Biography of Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator and Scholar

The law professor turned prominent American politician

Senator Warren speaking at a podium
Senator Elizabeth Warren announces her 2020 presidential bid (Photo: Scott Eisen/Getty Images).

Senator Elizabeth Warren (born Elizabeth Ann Herring on June 22, 1949) is an American politician, scholar, and professor. Since 2013, she has represented the state of Massachusetts in the United States Senate, affiliated with the Democratic Party. In 2019, she became a candidate for President of the United States.

Fast Facts: Senator Elizabeth Warren

  • Known For: A prominent Democratic politician of the late 2010s, Warren had a previous career as one of the top legal scholars in the country.
  • Occupation: United States Senator from Massachusetts; previously a professor of law
  • Born: June 22, 1949 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
  • Spouse(s): Jim Warren (m. 1968-1978), Bruce H. Mann (m. 1980).
  • Children: Amelia Warren Tyagi (b. 1971), Alexander Warren (b. 1976)

Early Life and Education

Elizabeth Warren (née Elizabeth Ann Herring) was born in Oklahoma City, the fourth child and first daughter of Donald and Pauline Herring. Their family was lower-middle class and often struggled to make ends meet. Things worsened when Warren was twelve and her father, a salesman, had a heart attack, leaving him unable to do his job. Warren started her first job—waitressing—at age thirteen in order to help make ends meet.

In high school, Warren was a star of the debate team. She won Oklahoma’s state high school debating championship when she was sixteen and earned a debate scholarship to attend George Washington University. At the time, she intended to study to become a teacher. However, after two years of studies, she dropped out to marry Jim Warren, whom she had known since high school. The couple married in 1968, when Warren was nineteen.

Law School and Teaching Career

When Warren and her husband moved to Texas for his job with IBM, she enrolled at the University of Texas, where she studied speech pathology and audiology. However, they moved to New Jersey soon after on another of Jim Warren’s job transfers, and when she became pregnant, she chose to stay at home with their daughter Amelia.

In 1973, Warren enrolled in Rutgers Law School. She graduated in 1976 and passed the bar exam; that same year, the Warrens’ son Alexander was born. Two years later, in 1978, Warren and her husband divorced. She chose to keep his last name, even after she remarried in 1980 to Bruce Mann.

For the first year or so of her career, Warren did not actively practice law in a law firm, instead teaching children with disabilities in a public school. She also worked from home doing minor legal work such as wills and real estate filings.

Warren returned to her alma mater in 1977 as a lecturer at Rutgers. She remained there for one academic year, then moved back to Texas to take a job at the University of Houston Law Center, where she worked from 1978 to 1983 as the associate dean for academic affairs. In 1981, she spent some time as a visiting associate professor at the University of Texas Law School; she returned from 1983 to 1987 as a full professor.

Legal Scholar

From the beginning of her career, Warren often focused her work and research on how real people interact with the law in their daily lives, with a particular emphasis on bankruptcy law. Her research made her a respected rising star in her field, and she continued her work throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In 1987, Warren joined the University of Pennsylvania Law School as a full professor in 1987 and in 1990, she became the William A. Schnader Professor of Commercial Law. She taught for a year at Harvard Law School in 1992 as Robert Braucher Visiting Professor of Commercial Law.

Three years later, Warren returned to Harvard full-time, joining the faculty full-time as the Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law. Warren’s position made her the first tenured Harvard law professor who had gotten a law degree from an American public university. Over time, she became one of the most prominent legal scholars in bankruptcy and commercial law, with a large number of publications to her name.

It was in that capacity that she was asked, in 1995, to advise the National Bankruptcy Review Commission. At the time, her recommendations failed to convince Congress, and her advocacy failed, but her work helped lead to the establishment of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was signed into law in 2010.

Political Career

Although Warren was a registered Republican until the 1990s, she shifted to the Democratic Party during that decade. It wasn’t until 2011, however, that she began her political career in earnest. That year, she announced her candidacy for the 2012 Senate election in Massachusetts, running as a Democrat to unseat Republican incumbent Scott Brown.

Her breakout moment came with a September 2011 speech that went viral, in which she argued against the idea that taxing the wealthy is class warfare. In her response, she argued that no one becomes rich without leaning on the rest of society, from workers to infrastructure to education and more, and that the social contract of a civilized society means that those who have benefited from the system invest in it again to help the next people who want to do the same.

Warren won the election with nearly 54 percent of the vote and quickly became a star in the Democratic Party. Her committee assignment was the Senate Banking Committee, given her extensive experience in economics. Soon, she gained a reputation for her unforgiving questioning of big banking executives and regulators. Senator Elizabeth Warren also introduced a bill that would allow students to borrow from the government at the same rate as banks. In 2015, she co-sponsored legislation along with Republican and independent senators that was built on the Banking Act of 1933 and intended to reduce the likelihood of future financial crises.

Leading Opposition and Running for President

Following the 2016 election of Republican Donald Trump to the presidency, Warren became an outspoken critic of his administration. A defining moment occurred during the confirmation hearing for Jeff Sessions, a Republican senator nominated for attorney general. Warren attempted to read a letter aloud that Coretta Scott King had written years earlier, arguing that Sessions used his powers to suppress black voters. Warren was stopped and censured by the Republican majority; she read the letter aloud on an Internet livestream instead. In his censure, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “[Warren] was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” The statement entered the pop culture lexicon and became a rallying cry for women’s movements.

Senator Warren has opposed many of the Trump administration’s policies and has also spoken publicly about perceived conflicts of interest and misconduct by Trump himself. Warren has also been embroiled in her own headline-making scandal stemming from her claims to Native American heritage, which she repeated over the course of several years. When Warren took a DNA test that confirmed the presence of a Native ancestor, the controversy was compounded by tribal leaders’ criticism of using a DNA test results as a way of claiming Native American identity. Warren apologized for her handling of the controversy and clarified that she understands the difference between ancestry and actual tribal membership.

In 2018, Warren won re-election by a landslide, taking 60% of the vote. Soon afterwards, news broke that she had formed an exploratory committee to run for president in 2020; she confirmed her candidacy in February 2019. Her platform is based on transparent policy proposals and a coalition of working class, union workers, women, and immigrants, and she positions herself as a direct contrast to the Trump-led Republican party of the current era.

Sources

  • “Elizabeth Warren Fast Facts.” CNN, 5 March 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2015/01/09/us/elizabeth-warren-fast-facts/index.html
  • Packer, George. The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013.
  • Pierce, Charles P. “The Watchdog: Elizabeth Warren.” The Boston Globe, 20 December 2009, http://archive.boston.com/bostonglobe/magazine/articles/2009/12/20/elizabeth_warren_is_the_bostonian_of_the_year/