,
my dear mother, and I will behave accordingly.
Julia Gardiner Tyler
When Julia Gardiner married President John Tyler in 1844, she sought to reassure her mother that she would rise to the occasion as the highly scrutinized hostess of the White House and the organizer of official receptions and state dinners.
Today, few would argue that the first lady of the United States holds one of the most prominent social positions in the world. Presidents’ wives typically assume the role, but for widowed or unmarried presidents, the duties have fallen to daughters, sisters, nieces, or other women. Each first lady inhabits this complicated and evolving responsibility differently. Likewise, their portraits have taken a variety of forms: paintings, drawings, cut-paper silhouettes, popular prints, photographs, and more rarely, sculptures. The first lady’s image—across media, over time, and as it has circulated both publicly and privately—is the focus of this exhibition.
Every Eye Is Upon Me: First Ladies of the United States brings together more than sixty objects to illuminate the accomplishments, personalities, and lives of the nation’s first ladies. At the same time, it asks us to consider the changing nature of women’s relationships to the presidency, a seat of power that they are yet to occupy themselves.
This exhibition is organized by the National Portrait Gallery in collaboration with the White House and the National First Ladies’ Library.
Video transcript: [music]
Link (opens in new window): video with audio descriptions
National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery is located at Eighth and G streets N.W., Washington, D.C.
As a public health precaution due to COVID-19, all Smithsonian museums, including the National Portrait Gallery, are temporarily closed.