First Ladies Who Were Actually Really Weird People

The first lady has a complex job. She isn't paid and isn't even really an official position, but she has to always look perfect, represent her country well, and champion her own causes. We expect a lot from a person who only got there because someone she married happened to win an election.

But not all first ladies toed the line. Some of them found ways of being themselves in a manner that was a little un-first lady-like. Some of them were just outright weird.

Julia Tyler was the Kardashian of her day

Julia wasn't John Tyler's first wife or first first lady, but when her predecessor died and she married into the job she decided she was going to use it to make herself famous. In her heart, Julia Tyler was a Kardashian, before they even existed.

According to the National First Ladies' Library, shortly after her marriage Julia had a flattering etching made of herself wearing expensive jewels and a fancy dress. She posed doing an extreme head tilt (above), which must have been the "duck lips" of the day. She had it labeled "The President's Bride." Sure, that's a nice reminder of your wedding day, but that wasn't Julia's plan. She had them mass-produced and available for sale so everyone could have the joy of looking at her.

Julia was the first known first lady to try and get her name in the papers on her own merit. She befriended reporters and made sure there were constant descriptions of events she went to, although the articles usually talked more about her clothes and glowing skin than whatever actually happened at the event. There's some evidence she may have handed these out like press releases rather than just waiting and hoping a reporter would cover her.

She became so famous that people would write to her directly about possible pardons or federal job opportunities. Through her own hard work, she became the first celebrity first lady, just like she wanted.

Florence Harding was into quacks

When it came to the occult, Florence Harding never met a B.S. belief she didn't like. The National First Ladies' Library says she grew up surrounded by people who put hexes on their barns to ward off evil spirits and the idea stuck. In the White House she would get angry if a maid put a pair of shoes on the bed, something she was sure would bring bad luck. She told her niece that the only thing you could rely on in life was "the stars" and the messages you got from them.

A clairvoyant named Madame Marcia read her zodiac and would go into trances to warn Florence of anyone in the administration who was out to get her husband. She supposedly even told her that winning the presidency would cost him his life, which amazingly it did.

This was because Florence was also into the quack "science" of homoeopathy. According to the New York Times, when she had a kidney problem she consulted a homeopath and was so happy with the result she had her husband bring him to Washington and appoint him the official presidential physician. This would prove deadly when he misdiagnosed President Harding's heart attack as mere food poisoning. While you'd think even most laymen could tell the difference, Harding died due to incompetence. In a way, Florence deserves a bit of the blame, but she certainly didn't poison her husband, despite the rumors.

Dolley Madison was a party animal

When Dolley Madison hit Washington with her husband after he was appointed Thomas Jefferson's secretary of state, nasty rumors started swirling. People said Dolley and her sister had slept their way through half the capital and that she used to serve liquor at a bar.

While neither of those rumors were true, Dolley would prove to be one of the era's biggest party animals. It might seem a bit staid to us today, but in the early 1800s she was throwing huge shindigs that everyone was invited to.

According to the White House Historical Association, she started as she meant to go on. While George Washington had an inaugural ball, Dolley brought back the idea, planned it herself, and make sure it was held in Washington D.C. on the actual day. But it was her "Wednesday Night Squeezes" that really made her famous as a society lady. She held one every week and invited everyone from politicians to famous people to, as one Debbie Downer complained, "the shoemakers and their wives." It would be like if Melania Trump threw parties for Congress, half of Hollywood, and some bums off the street and used tax dollars to pay for it.

Dolley always dressed a little provocatively and knew everyone's names. She brought interesting people together who might never have met any other way. And, perhaps most famously, she served ice cream (although she was not the first person to do that at the White House).

Nancy Reagan took astrology to the next level

Mrs. Reagan came from Hollywood, so it makes sense she had some weird habits. But instead of following fad diets or signing on to ad campaigns, she picked up astrology. And she picked it up hard.

