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Barbara Bush

Barbara Bush in 1989

In office
January 20, 1989 – January 20, 1993
Preceded by Nancy Reagan
Succeeded by Hillary Rodham Clinton

In office
January 20, 1981 – January 20, 1989
Preceded by Joan Mondale
Succeeded by Marilyn Quayle

Born June 8, 1925 (1925-06-08) (age 84)
Flushing, New York, U.S.
Spouse(s) George H. W. Bush
Relations Marvin Pierce and Pauline Robinson
Children George W. Bush, Robin Bush, Jeb Bush, Neil Bush, Marvin Bush and Dorothy Bush Koch
Residence Houston, Texas
Occupation former First Lady of the United States
Religion Episcopalian

Barbara Pierce Bush (born June 8, 1925) is the wife of the 41st President of the United States George H. W. Bush, and mother of the 43rd President George W. Bush and 43rd Governor of Florida Jeb Bush. She is one of only two women to be both wife and mother to US presidents, the other being Abigail Adams. She served as First Lady of the United States from 1989 to 1993, while her husband was President. Previously she had served as Second Lady of the United States for eight years. As wife of the Vice President and then President, and continuing after leaving Washington, she supported the cause of universal literacy.


Early life

Barbara Pierce was born at Booth Memorial Hospital in Flushing, Queens in New York City, and raised in the suburban town of Rye, New York.[1] She was the third child of the former Pauline Robinson (1896–1949) and her husband Marvin Pierce (1893–1969), who later became president of McCall Corporation, the publisher of the popular women's magazines Redbook and McCall's. Her siblings include Martha Pierce Rafferty (1920-1999); James Pierce (1921-1993) and Scott Pierce (born 1930). Her ancestor Thomas Pierce, an early New England colonist, was also an ancestor of Franklin Pierce, the 14th president of the United States. She is a direct descendant, great-great-granddaughter, of James Pierce, Jr. who was a fourth cousin of President Franklin Pierce.[2]

Barbara attended Rye Country Day School from 1931 to 1937 and later boarding school at Ashley Hall in Charleston, South Carolina (from 1940 to 1943).[1] She was athletic as a youth and enjoyed swimming, tennis, and bike-riding.[1] Her interest in reading began early in her life; she recalls gathering with her family during the evenings and reading together.[1]

Marriage and family

Barbara Bush, center, surrounded by her family, early 1960s

She met George Herbert Walker Bush, a student at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts at age 16 during a dance over Christmas vacation.[3] After a year-and-a-half, the two became engaged to be married, just before he went off to World War II as a Navy torpedo bomber pilot. He named three of his planes after her: Barbara, Barbara II, and Barbara III. When he returned on leave, she had dropped out of Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts;[1] two weeks later, on January 6, 1945, they were married at the First Presbyterian Church in Rye, New York.[1]

For the first eight months of their marriage, the Bushes moved around the Eastern United States, to places including Michigan, Maryland, and Virginia, as George Bush's Navy squadron training required his presence at bases in such states.[1] After the war ended, George Bush graduated from Yale University and the couple soon moved to Midland, Texas.

She gave birth to six children:

During that time, George H. W. Bush built a business in the oil industry, where he founded Zapata Corporation. The Bush family moved 30 times over the years. Barbara raised her children while her husband, who served in a variety of government jobs, was usually away.

First Lady of the United States

Barbara Bush, President Bush, former First Lady Nancy Reagan and former President Ronald Reagan in 1993 while the Bushes present President Reagan with the Presidential Medal of Freedom
Bush with children and White House staff in the China Room. The first lady is attempting to make a paw print of her pet Millie for a holiday card.

Barbara Bush's cause as First Lady was literacy, as it was when she was Second Lady, calling it "the most important issue we have".[4] She became involved with many literacy organizations, served on literacy committees and chaired many reading organizations. Eventually she helped develop the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. [5] During the early 1980's, statistics showed that 35 million adults could not read above the eight-grade level and that 23 million were not beyond a fourth-grade level. Mrs. Bush appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show to discuss the situation. She also appeared regularly on Mrs. Bush's Story Time, a national radio program that stressed the importance of reading aloud to children.[6] Through her influence, Virginia's former First Lady Jeannie Baliles was inspired to form the Virginia Literacy Foundation, which supported Virginia's grass roots adult literacy programs. Through her support and the publicity she generated as First Lady, grass roots adult literacy programs began to spring up around the country.[7]

She was also active with the White House Historical Association and worked to revitalize the White House Preservation Fund, which she renamed the White House Endowment Trust. The trust raises funds for the ongoing refurbishment and restoration of the White House. She met her goal of raising $25 million towards the endowment.

Bush was known for her affection for her pet English Springer Spaniel Millie and wrote a child's book about Millie's new litter of puppies. Barbara Bush became the first U.S. First Lady to become a recipient of the Henry G. Freeman Jr. Pin Money Fund, receiving $36,000, most of which she gave to favorite charities.

Later life

First Ladies Nancy Reagan, Lady Bird Johnson, Hillary Clinton, Rosalynn Carter, Betty Ford and Barbara Bush sit together at the National Garden Gala, A Tribute to America's First Ladies, May 11, 1994

Since leaving the White House, she and her husband reside in Houston, Texas and at the Bush Compound in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Several schools have been named for her: three primary schools and two middle schools in Texas and an elementary school in Mesa, Arizona. Also named for her is the Barbara Bush Library in Harris County, Texas[8] and the Barbara Bush Children's Hospital at Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine.

