Change is upon us, and the title for the spouses of our political leaders is evolving along with it.

“Although Hillary Clinton didn’t become the first woman president, she paved the way for Americans to start thinking about it,” said Melissa R. Michelson, a political science professor at Menlo College near San Francisco, of the evolving titles. “Many more Americans are comfortable with the idea,” but there may be limits to that comfort, Dr. Michelson said.

“First gentleman is definitely on the horizon, but I don’t see the country ready for much else,” she said.

Historically, the title of “first lady” (which to this day is an unofficial designation) was not used to introduce a president’s wife until Lucy Hayes, wife of Rutherford B. Hayes, who took office in 1877. Some of the earlier wives, including Dolley Payne Todd (James Madison’s wife) and Sarah Childress (James Polk’s wife), were called “presidentess.”

Nowadays, the changing tides give Americans an opportunity to rethink titles altogether, Dr. Michelson said, adding that many nations, including Britain and Germany, don’t bestow titles on spouses of political leaders at all.

“We, as a society, really need to think about what we are,” she said. “Should we get away from gendered titles for spouses? Why would you give an unelected person a title? They’re not an official.”

What do you think?


63 percent

That's the share of news reports across all platforms — including internet, print and TV — produced by men, according to a new analysis by the Women’s Media Center, which assessed where female professionals stand in the news industry.