President: George W. Bush
Preceded by: Hillary Clinton
Succeeded by: Michelle Obama
Born: Laura Lane Welch
November 4, 1946
Midland, Texas, U.S
Spouse(s): George W. Bush (m. 1977)
Children: Barbara and Jenna
Father: Harold Welch
Mother: Jenna Hawkins
Laura Lane Welch Bush (born November 4, 1946) is an American educator who was First Lady of the United States during the presidency of her husband, George W. Bush, from 2001 to 2009. Bush previously served as First Lady of Texas from 1995 to 2000.
Born in Midland, Texas, Bush graduated from Southern Methodist University in 1968 with a bachelor's degree in education, and took a job as a second grade teacher. After attaining her master's degree in library science at the University of Texas at Austin, she was employed as a librarian.
Bush met her future husband, George W. Bush, in 1977, and they were married later that year. The couple had twin daughters in 1981. Bush's political involvement began during her marriage. She campaigned with her husband during his unsuccessful 1978 run for the United States Congress, and later for his successful Texas gubernatorial campaign.
As First Lady of Texas, Bush implemented many initiatives focused on health, education, and literacy. In 1999–2000, she aided her husband in campaigning for the presidency in a number of ways, such as delivering a keynote address at the 2000 Republican National Convention, which gained her national attention. She became First Lady after her husband was inaugurated as president on January 20, 2001.
Polled by The Gallup Organization as one of the most popular First Ladies, Bush was involved in national and global concerns during her tenure. She continued to advance her trademark interests of education and literacy by establishing the semi-annual National Book Festival in 2001, and encouraged education on a worldwide scale. She also advanced women's causes through The Heart Truth and Susan G. Komen for the Cure organizations. She represented the United States during her foreign trips, which tended to focus on HIV/AIDS and malaria awareness.
Early life and career
Laura Lane Welch was born on November 4, 1946, in Midland, Texas, the only child of Harold Welch and Jenna Louise Hawkins Welch.
Bush is of English, French, and Swiss ancestry. Her father was a house builder and later successful real estate developer, while her mother worked as the bookkeeper for her father's business. Early on, her parents encouraged her to read, leading to what would become her love of reading. She said, "I learned [how important reading is] at home from my mother. When I was a little girl, my mother would read stories to me. I have loved books and going to the library ever since. In the summer, I liked to spend afternoons reading in the library. I enjoyed the Little House on the Prairie and Little Women books, and many others ... Reading gives you enjoyment throughout your life." Bush has also credited her second grade teacher, Charlene Gnagy, for inspiring her interest in education.
On the night of November 6, 1963, two days after her 17th birthday, Laura Welch ran a stop sign and struck another car, killing its driver. The victim was her close friend and classmate Michael Dutton Douglas. By some accounts, Douglas had been Welch's boyfriend at one time, but she stated that he was not her boyfriend at that time but rather a very close friend. Bush and her passenger, both 17, were treated for minor injuries. According to the accident report released by the city of Midland in 2000, in response to an open-records request, she was not charged in the incident. Bush's spokesman said, "It was a very tragic accident that deeply affected the families and was very painful for all involved, including the community at large." In her book Spoken from the Heart she says that the crash caused her to lose her faith "for many, many years".
She attended James Bowie Elementary School, San Jacinto Junior High School, and Robert E. Lee High School in Midland. She graduated from Lee in 1964 and went on to attend Southern Methodist University in Dallas where she was a member of Kappa Alpha Theta. She graduated in 1968 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Education.
After graduating from SMU, she began her career as a school teacher at Longfellow Elementary School in the Dallas Independent School District. She then taught for three years at John F. Kennedy Elementary School, a Houston Independent School District school in Houston, until 1972.
In 1973, Bush attained a Master of Science degree in Library Science from the University of Texas at Austin. She was soon employed as a librarian at the Kashmere Gardens Branch at the Houston Public Library. The following year, she moved back to Austin and took another job as a librarian in the Austin Independent School District school Dawson Elementary until 1977. She reflected on her employment experiences to a group of children in 2003, saying, "I worked as a teacher and librarian and I learned how important reading is in school and in life."
Marriage and family
She met George W. Bush in July 1977 when mutual friends Joe and Jan O'Neill invited her and Bush to a backyard barbecue at their home. He proposed to her at the end of September and they were married on November 5 of that year at the First United Methodist Church in Midland, the same church in which she had been baptized. Laura bought a tan, two-toned dress off the rack for the wedding. The couple honeymooned in Cozumel, Mexico. George W. Bush detailed his choice to marry Laura as the "best decision of [his] life". Laura, an only child, said she gained "brothers and sisters and wonderful in-laws" who all accepted her after she wed George W. Bush.
