This is the final piece in my First Ladies series. I hope that you have enjoyed it, dear reader, and I thank you for your support. My next article series will be out soon. – Sarah
Laura Bush (née Welch)- The Librarian
- Born November 4, 1946
- Tenure: 2001-2009
- Children: Barbara, Jenna
- Relation to President: Wife
Early Life: Laura Welch was born to Harold and Jenna. Her father owned a home building company and her mother did the books for him. Laura is the most recent First Lady to be an only child. She lived very close to her future husband George Bush but they did not properly meet until years later. In high school she was on the yearbook committee. It was also in high school that a tragedy occured. Laura was driving with a friend when she ran a stop sign. Her car ploughed into that of Michael Dutton Douglas, killing him. Laura was never charged and it was deemed a tragic accident.
After graduating high school, Laura attended Southern Methodist University and gained a degree in education. She taught at several schools before gaining her Master’s in Library Science. Laura returned to school as a librarian.
Marriage: Laura attended a barbecue at the home of friends when she encountered George W. Bush. They’d lived close to one another throughout their lives but had never properly met. Bush had been engaged a decade before but that engagement had ended. A quick courtship ensued and the two married in November 1977, three months after they met. Laura quit her job after she married.
Pre-Tenure: Laura’s first job after marriage was as a full time campaign manager for her husband’s congressional seat. This attempt failed. Two years later, she also helped George H. W. Bush in his attempt to win the 1980 Republican nomination. Bush and Laura had problems conceiving and began to consider adoption. They were talking about it the day that Laura discovered she was pregnant. Their daughters Jenna and Barbara, named after their grandmothers, were born in 1981. She was a stay at home parent. Laura became fed up with her husband’s drinking and came up with an ultimatum: it was her or the drinking. This finally did the trick.
The family moved to DC in 1988 upon Bush Sr’s election to the Presidency. They returned to Texas after the end of the administration. Laura became involved in volunteer work whilst her husband campaigned for Governor of Texas. She was not thrilled by her husband’s electoral dreams. Nevertheless, Bush beat incumbent Ann Richards and became Governor.
Laura was interested in charity in her role as First Lady of Texas. She was mainly focused on children and literacy programmes. Laura was more of a traditional spouse in that she had no interest in politics, though she certainly had opinions. On a state level, Laura advocated for childhood development and for literacy.
She once again stayed out of politics during her husband’s 2000 election campaign for the presidency. Laura did, however, set a new precedent when she became the first nominee’s spouse who wasn’t already First Lady to speak at a party convention.
Tenure: Laura’s interest in literacy and children continued when she became First Lady. She encouraged reading and helped to create the National Book Festival, which still continues to this day. She also helped fundraise for school libraries, read to children and encourage more people to enter teaching. Laura worked with both the private and public sector in order to improve educational standards and reading. Several programmes and pieces of legislation were named after her.
Beyond reading, Laura cared about childhood development too. She spoke about cognitive development and the importance of early childhood.
Laura was heading to Congress to talk about education when the first plane smashed into the World Trade Center. She was in the car when word of the second plane came. Laura watched the news with Senator Ted Kennedy and others before the Pentagon was hit. She was then evacuated to the safety of the White House bunker. The White House was evacuated later that night but it turned out to be a false alarm. Laura would speak to the nation after the attacks and stress the importance of comforting children.
After the invasion of Afghanistan, Laura became interested in the welfare of women in the country. She became the first non-president to deliver a weekly presidential radio address. Laura encouraged Afghan women to get back into education and for more teachers to be available in the country. She visited Afghanistan on three occasions.
As her mother Jenna died after a battle with breast cancer, Laura became outspoken on the issue. She also talked about heart disease in women, as it is an issue that people associate more with men. Laura took part in public awareness, encouraging screening and a healthy lifestyle. She exhibited the red dresses of former First Ladies as part of heart disease awareness; she was joined by Nancy Reagan at one such event.
Laura took an interest in history and preservation. She hosted literary style salons at the White House, covering a wide range of American authors. Like many other First Ladies, she redecorated the White House, but not to the extent of some predecessors. Her project, Preserve America, highlighted important historical and cultural things that needed to be protected.
