Nightly News | November 18, 2011
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Finally this Friday night, the reopening of what is sure to become one of the
most visited places in our nation's capital: the newly expanded first ladies exhibit at the Smithsonian . It tells the story of us through the story of some notable women, and we get to tour it tonight, thanks to NBC 's Andrea Mitchell .
ANDREA MITCHELL reporting: There is no description for the job, but for Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton , to Jacqueline Kennedy and all the way to Martha Washington . while no one votes for the women who have held it, Americans are fascinated by first ladies.
Ms. JACQUELINE KENNEDY: It is rather hard with children. There's so little privacy.
MITCHELL: That's why one of the most popular places in Washington is right here, the Smithsonian 's first ladies exhibit, now newly expanded for the third time in nearly a century, with additions including Grace Coolidge 's flapper-style evening gown, a dress Mrs. Coolidge eventually gave to her White House maid. How to define the first lady's role through history?
Ms. LISA KATHLEEN GRADDY ; She's the first mother. She's the first wife. She's the first help mate. And we also expect her to be the first independent woman. We just are never entirely sure where we draw the line on how independent that is or how involved in politics that is. So much of that depends on her own relationship with her husband.
MITCHELL: The collection already includes inaugural gowns, including Michelle Obama 's, designed by Jason Wu , and Nancy Reagan 's famous red-bordered china. So why is the exhibit so popular? Some say it's because while people want glamour and style in the White House , they also want to feel a connection to the first family, to know how they live their everyday lives. Seeing the gowns and china helps people feel as though they are time travelers , transported into the White House themselves. And while most presidents trip over politics from time to time , first ladies are usually immune.
Ms. DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN (Presidential Historian): We want to feel good about those characters, and somehow the first lady is able to retain her popularity over time and in the time in a way that a president, as he gets involved in politics, inevitably cannot.
MITCHELL: And who knows? Someday soon the first ladies exhibit could include the inaugural attire of a first man. Andrea Mitchell , NBC News, Washington .