“Each of us also comes here tonight," Michelle Obama told the Democratic National Convention in 2008, "by our own improbable journey” and “driven by the simple belief that . . . we have an obligation to fight for the world as it should be."
Michelle Obama’s journey began in the South Side of Chicago, where Fraser and Marian Robinson instilled in their daughter a heartfelt commitment to family, hard work, and education. Her father worked as a pump operator for the Chicago Water Department while her mother stayed at home to care for Michelle and her older brother Craig. As she watched her father refuse to give in to multiple sclerosis, use two canes to get to his job, and save money to send her to college, she learned that "the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work hard for them."
Michelle earned a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and a juris doctor degree from Harvard Law School. In 1988, she returned to Chicago to join the firm of Sidley Austin. It was there that she met Barack Obama, a summer associate she was assigned to advise. They were married in 1992.
By that time, Michelle had turned her energies to public service. She was assistant commissioner of planning and development in Chicago’s City Hall before becoming the founding executive director of the Chicago chapter of Public Allies, an AmeriCorps program that prepares young people for public service. In 1996, she joined the University of Chicago as associate dean of student services, where she developed the university’s first community service program. In 2002, she went to work for the University of Chicago Medical Center, where in 2005 she became the vice president of community and external affairs. During these years the Obamas’ daughters Malia and Sasha were born.
As first lady, Mrs. Obama initiated Let’s Move! a program aiming to end childhood obesity within a generation. Through it, elected officials, business leaders, educators, parents, and faith leaders worked together to provide more nutritious food in schools, bring healthy and affordable food into underserved communities, plant vegetable gardens across America, and provide new opportunities for kids to be more active. Each year local schoolchildren helped plant and harvest the garden she started on the White House South Lawn. Its vegetables and fruits were served at the White House and donated to soup kitchens and food banks.
During Barack Obama’s second term Michelle spearheaded the Reach Higher Initiative to help students understand job opportunities and the education and skills they need for those jobs. She encouraged young people to continue their education past high-school in technical schools and community colleges as well as at colleges and universities. Worldwide, she championed the education of girls and women. In a commencement address at the City College of New York, she told graduates, “Never view your challenges as obstacles.” It is a lesson she has embodied all her life.
Throughout her time in the White House, Mrs. Obama worked to support veterans and military families. She also focused her energies on what she calls her most important role – Mom-in-Chief to her daughters, who grew into accomplished young women during their eight years in the White House.
You Might Also Like
Collection Animal Ambassadors
Animals, whether pampered household pets, working livestock, birds, squirrels, or strays, have long been a major part of White House...
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 The First Ladies
Biographies & Portraits
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 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 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...
Collection The Presidents
Biographies & Portraits
Reading Lists & Bibliography
General White House Bibliography:Aikman, Lonnelle. The Living White House. Washington, D.C.: The White House Historical Association, 1996. Cunliffe, Marcus....
White House History Table of Contents
NUMBERS 1 THROUGH 6 (COLLECTION I) WHITE HOUSE HISTORY • NUMBER 1 1 — Foreword by Melvin M. Payne 5 — President Kennedy’s Rose Garden by Rachel Lambert...
About Our Authors
WILLIAM ADAIR is a frame historian, conservator, and gilder in Washington, D.C. (WHH #54) WILLIAM G. ALLMAN served more than...
2019 2019 Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPY) The Stephen Decatur House: A History Gold, Regional Non-Fiction 2019 Next Generation Indie Book Awards The...
National History Day Resources
The White House Historical Association (WHHA) offers many different resources for students working on National History Day projects.