What had been a mere pastime became an absolute obsession after her husband was shot. According to the LA Times, she called her astrologer Joan Quigley and said she was worried about him every time he left the house. That, after an assassination attempt, is a normal way of feeling. What was perhaps not so normal was hiring Quigley to plan virtually every event in the president's life in order to keep him safe.

This all went through Nancy. Quigley actually only met the president once. But, as she said, she had a direct line to him through the first lady. And Nancy relied on her for everything. According to Quigley she was consulted about "timing all press conferences, most speeches, the State of the Union addresses, the takeoffs and landings of Air Force One ... the time of Ronald Reagan's debate with [Jimmy] Carter and the two debates with Walter Mondale, [and] all extended trips abroad as well as the shorter trips and one-day excursions." Throw in what tie to wear every day and you've got a full house.

Nancy tried to hide her reliance on Quigley by paying through a third party, but people found out and she was mocked mercilessly in the press.

Eleanor Roosevelt was a commercial star

Eleanor Roosevelt is famous for a lot of things and for being one of the greatest first ladies. But at the time she was controversial, not just for her actions or political views, but because she basically became a supermodel.

We know what you're thinking: That Eleanor Roosevelt? The one with a face only a mother could love? It might sound crazy, but according to the Washington Post, advertisers were climbing over each other to sign her as the model for their brand during her tenure.

In an ad for air travel she's pictured calmly knitting on a plane and says that despite traveling over 100,000 miles she "never cease[s] to marvel at the airplane," which makes you picture her standing on the White House lawn, staring up at the sky with her mouth wide open as planes fly overhead. She also reminds the reader that flying is just as awesome for women as it is for men because early feminism had to fight some weird battles.

She advertised everything from hot dog buns to mattresses. Congress was none too pleased when they realized what the first lady was getting up to in her free time. They even went so far as to launch an inquiry. But Eleanor shut it down when she revealed that almost all the money she made from her pitchwoman career went to charity. That made it a little harder to be mad at her, and they dropped it.

Mary Todd Lincoln was big into spiritualism

Of all the first ladies on this list, Mary Todd Lincoln is perhaps the most famous for being a little odd. After losing two of her children she turned to spiritualism, sure that their ghosts showed up at the end of her bed nightly and were trying to contact her.

These seances were led by a variety of mediums and took place at the White House. According to the National First Ladies' Library, President Lincoln attended at least one that we know of but probably more.

Amazingly, Smithsonian Magazine says if Lincoln had listened to the warnings from one medium he might have escaped assassination. Now, telling a president people are out to get him might not be that difficult a prediction to make, but Charles Colchester had a more down-to-earth knowledge than most people. He just so happened to be drinking buddies with John Wilkes Booth, who wasn't shy when it came to talking about his desire to kidnap or kill Lincoln. When warned by someone else that he should be careful, the president replied, "Colchester has been telling me that." Forget ethereal spirits; it was the sharing of earthly spirits that might have saved him.

After her husband's murder Mary Todd became even more into spiritualism, attending a "spiritualist commune" for a few days, and visiting a famous "ghost photographer" who superimposed an image of her dead husband behind her.

Bess Truman refused to use Washington laundries

According to Secret Lives of the First Ladies, Bess Truman never wanted Harry to be president. She wasn't even that thrilled he was a senator. And she certainly didn't want him to run for a second term, let alone win. But she loved her husband enough to put up with it, even if it meant she had to leave her favorite place in the world.

They should have hired Bess to write the Missouri tourist board slogans and a series of guidebooks. Because to her, that state was heaven and Washington D.C. was a special kind of hell. You can't argue with her too much, really, because it was built on a swamp and any place with that many politicians all crammed in together must be kind of evil. But she took it to the next level.

Absolutely nothing in the capital was good enough for the first lady. This included the delicate job of washing her delicates. She decided that the only thing to do when it came to getting her clothes clean was to send them back by long-distance mail all the way to Kansas City.

She was thrilled when her husband decided not to run for a third term and they headed back to Independence, Missouri, where (we assume) she spent a lot less getting her underwear cleaned and enjoyed the exquisite laundry facilities until she died at 97.

