GALLUP NEWS SERVICE
What men and women have earned the most admiration among the American public over the past half century? The Gallup Poll's annual Most Admired Men or Women surveys, conducted over the past 50 years, provide a fascinating portrait of the prominent personalities on the U.S. and the world stage during these tumultuous years.
Gallup's Most Admired question asks Americans to name the man and woman "that you have heard or read about, living today in any part of the world" that the respondent admires most. Gallup compiles the list of the top vote getters each year, and the result is a unique history of the people who created the highest top-of-mind, positive imagery in the minds of Americans as the years 1948 to the present have unfolded. Unlike theTimeMagazine's Man (or Woman) of the Year award, which is given to the person who had the greatest impact during the year -- either positive or negative -- Gallup's Most Admired list is specifically focused on only the positive side of the ledger.
The Most Admired list is limited to living people, so public figures who died prematurely (such as John F. Kennedy) or whose public life spanned the years before 1948 (such as Eleanor Roosevelt) are not as likely to have dominated the 1948-1998 list as are public figures who have lived many years during that time period. Additionally, of course, the fact that the surveys came only after World War II eliminates such potentially admirable figures as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and General John J. Pershing.
The men and women who have appeared in the Top 10 positions on the two lists more than any others are as follows:
|Number of Lists, 1948-1998, on Which Person Appeared Among Top 10||Number of Lists, 1948-1998, on Which Person Appeared Among Top 10|
|Billy Graham||41||Queen Elizabeth II||36|
|Ronald Reagan||26||Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis||27|
|Dwight Eisenhower||21||Mamie Eisenhower||21|
|Pope John Paul II||21||Margaret Thatcher||20|
|Harry Truman||20||Margaret Chase Smith||19|
|Richard Nixon||20||Mother Teresa||18|
|Winston Churchill||17||Clare Boothe Luce||18|
|Edward Kennedy||17||Helen Keller||17|
|Jimmy Carter||15||Mm. Chiang Kai-shek||17|
|Douglas MacArthur||15||Betty Ford||16|
|George H. Bush||14||Nancy Reagan||16|
|Pope Paul VI||12||Eleanor Roosevelt||14|
|Albert Schweitzer||11||Patricia Nixon||14|
|Henry Kissinger||11||Barbara Bush||11|
|Jesse Jackson||11||Oprah Winfrey||11|
|Adlai Stevenson||11||Lady Bird Johnson||10|
One of the most obvious conclusions from an examination of this list is the importance of the United States presidency. U.S. presidents have a high probability of appearing on the list, in large part, no doubt, due to their looming presence in the minds of Americans when they are asked to respond to the Most Admired question off the top of their head. From 1948 to the present there have been 10 presidents, and all have appeared in the Top 10 positions on the list, most of them numerous times: Truman, Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton. In fact, of these only Gerald Ford did not appear at least once as number one on the list, and this was due in large part to the fact that Gallup did not ask the Most Admired question in the two main years of his administration, 1975 and 1976.
The presence of the president as number one on the Most Admired list has been so ubiquitous, in fact, that it is of interest to look at the years in which the president didnotearn the top spot on the list. These were:
|Year||Incumbent President||Man Who Was Number One in Lieu of Incumbent President|
|1950||Truman||Truman was eclipsed by World War II hero Dwight Eisenhower|
|1951||Truman||Truman again was eclipsed, this time by World War II and Korean War hero Douglas MacArthur|
|1952||Truman||Eisenhower, elected in November 1952 for term to begin in January 1953, wins again|
|1967||Johnson||Former president Eisenhower beats LBJ, who is hurt by the Vietnam War|
|1968||Johnson||Eisenhower again tops LBJ|
|1973||Nixon||Kissinger wins in large part due to public's perception of his role in the Vietnam peace settlement; Nixon hurt by Watergate scandal|
|1974||Nixon||Kissinger; Nixon 7th|
|1980||Carter||Pope John Paul II; Carter loses reelection bid in November 1980; hurt by hostage crisis in Iran and by economy|
On the female side of the ledger, it is equally apparent that presidential first ladies have a high probability of being in the Top 10, and often of being number one. Bess Truman, Mamie Eisenhower, Jacqueline Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, Patricia Nixon, Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush and Hillary Clinton have all been on the list, with Jacqueline Kennedy appearing so often that she ranks second overall in terms of frequency, just behind the Queen of England.