Bush attended the inauguration of father-in-law George H. W. Bush as Vice President in January 1981, after he and his running mate Ronald Reagan won the 1980 presidential election. She attributed her father-in-law's election to the vice presidency with giving her and her husband national exposure.
The Bushes had tried to conceive for three years, but pregnancy did not happen easily. On November 25, 1981, Laura Bush gave birth to fraternal twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna. The twins were born five weeks early by an emergency Caesarean section, as Laura had developed life-threatening pre-eclampsia (toxemia).
George W. Bush credited his wife with his decision to stop drinking in 1986 She reflected that she thought her husband "was drinking too much" amid her knowing it was not his desired way of living. Approaching him, she related that her father had been alcoholic and it was not a pattern she wished to repeat in their family. She is also credited with having a stabilizing effect on his private life. According to People magazine reporter Jane Simms Podesta, "She is the steel in his back. She is a civilizing influence on him. I think she built him, in many ways, into the person he is today."
Bush traveled to Kuwait in April 1993, accompanying her father-in-law and mother-in-law as well as brothers-in-law Jeb and Marvin Bush after former President Bush was invited to return to the Middle East for the first time since his presidency.
Several times a year, Bush and her husband travel to their sprawling family estate, the Bush compound, better known as Walker's Point. Located in Kennebunkport, Maine, the compound is where Bush family gatherings have been held for nearly 100 years.
As First Lady, Bush was involved in issues of concern to children and women, both nationally and internationally. Her major initiatives included education and women's health.
Education and children
Early into the administration, Bush made it known that she would focus much of her attention on education. This included recruiting highly qualified teachers to ensure that young children would be taught well. She also focused on early child development. In 2001, to promote reading and education, she partnered with the Library of Congress to launch the annual National Book Festival. In January 2002, Bush testified before the Senate Committee on Education, asking for higher teachers' salaries and better training for Head Start programs. She is also credited with creating a national initiative called "Ready to Read, Ready to Learn", which promotes reading at a young age. To promote American patriotic heritage in schools, she helped launch the National Anthem Project. In 2006, Bush and media executives worked together to provide a $500,000 grant for school libraries along the Gulf Coast which had been devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Immediately following the September 11, 2001 attacks, Bush spoke regarding America's children:
[W]e need to reassure our children that they are safe in their homes and schools. We need to reassure them that many people love them and care for them, and that while there are some bad people in the world, there are many more good people.
Later in her tenure, she was honored by the United Nations, as the body named her honorary ambassador for the United Nations' Decade of Literacy. In this position, she announced that she would host a Conference on Global Literacy. The conference, held in September 2006, encouraged a constant effort to promote literacy and highlighted many successful literacy programs. She coordinated this as a result of her many trips abroad where she witnessed how literacy benefited children in poorer nations.
On July 28, 2008, she visited Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site in Flat Rock, North Carolina, where she met with superintendent Connie Backlund and the Friends of Carl Sandburg Home's President Linda Holt as well as various students from Boys and Girls Club of Henderson County, North Carolina.
On October 3, 2008, she visited Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum where she praised her works such as Farmer Boy, These Happy Golden Years and The Little House on the Prairie, the last of which she had felt an association with as a child. During the same Laura Ingalls Wilder's estate visit, she said that she read her books to her daughters and gave the writer Save America's Treasures grant.
September 11 attacks
On September 11, 2001, Bush had been hosting her in-laws George H. W. Bush and Barbara Bush at the White House and was scheduled to give a testimony to Congress on education. Instead, during the September 11 attacks, Bush was taken to inside the White House and placed in an underground bunker, later being met by her husband, who had returned to Washington from Florida.
Two weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Bush inaugurated a music concert at the Kennedy Center, organized to raise funds for families of the victims. Though she received applause, she returned the compliment to members of the audience and added that although the event was tragic, Americans had deepened their appreciation "of life itself, how fragile it can be, what a gift it is and how much we need each other". Senator Ted Kennedy, who introduced Bush at the event, praised her and said he knew his late brother, President John F. Kennedy, would also be proud of her. Bush believes the September 11 attacks ignited the interest in the way Afghan women were treated.
Women's health and rights
Another of her signature issues were those relating to the health and well being of women. She established the Women's Health and Wellness Initiative and became involved with two major campaigns.
