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First Lady Biography: Laura Bush

Midland, Texas
1946, November 4
Harold Bruce Welch, born 1912, November 21, Pontotoc County, Oklahoma, loan company branch manager and owner of home building company, died in Midland, Texas, 1995 April 29
Jenna Louise Hawkins Welch, born 1919, July 24, Little Rock, Arkansas, married on January 29, 1944; worked as bookkeeper of husband's home building company from their residence.
English, French, Swiss; Laura Bush's most recent immigrant ancestor is her maternal great-grandfather Louis Le Maire, born in 1840 in France. Nine generations back, her paternal ancestor Christopher De Graffenried, born in Bern Switzerland in 1691 immigrated to North Carolina where he settled and founded the town of New Bern.  Otherwise all of her ancestors were English in origin and their migration proceeds westward from the colonial era in Tidewater, Virginia through North Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas.
Birth Order and Siblings:
Only child
Physical Appearance:
5' 6", brown hair, blue eyes
Religious Affiliation:
Robert E. Lee High School, Midland Texas, 1961-1964, Laura Bush served on the junior council and worked on the yearbook; Southern Methodist University, Dallas Texas. 1964-1968, bachelor's degree in elementary education; University of Texas at Austin, Graduate School of Library Science, 1970-1972, master's degree in library science
Occupation before Marriage:
After graduating from college, Laura Bush taught second grade at Kennedy Elementary School in Houston, Texas for two years. After earning her master's degree in 1972, she returned to Houston to work for two years as a school librarian. In 1974, she returned to Austin and worked as a school librarian at Dawson Elementary School, a job she held until her marriage in 1977.
married 1977, November 5 to George W. Bush, born 1946, July 6, New Haven, Connecticut, oil businessman, at Glass Memorial Chapel, First United Memorial Church, Midland, Texas
Two daughters; twins Barbara Bush and Jenna Bush (born November 25, 1981)

*Laura Bush is the only First Lady to have given birth to twins

Occupation after Marriage:
Since George W. Bush was planning to begin his campaign for a U.S. Congressional seat shortly after his wedding, Laura Bush ended her work as a librarian and went to work full-time on his campaign. After his loss in 1978, she volunteered for local Midland causes and soon enough began working towards the goal of helping her father-in-law George H.W. Bush in his failed quest for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination. Once her daughters were born she focused on raising the two children while her husband struggled in the oil business. She was the strong but steadying influence that led to his determination to stop his heavy drinking during the time his father was Vice President. She moved to Washington, D.C. as her father-in-law began his successful 1988 campaign for the presidency; she afterwards returned with her husband to Texas, relocating to Dallas, where she volunteered in the care of babies who had congenital AIDS. She initially resisted her husband's 1994 run for Texas Governor. As First Lady of Texas, Laura Bush successfully lobbied for state funding of early reading, literacy and early childhood development programs, which became the social issues on which she focused. In the fall of 1997, for example, she held an Early Childhood Development conference much like the one held by Hillary Clinton did in the White House in the spring of that year. As Hillary Clinton was promoting the "Prescription for Reading" program nationally, Laura Bush was doing so simultaneously, on the state level. Laura Bush also began an annual Texas Book Festival that successfully raised large amounts of money for the purchase of books throughout the state public library system.
Presidential Campaign and Inauguration:
Through the 2000 campaign, Laura Bush avoided any controversy with remarks that were inconsistent with those of her husband, but she broke precedent by becoming the first presidential candidate's wife (who was not already First Lady) to address the convention that was nominating her husband. During the 2004 campaign, Laura Bush dramatically increased her role, delivering a policy-oriented speech at the Republican National Convention, making hundreds of stump speeches in which she addressed substantive policy accomplishments and goals of the Administration in economics, homeland security and the Iraqi War. At the 2001 inaugural she presided over a newly created event honoring American authors.
