Biography of Barbara Bush: First Lady of the United States

Barbara Bush
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Barbara Bush (June 8, 1925–April 17, 2018), like Abigail Adams, served as the wife of a vice president and a first lady, and was later the mother of a president. She was also known for her work for literacy. She served as first lady from 1989–1993.

Fast Facts: Barbara Bush

  • Known For: Wife and mother of two presidents
  • Born: June 8, 1925 in Manhattan, New York City
  • Parents: Marvin and Pauline Robinson Pierce
  • Died: April 17, 2018 in Houston, Texas
  • Education: Smith College (dropped out during her sophomore year)
  • Published Works: C. Fred's Story, Millie's Book: As Dictated to Barbara Bush, Barbara Bush: A Memoir, and Reflections: Life After the White House
  • Spouse: George H. W. Bush (m. January 6, 1945 until her death)
  • Children: George Walker (b. 1946), Pauline Robinson (Robin) (1949–1953), John Ellis (Jeb) (b. 1953), Neil Mallon (b. 1955), Marvin Pierce (b. 1956), Dorothy Walker LeBlond Koch (b. 1959)

Early Life

Barbara Bush was born Barbara Pierce on June 8, 1925, in New York City and grew up in Rye, New York. Her father Marvin Pierce became chairman of McCall publishing company, which published such magazines as McCall's and Redbook. He was a distant relative of former President Franklin Pierce.

Her mother Pauline Robinson Pierce was killed in a car accident when Barbara was 24 after the car, driven by Marvin Pierce, hit a wall. Barbara Bush's younger brother Scott Pierce was a financial executive.

She attended a suburban day school, Rye Country Day, and then Ashley Hall, a Charleston, South Carolina, boarding school. She enjoyed athletics and reading, but not so much her academic subjects.

Marriage and Family

Barbara Bush met George H. W. Bush at a dance when she was 16 and he was a student at Phillips Academy in Massachusetts. They were engaged a year and a half later, just before he left for Naval pilot training. He served in World War II as a bomber pilot.

Barbara, after working retail jobs, enrolled at Smith College and was captain of the soccer team. She dropped out in the middle of her sophomore year when George returned on leave in late 1945. They were married two weeks later and lived on a number of naval bases in their early marriage.

After leaving the military, George H. W. Bush studied at Yale. The couple's first child, a future president, was born during that time. They had six children together, including daughter Pauline Robinson, who died of leukemia at age 4 in 1953, and two sons who went on to have political careers of their own — George Walker Bush (born 1946), who was the 43rd U.S. president, and John Ellis (Jeb) Bush (b. 1953), who was governor of Florida from 1999–2007. They have three other children: businessmen Neil Mallon (born 1955) and Marvin Pierce (born 1956), and philanthropist Dorothy Walker LeBlond Koch (born 1959).

They moved to Texas and George went into the oil business, and then into government and politics. Barbara busied herself with volunteer work. The family lived in 17 different cities and 29 homes over the years. During her life, Barbara Bush was candid about the effort she had to put in to help her son Neil with his dyslexia.


Entering politics first as a county Republican Party chairman, George lost his first election running for the United States Senate. He became a member of Congress, then was appointed by President Nixon as ambassador to the United Nations, and the family moved to New York. He was appointed by President Gerald Ford as chief of the U.S. Liaison Office in the People's Republic of China, and the family lived in China. Then he served as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the family lived in Washington, D.C. During that time, Barbara Bush struggled with depression. She dealt with it by making speeches about her time in China and doing volunteer work.

George H.W. Bush ran in 1980 as a candidate for the Republican nomination for president. Barbara made clear her views as pro-choice, which didn't align with President Ronald Reagan's policies, and her support of the Equal Rights Amendment, a position increasingly at odds with the Republican establishment. When Bush lost the nomination to Reagan, the latter asked Bush to join the ticket as vice president. They served two terms together.

Charitable Work

When her husband was vice president under President Ronald Reagan, Barbara Bush focused her efforts on promoting the cause of literacy while continuing her interests and visibility in her role as first lady. She served on the board of Reading Is Fundamental and established the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. In 1984 and 1990, she wrote books attributed to family dogs, including C. Fred's Story and Millie's Book. The proceeds were given to her literacy foundation.

Bush also raised money for many other causes and charities, including the United Negro College Fund and Sloan-Kettering Hospital, and served as honorary chairman of the Leukemia Society.

Death and Legacy

In her last years, Barbara Bush lived in Houston, Texas, and Kennebunkport, Maine. Bush suffered from Grave's disease and was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Hospitalized and near the end of her life, she refused further curative treatment for her congestive heart failure and COPD, and died shortly afterward, on April 17, 2018. Her husband outlived her by only about six months.

Outspoken and sometimes criticized for her bluntness—she called then-candidate Donald Trump a "misogynist and hate monger"—Bush was very popular with the public, especially compared to her predecessor Nancy Reagan. She also made some remarks considered insensitive about the victims of Hurricane Katrina and her husband's invasion of Iraq. But since 1989, her Foundation for Family Literacy has partnered with local organizations and raised more than $110 million to create and expand literacy programs across the country. 

Published Works

  • C. Fred's Story, 1987
  • Millie's Book: As Dictated to Barbara Bush,1990
  • Barbara Bush: A Memoir, 1994
  • Reflections: Life After the White House, 2004


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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Biography of Barbara Bush: First Lady of the United States." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2021, February 16). Biography of Barbara Bush: First Lady of the United States. Retrieved from Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Biography of Barbara Bush: First Lady of the United States." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 28, 2023).