Betty Ford was a '70s chick

Betty Ford might have become first lady suddenly on the resignation of Richard Nixon, but she wasn't going to let her new role cramp her style. She was a true child of the 1970s, no matter what her real age, and she indulged in many of the fads.

Time says this involved wearing a mood ring and doing the dance fad "the Bump" down the halls of the White House. She even spoke in radically modern terms about (other people) using marijuana and premarital sex. She wasn't shy when it came to talking about her own sex life either, once saying that she and the president had sex as much as possible.

But her biggest cliche '70s thing was using a CB radio. According to Cardboard America, the first citizens band radio licenses had been issued in the 1960s, but it was in the '70s that they became a pop culture staple. In 1976, the first lady was dealing with chronic arthritis and couldn't join her husband on the campaign trail. So she got her own license and campaigned for him through the CB. Her handle was "First Mama."

While she sounds like the most fun free spirit ever, it might have come down to the self-medicating Betty was doing with alcohol and pills. She sought treatment for her addictions and will be forever more famous for setting up the Betty Ford Center than her awesome dance moves.

Louisa Adams wrote biting plays

While not as famous as her mother-in-law and fellow first lady, Louisa Adams, wife of John Quincy, lived a fascinating life. She married him at 22 and according to the National First Ladies' Library spent the next decade being dragged around Europe while he occupied various government posts. This was hell for her. At one point she was separated from two of her sons for eight years and once had to travel across the continent in the middle of a war through fields of bodies. Not exactly the glamorous political life she might have expected.

Louisa was a true Renaissance woman. She spoke fluent French, played the harp, and even raised her own silkworms while she was living in the White House. You'd think John Quincy would be thrilled at having such a cool wife and turn to her for help. Instead, he was dismissive of women's intelligence in general and his wife's in particular, which made him kind of a jerk. Louisa thought she would be his "helpmate" as first lady, instead she was basically ignored.

But she got her own back in a small way. She had always liked writing and took up playwriting as a hobby. And she picked her subjects well: she wrote a series of "bitter, sardonic" plays that included thinly veiled versions of herself and her husband, and he always came out looking badly while she was the poor repressed genius.

Rachel Jackson was an accidental bigamist

Andrew Jackson's wife is a little different than the other women here since she never actually got to be first lady. But she deserves her spot nonetheless. And it wasn't just because she smoked a corn cob pipe (on the advice of her doctor) to cure her shortness of breath, although that is pretty awesome all on its own.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Rachel was friendly, vivacious, and extremely well-educated for someone who grew up on America's frontier. She married a man named Lewis Robards when she was still a teenager, but he turned out to be a cheating, abusive waste of oxygen. They separated, and he filed for divorce. That's when the problems started. Rachel had fallen in love with Andrew Jackson by then and when they heard her divorce came through, they got married. Unfortunately, they were acting on bad information and she was still married. They remarried once her divorce was actually final, but the damage had been done. Andrew's political rivals would attack her for bigamy the whole time he was running for president.

Rachel was, understandably, not thrilled about getting even more involved in politics and said she "would rather be a door-keeper in the house of God than to live in that palace in Washington." She got her wish when she died of a heart attack less than three months before her husband's inauguration.

Jackie Kennedy stole her sister's boyfriend

Jackie Kennedy was the perfect first lady. She was poised and beautiful and comfortable around power. According to the book Jackie, Janet & Lee, she was raised this way from the beginning. Jackie and her sister, Lee, learned from their mother to be thin and pleasing to men — rich men. So Jackie married a future president, and Lee married a Polish prince. But there were serious rivalries between the two women. Writer Gore Vidal swears Lee slept with JFK repeatedly while he was married to Jackie, and that the first lady knew about it but was too proper to make a fuss. So she waited.

After JFK was shot, Jackie let a respectable amount of time pass before marrying the insanely rich Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. There was just one problem: Onassis had been Lee's boyfriend for six years. Lee had introduced the two, and they went behind her back and made a marriage of convenience for both of them. Then Jackie didn't even bother telling Lee what was happening. Instead it was Onassis who called his girlfriend, told her he'd decided to marry her sister, and said he'd love it if she came to the wedding. Truman Capote later wrote that Lee called him in complete hysterics afterward, screaming and sobbing.

