FLARE: An Organizational History

Formation of FLARE

Discussions about the need for establishing an association for first ladies scholars and others grew out of a Listserv housed at the Pennsylvania State University. Molly Wertheimer, professor of communication arts and sciences at the Hazleton Campus, established the Listserv in May of 1998. The purpose of the Listserv initially was to collaborate more easily with authors on an essay collection Dr. Wertheimer was editing, Inventing a Voice: The Rhetoric of American First Ladies of the Twentieth Century. After publication of the book, the Listserv continued as a networking tool for scholars, mainly from the Speech and Communication fields, but growing gradually to include first lady scholars in other fields. The Listserv promoted discussion of research on first ladies, conference panels and presentations, and publications. [For more information on the development and evolution of the FIRSTLADY Listserv, please see Molly Wertheimer’s biography section.]

In 2018, seven first ladies scholars undertook the establishment of a national First Ladies Association. Their first formal meeting to lay the groundwork for forming this group took place on June 16 – 19, 2019, in Old Town, Alexandria, VA.  The participants included: Diana Carlin, Myra Gutin, Anita McBride, Elizabeth Natalle, Katherine A.S. Sibley, Nancy Kegan Smith, and Molly Wertheimer. [For more information on each founding member, please see the biography section.] The result of these meetings was the formation of the First Ladies Association for Research and Education, FLARE. Among other initial decisions, the founding members crafted mission and vision statements.

FLARE’s Mission and Vision


The mission of FLARE is to create and sustain a network to promote and publicize research and education relevant to the contributions, lives, impact, and lasting legacies of U.S. First Ladies. 


FLARE will be the primary association to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration and outreach among scholars, institutions, first lady staffs, biographers, archivists, journalists, and public historians interested in research and education about the continuing impact and lasting legacies of U.S. First Ladies.

FLARE’s Affiliation with American University’s School of Public Affairs 

A key initial goal of FLARE was to establish an academic affiliation with a major university.  The first choice of the group was American University because of its ground-breaking First Ladies Initiative, headed by FLARE founding member Anita McBride. The First Ladies Initiative brings needed attention to, and knowledge of the important role first ladies play in society as leaders in their own right. A memorandum of understanding was signed between Dean Vicky Wilkins, representing American University’s School of Public Affairs, and FLARE in May 2020, formalizing a framework for cooperation and an official affiliation between the University and FLARE.

FLARE believes that American University is the ideal locus for a mutually beneficial partnership. Through a partnership with FLARE, both entities will further enhance studies of the importance of first ladies and will foster examination of how this role has evolved to reflect changes in society’s views of women’s roles, including how each first ladies’ enactment of the role mirrors her own times.

FLARE Formalizes Its Structure 

  • August 27, 2019: FLARE elected the following interim officers: Myra Gutin, President; Nancy Kegan Smith, Vice President; Molly Wertheimer, Secretary, Diana Carlin, Treasurer; and Anita McBride, Elizabeth Natalle, and Katherine Sibley serving as board members
  • November 5, 2019: FLARE approved its By Laws
  • July 2, 2020: FLARE incorporated in the District of Columbia and registered its Federal Tax ID number with the DC revenue division
  • May of 2020: FLARE/American University School of Public Affairs approved Memorandum of Understanding
  • January 1, 2021, the founding officers’ official terms began
  • March 24, 2021: FLARE received its 501(c)(3) non-profit designation

What Does FLARE Offers Its Members? 

  • The premier place to network with a group of interdisciplinary scholars and those interested in first ladies
  • Opportunities to discuss and develop projects with other experts
  • Current information on first ladies research, conferences, publications, talks, press and related events
  • Conferences, podcasts and programs on first ladies
  • Speaker’s Bureau of first ladies’ experts
  • Teaching experiences and speakers for students from the elementary through the university level
  • Promotion opportunities for research and books
  • First Ladies Cocktail Hours
  • And much, much more…