OUR HISTORY

A LOCAL ICON MAKES HER MARK

Stark County, Ohio, native Mary Regula was a mother, schoolteacher, community servant, and Congressional spouse to former Ohio Congressman Ralph Regula. In 1995, she discovered that our nation's First Ladies were drastically underrepresented as historical figures. An ardent advocate for women, she assembled a team to raise funds and employed a historian to compile a comprehensive record of every First Lady from Martha Washington to the present. In 1998, the National First Ladies Library made its debut at the historic Saxton-McKinley House, the downtown Canton, Ohio, childhood home of First Lady Ida Saxton McKinley, wife of 25th President William McKinley.

The National First Ladies Library was initially conceived as a repository for all the information publicly available about our nation's First Ladies, with a physical library consisting of hundreds of books and articles as well as a robust research web site detailing the full lives of these remarkable women. 

In the late 1990s, Mary Regula raised millions of dollars to completely restore the Saxton-McKinley House (built in 1842) back to the splendor of the Victorian age, where President and Mrs. McKinley lived when they were visiting Canton from Washington, DC., during his presidency. Today, the house is a showplace of grandeur and interprets the lives of the McKinleys in the late 1890s.

In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed a bill creating the First Ladies National Historic Site, a unit of the National Park Service. In 2003, the site expanded to include the former City National Bank Building a block north from the Saxton-McKinley House on Market Avenue. The building was completely renovated under Mary Regula's leadership and was called the Education and Research Center. In 2024, it was renamed as the Visitor Center and Museum after the organization rebranded to the National First Ladies Library & Museum. Today, the museum showcases rotating and permanent exhibits about the First Ladies and includes a Victorian theater and the First Ladies Library, as well as a gift shop, conference rooms, and administrative offices for both the National First Ladies Library & Museum and the National Park Service. The National Historic Site also includes First Ladies Park, a lovely outdoor garden and wedding venue.

The National First Ladies Library & Museum at the First Ladies National Historic site is visited by tens of thousands of park visitors each year and serve as the nation's only showplace to honor America's iconic First Ladies.

Mary Regula First Ladies History

Founder Mary Regula (left) with then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who helped launch the organization in 1998.

NATIONAL FIRST LADIES LIBRARY & MUSEUM TIMELINE

  • 1995

    The first official meeting is held with the founding board of the National First Ladies Library.

    Mary Regula, Suzanne Timken, and 13 members are founding members.

    1995 Meeting First Ladies History
  • 1997

    The organization is incorporated in District of Columbia under legal name National First Ladies Library.

    A National Board of Directors, National Advisory Board, and Local Site Committee are formed. 501 (c) (3) nonprofit status is achieved.

    1997 Committee First Ladies History
  • 1998

    In January, the official announcement of the National First Ladies Library is announced at the Renwick Gallery in Washington, DC. 

    A month later, the research web site is officially unveiled at press conference in East Room of White House. First Lady Hillary Clinton makes first “hit” on website and accesses her own bibliographic records.

    First Ladies History Campaign Trail Exhibit
  • 1998

    In June, the Grand Opening and Dedication of Saxton-McKinley House is held in Canton, Ohio, as the home of the National First Ladies Library.

    A ribbon-cutting ceremony headed by former First Lady Rosalynn Carter and a subsequent Victorian Gala are attended by over 300 people.

    Rosalynn and Mary First Ladies History
  • 1999

    First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton visits Canton, Ohio.

    The First Lady tours the National First Ladies’ Library home – the Saxton-McKinley House. She announces that the City National Bank Building one block north will be renovated through a Save America’s Treasures grant – a millennium project initiative of President and Mrs. Clinton.

    First Ladies History Hillary Saxton House
  • 2000

    In January, the National First Ladies Library announces a $2.5 million Save America’s Treasures Match Grant to renovate the City National Bank building. 

    The new building will become the "Education and Research Center" (later Visitor Center/Museum) and expands the footprint of the National First Ladies Library to two buildings and a park.

    First Ladies History Building
  • 2000

    A bill signed by President Bill Clinton establishes the First Ladies National Historic Site in Canton, Ohio.