Lee did come to the wedding, but the sisters' relationship was completely destroyed. And Jackie made sure she stuck the knife in again at the end, leaving nothing to Lee in her will.

Lady Bird Johnson went all 'Single White Female'

A friend of President Lyndon Johnson once called him a "sexual gorilla." He was also extremely well-endowed. (We know this because he liked to whip it out randomly as a show of power.) So for a sheltered Southern virgin like Lady Bird Johnson, marriage to this guy was always going to be a trial.

Their honeymoon in Mexico involved so much shocking intimacy that when Lady Bird got back to the States the first thing she did was see a gynecologist. But no doctor would be able to help her with her husband's wandering eye. According to Texas Monthly, Lyndon liked women, and he didn't care if his wife was around while he liked them. He's recorded as taking some friends for a spin in a car and molesting the woman next to him while Lady Bird watched, trapped. At a formal dinner, he once grabbed a woman and put her on his lap, feeling her up for ages until the Secret Service finally made him leave with his wife. The couple reportedly didn't discuss what had just happened on the ride home.

But Lyndon's long-term girlfriends were more concerning for Lady Bird. His political career meant he couldn't afford to divorce her and she knew it, but it didn't stop Lady Bird from modeling herself on a woman her husband had a decades-long affair with. Lady Bird went total stalker and copied her clothes, makeup, and jewelry, all in the hopes her husband would stay interested and stop sleeping around.

Melania Trump can troll as well as anyone

Melania Trump was never a very successful model. Despite her husband retconning her abilities to the level of "supermodel," in reality she didn't have much luck until she started dating Donald Trump, and even then she didn't do anything notable. Which is why it's so weird that one of the few campaigns she did star in seemed to echo her future a little too closely.

The New York Times noted in a July 2016 profile on Melania that a Slovenian fashion label hired her in the early 1990s to act in a commercial where she exits a large plane surrounded by bodyguards, drives past adoring crowds, and signs official-looking legislation. According to the director, Melania was playing the part of the first female president of the United States. Univision actually tracked down the hilariously low-budget video, which is full of terrible '90s clothes and hair.

But perhaps the weirdest thing Melania has ever done is appear to troll her husband online. While Donald is obsessed with Twitter, Melania doesn't use her official @FLOTUS handle very much, tweeting fewer than 500 times so far. She also only follows six people: both her husband's accounts, the vice president and second lady, the official White House History account ... and Barack Obama. You know, the guy Donald absolutely hates. Apparently despite pushing the birther movement herself, Melania really wants to know what Obama is up to these days. Or maybe she just wants to annoy her husband.

Pat Nixon was way too good for Richard Nixon

The weirdest thing about Pat Nixon was that she was married to Richard Nixon. He was an angry, rude, standoffish individual, whereas everyone seemed to think Pat was the greatest woman who had ever lived. As soon as she came on the world stage when her husband became vice president in 1953, organizations threw awards at her for being just the best.

According to Parade, Pat was named Outstanding Homemaker of the Year in 1953, Mother of the Year in 1955, and the "nation's ideal wife" by the Homemakers Forum in 1957. Of course, she wasn't your average homemaker or wife because during this time she had accompanied Richard on a dangerous trip to South America where she met with lepers and narrowly escaped an attack on their motorcade by an angry mob.

Pat was so popular that when Richard ran for president in 1960, his campaign pushed the slogan "Pat For First Lady" and put it on everything from buttons to bumper stickers. Once she finally entered the White House in 1969, nothing could tarnish Pat, not even Watergate. Her husband kept her totally in the dark, so she really seems not to have known how bad it was until it was over. But no one blamed her for what Richard did. She was in the top 10 of Gallup's yearly poll of "Most Admired Men and Women in the World" 14 times, including the four years immediately after her husband resigned in disgrace.