First Lady:
2001, January 20 - 2009, January 20
54 years old
With the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, less than nine months after assuming the First Lady role, Laura Bush found her visibility much higher and with more demands made upon it than she had initially assumed it would be. Scheduled that day to become the first incumbent Republican First Lady to deliver Congressional testimony to a Senate Education Committee, in the weeks and months that followed, she frequently spoke in public forums on techniques that adults could use to comfort children who were traumatized by the changes wrought by the attacks. As the U.S. undertook an invasion of Afghanistan to free it of the extremist Taliban that had overtaken it, Laura Bush met with Afghani women to hear their stories of the harsh repression the women of their country suffered. She discussed their plight as the topic of her radio address on November 17, 2001. It was the first time a First Lady spoke in lieu of the President during one of the weekly radio addresses usually made by the Chief Executive.
Education has been the primary focus of Laura Bush's tenure as First Lady and the issue that has bound all the various efforts she has spearheaded. When she eventually was able to deliver testimony before the Senate Education Committee on January 23, 2002, Laura Bush called for higher teacher salaries and better training for Head Start and day care workers. In the nine month of her tenure introduced a National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. based on the model of the one she had created in Texas. Within two years, this festival had inspired the Russian First Lady Ludmilla Putin to host an October 1, 2003 book festival in her nation that Laura Bush attended in Moscow, along with several American authors.
Along these lines, Laura Bush has supported numerous government and private sector efforts to promote reading and education. She has been a strong advocate and defender against critics of the Administration's No Child Left Behind Act signed by the President in January 2002, providing federal funds to the local level to recruit new teachers, improve teacher training, or raise teacher pay. She also served as a spokesperson and promoter of three programs that sought to build the ranks of the teaching profession: the New Teacher Project, which draws from different professional backgrounds; the Troops to Teachers, which seeks those in or leaving the military; and Transition to Teaching that cultivates mid-career professionals and recent college graduates. In March of 2002, she held a White House Conference on Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers, bringing together university and business leaders, education advocates, teachers’ unions, public policy organizations, and foundations to consider teacher preparation at colleges of education and professional development for experienced teachers. Laura Bush had earlier hosted a July 2001 White House Summit on Early Childhood Cognitive Development, along with Education Secretary Rod Paige and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. She created a national initiative, "Ready to Read, Ready to Learn," to inform parents and policy makers about early childhood education and the importance of reading aloud to and with children from their earliest days and helped to develop a series of magazines called "Healthy Start, Grow Smart," to inform parents about infant cognitive development and health.
Before she entered the White House, Laura Bush already had an interest in American history. As a young woman, she had grown up reading American Heritage magazine.
Laura Bush lobbied to continue much of the work of Save America's Treasures, the federal funding for which was not scheduled for further appropriation. The new program, "Preserve America," communities were recognized for protecting and celebrating cultural and natural heritage, using their historic assets for economic development and community revitalization, and encouraging people to experience and appreciate local historic resources through education and heritage tourism programs. As part of the program's encouragement of citizens to keep the environment regionally indigenous, Laura Bush replanted native grasses at the presidential Prairie Chapel Ranch in Crawford to preserve the Texas landscape. In January of 2004, she announced the creation of a new Preserve America History Teacher of the Year award, again fusing the issue of education to an outside issue she has supported. In 2004, she revealed her effort with the White House Historical Association to renovate the Lincoln Bedroom, suggesting its original use as Lincoln's Victorian Cabinet Room. While entertaining in the Bush White House has been more limited than recent Administrations, one venue the First Lady had an special interest in combined her love of literature with the educational salon-type gathering sponsored by First Ladies Hillary Clinton, Rosalynn Carter and Lady Bird Johnson: Laura Bush has hosted the series "White House Salute to America's Authors," to celebrate our country's great literary works. Featured authors have included Mark Twain, Women Writers of the West, authors of the Harlem Renaissance, and three classic American storytellers: Truman Capote, Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty.
