Melania finding her First Lady persona

Mrs Melania Trump with a child at a youth centre at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland last Friday. She had travelled there in a show of support for military families. The United States First Lady is taking on a public schedule that is beginning to resem
Mrs Melania Trump with a child at a youth centre at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland last Friday. She had travelled there in a show of support for military families. The United States First Lady is taking on a public schedule that is beginning to resemble those of her predecessors.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • In the early days of the Trump White House, the question frequently lobbed about by Washington's chattering class was: "Where is Melania (Trump)?"

Now, though, she is providing an answer, taking on a public schedule that is beginning to resemble those of her predecessors.

Last week, she flew with her husband to Florida, where they surveyed the wreckage left by Hurricane Irma and handed out Federal Emergency Management Agency lunches.

She returned to Washington that same Thursday evening to host a reception for the White House Historical Association, a venerable group founded by former first lady Jackie Kennedy to maintain and protect the executive mansion. The event included a sit-down dinner where President Donald Trump introduced his wife as "the star of the Trump family".

Last Friday afternoon, she travelled to Joint Base Andrews in suburban Maryland to visit a youth centre in a show of support for military families. Then, she and her husband boarded Air Force One for a weekend at their New Jersey golf resort.

"She is more visible and starting to do some of the more conventional First Lady things," said Ohio University history professor Katherine Jellison, who studies first ladies.

From the start, Mrs Trump has said she would take her own time filling out the contours of the role. She delayed her move to the White House, but accompanied her husband overseas during his first diplomatic outings.

Mrs Trump's public persona is still coming into focus, though. Her visit to the youth centre last Friday was a classic First Lady photo opportunity of the sort pioneered by Lady Bird Johnson, who went out to read to schoolchildren to promote the Johnson administration's creation of the Head Start programme.

For Mrs Trump, an increase in such community-oriented events could help shift the public discussion about her, which until now has largely focused on the former model's clothing choices.

That is largely what has led to the frequent comparisons to Kennedy, who made high-fashion style statements with simple lines and monochromatic dresses.

But in terms of public persona, Mrs Trump most resembles Bess Truman - a first lady who dutifully showed up for events but played the role quietly, said Mr Carl Sferrazza Anthony, historian of the National First Ladies' Library.

"Bess Truman never gave press interviews at all - and that was after Eleanor Roosevelt, who had a Sunday radio show and held press conferences," he said.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2017, with the headline 'Melania finding her First Lady persona'. Print Edition | Subscribe