First Ladies: Laura Welch Bush

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Laura Bush was the wife and First Lady to George W. Bush. She is often voted as one of the most popular First Ladies, according to The Gallup Organization.

Laura Bush

Laura Lane Welch was born on November 4, 1946 in Midland,Texas. She was the only child of Harold and Jenna Louise Hawkins Welch.

Early on, her parents encouraged her to read, leading to what would become her love of reading. She said, “I learned reading is at home from my mother. When I was a little girl, my mother would read stories to me. I have loved books and going to the library ever since. In the summer, I liked to spend afternoons reading in the library.

On the night of November 6, 1963, Laura Welch ran a stop sign and struck another car, resulting in the death of its driver. The victim was her close friend and classmate Michael Dutton Douglas. She was not charged in the accident. In her book Spoken from the Heart, she says that the accident caused her to lose her faith “for many, many years”.

She graduated high school in 1964 and went on to Southern Methodist University in Dallas where she graduated in 1968. She then began a career as a school teacher.

In 1973, Bush attained a Master of Science degree in Library Science from the University of Texas at Austin. After a short time at a public library, she returned to Austin, Texas and became librarian at the elementary school. She reflected on her employment experiences to a group of children in 2003, saying, “I worked as a teacher and librarian and I learned how important reading is in

Laura Bush

school and in life.”

At the backyard barbecue of mutual friends, she met George W. Bush in July 1977. The couple married on November 5, 1977. George W. Bush detailed his choice to marry Laura as the “best decision of my life.”

In 1978, the couple embarked on their first campaign, as her husband ran for congress. He lost the election.

On November 25, 1981, Laura Bush gave birth to fraternal twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna. Bush is the only First Lady to have given birth to twins.

George W. Bush credited his wife with his decision to stop drinking in 1986.

Laura Bush had a first hand view of the White House when her father-in-law, George H.W. Bush, became President in 1988.  Her mother-in-law, Barbara Bush, probably had many helpful tips from her time as First Lady.

Bush became the First Lady of Texas when her husband was elected as the Governor of Texas and served as first lady of that state beginning in 1995. Laura worked for women’s and children’s causes including health, education, and literacy. She used her position to advocate Alzheimer’s disease and breast cancer awareness as well.

George and Laura Bush with their daughters

In 1999, her husband began to campaign for the presidency. Upon winning the election, he resigned as Governor of Texas.

On January 20, 2001, she became First Lady. As First Lady, Bush was involved in issues of concern to children and women, both nationally and internationally. Her major initiatives included education and women’s health.

She credited the national initiative “Ready to Read, Ready to Learn”.

During the September 11 attacks, she was taken to an underground bunker and later met by her husband. She organized a music concert at the Kennedy Center, organized the fundraiser for families of the victims.

In November 2001, she became the first person other than a president to deliver the weekly presidential radio address. She used the opportunity to discuss the plight of women in Afghanistan leading up to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, saying, “The brutal oppression of women is a central goal of the terrorists.” Her husband was originally to give the

George and Laura Bush

address but he felt that she should do it; she later recalled, “At that moment, it was not that I found my voice. Instead, it was as if my voice found me.”

Another of her signature issues were those relating to the health and well being of women. She established the Women’s Health and Wellness Initiative and became involved with two major campaigns, The Heart Truth and and breast cancer.

With her predecessor, former First Lady Nancy Reagan, Bush dedicated the First Ladies Red Dress Collection at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in May 2005. It is an exhibit containing red suits worn by former First Ladies and Laura Bush meant to raise awareness by highlighting America’s first ladies.

In September 2006, she held a conference on Global Literacy. She’d been named honorary ambassador for the United Nations’ Decade of Literacy earlier that year.

Laura Bush

During her husband’s second term, she traveled to numerous countries as a representative of the United States. Bush traveled to 77 countries in the eight years of her husband’s presidency, touring 67 of those during the second term.

In August 2007, the Laura W. Bush Institute for Women’s Health was founded at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. This institute aims to integrate research, education and community outreach in a multidisciplinary approach to women’s health.

Laura Bush’s approval ratings have consistently ranked very high. Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said, “She is more popular, and more welcome, in many parts of the country than the president… In races where the moderates are in the most trouble, Laura Bush is the one who can do the most good.”

In late October 2008, days before that year’s Presidential election, Bush hosted a three-hour session with staffers and historians discussing how she would like to be remembered, leading to this meeting being termed the “legacy lunch.”

According to historian Myra Gutin, this was the first time in history that a First Lady had ever directly reached out to historians to talk about her accomplishments.

In January 2009, the Bush’s left the White House and returned to Texas.

Laura Bush

In May 2010, Bush released her memoir, Spoken from the Heart, in conjunction with a national tour.

She created the Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Libraries “to support the education of our nation’s children by providing funds to update, extend, and diversify the book and print collections of America’s school libraries”.

She has continued to speak and write since leaving the White House. She also attends various functions with other former presidents and their wives. She has also won numerous awards.

One can imagine that she will continue to remain active in her pursuits for years to come.