Of some interest are the "one-shot wonders" who appeared on the Top 10 list once and only once:
|Sample of Men Appearing on the Top 10 List Only Once||Year||Sample of Women Appearing on the Top 10 List Only Once||Year|
|Eugene McCarthy||1968||Bess Truman||1949|
|George McGovern||1972||Martha Mitchell||1971|
|Oliver North||1987||Happy Rockefeller||1974|
|Magic Johnson||1991||Katharine Hepburn||1992|
|Terry Anderson||1991||Whitney Houston||1995|
|Boris Yeltsin||1992||Barbra Streisand||1996|
|Newt Gingrich||1995||Monica Lewinsky||1998|
The sections below, prepared by Gallup analysts Lydia Saad and David Moore, explore the men and women who have been at the top of Gallup's list in more detail.
PART I: The Most Admired Men of the Last Half Century
Reverend Billy Graham
Billy Graham has had a most remarkable run on The Gallup Poll's Most Admired Men list. His popularity has spanned five decades, which is a tribute both to his personal charisma and impact on people, as well as to his longevity. Born in 1918, Billy Graham is now over 80 years old and has appeared in the Top 10 of Gallup's Most Admired Men nearly every year since his debut on the list in 1955, with the single exception of 1962. Reverend Graham has never attained the distinction of being #1 on the list, but in the late 1960s and early '70s, he was a fixture in the #2 position, which he also reached as recently as 1997. His average rank across all 41 appearances on the list from 1955-1998 is 4.5.
Why Billy Graham?
In his first high-profile crusade, in Los Angeles in 1949, he preached to 350,000 people. A vigorous, magnetic preacher, he toured the world with his crusades; he claimed through his preaching and subsidiary broadcasting, films, and books to have converted millions of people to his version of Christianity. His Billy Graham Evangelistic Association raised millions of dollars, and was considered a model of financial accountability. He published several accounts of his religious views, including Peace With God (1952) and World Aflame (1965). From President Eisenhower on, it became almost obligatory for the U.S. president to be seen at least once in the company of Graham. www.biography.com
In a May 1957 Gallup poll, 85% of Americans were able to correctly describe the identity of Billy Graham using terms such as "evangelist," "revival preacher" and "religious leader." In 1963, roughly two-thirds of Americans offered a positive impression of Graham in response to an open-ended question asking for their opinion of him. The largest segment, 31%, referenced his honesty and positive influence in society. One in five, 21%, described him personally in strongly positive terms, such as "excellent," "marvelous," "a great man," and "the world's greatest evangelist." Fewer than one in ten expressed any negative sentiments about him, either in terms of their reaction to him as a person, or to his religious work.
Another poll in 1963 quantified public reaction to Billy Graham on a ten-point favorability scale ranging from "Plus 5" to "Minus 5." More than a quarter of Americans, 27%, gave Graham the highest score of Plus 5, while only 3% rated him a Minus 5. Overall, 77% indicated a positive impression of Graham while just 15% gave him a negative rating. When last updated in 1987, Graham's favorability score had declined only slightly, with 69% rating him favorably, and 21% unfavorably.
Despite public reverence for Billy Graham in the second half of this century, Gallup polls conducted in 1963 remind us that he was not taken seriously as a presidential candidate on at least one occasion when his name was suggested as a possible contender. In the same poll where two-thirds of the public rated him highly on personal character, only 12% indicated unequivocal support for Graham as a potential presidential candidate, while 72% thought he lacked the necessary experience or skills. In a hypothetical matchup with President John F. Kennedy as the Democratic candidate, only 24% said they would vote for Billy Graham as the Republican candidate in the 1964 election.
