On June 8, 1925, Barbara Bush was born in New York City. She grew up to become the second woman in United States’ history to have both a husband and son serve as President. Although she mostly stayed behind the scenes, Bush guided her husband and sons through decades of governing and campaigning. As FLOTUS, she was a passionate champion for family literacy. Known for her self-deprecating wit, unpretentious persona and partnership with her husband, George H.W. Bush, she remained a beloved figure throughout her many decades in the spotlight.
Born Barbara Pierce, Bush and her three siblings were raised by their parents, Marvin and Pauline, in the affluent town of Rye, NY. Bush’s father was the president of McCall Corporation. Bush met her future husband, George, at a dance at the Round Hill Country Club in Greenwich, Connecticut. Within 18 months of meeting, the two were engaged and married on January 6, 1945. Over the next 13 years, Barbara and George had six children: George, Pauline, Jeb, Neil, Marvin, and Dorothy.
In 1966, Bush entered the political spotlight when her husband became one of the U.S. Representatives from Texas. She became a household name after her husband was elected as the Vice President of the United States in 1980. During her eight years as Second Lady, she became a champion for literacy. Her interest in this issue began after her son Neil was diagnosed with dyslexia.
When George H.W. Bush ran for the presidency in the 1988 election, she became only the third candidate’s spouse in United States History to give a speech at the national party nominating convention. She successfully applied her down-to-earth aesthetic and shrewd approach to politics to help her husband win the 1988 presidential election against Michael Dukakis.
As First Lady, she championed the cause of literacy and was admired for her empathy. Although she came from a well-to-do background, she projected an unpretentious image, often wearing sensible clothing and joking about her “granny style.” At a time when very few people were addressing the AIDS crisis, she visited a home for HIV-infected infants in Washington, D.C. and hugged the children there. To support her efforts to improve literacy rates in the United States, she developed the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. After leaving the White House, Bush supported her son George W. Bush’s successful bid for the presidency in 2000. More recently, she rallied behind son Jeb Bush’s campaign in the 2016 GOP presidential primary race.
She passed away on April 17, 2018, holding hands with the love of her life, her husband. The Bushes were married for 73 years, the longest presidential marriage in U.S. history.
In 1988 she wrote, “I want to be known as a wife, a mother, a grandmother… That’s what I am. And I’d like to be known as someone who really cared about people and worked very, very hard to make America more literate.” As we reflect on her incredible life on what would have been her 93rd birthday, she is already remembered for her indelible impact on United States history.