' Skip To Content
George H.W. Bush | Article

Barbara Pierce Bush

From the Collection: Women in American History

1925 - 2018

First Lady Barbara Bush, 1989. Library of Congress

Born in 1925 to Pauline and Marvin Pierce, Barbara Pierce grew up in Rye, New York. She met George H. W. Bush, then known as "Poppy," in 1941, at a Christmas dance in Greenwich, Connecticut. The two hit it off immediately. In response to his invitation to the Andover senior prom later that spring, Barbara wrote, "Dear Poppy, I think it was perfectly swell of you to invite me to the dance and I would love to come or go or whatever you say. I wrote Mother yesterday or the day before and rather logically, I haven't heard from her, but I'm sure she is going to let me come or go, etc. I'm really all excited, but scared to death too. If you hear a big noise up there, don't worry, it's just my knees knocking."

Sense of Humor
Four years later, George and Barbara married during World War II, while George was home on leave from the Navy. Barbara's witty sense of humor, sometimes described as biting, endeared her to George. Early in their marriage, Barbara recalls sitting in her in-laws' living room, smoking a cigarette. Bush's father, often described as an intimidating figure, asked her, "Did I ever tell you that you could smoke?" Barbara shot back, "Well, did I marry you?" The elder Bush reportedly burst out laughing.

Family Tragedy
After World War II ended in August 1945, George and Barbara moved to New Haven, Connecticut, where George attended Yale University — Barbara had dropped out of Smith College during the war. George and Barbara had the first of six children, George W., while in New Haven. Their second child, Robin, died of leukemia when Barbara was just 28. Barbara's hair started turning white at that point, giving her a unique look that later became a hallmark. After George W. and Robin, Barbara had four more children — Jeb, Neil, Marvin and Doro.

Championing Literacy
As first lady, Barbara Bush drew on her experience as a mother to shape the projects she chose to champion. Her interest in literacy stemmed from the experience of her son Neil's dyslexia. Barbara Bush wrote her first book to promote her literacy awareness efforts in 1984. C. Fred's Story tells a story about living in Washington told from the point of view of the family dog. In 1992 she wrote Millie's Book, the first dog's view of life in the White House. As first lady, she founded the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.

A Cure for Cancer
Barbara Bush also devoted energy to finding a cure for cancer. When Robin was diagnosed with leukemia in 1953, the Bushes had never heard of the disease. Eight months later, the Bushes donated Robin's body to science and dedicated much of their lives to raising both awareness and millions of dollars to fund cancer research. Robin is now buried at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas.

The Silver Fox
Whether it was her matronly appearance or her motherly warmth, George Bush's wife was admired for her ability to comfort and connect with people in a way that her husband never could. Nicknamed "the Silver Fox" by her husband and children, Barbara Bush is at once a nurturing mother and wife, and a fierce defender of her husband and family.

Support Provided by: Learn More