Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sat Jul 10 17:46:39 UTC 2004

>I'm writing a story on "First Ladies", pastors' wives in African-American
>churches for the State Journal Register in Springfield, Illinois, and I am
>having a really hard time finding out the history behind the term.

I believe "first lady of X" generally means "wife of the head man of X". I
don't know the exact origin but it's transparent enough that it might have
come into common use centuries ago. "First lady of the nation" meaning
"wife of the US President" was applied to Mrs. George Washington as early
as the 1840's (however it is possible to construe this differently, with
"lady of the nation" meaning "President's wife" and Martha being the first
of these ladies).

E.g., the following would be conventional:

"First lady of the US" = "Wife of the US President"
"First lady of Pennsylvania" = "Wife of the PA Governor"
"First lady of the Soviet Union" = "Wife of the USSR Premier"
"First lady of the University of Texas" = "Wife of the U. Texas president"

The following occurs occasionally (apologies to the Queen):

"First lady of the UK" = "Wife of the Prime Minister of the UK"

Note that the term is NOT generally applied to a woman who is herself head
of state or university president or whatever.

For some reason commercial corporation applications like "First lady of
IBM" = "Wife of the IBM president" do not seem to occur [much].

[Occasionally "first lady of X" is used less specifically, like "most
important lady of X", but I believe this is exceptional.]

"First lady of the church" = "Wife of the pastor of the church" is
presumably an example of the same nomenclature.

Google search for <<"first lady of the church">> provides many examples,
including photos of various ladies.

Question: in a large church which has multiple pastors, is only the chief
pastor's wife called "first lady"? Is there a "second first lady"? Or a
"second lady"?

-- Doug Wilson

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