Rarely had a first lady been greeted by the American people and the press with the approbation and warmth accorded to Barbara Pierce Bush. Perhaps this was prompted by the image she called "everybody's grandmother." People were comfortable with her white hair, her warm, relaxed manner, and her keen wit. With characteristic directness, she said people liked her because they knew "I'm fair and I like children and I adore my husband."
Barbara was born in 1925 to Pauline and Marvin Pierce, who later became president of McCall Corporation. In the suburban town of Rye, New York, she had a happy childhood. She went to boarding school at Ashley Hall in South Carolina, and it was at a dance during Christmas vacation when she was only 16 that she met George Bush, a senior at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. They became engaged a year and a half later, just before he went off to war as a navy torpedo bomber pilot. By the time George returned on leave, Barbara had dropped out of Smith College. Two weeks later, on January 6, 1945, they were married.
After the war, George graduated from Yale, and they set out for Texas to start their lives together. Six children were born to them: George, Robin, Jeb, Neil, Marvin, and Dorothy. Meanwhile, George built a business in the oil industry. With Texas as home base, he then turned to politics and public service, serving as a member of Congress, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, chairman of the Republican National Committee, chief of the U.S. Liaison Office in the People's Republic of China, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and later as vice president. In those 44 years of marriage, Mrs. Bush managed 29 moves of the family.
When her husband was away, she became the family linchpin, providing everything from discipline to carpools. The death of their daughter Robin from leukemia when she was not quite four left George and Barbara Bush with a lifelong compassion. She says, "Because of Robin, George and I love every living human more."
Barbara Bush was always an asset to her husband during his campaigns for public office. Her friendly, forthright manner won her high marks from the voters and the press. As wife of the vice president, she selected the promotion of literacy as her special cause. As first lady, she called working for a more literate America the "most important issue we have." Involved with many organizations devoted to this cause, she became honorary chairman of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. A strong advocate of volunteerism, Mrs. Bush helped many causes—including the homeless, AIDS, the elderly, and school volunteer programs.
In her final years, Mrs. Bush found time to write an autobiography, serve on the boards of AmeriCares and the Mayo Clinic, and to continue her prominent role in the Barbara Bush Foundation. President and Mrs. Bush enjoyed being part of the Houston community where their children and grandchildren visited them often. They also summered at their home in Kennebunkport, Maine.
An active volunteer for many years for the cause of literacy, Barbara Bush felt everybody should help some charitable cause. "If it worries you, then you've got to do something about it." Her sincerity won the hearts of the nation. Mrs. Bush died in Houston at the age of 92 on April 17, 2018. She was buried at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas.
You Might Also Like
Collection Presidential and First Lady Portraits
Since 1965, the White House Historical Association has been proud to fund the official portraits of our presidents and first ladies,...
Podcast Conversations from History Happy Hour
In this first episode of 2021, White House Historical Association President Stewart D. McLaurin introduces the Association’s popular virtual program Hi...
Collection The Presidents
Biographies & Portraits
Collection The White House Behind the Scenes
While the presidency is often in the eye of the public, those who ensure operations at the White House run...
Podcast Fearless Leadership: A Conversation with Jean Case
Fearless leaders have walked the halls of White House for centuries. In this episode, White House Historical Association President Stewart...
Podcast Entertaining at the White House
From diplomatic dinners to holiday gatherings, the White House has always played a central role in the nation’s official en...
Collection Women and the White House
While there has yet to be a female president, women have played an integral role in shaping the White House...
Podcast First Lady Barbara Bush
First Lady Barbara Bush was admired for her authenticity, as well as her advocacy on issues such as preserving the...
Collection Cherry Blossoms
Since the first cherry blossom planting in 1912 by First Lady Helen Herron Taft, Washingtonians have celebrated the scenic beauty and...
Collection The First Ladies
Biographies & Portraits
Collection Animal Ambassadors
Animals, whether pampered household pets, working livestock, birds, squirrels, or strays, have long been a major part of White House...
2022 National History Day Resources
The White House Historical Association (WHHA) offers many different resources for students working on National History Day projects.