Post-Tenure: Though she’s not been as active in her post-First Lady life as her immediate successor and predecessor, Laura has certainly been busy. Her initiatives in reading and health have continued. As previously stated, her National Book Festival is still held annually. She’s continued to support women in Afghanistan and has even written a book about it. Laura has spoken at numerous political events and has remained a faithful supporter of the Republican Party. She’s been a critic of Trump, but was still welcoming of him and Melania.
Along with writing books, Laura has been interviewed by her journalist daughters. She has become a close friend of the Obamas, along with her husband, and has attended all of the inaugurations. In 2016, Laura attended Nancy Reagan’s funeral, as well as the funerals of her in-laws in 2018.
Appearance and Character: Laura is of medium height, with light brown hair and blue eyes. One of the more popular First Ladies, Laura is kind, caring and warm. She has a deep love for children and reading. The Bush couple share a loving relationship and she’s shown herself to be a loyal wife. Her ultimatum stopped her husband’s alcoholism.
Advocacy: Children, literacy, reading, heart disease, breast cancer and women’s rights.
Michelle Obama (née Robinson)- The Lawyer
- Born January 17, 1964
- Tenure: 2009-2017
- Children: Malia, Sasha
- Relation to President: Wife
Early Life: Michelle Robinson was born to Fraser and Marian. Along with her parents and older brother Craig, Michelle lived in Chicago’s South Side. She was an academic and gifted person from a young age. At the age of 11, Michelle was taking French and biology courses at a local community college. She skipped second grade as well. Michelle attended Chicago’s first magnet school. In high school, Michelle took a lot of AP classes, was a member of the National Honors Society and the Student Council. She was dissuaded from applying to Princeton and other top schools by her guidance counsellor. In order to avoid being the valedictorian and having to give a speech, Michelle purposefully failed a test.
Michelle started at Princeton in 1981. She was uncomfortable due to being around very wealthy students whose parents were well-off. Michelle was very active in the Princeton community and involved herself with other African-American students. She then entered Harvard Law School.
After graduating from Harvard Law, Michelle became an Associate at Chicago’s Sidley and Austin firm. She also helped her father as he became more ill with MS. Michelle became upset by the Chicago healthcare system, particularly how it treated uninsured and minority patients.
Marriage: Harvard student Barack Obama was a summer associate at Sidley and Austin, where Michelle was assigned to mentor him. The two became close and saw Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing on their first date. When Obama returned to Massachusetts for his final year at Harvard, the two enjoyed a long-distance relationship. They became engaged in 1991 and married in October 1992. Michelle’s maid of honour was Santita Jackson, daughter of Jesse Jackson. Her brother Craig walked her down the aisle, as their father Fraser had died the year before.
Pre-Tenure: Michelle worked in public sector and non-for-profit roles in the years after the marriage. She was a mayoral assistant, charity executive and assistant dean at the University of Chicago. When working at the university, Michelle encouraged students to become volunteers in the community.
Obama and Michelle had trouble having children, with Michelle having a miscarriage. Through IVF, they eventually had daughters Malia and Natasha ‘Sasha.’ After working at the university, Michelle became part of the Chicago Hospital system. She had been inspired by the treatment of her father when advocating in this role. Her main role was in community affairs.
Michelle was unhappy with Obama entering politics, worried for their daughters. She was understanding of the fact he would likely one day run for office but did not like it. Though she campaigned for his failed congressional, Michelle was glad when he didn’t win. His 2004 Senate bid was more successful. She continued to work in Chicago whilst he headed to DC.
Obama’s decision to run affected the family deeply. Michelle began to work part-time in order to care for the girls when her husband was away. Initially, Michelle limited her campaigning to events close to Chicago. As the primaries got underway and things got more serious, Michelle took a more active role. Her comments on being proud of her country ‘for the first time’ were controversial, but she proved popular with the crowds. At the 2008 DNC, her speech was well received. The Obamas were the quickest family to receive Secret Service protection due to threats against them.
Tenure: Michelle was the third consecutive First Lady with a postgraduate degree (Hillary had a JD and Laura Bush an MA). As First Lady, Michelle’s interests were in healthy eating, women’s education and military families.
