Barbara Pierce Bush



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Barbara Pierce Bush
Barbara Pierce Bush, wife of President George Bush, has been well liked by the press and American public. With her matronly appearance, her unpretentious attitude, and her down to earth and relaxed personality, she is seen as everyone’s grandmother. While Barbara was First Lady from 1989 to 1993, she did not make any lasting changed in her position. As Lweis Gould says, “She broke no new ground, fostered no innovations” (Gould, 421). Yet she combined some of the best qualities of her predecessors: the caring of Eleanor Roosevelt, the quietness of Bess Truman, and the honesty and candor of Betty Ford. Barbara did show the nation that the office of First Lady can accommodate all types of personalities and qualities, and it quite a versatile office.

In 1925 Barbara was born to Pauline and Mavin Pierce in Rye, New York. While she was a junior at Ashley Hall in Charleston, South Carolina, Barbara went to a Christmas dance in 1942 where she met George Bush, who was a senior at Phillips Academy. The couple became engaged right before George went off to war as a Navy torpedo bomber pilot. When he returned, Barbara dropped out of Smith College and married George in 1945. The Bushes moved to Texas where they had six children: George, Robin, Jeb, Neil, Marvin, and Dorothy. As her husband traveled around, Barbara had to be the center of the family. When Robin died of leukemia when she was all-most four, the Bushes were stricken with grief, but developed a great deal of compassion.

As George Bush ran for President, Barbara was a definite asset to his campaigns. The public loved her friendly manner and keen wit. As First Lady, she selected literacy as her pet concern. She has worked in this area for years and therefore was knowledgeable and committed to this issue. Since one of her son’s struggled with dyslexia, some say Barbara had a personal interest in this matter. She believed that working for a literate America was the “most important issue we have.” She thought that by improving literacy, other social problems would be improved. In 1989, she helped to establish the Barbara Bush Foundation of Family Literacy. This was a private Washington based concern that solicited grants from public and private organizations in order to support the development of family literacy programs; break the intergenerational cycle of illiteracy, and establish literacy as a value in each home. Barbara Bush is currently the Chairman of the foundation and she is active in many other related organizations. Barbara Bush regularly appeared on the national radio program “Mrs. Bush’s Story Time” where she stressed the importance of reading out load to your children.

Barbara was also concerned with the fight against leukemia. Since her daughter Robin died of this disease, Barbara was motivated by personal experience to help others. Bush eventually became honorary national chair of the Leukemia Society of America.

The First Lady was a strong advocate of volunteerism, and she always volunteered a great deal of her own time. Barbara became involved in a number of medically oriented volunteer activities, such as aiding fund-raising efforts of a medical school and visiting patients in cancer wards and hospices. Helping the homeless, people with AIDS, the elderly, and schools were some of the other causes that Barbara supported.

While Barbara was very active in promoting literacy and volunteering her time, she made it a point never to get involved in policy decisions. There were times when George Bush needed his life to help embody his values, because his policies and budget plan were not enough. In these times of need, Barbara was reluctance to help govern which increased her popularity and power. However, while she did not dictate authority and policy, she did help shape perceptions of the Bush administration. Her grandmotherly image emphasized George’s softer side. President Bush praised Barbara for being a wife, mother, and grandmother rather than political activist. Gil Troy notes, “Barbara’s emergence as ‘co-president’ despite herself would reveal the unspoken but compelling forces that mobilized First Ladies” (Troy, 313).



Barbara attended many 1992 campaign meetings and she did an excellent job in giving speeches in favor of President Bush. With stickers and pins saying “Keep Barbara in the White House,” her popularity was not completely transferred to George. While Barbara was loved by many, that was not enough for the American public to reelect President Bush again in 1992. Even though Barbara is no longer First Lady, she continues to support pet concern- her Foundation and the promotion of family literacy. In 1990, Barbara Bush wrote Millie’s Book, which examines life in the White House through the eyes of Miller, a Springer spaniel. All the money from this book was given to her foundation.

Barbara Bush began her life in Rye, New York where she met George Herbert Walker Bush, the man she would eventually marry. She has five children, four boys and one daughter. Mrs. Bush while beginning her time as the First Lady of the United States began the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, whose mission is to break the cycle of illiteracy. She still serves as the honorary chair of the foundation. She has appeared on the national radio show “Mrs. Bush’s Story Time”, as well as having written three books. The first two were children’s books, C. Fred’s Story and Millie’s Book. Recently she has finished her autobiography Barbara Bush: A Memoir. Mrs. Bush serves as Americares ambassador-at-large, and a Mayo Clinic Foundation board member. She also supports many organizations including the Boys & Girls Club of America, the Leukemia Society of America, and the Ronald McDonald House.

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