Bush was initiated into Beta Sigma Phi women's fraternity as an alumna honor initiate, a national honorary member of Gamma Sigma Sigma in 1987, and also was initiated into the Texas Eta chapter (Texas A&M University) of Pi Beta Phi women's fraternity in 2002 as an alumna honor initiate.[9] Even before her initiation, she served as honorary chairperson of the fraternity's literacy philanthropy.

She serves on the Boards of AmeriCares and the Mayo Clinic, and heads the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. In 2006, it was revealed that Barbara Bush donated an undisclosed amount of money to the Bush–Clinton Katrina Fund on the condition the charity do business with an educational software company owned by her son Neil Bush.[10]

Health problems

Bush disclosed she was suffering from an overactive thyroid ailment known as Graves' disease when she lived at the White House. George H.W. Bush came down with the same malady not long after his wife. It is rare for two biologically unrelated people in the same household to develop Graves disease within two years of each other.[11] The Bush dog, Millie, came down with Graves' disease, too, although there are reports that she had a different auto-immune disease, lupus.

Because of the remarkable coincidence of three cases of auto-immune disease in one household, the Secret Service tested the water in the White House, at Camp David, at the Vice President's residence, and at Walker's Point (Bush's home in Maine) for lithium and iodine, two substances "known to cause thyroid problems".

In November 2008 Bush was hospitalized for abdominal pains. On November 25, a dime-sized hole in her small intestine, that was caused by an ulcer, was closed by surgeons. She was released December 2, 2008 and was reported to be doing well.[12]

Bush underwent aortic valve replacement surgery on March 4, 2009;[13] she was released from the hospital on March 13, 2009.[14]


Barbara Bush has a reputation for being outspoken in comments she has made to the press. Her statements have attracted some controversy.[15]

In 1984, Bush told the press that she could not say on television what she thought of then Vice-Presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, but "it rhymes with rich".[16]

During her husband's 1992 presidential campaign, Barbara Bush stated that abortion is a personal matter and argued that the Republican Party platform should not take a stand on it, saying that "The personal things should be left out of, in my opinion, platforms and conventions." Her personal views on abortion were not known, although her friends reported at that time that she "privately supported abortion rights".[17]

Commenting on the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Bush said, "Clinton lied. A man might forget where he parks or where he lives, but he never forgets oral sex, no matter how bad it is."[18]

On March 18, 2003, two days before the beginning of the war on Iraq, ABC's Good Morning America asked her about her family's television viewing habits; she replied:

I watch none. He [former President Bush] sits and listens and I read books, because I know perfectly well that, don't take offense, that 90 percent of what I hear on television is supposition, when we're talking about the news. And he's not, not as understanding of my pettiness about that. But why should we hear about body bags and deaths, and how many, what day it's gonna happen, and how many this or that or what do you suppose? Or, I mean, it's not relevant. So, why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that, and watch him suffer.[19]

While visiting a Houston relief center for people displaced by Hurricane Katrina, Bush told the radio program Marketplace,

Almost everyone I've talked to says, 'We're gonna move to Houston.' What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas... Everybody is so overwhelmed by the hospitality, and so many of the people in the arenas here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this (as she chuckles slightly) is working very well for them.[20][21]

Fictional portrayals

Bush was portrayed by Ellen Burstyn in the 2008 film W.

Further reading

  • Bush, Barbara (1994). Barbara Bush: A Memoir. New York: Scribner. ISBN 0025196359.  


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "First Lady Biography: Barbara Bush". National First Ladies Library. Retrieved 2008-01-21.  
  2. ^ Correction Barbara Pierce Bush Genealogy
  3. ^ Bush, Barbara (1994), p. 16
  4. ^ White House biography of Barbara Bush
  5. ^ Barbara Bush as a Role Model
  6. ^ First Lady Biography: Barbara Bush
  7. ^ Virginia's Not so Hidden Secret: The Adult Literacy Crisis
  8. ^ Harris County Public Library - Branch Information - Barbara Bush @ Cypress Creek
  9. ^ Famous Pi Phis, Texas Eta web site
  10. ^ Katrina funds earmarked to pay for Neil Bush's software program | - Houston Chronicle
  11. ^ Clue to Bushes' Disease Sought in Water
  12. ^ Former First Lady Barbara Bush in Hospital
  13. ^,0,5275578.story
  14. ^ Barbara Bush Leaves Hospital Yahoo News, March 13, 2009
  15. ^ Barbara Bush: Presidential Matriarch
  16. ^ 595. Barbara Bush. Simpson’s Contemporary Quotations. 1988
  17. ^ Alessandra Stanley (1992-08-14). "THE 1992 CAMPAIGN: Barbara Bush; First Lady on Abortion: Not a Platform Issue". The New York Times (paid access). Retrieved 2008-08-25.  
  18. ^ Barbara Bush, Bill Adler (May 4, 2004). Rugged Land. p. 114.  
  19. ^ Urban Legends Reference Pages: Barbara Bush 'Beautiful Mind' Quote
  20. ^ "Barbara Bush: Things Working Out 'Very Well' for Poor Evacuees from New Orleans". Editor and Publisher. September 5, 2005. Retrieved 2007-04-18.  
  21. ^ "Marketplace". American Public Media. September 5, 2005.   Audio clip.

External links

Honorary titles
Preceded by
Joan Mondale
Second Lady of the United States
Succeeded by
Marilyn Quayle
Preceded by
Nancy Reagan
First Lady of the United States
Succeeded by
Hillary Clinton
Preceded by
Virginia Clinton Kelley
Mother of the President of the United States
January 20, 2001 - January 20, 2009
Succeeded by
Ann Dunham


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