Former first lady, mother of President George W. Bush. Born June 8, 1925, in Rye, New York, to Pauline and Marvin Pierce (who would later become publisher of McCall’s magazine), Barbara had a privileged suburban childhood. She attended Rye Country Day School followed by Ashley Hall boarding school in South Carolina, where she met George Bush, then a senior at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. In 1942, George enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve, where he served as a torpedo bomber pilot in the Pacific for two years. In January 1945, shortly after his return to America, the couple married.
Barbara gave birth to their first child (George W.), while her husband completed his coursework at Yale University. Following his 1948 graduation, the Bush family moved to Texas, where they had five more children—John (Jeb), Neil, Marvin, Dorothy, and Robin who tragically died from leukemia at the age of four. Throughout the 1950s, George concentrated on building an oil empire (that included the Bush-Overbey Oil Development Company, the Zapata Petroleum Corporation, and the Zapata Off-Shore Company), while Barbara dedicated herself to raising their children.
After becoming active in the Republican Party, George was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1966 and appointed by President Richard Nixon to serve as ambassador to the United Nations in 1971. During the course of their marriage, his demanding political schedule made it necessary for Barbara to move on 29 different occasions.
In 1980, when George became vice president, Barbara selected literacy as her special cause and eventually became Honorary Chairman of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. During the eight years of her husband’s vice presidency, Barbara’s attempts to increase the national level of literacy allowed her to adopt related causes like homelessness, education, and AIDS awareness.
George became the 41st president of the United States in 1988. Shortly after the presidential election, Barbara was diagnosed with a potentially debilitating thyroid condition called Graves’ disease. While undergoing radiation treatments, she remained active in her role as first lady. Following George’s disappointing defeat to Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential election, the Bushes retired to Houston, where Barbara continued her charitable work by serving on the boards of AmeriCares and the Mayo Clinic.
Regarded as one of the most popular presidential wives, Barbara published a candid account of her public and private life in the autobiography Barbara Bush: A Memoir (1994). Recently, she reentered the political arena by fervently supporting Jeb’s campaign for the Florida governorship in 1998, as well as George W.’s campaign for the presidency in 2000. A popular two-term governor of Texas, George W. was inaugurated as the 43rd U.S. president in 2001, becoming only the second son of a president to win the White House (the first was John Quincy Adams).