Her most remembered contribution is that of combating child obesity by encouraging exercise and healthy eating. She created the first White House garden since Eleanor Roosevelt to teach families how to grow their own produce. Legislatively, she pushed for this to be intertwined with her husband’s Affordable Care Act. As a result of his wife’s activism, Obama created the Task Force on Childhood Obesity. Michelle’s public health initiative was called Let’s Move! She travelled around schools to encourage healthy eating and exercise. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 upped nutritional standards for school meals. This was controversial among students and Republicans who decried the use of public funding. Whilst young childhood obesity fell, obesity in all other age groups rose.
Michelle was also an advocate for women’s rights and education. She launched Let Girls Learn, a group dedicated to educating girls around the world. Funds were sent to many countries around the world and partnerships were made with private companies. It also focused on the barriers to female education. As well as this, Michelle was an advocate for veterans and their families. Along with Second Lady Jill Biden, she co-founded Joining Forces. The initiative was to help family members of military personnel. She would often visit personnel, family and veterans. Michelle also wanted spouses of serving soldiers to find employment opportunities.
Though not on the level of earlier First Ladies like Jackie Kennedy, Michelle’s fashion was often focused on and she was on many magazine covers. She also often went on foreign trips both alone and with her husband. Her daughters also came along on some visits. Notable visits included London and Cuba. In the U.K, Michelle stirred some controversy by putting her arm around Queen Elizabeth II. Touching the royal family, especially the Queen, is seen as a huge breach of protocol.
Michelle campaigned for Hillary Clinton in 2016. She reportedly did not want to do it, as she still held some animosity towards Hillary for how she treated Obama. Nevertheless, Michelle joined the campaign trail. She became a vocal critic of Donald Trump. In one famous speech, she cried ‘when they go low, we go high.’
Despite being upset about the election result, Michelle welcomed Melania Trump into the office.
Post-Tenure: Michelle initially remained quiet in her post-White House life. Her activities in 2017 and 2018 were mainly speeches and interviews about various issues. In late 2018, her autobiography Becoming was released. The book was a huge success and the best selling in the US in that year. She continued to criticise Trump.
Michelle has also moved on to entertainment projects. She’s created her own podcast and signed a deal with Netflix along with her husband. In HBO’s The First Lady, Michelle was played by Viola Davis as an adult and Jayme Lawson as a younger woman.
Appearance and Character: At 5’11, Michelle is tied with Eleanor Roosevelt and Melania Trump for First Lady. She’s got dark hair and dark brown eyes. As a person, Michelle is very passionate and intelligent. Whilst generally popular, some remarks she’s made and her role in the administration have been criticised. Her more active role contrasts sharply with her immediate predecessor and successor. Michelle is warmer than her husband but more rash. She cares deeply about issues close to her.
Advocacy: Anti-obesity, veterans and female education
Melania Trump (née Knauss)- The Outsider
- Born April 26, 1970
- Tenure: 2017-2021
- Children: Barron
- Relation to President: Wife
Early Life: Melanija Knavs was born to Viktor and Amalija. Her name was later Germanised to Melania Knauss. She is the second foreign-born First Lady, being born in Slovenia (then Yugoslavia). Melania has an older half-brother from her father’s side and a stylist sister. Her father sold cars and her mother worked in a textile factory. Melania talked about the poverty of Yugoslavia and how having a can of Coca-Cola was a huge luxury.
She started modelling from an early age, changing her name to Melania Knauss. At age 16, she started working commercially and found success in Slovenia. For a year, she studied architecture at university but dropped out to pursue modelling. After being signed up by an Italian modelling agency, Melania modelled in Europe for a while. She eventually moved to New York in the mid-90s. Melania mainly modelled in magazines, including some nude shoots.
Marriage: Melania met mogul Donald Trump whilst he was in the midst of a divorce. They were together for six years before getting engaged, a lot longer than he was with his other wives. Their 2005 wedding was extremely extravagant, with the cake alone costing $50K. Many celebrities attended, including many who would later disavow Trump. Melania wore a Christian Dior number.