While Billy Graham has had unsurpassed longevity on Gallup's Most Admired list, Dwight David Eisenhower, U.S. president and World War II general, had both longevity and consistently stellar rankings. Out of 21 appearances on the list, he was ranked lower than #2 only once, which was 1964 when President Lyndon Johnson earned the #1 spot and Winston Churchill held #2. It is possible Eisenhower would have had an even longer tenure on the Gallup Top-10 list, had the measure been instituted earlier than 1948 -- which was only a few years after he led the Allied forces in Europe during World War II, including the D-Day invasion at Normandy. Despite the fact that 1948 -- when the list began -- was three years after the victory in Europe that made him a household name around the world, Eisenhower was named Gallup's Most Admired Man of the Year 12 separate times, including all eight years of his two-term presidency (a feat also accomplished by Ronald Reagan, and thus far by Bill Clinton).
Some of Gallup's earliest measures of public opinion about General Eisenhower concerned his possible entry into presidential politics.
As early as 1943 Eisenhower was mentioned as a presidential candidate. His personal qualities and military reputation prompted both parties to woo him. As the campaign of 1952 neared, Eisenhower let it be known that he was a Republican, and the eastern wing of the party, headed by Gov. Thomas E. Dewey of New York, made an intensive effort to persuade him to seek the Republican presidential nomination. His name was entered in several state primaries against the more conservative Sen. Robert A. Taft of Ohio. Although the results were mixed, Eisenhower decided to run. www.britannica.com
In 1947, Gallup found a plurality of Americans, 46%, uncertain about the general's political ideology, while the remainder were split in thinking that he was either a liberal or a conservative. (Even halfway through his first term as Republican president, Gallup asked Americans, "In your opinion, is (Dwight) Eisenhower, at heart, more of a Republican, more of a Democrat, or do you think he is somewhere in between the two?" To this only 31% of Americans replied that Eisenhower was truly a Republican at heart, while 57% felt he was somewhere between the two parties.)
Leading up to the 1952 election in which Eisenhower successfully won the presidency for the first time, The Gallup Poll found that Americans of both major parties said they would welcome the World War II hero as their party's standard-bearer. According to a June 1950 survey, 42% of Democrats nationwide wanted to see Eisenhower named as their party's candidate for president in the next election, and a larger total of 54% of Democrats named him as either their first or second choice. The incumbent, Harry Truman, ranked a distant second among Democrats, with a total of 24% naming him one of their top choices. Support for Eisenhower was similarly widespread among Republicans nationwide, with 40% naming him their first choice for the GOP nomination, and a total of 52% choosing him either first or second.
If Eisenhower were looking to the American public for encouragement about whether or not to run, he may have found it in a September 1951 Gallup poll in which 53% of Americans indicated they thought he would make a good president, while just 33% thought he would not.
But perhaps it was polls such as one taken in October 1951 that ultimately helped convince Eisenhower to take the political plunge, and run as a Republican. In that survey, an impressive 64% of Americans said they would support Eisenhower for president as the Republican candidate, compared to only 28% who would vote for the Democratic incumbent, Harry Truman.
The significance of Eisenhower's decision about running extended directly to President Harry Truman, who by this time was considering abandoning a bid for a third term (Truman inherited the presidency in 1945 and was re-elected in 1948). Under the weight of labor problems and concerns about the Korean War, Truman's job performance rating fell to 23% in a November 1951 Gallup poll -- close to the lowest approval rating for any president on record in The Gallup Poll. (The lowest was 22% recorded for Truman in February 1952.) In a letter to Eisenhower dated December 18, 1951, Truman wrote:
The columnists, the slick magazines and all the political people who like to speculate are saying many things about what is to happen in 1952. As I told you in 1948 and at our luncheon in 1951, do what you think best for the country. My own position is in the balance.
(fromTrumanby David McCullough, p. 888)
Once he had attained the presidency the following year, President Eisenhower enjoyed widespread support from the American people. In Gallup polls conducted throughout his two terms in office, Eisenhower never received a job approval rating lower than 49%. His highest rating was 79%, taken shortly after his re-election in 1956. After several years of consistently high ratings -- at or above 70% -- public approval dipped into the 50s and 60s in his last few years; however, his overall two-term average wound up being a very respectable 65%.
The fact that Eisenhower was well liked by the vast majority of Americans during his lifetime is reflected in his favorability ratings. Shortly after taking office in 1953, 89% of Americans indicated they had a favorable opinion of him, including 57% who gave him the highest favorable rating possible. Ten years later, after he had been out of office for nearly three years, nearly as many Americans, 85%, felt favorably about the former general, including 37% who gave him the highest possible rating.
