American politics seem to be fueled by the occasional (or, right now, not so occasional) scandal. The first family lives under intense observation and scrutiny from not only the press but the American public. Look at Melania Trump—in her husband's short period as president during his campaign, she's been dragged for appearing naked in a magazine, for covering another magazine while draped in diamonds, and for allegedly plagiarizing a speech by former First Lady Michelle Obama. But Melania isn't the only first lady with a risqué background—former first ladies have just done a better job of hiding theirs. Bet you never knew these secrets about some of the United States' esteemed first ladies.
Nancy Reagan was one of Ronald's closest advisors, but she relied on an extremely unconventional method for making her decisions. Nancy consulted an astrologer after an assassination attempt on her husband, and would look to the stars for guidance on a regular basis afterward. When this news became public, Nancy and the administration were mocked and she went on to downplay how much of a role astrology had in their decision-making.
Betty Ford was already a sore spot for Republicans during her husband's campaign because she was divorced. After Gerald Ford's presidency, Betty checked herself into a recovery facility for an addiction to painkillers and alcohol. She wrote in her memoirs that she didn't let herself become truly addicted to either during her time as first lady or during her husband's reelection campaign, but she went on to raise awareness on the issue of alcoholism and how it relates to women for much of her post-White House life.
Jackie Kennedy smoked just as much as any other woman did during the era of her husband's presidency. Cigarettes were thought to make you thinner and more calm, but that doesn't mean the general public approved of them. White House photographers were told not to take photos of Jackie in the act of smoking, and if they did, those photos couldn't be published.
When President Wilson suffered a stroke in 1919, his wife Edith stepped in to make sure things went smoothly. Even though she had always been a presence in the Oval Office, she took things to a new level by not letting anyone into the Lincoln Bedroom during the president's recovery—not even the vice president was given access. Historians believe she was basically acting as commander-in-chief during this time.
Before FDR contracted polio, it was rumored that he had multiple affairs. But his wife Eleanor wasn't so innocent, either. Before her husband took office, she was nervous about the demands of being first lady and would often turn to the group of female reporters that covered the new president for support. Lorena Hickock was one of them, and as the years went on the two grew exceptionally close. They wrote letters to one another that were highly suggestive of a romantic relationship. In 1933, Eleanor wrote, "I cannot go to bed to-night without a word to you. I felt a little as though a part of me was leaving to-night, you have grown so much to be a part of my life that it is empty without you even though I'm busy every minute."
The general public knew something was up with First Lady Nellie Taft when she canceled all her public appearances in the spring of 1909. But they didn't know she had recently suffered a stroke and couldn't speak. With the help of her four sisters, she eventually learned how to talk again and continued her first lady duties.
In a time when alcohol was illegal nationwide, Florence Harding did more than turn a blind eye to this rule. When President Harding would host friends for poker, they would drink scotch and whiskey out of the president's private reserves. Florence played bartender, mixed drinks for the gentlemen while her husband called out cocktail orders (although she was never seen drinking the alcohol herself).
This first lady came from a very prominent family, and was used to a certain affluent lifestyle. When she and Abe got to the White House, she redecorated the entire thing with federal funds and also used government money to pay for her not-so-cheap clothing habit. She even asked Republican appointees to help pay her debts. She said this was all part of maintaining a certain appearance. Yikes.