What is the formal role of the First Lady of the United States? Traditionally, the First Lady hosted events and provided support to the president. In the post-World War II decades, most First Ladies have also led government initiatives that usually focus on social issues. Dr. Jill Biden, wife of current president Joe Biden, has broken with tradition by becoming the first First Lady in American history to hold a full-time job outside of the White House during her husband’s elected term. Here, Election Central takes a closer look.
Dr. Biden teaches English and writing at Northern Virginia Community College. Due to the pandemic, she has been teaching remotely for the past year. Starting the week of September 6, 2021,she returned to the classroom. Dr. Biden holds two master’s degrees and a doctorate in educational leadership. She also taught full-time during the eight years that Joe Biden was Barack Obama’s Vice President. She also taught full time during his 2020 presidential campaign.
Dr. Biden tries not to let her role as First Lady interfere with her role as a teacher. She has Secret Service agents with her on campus for security purposes, but she asks them to dress casually and carry backpacks so that they will blend in better. She teaches on Tuesdays and Thursdays, leaving her to travel the rest of the week. She grades papers while flying back and forth to various governmental events.
As the first First Lady to work outside of the White House, Dr. Biden is an important symbol of women’s changing roles in the workplace. As of 2019, women made up nearly half of the U.S. labor force. Moreover, because she is a teacher, she is in a powerful position to advocate on behalf of teachers and educational policy. President Biden has said that watching his wife try to teach remotely gave him a genuine appreciation for the struggles that teachers across the nation have been facing.
During her time as First Lady in the 1930s and 1940s, Eleanor Roosevelt was an unusually active and important First Lady. Because President Franklin D. Roosevelt was sometimes limited in his ability to travel due to polio, the First Lady frequently travelled around the country. She reported back to the president about what she saw. She also wrote a regular newspaper article that appeared in papers across the U.S. Her passion was advocating for the poor, minorities, and other disadvantaged groups.
Hillary Rodham Clinton was another First Lady with an active political life. She was the first First Lady to run for political office herself. After her husband’s term ended, Rodham Clinton served as a New York senator, and as President Obama’s Secretary of State. In 2016, she became the first woman ever to be nominated for president on a major party’s ticket as the Democratic presidential candidate.