Pope John Paul II
Pope John Paul II (1920- ) is said to be the most recognized person in the world. He is the most traveled pope in the 2,000-year history of the Church and speaks eight languages. Born Karol Jozef Wojtyla (pronounced Voy-tee-wah) in Wadowice, Poland on May 18, 1920 to an administrative officer in the Polish army and a former schoolteacher. In 1978, at the age of 58 the College of Cardinals elected him to lead the Roman Catholic Church. He was the first non-Italian chosen as pope in 456 years and the youngest in this century. (www.zpub.com)
Gallup polls show that roughly one-third of the U.S. adult public adheres to the Roman Catholic faith. While growing in proportion as more Catholic immigrants are entering the U.S., Catholicism remains a minority faith in the U.S., second to the vast array of Protestant denominations, which in total encompass close to 60% of Americans.
Despite this, close to half of all Americans express highly positive feelings about the Catholic pontiff. In a 1998 Gallup survey conducted for the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, 48% of Americans indicated they had warm feelings about Pope John Paul II (rating him from 76-100 degrees on a "feeling thermometer" that ranges from zero to 100). Another 21% expressed moderately positive feelings (from 51-74 degrees), 19% felt neutral (50 degrees), while just 10% indicated negative feelings, with "cool" ratings of zero to 49 degrees. These ratings are highly similar to those recorded in 1982, one year after a failed assassination attempt on John Paul II in St. Peter's Square.
In a Gallup survey conducted more recently, in January 1999, 69% of all Americans said they had a favorable view of the pope, and 85% of American Catholics said they approved of the way he is handling his role as leader of the Catholic Church; just 10% disapproved, while 5% had no opinion.
To date Pope John Paul II has appeared on Gallup's Most Admired Men list 21 times, and has earned a permanent spot among the top six names of the half century. While in most years he has ranked 2nd or 3rd behind the sitting president and other occasional political figures in the news, in 1980 -- after President Jimmy Carter had just lost his re-election bid to Ronald Reagan -- the pope received top billing as Gallup's Most Admired Man of the year.
Gallup polls asking Americans about their views on abortion, birth control, the death penalty, welfare and other social issues suggest the pontiff's positions can run counter to U.S. public opinion. Nevertheless, when asked in 1987 directly about his political views, only 27% of Americans at the time thought his positions on issues were "too conservative," 8% thought they were "too liberal" while close to half, 48% thought they were "about right."
From one highly admired man to another:
"He'll go down in history as the greatest of our modern Popes," says the Rev. Billy Graham. "He's been the strong conscience of the whole Christian world."
(fromTimeMagazine's 1994 "Man of the Year" article by Paul Gray)
Ronald Wilson Reagan faced difficult economic times when he was sworn in as the United States' 40th president in 1981. It may not be surprising, therefore, that he, too, would allude to another of the Gallup Poll's Most Admired Men of the century in assuring Americans that he was up to the challenge:
Can we solve the problems confronting us? Well, the answer is an unequivocal and emphatic "yes." To paraphrase Winston Churchill, I did not take the oath I have just taken with the intention of presiding over the dissolution of the world's strongest economy.
(Ronald Reagan's First Inaugural Address, January 20, 1981)
Ronald Reagan won his first presidential election in 1980, but debuted on Gallup's Top-10 Most Admired Men list fourteen years earlier, in 1966 -- the same year he won the governorship of California. He appeared again in 1967 and 1970, each time ranking at the low end of the Top-10 list. From 1974 to the present, he has appeared continually on the annual measure.
By 1978, after mounting his third challenge for the Republican presidential nomination (the first being in 1968 and the second in 1976), Ronald Reagan had emerged as the national leader of the conservative wing of the Republican Party and had risen to 6th on Gallup's Most Admired list. During each year of his two terms as president from 1981 through 1988, Ronald Reagan earned the #1 spot on the list. Since leaving office, he has remained in the Top 10, although he now ranks lower, ranging from 5th to 7th in recent years.
