Communication studies scholar Diana Carlin publishes new book on America's first ladies

LAWRENCE — Diana Carlin, retired professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas, has published a pioneering textbook shedding light on the transformative legacies of America’s first ladies.

Diana Carlin

"U.S. First Ladies: Making History and Leaving Legacies," published by Cognella, is a 320-page volume that delves into the profound influence of first ladies on American society, public policy, politics, diplomacy and life within the White House. Carlin’s co-authors are Anita McBride, chief of staff to former first lady Laura Bush, and Nancy Kegan Smith, former director of the Presidential Materials Division at the National Archives and Records Administration. All three authors are members of the First Ladies Association for Research and Education (FLARE). Current First Lady Jill Biden wrote the foreword.

In fall 2022, Carlin engaged KU honors students and Dole Student Ambassadors in focus groups, providing them with a preliminary version of the textbook for testing. The students' valuable insights led to significant enhancements in the final edition. Moreover, students from institutions including American University, Saint Louis University and Keuka College offered their input.

"U.S. First Ladies" book cover

"When I taught courses at KU about first ladies before co-authoring this book, I had to piece together materials from various sources. The textbook and the forthcoming trade book go beyond mere biographies,” Carlin said. “They illuminate how the position has evolved since Martha Washington first assumed it in 1789. They emphasize that each first lady brought her unique background and interests to the role, often shaped and influenced by her husband's views and society's evolving attitudes towards women's involvement in politics. My co-authors and I are profoundly grateful to the students at KU and other institutions whose invaluable input enriched the book's content."

Carlin’s scholarly work encompasses book chapters dedicated to figures such as Martha Washington, Lady Bird Johnson, Julia Grant, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama. She has also written an article titled “Sesame Street, the White House, and First Ladies” for the White House Quarterly. Carlin was among the first scholars to found FLARE in 2021, which collaborates with partner institutions to provide both online and in-person programming centered around U.S. first ladies. Carlin orchestrated a four-part series on first ladies in collaboration with the Dole Institute of Politics in spring 2023.

Carlin is also former dean of KU’s graduate school and international programs and a current instructor with Jayhawk Global's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. She will give a course titled Presidential Debates: Why We Watch and Why They Matter, also offering a glimpse into the upcoming 2024 primary and potential general election debate seasons. The course will take place from 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesdays from Oct. 17 to Nov. 7 at Brewster Place Event Center in Topeka. Learn more and enroll through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute registration system

Mon, 10/09/2023


Valerie Hawley

Media Contacts

Valerie Hawley