Pre-Tenure: Melania continued modelling after she married, but did less after the birth of son Barron in 2006. She lived a socialite life and was involved in New York Life. Melania was Honorary Chair of the Martha Graham Dance Company, Goodwill Ambassador for the American Red Cross, Honorary Chair of the Boys’ Club of New York and Chair of the American Heart Association.
When her husband ran for President, Melania was a very uninvolved campaigner. It was said that she had a distaste for politics and didn’t want to be First Lady. She nevertheless did make some appearances and speeches. Her speech at the Republican National Convention was accused of plagiarising Michelle Obama. The writer, Meredith McIver, offered to resign but the Trumps told her not to.
It was reported that Melania was in tears after her husband won, but others have said that she was Trump’s strongest supporter.
Melania arrived at the inauguration with a Tiffany gift for Michelle Obama. The two women talked before the ceremony, as is customary.
Tenure: Melania stayed in New York until mid-2017 so that Barron could finish the school year without interruption. This was controversial due to the cost incurred by the taxpayer for her security. She did sometimes spend time in DC, but step daughter Ivanka took over duties whilst Melania was in NYC.
In 2018, Melania launched her ‘Be Best’ anti-bullying campaign. The campaign focused on the emotional and physical well-being of children, social media, cyber bullying and the opioid crisis. She encouraged kindness among children. Melania visited schools, youth clubs and hospitals. She was noticeably very happy and relaxed when interacting with children. One example of this was when she visited a pediatric hospital in the Vatican. Some criticised her initiative due to her husband’s often controversial statements and Twitter usage.
Melania was not as politically active as many of her predecessors but did sometimes comment on issues. She talked about her dislike of children being separated from parents at the border. Melania was more popular than her husband and his administration, as is usual with First Ladies. She was a noted style icon and many were disappointed that she was never featured in magazines.
A Catholic, Melania met the Pope and asked him to bless her rosary.
The Trumps did not attend the Biden inauguration. Melania did not welcome Jill Biden as was custom.
Post-Tenure: Melania has kept a very low profile since the end of her husband’s administration. She is sometimes photographed at events and released an NFT recently. Melania is said to have disliked DC.
Appearance and Character: Melania is tied with Michelle Obama and Eleanor Roosevelt for tallest First Lady at 5’11. She is a slim, elegant woman with blonde-brown hair and blue eyes. Melania is apparently generally shy and prefers to be at home with her family. Staff were reportedly fond of her and she seemed to treat workers well. She is said to be quite intelligent and speaks multiple languages. Nevertheless, she is the least popular First Lady in recent history.
Advocacy: Children and anti-bullying.
Neilia Biden (née Hunter)- The Remembered
- July 28, 1942-December 18, 1972
- Tenure: N/A
- Children: Beau, Hunter, Naomi
- Relation to President: Wife
Early Life: Neilia Hunter was born to Robert and Louise. She lived in New York State but attended boarding school in Pennsylvania. Neilia attended Syracuse University and then became a middle school teacher.
Marriage: Neilia was vacationing in the Bahamas when a young man named Joe Biden spotted her. He and a friend tossed a coin to see who would approach her, but Biden went over anyway. The two started dating and Biden moved to Syracuse to attend law school. They married in 1966.
Married Life: When Biden was in his final year of law school, Neilia took charge of his study schedule. She made up study sheets from his class notes. Upon Biden’s graduation, the pair moved to Delaware.
While Biden worked as a city councillor, Neilia raised their children Beau, Hunter and Naomi. She was described as very popular during his Senatorial campaign and excellent at campaigning.
Death: Neilia was Christmas shopping with her three children in December 1972. Their car was hit by a large tractor-trailer. She and Naomi took the force of the hit and were pronounced dead upon their arrival to hospital. Beau and Hunter were alive, albeit seriously injured. Biden was with his sister Valerie in DC when the phone rang. Valerie answered and then informed Biden they needed to return to Delaware because they’d been an accident. Biden would say he immediately knew that Neilia was dead.
Neilia and Naomi were buried in Delaware. Two weeks later, Biden was sworn in as Senator at the bedside of his sons. He would admit to struggling with caring for his two sons alone. In 1977, nearly five years after the accident, he married Jill Jacobs. Biden would suffer another tragedy when son Beau died of brain cancer aged 46.