Overall, Reagan has appeared 26 times on Gallup's Most Admired list. His longevity on the list is somewhat unique among other former presidents this century, due in part to the fact that he had a national reputation so long before reaching the White House. His 26 appearances compares with 21 times for Eisenhower, 20 times for Truman and Nixon, 15 for Carter, 14 for George Bush, nine times for Lyndon Johnson and eight for Gerald Ford. Across the 21 appearances, Reagan's average position on the list is 4.9. That is substantially worse than for Eisenhower, whose average rank was 1.5 across a similar span of time, but slightly better than for Nixon, Carter or Bush. Among all men mentioned by Americans since 1948, Reagan is second only to Billy Graham in terms of longevity on the list.
Public opinion of Ronald Reagan's job performance fluctuated greatly during his two terms in office. In his first term, Reagan started off with relatively high ratings which proceeded to gradually sink into the middle 30s by January 1983, only to rise again into the high 60s during the 1984 election which he won in a landslide, beating Jimmy Carter's former vice president, Walter Mondale. The first half of Reagan's second term was also marked by high ratings, which peaked at 68% in May 1986. In the fall of the same year, however, the Iran-Contra matter became a national scandal, and Reagan's approval rating fell nearly 20 points. It hit a low of 43% in March 1987. A year later it had risen slightly to 50%, and by December -- one month before leaving office -- it was back up to 63%.
Reagan has fared well in the court of public opinion in his retirement. In a Gallup survey taken in August 1999, a solid majority of Americans, 54%, said they believed he will be remembered as an "outstanding" or "above average" president. Another 34% thought he will be regarded as "average," while just 12% said he will be remembered more negatively, as "below average" or "poor." Ronald Reagan fared better in this survey than any of the other modern elected presidents rated (with Gerald Ford excluded from the list because he assumed the office upon Nixon's resignation in 1974, and did not serve a full four-year term). Compared to Reagan's 54%, the percentage predicting that each president will be regarded as outstanding or above average was 41% for Bush, 36% for Clinton, 30% for Carter and 22% for Nixon.
Sir Winston Churchill
England's World War II-era prime minister enjoyed intense admiration from at least a subset of the American people during the post-war period of his life. From 1948 until his death in 1965, Sir Winston Churchill was a dominant name on Gallup's annual list of Most Admired Men. He had an uninterrupted string of Top-Four appearances throughout the entire period, preceded on the list only by America's own war heroes -- Generals Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur -- as well as by sitting presidents Truman, Kennedy and Johnson.
Often described in his last years as 'the greatest living Englishman' … Winston Churchill achieved a world reputation not only as a great strategist and inspiring war leader, but as the last of the classic orators with a supreme command of English; as a talented painter; and as a writer with an Augustan style, a great breadth of mind, and a profound sense of history. He was knighted in 1953, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature the same year. www.biography.com
Americans' admiration for Churchill was sustained well beyond World War II. For example, in 1964, the year before his death, Winston Churchill emerged as #2 on the list behind President Lyndon Johnson, but ahead of former President Eisenhower, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr. -- among other notable names of the mid-'60s that appeared lower on the list.
In June 1945, shortly before his Conservative Party was defeated in England and he lost his position as prime minister, close to two-thirds of the American public, 63%, said they wanted to see Churchill re-elected; only 12% did not. In 1954, 67% of Americans said they had a favorable opinion of Churchill, while just 16% had an unfavorable opinion. Asked in a different way the same year, 20% gave Churchill the highest possible favorability score on a ten-point scale, while a total of 70% rated him favorably, and only 18% unfavorably. However, when asked in 1956 whether Churchill should be made an honorary American citizen -- an honor Congress would eventually bestow on him in 1963 -- only 36% of the U.S. public were in favor, while 45% were opposed, and 19% were unsure.
PART II: The Most Admired Women of the Last Half Century
Late 1940s and 1950s
When Gallup first asked Americans to name "any woman living today" they admired above all others, Eleanor Roosevelt -- widow of the late President Franklin Delano Roosevelt -- received the most votes. And for all but one of the next 13 years, she continued to rank as the most admired woman, giving her the record for having the highest average ranking among all women in the past half century. Roosevelt, like the other first ladies on the list, gained her initial fame as the wife of Franklin Roosevelt from 1933 until the president's death in 1945, but she also gained a reputation as an independent woman with an agenda and political force of her own. In World War I she worked for the Red Cross, although married by then to FDR, and as first lady she took an active role promoting her causes -- particularly those helping women, children and the poor. She wrote a syndicated column as first lady, and after FDR's death was appointed as a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly, which she held from 1945-1961. She remained active in Democratic politics, and in 1961, the year before she died, was re-appointed to the United Nations by President Kennedy.
