The Historical and Rare Thing Both Barbara Bush and Abigail Adams Had in Common
Many remarkable first ladies have lived in the White House and served the American people. One such woman was Barbara Bush, the late matriarch of one of the United States’ most prominent political dynasties. Bush raised eyebrows and won hearts with many of the choices that she made. And in fact, she made history in a few interesting ways.
Read on to discover the most fascinating facts about the former first lady — including the historical and rare thing that she had in common with Abigail Adams on page 9.
10. Barbara Pierce married her high school sweetheart
Barbara Pierce — a distant relative to the country’s 14th president, Franklin Pierce — grew up in a suburb of Manhattan and married her high school sweetheart, George H.W. Bush. USA Today reports that they met at a dance when she was just 16 years old.
At the time, he was a senior at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. And she was on her Christmas vacation away from her boarding school in South Carolina, according to History. They began writing letters to one another, and she went to his senior prom with him. They got engaged a year and a half later. Not long after, George left to serve as the youngest pilot in the U.S. Navy in World War II.
Next: She made this choice after graduating from high school.
9. She went to college, but dropped out
After graduating high school, the future first lady enrolled at Smith College. But she dropped out halfway through her freshman year and married George on January 6, 1945 when he returned on leave. When the war ended, they moved to New Haven, Connecticut, where George completed his studies at Yale University.
Their first child, George Walker Bush, was born in 1946. After George H.W. Bush graduated from Yale, the family moved around for a few years for his work in the oil business before settling in Midland, Texas. As NPR reports, Barbara Bush took on the traditional roles of wife and mother.
Next: Her children challenged her in this key way.
8. Barbara and George H.W. Bush learned from their children
George H.W. and Barbara Bush learned many lessons as parents (as we all do). When their second child, Robin, died of leukemia at age three, the grieving parents donated Robin’s body to science and began to raise money for cancer research.
And when their fourth son, Neil, struggled with reading due to dyslexia, Barbara Bush traveled the nation to encourage children and adults to learn reading skills. She also began the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, and later expanded her literacy work as first lady.
Next: She raised eyebrows with her comments on this topic.
7. Barbara Bush raised eyebrows with her pro-choice views
History reports that Barbara Bush — and her forthright and charming personality — became an asset when her husband launched his political career. George H.W. Bush became a U.S. congressman, and went on to serve in other positions including U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
So Barbara Bush took on the role of a political wife. As History reports, “All the while, Barbara stood firmly at his side, raising some eyebrows with her pro-choice views and her support of the Equal Rights Amendment.”
Next: America loved seeing her in the White House.
6. America loved Barbara Bush as first lady
George H.W. Bush went on to serve as vice president under Ronald Reagan for eight years before becoming president himself. And History reports that when Barbara Bush became first lady, the American public fell in love with her “particular blend of matronly conservatism and down-to-earth humor,” which at times contrasted with her “grandmotherly appearance.”
Politico reports that according to one biographer, Bush “became a symbol for the millions of women who put home and family first.” At times, her choices sparked debates about what defines feminism, but she certainly made her own decisions.
Next: People loved Barbara Bush for these characteristics.
5. People loved her undyed hair and fake pearls
NPR reports that Americans loved Barbara Bush for many reasons — including her undyed hair and fake pearls. With her self-deprecating humor, “she made it clear — from the moment she moved into the White House — that she was going to be a different kind of first lady from her very glamorous predecessor, Nancy Reagan.”
And that wasn’t the only way she diverged from Reagan’s playbook. As Politico notes, unlike Reagan, Barbara Bush called attention to the AIDS epidemic by visiting a home for infants with AIDS. The move was considered groundbreaking at the time.
Next: One staffer characterizes her in this way.
4. She was always a ‘formidable presence’
One member of George H.W. Bush’s staff recalls Barbara Bush as a “formidable presence,” a characterization echoed by several other journalists. Politico notes that a 1992 Vanity Fair profile of the first lady “painted her as someone who inspired fear among current and former associates: ‘Privately, she is a caustic and judgmental woman, who has labored to keep her sarcasm in check — with incomplete success.'”
Nonetheless, her public persona evoked dignity and loyalty, and many people cited her warmth and wit for making her more popular than her husband.
Next: Her time in the spotlight wasn’t over when her tenure as first lady ended.
3. She supported 2 of her sons as they campaigned for president
Two of George H.W. and Barbara Bush’s sons campaigned for president, and she campaigned for both. As History notes, the Bushes’ eldest son, George W., successfully campaigned for president. He went on to serve two terms in office. The family’s second-eldest son, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, also campaigned for president. But he lost his battle for the Republican nomination in 2016.
As a former speechwriter for President Reagan and Vice President Bush wrote for The New York Post, Barbara Bush “stood in a tradition” of American women who devoted themselves to their families in order to “make this country good and great,” with or without championing modern feminism.
Next: Barbara Bush had this in common with Abigail Adams.
2. Both Barbara Bush and Abigail Adams were wives and mothers to presidents
Speaking of that long tradition of American women, History reports that Barbara Bush and Abigail Adams are the only two women in American history to have been wife to one president and mother to another. As USA Today notes, Barbara Bush was the wife of America’s 41st president and the mother of its 43rd president. And Abigail Adams was the wife of America’s 2nd president, John Adams, and the mother of its 6th president, John Quincy Adams.
Politico reports that Abigail Adams had died by the time her son became president. But Barbara Bush found herself back in the spotlight just eight years after her time as first lady had ended.
Next: Bush and Adams also shared this accomplishment.
1. Plus, Bush and Adams were at one point tied for the longest presidential marriage
History reports that in 2000 — the year that Barbara Bush saw her eldest son win election to his first of two terms as president — Barbara and George H.W. Bush surpassed the record for the longest presidential marriage in the nation’s history. That record had previously been held by John and Abigail Adams.
The Bushes celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary in 2000, and in 2015 became the first presidential couple to celebrate 70 years of marriage. The Boston Globe reported in March 2018 that Bush wrote in an update for her Smith College classmates that “I am still old and still in love with the man I married 72 years ago.”
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