Bush first became involved with The Heart Truth awareness campaign in 2003. It is an organization established by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to raise awareness about heart disease in women, and how to prevent the condition. She serves in the honorary position of ambassador for the program leading the federal government's effort to give women a "wake up call" about the risk of heart disease. She commented on the disease: "Like many women, I assumed heart disease was a man's disease and cancer was what we would fear the most. Yet heart disease kills more women in our country than all forms of cancer combined. When it comes to heart disease, education, prevention, and even a little red dress can save lives. "She has undertaken a signature personal element of traveling around the country and talking to women at hospital and community events featuring the experiences of women who live, or had lived, with the condition. This outreach was credited with saving the life of one woman who went to the hospital after experiencing symptoms of a heart attack.
With her predecessor, former First Lady Nancy Reagan, Bush dedicated the First Ladies Red Dress Collection at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in May 2005. It is an exhibit containing red suits worn by former First Ladies Lady Bird Johnson, Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Laura Bush meant to raise awareness by highlighting America's first ladies. She has participated in fashion shows displaying red dresses worn on celebrities as well.
Bush's mother, Jenna Welch, was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 78. She endured surgery and currently has no further signs of cancer. Laura Bush has become a breast cancer activist on her mother's behalf through her involvement in the Susan G. Komen for the Cure. She applauded the foundation's efforts in eliminating cancer and said, "A few short years ago, a diagnosis of breast cancer left little hope of recovery. But thanks to the work of the Komen Foundation ... more women and men are beating breast cancer and beating the odds." She used her position to gain international support for the foundation through the Partnership for Breast Cancer Awareness and Research of the Americas, an initiative that unites experts from the United States, Brazil, Costa Rica and Mexico.
In November 2001, she became the first person other than a president to deliver the weekly presidential radio address. She used the opportunity to discuss the plight of women in Afghanistan leading up to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, saying "The brutal oppression of women is a central goal of the terrorists." Her husband was originally to give the address but he felt that she should do it; she later recalled, "At that moment, it was not that I found my voice. Instead, it was as if my voice found me." Her words summarized one of the goals and moral rationales of the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and it became one of the more famous speeches of his administration. In May 2002, she made a speech to the people of Afghanistan through Radio Liberty. In March 2005, she made the first of three trips to that country as First Lady.
Bush campaigned for Republicans around the country in 2002 for that year's midterm elections, attending and hosting fundraisers as well as giving speeches that were deemed as the Bush administration "working against women's rights issues and using women to do their dirty work" and partly a test for Bush on how well she could campaign for her husband in the impending two years when he sought re-election.
During the 2004 election cycle, Bush made joint appearances with her husband on the campaign trail including in battleground states such as Florida. She advocated for his re-election in a speech at the 2004 Republican National Convention, and was credited with having raised $15 million for her husband's campaign as well as the Republican Party while still succeeding in keeping a separate schedule that allowed for her to tend to the traditional duties she had as First Lady. In a July 2004 interview, Teresa Heinz, wife of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, said, "Well, you know, I don't know Laura Bush. But she seems to be calm, and she has a sparkle in her eye, which is good. But I don't know that she's ever had a real job—I mean, since she's been grown up." Heinz later apologized for the remark, and Bush stated that she forgave her while insisting her apology was unnecessary, citing her understanding of the "trick questions" asked by the media.
Bush was a participant in the 2006 midterm elections, beginning her campaigning in April. Though her poll numbers had decreased from an 80% approval rating, they still superseded that of President Bush, whose approval rating was only praised by a third of Americans. Ed Henry of CNN noted Bush's popularity, writing, "The first lady is treated like a rock star on the campaign trail – with local Republicans lining up for photographs and autographs – as she criss-crosses the country to help candidates." Bush relied on a strategy of praising the Republican candidate for their achievements and attending events alongside them. In September 2008, Bush spoke during the first night of the 2008 Republican National Convention, her joint appearance with Cindy McCain geared toward raising hurricane relief funds for victims of Hurricane Gustav.
Popularity and style
Sady Doyle reasoned that Bush was hard to dislike due to her adopting "the least partisan causes" such as literacy and breast cancer, which would attract the support of most Americans and her coming off as a "mild, polite, ordinary woman who might go to church with your mother, or organize suburban potlucks". Doyle furthered that her statements were never enough to offend others and the harshest criticism that could be bestowed upon her was that she was boring.