The one year Eleanor Roosevelt did not rank first among most admired women was 1951, when a woman who is probably relatively unknown today was voted by Americans as the most admired woman in the world. That person was Sister Kenny. Born in Australia as Elizabeth Kenny, the Australian nurse became famous for developing a new and considerably more effective technique for treating polio -- by muscle therapy rather than by immobilization of the body in casts and splints. She died in 1952, after having established clinics in Australia (1933), Britain (1937), and the United States (Minneapolis, 1940).
Another major female personality of the immediate post-war period was Clare Boothe Luce, a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives (from Connecticut) from 1943-1947, an editor of Vogue and Vanity Fair, a playwright, and an ambassador to Italy (1953-1956). She ranked as the third most admired woman in 1949, and as either second or third from 1954-1958. She was on the Top-10 list every year from 1948-1965.
One of the most amazing women of the century was Helen Keller, born in 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama, and who -- as most Americans now know -- became blind and deaf at 19 months. In a breakthrough that was made famous in the play and movie, "The Miracle Worker," Anne Sullivan taught Keller how to speak, read, and write when Keller was seven years old. Keller later graduated from Radcliffe College and as an adult gave lectures and published widely about her own experiences. She became a model for both men and women who were severely disabled and first came on the Gallup Top-10 list among the most admired women in 1949. From then until her death in 1968, she appeared on the list 17 times, with an average rank for those years of fifth most admired.
Princess Elizabeth of England first appeared on the Top-10 list of most admired women in 1948 (7th place), five years before she was coronated Queen of England. Over the next 50 years she has appeared more times than any other woman -- a total of 36 times. She has never come in first, but her sheer longevity has made her one of the most admired women of the past half century.
First Lady Mamie Eisenhower first appeared on the Top-10 list in 1952, the year her husband, General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, won election as the first Republican president in two decades. She remained on the list for the next 20 years, but was not first during the eight years of her husband's presidency. It was not until the death of her husband in 1969, and again the year afterward, that she came in first as the most admired woman. Overall, her 21 times on the list ranks her third among all women on the list for longevity.
With the election of President Jack Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy jumped to number two as the most admired woman, behind Eleanor Roosevelt -- who died the following year. For the next five years, Jacqueline Kennedy was number one on the list, but fell to 7th after marrying Aristotle Onassis in 1968. She was on the list, although not above the rank of five, for all but four years until her death in 1994 -- for a total of 27 times, second only to Queen Elizabeth II.
Following the assassination of President Kennedy and the assumption of the presidency by Lyndon Baines Johnson, the new first lady, Lady Bird Johnson, jumped to number two on the most admired list, and remained there until 1966. No poll was taken in 1967; and in 1968, with the assassination of Robert Kennedy, brother of Jack and a candidate for president at the time, it was Robert's wife Ethel, and mother Rose Kennedy, who topped the list of most admired women as first and second, respectively.
In the meantime, another female head of state from outside the United States jumped high on the most admired list -- Indira Gandhi, who became prime minister of India. She was the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, who was India's first prime minister until he died in 1964. His successor was Lal Shastri, who also died in office just two years later, at which time, Indira Gandhi -- by then having served as president of the Indian Congress Party and minister of information -- assumed office. In that year, 1966, she was third on the most admired list, and was on the list nine more times before she died in 1984.
At the end of the decade, and with Richard Nixon's assumption of the presidency in 1969, Pat Nixon jumped to the number three spot on the most admired list, behind Mamie Eisenhower and Indira Gandhi, and remained on the list for ten straight years. For the next two years, Mrs. Nixon remained at number two, but then in 1972, with Richard Nixon's landslide re-election, Pat Nixon came in first as the most admired woman. Overall, she appeared on the list 14 times, four times from 1959-1962, and then ten years from 1968-1979, with an average rank of 4.9.