While a strong defender of the President, Laura Bush has also felt free to express political opinions of her own: she did not believe that Roe vs. Wade should be overturned, felt that the issue of gay marriage should initially be a matter of public decision and not judicial; and agreed with the President's opposition to stem cell research. In the first months of the second Bush term, Laura Bush continued to enlarge her public role. She fulfilled her promise to visit Afghanistan, where she promoted a new teacher-training institute for women in Afghanistan that is being established there with U.S. support and her personal commitment. She accepted the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) honorary Ambassadorship for its Decade of Literacy, raising awareness and support for global literacy for children, women, and men around the world. In this capacity, she delivered the International Women's Day to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women on March 8, 2002. In May, 2005, Laura Bush made one of her most politically overt forays, traveling to Egypt, Jordan and Israel. At the World Economic Forum, she emphasized the link between providing education to all genders and socioeconomic groups within a society and the fostering of democracy. During her Middle East trip, she visited religious sites sacred to Jews and Muslims and encountered spirited protestors among members of both faiths there. She also declared what proved to be a disagreement with the President in regard to the Secret Service not notifying him of an aircraft that violated a security zone near the White House and, as she returned from the Middle East, observed that democracy might take a longer time than initially anticipated to root itself in some cultures. To what degree she has exerted influence in the way of policy has not been fully disclosed by the White House, although the President acknowledged in May of 2005 that there were times they disagreed in private, suggesting that they certainly discussed many of his decisions. Just as it was acknowledged that she had a great personal influence on his earlier decision to stop drinking alcohol, the President later disclosed that she also successfully urged him to reconsider his rhetoric regarding the Al Qaeda terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden after declaring that he would find the man "dead or alive."
Any influence she may have on policy initiatives or funding for programs remains speculative and unconfirmed. It was Laura Bush, for example, who announced that the Administration's 2004 federal spending request in the budget asked Congress for a 15 percent increase in funding libraries and museums over the previous year, with the prospect of dispensing some $242 million for the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which dispenses funds to the nation's 122,000 libraries and 15,000 museums. Also, for 2003, the First Lady declared that the President's proposed creation of a $10 million fund dedicated to addressing the nation's shortage of librarians, 58 of whom were projected to retire by 2019. For 2004, $20 million was appropriated. The Institute's director Robert Martin later specifically acknowledged the First Lady with the President for their "commitment" as the first grants were awarded, suggesting that it was Laura Bush who had successfully pressed for the budget increase and creation of the librarian education fund.

In honor of Laura Bush's career as a librarian and her lifelong dedication to early learning, early reading and literacy, Congress named a librarian program at the Institute of Museum and Library Services after her. Funded through the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and related agencies, the "Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program" was enacted as bill H.R. 3010 on 30 December 2005, and became Public Law 109-149. With federal funding of $24 million, the program recruits and educates librarians as part of an effort to bring new professionals into public, academic, research and school libraries, building the capacity of library schools through faculty and curriculum development. Furthermore, it seeks to raise the skill and expertise levels of current librarians and library workers. The program gives particular attention to enhancing school library media centers, which has proven to have a direct link to student achievement. Part of the challenge that has been determined is disseminating awareness among teacher and school administrators of just how central a role a library and librarians can play in furthering student achievement and enhancing the overall educational process. For example, library media centers and librarians can supplement the traditional curriculum of teachers with instructional materials, extending their hours of service beyond those of the school day, and working in closer coordination with teachers and school administrators.
In the fall of 2005, Laura Bush hosted a White House Conference on Helping America’s Youth to promote public awareness of the problems facing at-risk youth, gathering policymakers, research experts, foundations, faith-based and volunteer organizations, educators, coaches, and parents to exchange programs and methods that have already proved successful and consider new venues to the same end. Each spring of her tenure, Laura Bush has also supported a public awareness campaign regarding women's heart disease. She partnered with the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute to share "The Heart Truth," a public service information campaign to get out the word that heart disease is the leading cause of death among American women. In her speeches on the subject, Laura Bush has emphasized the importance of healthy eating, exercise and preventive screenings. As part of her public awareness campaign to alert women to issues of heart disease and heart care, she highlighted an exhibit of red-colored gowns worn by the living former First Ladies and herself in Washington, D.C. at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and in southern California at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, joining former First Lady Nancy Reagan at the latter event in March of 2007. Laura Bush dedicated the National First Ladies’ Library Education and Research Center on September 4, 2003.  In her dedication speech, she stressed the need to better understand the role played by our nation’s women – not just First Ladies, but all generations of women.