She disagreed with Fox News' Chris Wallace in 2006 when Wallace asked why the American people were beginning to lose confidence in President Bush, saying, "Well, I don't think they are. And I don't really believe those polls. I travel around the country, I see people, I see their response to my husband, I see their response to me. There are a lot of difficult challenges right now in the United States ... All of those decisions that the President has to make surrounding each one of these very difficult challenges are hard. They're hard decisions to make. And of course some people are unhappy about what some of those decisions are. But I think people know that he is doing what he thinks is right for the United States, that he's doing what he – especially in the war on terror, what he thinks he is obligated to do for the people in the United States, and that is to protect them ... When his polls were really high they weren't on the front page."
During the January 2005 second inauguration ceremonies for her husband, Laura Bush was looked highly upon by People magazine, The Washington Post, and others for her elegance and fashion sense. At the inauguration she wore a winter white cashmere dress and matching coat designed by Oscar de la Renta. Following the inauguration were the inaugural galas, to which Bush wore a pale, aqua lace gown, sprinkled with crystals, with long sleeves in a silver blue mist. The tulle gown was also designed for her by de la Renta. According to The Washington Post, "[I]t made her look radiant and glamorous."
During her husband's second term, Bush was more involved in foreign matters. She traveled to numerous countries as a representative of the United States.
As First Lady, she took five goodwill trips to Africa. The purpose of these has mostly been to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and malaria, but Bush has also stressed the need for education and greater opportunities for women. She has taken many other trips to other countries to promote and gain support for President Bush's Emergency Plan for AIDS relief; these countries include Zambia (2007), Mozambique (2007), Mali (2007), Senegal (2007), and Haiti (2008).
In mid-2007, she took a trip to Myanmar where she spoke out in support of the pro-democracy movement, and urged Burmese soldiers and militias to refrain from violence. Later that October, she ventured to the Middle East. Bush said she was in the region in an attempt to improve America's image by highlighting concern for women's health, specifically promoting her breast cancer awareness work with the US-Middle East Partnership for Breast Cancer Awareness and Research. She defined the trip as successful, saying that stereotypes were broken on both sides.
Overall, Bush traveled to 77 countries in the eight years of her husband's presidency, touring 67 of those during the second term.
Views on policy
Bush is a Republican and has identified herself with the GOP since her marriage.
When asked about abortion in 2000, Bush said she did not believe Roe v. Wade should be overturned. She did not comment on whether women had the right to an abortion. She did say, however, that the country should do "what we can to limit the number of abortions, to try to reduce the number of abortions in a lot of ways, and that is, by talking about responsibility with girls and boys, by teaching abstinence, having abstinence classes everywhere in schools and in churches and in Sunday school".
Bush responded to a question during a 2006 interview concerning the Federal Marriage Amendment by calling for elected leaders not to politicize same-sex marriage, "I don't think it should be used as a campaign tool, obviously. It requires a lot of sensitivity to just talk about the issue ... a lot of sensitivity."
On July 12, 2005, while in South Africa, Bush suggested her husband replace retiring Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor with another woman. On October 2, during a private dinner at the White House with his wife, President Bush nominated Harriet Miers to replace O'Connor. Later that month, after Miers had faced intense criticism, Laura Bush questioned whether the charges were sexist in nature.
In late October 2008, days before that year's Presidential election, Bush hosted a three-hour session with staffers and historians discussing how she would like to be remembered, leading to this meeting being termed the "legacy lunch".
According to historian Myra Gutin, this was the first time in history that a First Lady had ever directly reached out to historians to talk about her accomplishments. Attendants of the meeting said that Bush wanted to change the perception that she was a traditional First Lady in that she always stayed by her husband's side. Bush's chief of staff Anita McBride called this characterization of Bush "unfair" and though conceding that she was traditional, McBride noted Bush broke from tradition in addressing issues that were not customary.
In April 2009, three months after the Bushes left office, Martha Gore wrote an op-ed piece titled "Laura Bush: A First Lady who made America proud", where she positively assessed Bush's role as First Lady and expressed Bush's successes were rooted in the dignity she brought to the office despite her reserved style as well as her making a good role model for young women and representing American womanhood at its finest. Gore concluded, "Now that Ms. Bush has returned to private life, she will continue to be remembered as a First Lady who did America proud." A 2014 poll which asked who was the most popular First Lady in the past 25 years found Bush ranked in fourth place (out of 4 candidates), behind Hillary Clinton, mother-in-law Barbara and direct successor Michelle Obama.