"[George and I] wanted to teach our children what our parents taught us—that reading is entertaining and important and fun."
Laura Bush is the former first lady of the United States. She is married to former president George W. Bush, who was in office from 2001 to 2009. Prior to her time in office, Bush was a public school teacher and a librarian. After leaving the White House, Bush remained dedicated to a number of causes, such as education, libraries, literacy, and women's health.
Influenced by a teacher
Born Laura Lane Welch in Midland, Texas, on November 4, 1946, she was an only child. Her father owned a home-building business, and her mother worked as a bookkeeper for the business. Laura had a happy, quiet childhood. Her second-grade teacher made such a great impression on her that Bush decided early on that she wanted to be a teacher when she grew up.
When she was in the seventh grade, Bush and future president George W. Bush attended the same junior high school in Midland, but they never met. Bush's happy youth was marred by a tragedy during her teen years. She was involved at age seventeen in an automobile accident in which a friend was killed. Police did not press charges, but Bush described the incident as one of the most tragic experiences of her life.
Bush attended Southern Methodist University, where she earned an education degree in 1968. She taught reading in public schools in Dallas and then in Houston, where she had another near miss in meeting George W. Bush. They lived in the same apartment complex.
Bush moved to Austin, Texas, where she studied and earned a master's degree in library science from the University of Texas. After her 1973 graduation, she became a librarian for the local public school system. On a visit back to Midland during the summer of 1977, she attended an outdoor barbecue party where mutual friends introduced her to George W. Bush, who owned an oil business. A whirlwind romance began, including a first date in which they played miniature golf. The couple was married just three months later, in November 1977.
George W. Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, who had served as a U.S. representative from Texas and in several positions in the administrations of presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, already was planning to run in the 1980 presidential election. At the time of their engagement, Bush agreed to marry George W. Bush after he made her a promise that she would never have to make a political speech.
The following year, however, she ended up making a speech during her husband's unsuccessful bid for a seat in U.S. Congress. After having spent their first year of marriage campaigning, the couple settled in Midland, where George W. Bush concentrated on his oil business. The couple's twin daughters were born in 1981. They were named Jenna and Barbara after both of their grandmothers. Laura lived quietly as a homemaker, while Bush built his oil business in Midland.
Promotes literacy and libraries
The Bush family moved to Washington, D.C., in 1987, as George W. Bush worked on his father's presidential bid. The elder Bush had served since 1981 as vice president to Ronald Reagan—who had defeated Bush and others—for the Republican 1980 presidential nomination. After her father-in-law was elected president in 1988, the Bush family returned to Texas. Her husband became the managing general partner of the Texas Rangers baseball team. His association with the Rangers ended in 1994.
After the difficult and failed reelection bid of her father-in-law in 1992, Bush was not thrilled when her husband told her that he wanted to run for governor of Texas against popular incumbent (an elected official currently in office) Ann Richards. Bush won the election and quickly gained national attention as a prominent governor. He was easily reelected in 1998, which helped build a base for his successful run for the presidency in 2000.
Bush became very active as First Lady of Texas. She hosted a luncheon at the University of Texas at which seven prominent Texas writers spoke. The success of that event encouraged her to establish the Texas Book Festival in 1996. The annual festival of books and authors raises funds for public libraries in the state. In 1998, she spearheaded the Early Childhood Development Initiative, a program that prepares children to learn to read before they enter school. She was involved with women's health issues through the National Governor's Association and pursued several programs to bring attention to the arts. Artworks by Texans were exhibited regularly at the state capitol.
Becomes nation's First Lady
After George W. Bush was elected president in 2000, Bush kept a low profile for the first few months of the first term in office. But it soon became clear that her priorities as First Lady of Texas were carrying over into her new role as the nation's First Lady. Throughout her tenure as the nation's First Lady, literacy and education remained important priorities for Laura Bush.
The First Lady also had no idea how her life would change once her husband assumed office. But the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks changed the course of her husband's presidency and her tenure as First Lady. Bush suddenly found herself in the national spotlight along with her husband. A steadying influence, Bush soon began appearing on television programs such as 60 Minutes, and giving speeches in more public venues. Following the terrorist attacks, Bush turned her focus to the nation's children when she urged parents and educators to help mitigate the emotional effects of the terrorist attacks by keeping them from seeing the disturbing images on television that followed. At the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York, Bush gave a stirring assessment of the impact of 9/11 on the nation.
First lady for a second term
Following her husband's reelection in 2004, Bush continued her support of women's rights and initiatives that promoted education. During this time, Bush also became more outspoken about a number of issues, including embryonic stem-cell research. While First Lady, she also became involved in a number of programs and initiatives, including teacher training programs in Afghanistan and educational programs designed to combat breast cancer and heart disease through her establishment of the Women's Health and Wellness Initiative. Bush remained actively involved with Susan G. Komen for the Cure partly because of her mother's breast cancer diagnosis. Bush helped facilitate support of the Partnership for Breast Cancer Awareness and Research of the Americas, an initiative that promotes the cooperation of experts from Mexico, Brazil, Costa Rica, and the United States.
Bush focused on the global community in her second term, and in 2005, she pushed for greater voting rights for women in the Middle East during a meeting of the World Economic Forum in Jordan. She also was honored by the United Nations and named the honorary ambassador for the United Nations's Decade of Literacy. Related to this appointment, she held a conference in September 2006 that encouraged the promotion of literacy and lauded programs that were making a difference in the effort. Bush traveled to a number of countries as a representative of the United States, including five trips to Africa and treks to Burma and the Middle East.
As First Lady, Bush received a number of awards for her contribution to education and concern for children. For her efforts related to education, she received the 2002 Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity award. The American Library Association also honored her for her support and focus on literacy. In 2006, she received an award from the Kuwait-American Foundation in recognition of her work to help improve living conditions and education for children all over the globe.
Post-White House years
After her husband's tenure as president ended in early 2009, the Bush family returned to private life in Texas. Bush published her memoir, Spoken from the Heart, in April 2010. She wrote of leaving the White House, "After nearly eight years of hypervigilance, of watching for the next danger or tragedy that might be coming, I could at last exhale. I could simply be."
Bush continued to speak about a range of topics, including breast cancer awareness, women's health, and education, after she left the White House. She also continued to write. With her daughter, Jenna Hager, she published the picture book, Our Great Big Backyard, in 2016. Bush wrote the introduction to the nonfiction book We Are Afghan Women: Voices of Hope (2016).