Although first elected as Israeli's prime minister in 1969, Golda Meir's tenure as one of America's most admired women spans most of the 1970s. She was first elected to the Israeli parliament in 1949, and held important posts throughout the 1950s and 1960s. She was elected Israel's fourth prime minister, and first woman prime minister, in 1969 -- when she landed fourth the on the most admired list. The next year, she was third, and in 1971 became at the time just the second woman outside the United States to top the Gallup Top-10 list of most admired women (the other was Sister Kenny in 1951). Golda Meir repeated as number one again in 1973 and 1974, and may have done so again the next two years -- but no polls were conducted in those years. In 1977, now out of office, she still came in second on the list, and in 1978 she died.
The other two major women of the 1970s, were both first ladies: Betty Ford and Rosalynn Carter. Betty Ford came onto the list in 1974, the year her husband, then-Vice President Gerald Ford, assumed the presidency, in the wake of Richard Nixon's resignation. Mrs. Ford remained on the list for every year thereafter until 1991, but was ranked as first just one year: 1978, two years after her husband had been defeated for election, but after she became a public spokesperson for people with alcohol problems.
Rosalynn Carter also came on the list after her husband assumed the presidency, and was first for three of the four years Jimmy Carter was in office -- the one exception the year Betty Ford was first. After she left office as first lady, Rosalynn Carter appeared just three more times.
The 1980s witnessed the dominance of the most admired list by two women: Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Mother Teresa, both from outside the United States and both of whom ranked first several times. Born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in 1910 in Yugoslavia, Mother Teresa went to India in 1928 and taught at a convent school in Calcutta, before taking her vows in 1937. In 1948 she left to work alone in the slums, and started her sisterhood, Missionaries of Charity in 1950. In 1971, she was awarded the Pope John XXIII Peace Prize, but it was in 1979, when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, that she came to world attention. In that year, she was third on the most admired list, and the next year she was number one. From then until her death in 1997, she was on the list 18 times, with an average rank of 2.2.
The other major woman of the 1980s was elected prime minister of Britain in 1979, when she landed fourth on the most admired list. Margaret Thatcher remained in office for the whole next decade, coming in first or second every year but 1981, when she was third. Even after she left office, she has been on the list every year up to the present, for a total of 20 times -- ranking her fourth in longevity behind Queen Elizabeth II, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and Mamie Eisenhower.
Nancy Reagan, wife of President Ronald Reagan, jumped to number one the year her husband was elected president, but was generally overshadowed by both Margaret Thatcher and Mother Teresa. Still, Mrs. Reagan came in first three times in the 1980s, and has appeared on the list seven times since her husband left office.
Two other women of the 1980s who briefly came near the top of the most admired list were Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to be nominated by a major party for vice president of the United States (1984), and Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman Supreme Court justice. O'Connor reached her highest level in 1981, the year she became Associate Justice on the Supreme Court, ranking number three on the most admired list. Since then, she has appeared on the list seven more times, mostly ranking 9th or 10th.
After running as the Democratic nominee for vice president in 1984, Ferraro came in at number two, and was on the list three years after that, but has not been on the list since then.
As with many other first ladies, Barbara Bush jumped onto the most admired list the year her husband was elected president, though in 1988 she was only 10th. The next year, after George Bush assumed office, Barbara Bush ranked number 3, behind Margaret Thatcher and Mother Teresa. She came in second the next year, and was first the second two years of Bush's presidency. Since then, she has continued to rank in the top five.
In 1993, with Bill Clinton's assumption of the presidency, another first lady jumped to the top of the most admired list. Hillary Clinton had come in fourth the previous year, but in 1993 she came in first over Mother Teresa and Margaret Thatcher. Over the six years of Clinton's presidency, Hillary Clinton came in first during four of the years, and second the other two -- each time behind Mother Teresa.
Other women of the 1990s who have come in the top three include movie actor and talk show host Oprah Winfrey, and former Red Cross president Elizabeth Dole. Winfrey first hit the Top-10 in 1988, when she came in fourth, and since then she has been on the list every year. The past two years, she has come in second behind Hillary Clinton.
Elizabeth Dole has been on the list five times since 1987, with her highest ranking at number 3 in 1998, when she was actively considering running for president.