Barbara Bush: First Lady

First Lady

Barbara Bush
Barbara Bush 1989. Consolidated News Pictures/Getty Images

Barbara Bush was, like Abigail Adams, the wife of a Vice President, then a First Lady, and then the mother of a President.  She was also known for her work for literacy. She served as First Lady from 1989-1993.


Barbara Bush was born Barbara Pierce, June 8, 1925, 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 relation to President Franklin Pierce.

Her mother, Pauline Robinson Pierce, was killed in a car accident when Barbara Bush was 24, when 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, and 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 at Phillips Academy (Massachusetts). They were engaged a year and a half later, just before he left for pilot training.  He served in World War II as a Navy bomber pilot.

Barbara, after working retail jobs, began attending Smith College, where she played soccer and was the team captain.  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. 

Leaving the military, George H. W. Bush studied at Yale, and their first child was born there, the future president, George W. Bush. Together, they had six children, including a daughter who died of leukemia.

They moved to Texas and George went into the oil business, and then into government and politics and Barbara busied herself with volunteer work. The family lived in 17 different cities and 29 homes over the years. Barbara Bush has been candid about the effort that she had to put in to help one of her sons (Neil) with his learning disability.


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 Ford as chief of the US 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.  During that time, Barbara Bush struggled with depression, and handled 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 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, the winner, Ronald Reagan, asked him to join the ticket as Vice President.

When her husband served as American Vice President under Ronald Reagan, Barbara Bush made literacy the cause on which she focused. 

She continued 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.

Barbara Bush also raised money for many causes and charities, including the United Negro College Fund and Sloan-Kettering Hospital.

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.

Barbara Bush also served as honorary chairman of the Leukemia Society.

In her last years, Barbara Bush lived in Houston, Texas, and Kennebunkport, Maine. One of the twin daughters of her son, President George Bush, is named for her.

Barbara Bush was criticized as insensitive for remarks on the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina.

In her last days, Barbara Bush made the news by refusing further curative treatment for her congestive heart failure and COPD.  She died shortly after, on Apr il 17, 2018 .

Husband: George H. W. Bush, married January 6, 1945

Children: George Walker (1946-), Pauline Robinson (1949-1953), John Ellis (Jeb) (1953-), Neil Mallon (1955-), Marvin Pierce (1956-), Dorothy Walker LeBlond (1959-)

Also known as: Barbara Pierce Bush


  • 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.