Appearance and Character: Neilia was a pretty blonde woman. She was universally regarded as being extremely kind, warm and sweet, with not a bad bone in her body. Her students said that she was the ideal teacher. Her passing was widely mourned.
Jill Biden (née Jacobs, formerly Stevenson)- The Professor
- Born June 3, 1951
- Tenure: 2021-Present
- Children: Ashley
- Relation to President: Wife
Early Life: Jill Jacobs was born to Donald and Bonny. She was born in New Jersey, but her early life was divided between there and Pennsylvania. Donald was the Vice President of a savings and loans company. Jill attended high school in New Jersey.
She initially went to college in Pennsylvania but transferred to the University of Delaware upon getting married aged eighteen. When she arrived in Delaware, Jill changed her major to English. Jill had always loved English and reading so this came naturally to her. She graduated from the University of Delaware in 1975 with a bachelors in English.
Marriages: Jill’s first husband was business owner Bill Stevenson. They met in college. Bill eventually dropped out of the University of Delaware and opened his own bar. Their marriage became rocky and contentious divorce proceedings occured.
Jill was still in the midst of her divorce when college acquaintance Frank set her up with his brother Joe Biden in 1975. Though Jill enjoyed the date and Biden’s manners, she was unsure about the relationship. Biden was nearly ten years older, she’d been through a divorce and it had been only two years since he’d been widowed. Jill was young and unsure of raising two stepsons. The boys encouraged their father to marry again and were close to Jill. After Biden proposed several times, Jill agreed. She was officially divorced from Stevenson in May 1975.
Jill married Joe Biden in June 1977.
Pre-Tenure: Jill worked as a teacher in Delaware. She worked on a Masters in Education whilst teaching. In the same year she achieved her degree, she gave birth to daughter Ashley. Jill resumed working after a couple of years as a stay at home parent to the three children. She worked towards a second Masters whilst teaching emotionally disturbed children. Jill has worked on breast cancer campaigns for years.
After working in high schools for several years, Jill started teaching community college. She decided to do her PhD at the University of Delaware, receiving a Doctorate in Education in 2007. Jill continued teaching when her husband ran for the Democratic nomination, as she had done twenty years earlier. Biden dropped out early on but was nominated as Barack Obama’s ticket mate.
As Second Lady, Jill had more freedom than the First Lady. She served two terms in the role and was moderately active. Jill’s focus was her work, as she continued to teach community college, this time in Washington DC. She remained generally apolitical, though did campaign in the elections and midterms. On some occasions she would go on foreign trips. Jill kept up a full teaching schedule throughout her eight years as Second Lady, even during the 2012 election.
Jill was interested in veterans’ affairs, especially since stepson Beau was an active service member. She joined Michelle Obama in creating the Joining Force campaign- you can read about that in Michelle’s section. Beau Biden died in 2015 of cancer, something that Jill said deeply affected her.
After her husband left office in 2017, Jill continued working as a teacher in the same DC community college. She filled her time with speeches and her memoir. In 2019, Biden announced that he was running again. Jill was thrilled and was one of his most avid supporters. She’d been upset that he hadn’t done it in 2016. Jill was extremely active during the campaign, even more so than her husband at some points. For the first time, she left teaching for a short time in order to campaign. She stated that she’d continue teaching even as First Lady.
Tenure: Jill is the very first Presidential spouse to have a paid position independent of her duties. She initially taught online due to the COVID pandemic but has since returned to in-person teaching as the college did. Jill had promoted education and veterans as her issues. She encouraged her husband to make community college free to students, something that he did, though the legislation failed. Jill has also revived the Joined Forces campaign. She continues the work she started as First Lady in campaigning for veterans, serving soldiers and military families.
Jill has made domestic and international trips. She has stated that she wants to be known as Dr. Biden.
Appearance and Character: Jill is a blonde woman with blue eyes and a height of 5’6. She’s regarded well by her students as a firm but fair teacher. Jill has shown dedication to her teaching career, not even stopping when she became First Lady. Her choice in becoming a mother to the Biden sons is admirable. Jill is clearly very academic and has a passion for reading. She is close to her daughter, stepson and grandchildren. Time will tell what her legacy as First Lady will be and how highly she will be ranked.