May 2018

Remembering Barbara Bush—First Lady and First Mother

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Barbara Bush
Former First Lady Barbara Bush listened to her son, President George W. Bush, speak at a political event in Orlando, Florida, in March 2005.

Barbara Bush served as First Lady of the United States from 1988 to 1992. In addition to being the wife of President George H. W. Bush, she was also the mother of President George W. Bush. After a life dedicated to public service, Barbara Bush died at age 92 on the evening of April 17, 2018.

Barbara Bush was born in New York City on June 8, 1925. Her mother Pauline Pierce was active in conservative politics. Her father Franklin Pierce was president of the McCall’s corporation, which published popular magazines. Because of this, there were always many books and magazines in the Pierce household. Young Barbara grew to love reading at an early age.

In 1941, 16-year-old Barbara Pierce met 17-year-old George H. W. Bush at a Christmas dance. Just before George shipped out to fight in World War II in 1943, they were engaged to be married. The next year, the couple married. A son, George W., soon followed in 1946. In total, Barbara and George H. W. would have five children—three sons and two daughters.

In 1966, Barbara Bush and family officially dove into politics when George H. W. Bush won election to Congress, representing Texas. He would go on to serve the country as a U.S. ambassador, director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and Vice President of the United States. In 1989, Barbara became First Lady of the United States when George H. W. Bush won election as the 41st President. Two of Barbara’s and George’s sons would also choose a life in politics. John Ellis, better known as Jeb, would serve as governor of Florida from 1999–2007. George W. would become governor of Texas, serving from 1995–2000. He next served as the 43rd President of the United States when he was elected in November 2000.

As First Lady, Barbara Bush drew on her love of reading to fight illiteracy—the inability to read or write. In 1989, she started the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. The next year, she wrote Millie’s Book: As Dictated to Barbara Bush. This children’s book looked at life in the White House from the point of view of the Bush family dog, Millie. Sales from the book raised more than one million dollars for literacy programs around the country.

Barbara Bush remained active in politics and public service, even after President George H. W. Bush lost his reelection bid in 1992. She continued to raise money and awareness for literacy projects around the country through her foundation. The Bush family also continued to grow with Barbara Bush eventually becoming grandmother to 17 grandchildren.

Even though Barbara Bush had been battling serious health issues for months, she still attended Super Bowl 51 in February 2017. It was important to her that she continued to make public appearances with her husband. By the beginning of 2018, however, her heart condition and other health problems had worsened. In early April, she decided to end medical treatment and focus instead on spending quality time with her family. She died surrounded by her loving family.

Image credit: ©Jason Reed/Reuters
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