    The Saxton-McKinley House is placed on the National Register of Historic Places and comes under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

    First Ladies Library
  • 2003

    The former Rotary Park and the surface parking lot adjacent to the Saxton-McKinley House is donated to the National First Ladies Library. 

    Rotary Park is renamed First Ladies Park.

    Park March 2024 Entry
  • 2003

    First Lady Laura Bush dedicates the Education & Research Center (later called the Visitor Center/Museum).

    Mrs. Bush's visit marks the third First Lady to visit the site.

    Laura Bush in Front of Ed Center
  • 2011

    The Education & Research Center is officially donated to the National Park Service.

    Throughout the 2010s, the National First Ladies Library works in partnership with the National Park Service to operate the site in accordance with the standards set forth by the Department of the Interior.

    First Ladies National Historic Site Sign v2
  • 2018

    Founder Mary Regula passes away.

    The Canton community and the organization mourns the loss of Stark County's "First Lady." 

    Mary Regula
  • 2023

    The organization officially changes its name to National First Ladies Library & Museum. 

    The rebranding reflects the organization's 25-year history and growth as a destination site for tens of thousands of visitors from across the country.

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ABOUT OUR FOUNDER

MARY ANN ROGUSKY REGULA

Born in Girard, Ohio, in 1926 and married to late Ohio Congressman Ralph Regula in 1948, Mary Regula filled a wide variety of roles throughout her life – schoolteacher, Congressional spouse, political figure, mother of three, and pioneer in the establishment of our First Ladies history. She distinguished herself in service to her community and country through dedication and education, her involvement in numerous volunteer activities, her personal leadership roles, and her inspirational and historical programs. Mary received an Honorary Doctorate in Humanities from Mount Union College in May 1999, and in May 2004, The University of Akron bestowed on her an Honorary Doctorate in Science and Education. She was inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame in October 1999. Her most outstanding accomplishment, however, is being the founder of the National First Ladies Library - later known as the National First Ladies Library & Museum.

Throughout her experience researching, teaching, and lecturing, Mary discovered a notable void of information regarding the United States First Ladies and other women who have contributed so much to our nation’s history. Determined to make it easier for others to learn about these great historical figures, and to document information about the First Ladies in one cohesive location, Mary assembled a board of fifteen members, including herself and Suzanne Timken, tasked with raising the necessary funds and hiring a historian to create a complete 40,000-entry bibliography on all of the United States First Ladies – from Martha Washington to the current First Lady at the time. From that meeting, and plenty of hard work afterward, came the foundation of the National First Ladies Library and the First Ladies National Historic Site.

Mary Regula was married to Ralph Regula, the late Ohio Senator (1967-1973) and Representative (1973-2009), so she was no stranger to the political game. Throughout Ralph’s incumbency as Congressman, Mary got to know many political figures, and even became friends with many former First Ladies through her efforts to establish the National First Ladies Library. Some of these First Ladies include Rosalynn Carter (First Lady of 39th President Jimmy Carter), who would perform a ribbon-cutting at the grand opening and dedication of the Saxton-McKinley House; Hillary Rodham Clinton (First Lady of 42nd President Bill Clinton), who would become the first First Lady to search her own bibliographic records on the National First Ladies website and later visit and tour the Saxton-McKinley House to announce the City National Bank Building “Official Project”; and Barbara Bush (First Lady of 41st President George H.W. Bush), who would dedicate the Education & Research Center in Canton upon its opening in 2003.

Mary Regula passed away on April 5, 2018 – just 8 months after the death of Ralph Regula – at their farmhouse in Stark County, Ohio. Mary's three children, Martha, David, and Richard, have always been active in the National First Ladies Library over the years. Mary Regula's efforts and her legacy are continuously carried on here at the National First Ladies Library & Museum, where new exhibits and entries into physical and digital archives continue to grow alongside our First Ladies history.

Leaders in Literacy

4/30/2024 through 4/30/2025

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First Ladies as Teachers, Educators, and Librarians.

The right to an education is a foundational principle of America’s history, and many First Ladies have taken up this cause. We celebrate National First Ladies Day by kicking off this featured exhibit, presented by Huntington Bank.