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Jill Biden

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Jill Biden
Jill Biden official portrait 2.jpg
Second Lady of the United States
In role
January 20, 2009 – January 20, 2017
Vice PresidentJoe Biden
Preceded byLynne Cheney
Succeeded byKaren Pence
Personal details
Born
Jill Tracy Jacobs

(1951-06-03) June 3, 1951 (age 69)
Hammonton, New Jersey, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)
Bill Stevenson
(m. 1970; div. 1975)

(m. 1977)
Children1 daughter, 2 stepsons
EducationUniversity of Delaware (BA, EdD)
West Chester University (MEd)
Villanova University (MA)
Signature

Jill Tracy Jacobs Biden (née Jacobs, formerly Stevenson; born June 3, 1951) is an American educator who was second lady of the United States from 2009 to 2017. She is married to Joe Biden, the 47th vice president of the United States, and the Democratic Party's nominee for President of the United States in the 2020 election.

Born in Hammonton, New Jersey, she grew up in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. Biden married Joe Biden in 1977, becoming stepmother to his two young sons from his first marriage, Beau and Hunter, whose mother and baby sister died in a car accident in 1972. Joe and Jill Biden have a daughter, Ashley, born in 1981.

Biden has a bachelor's degree from the University of Delaware, master's degrees from West Chester University and Villanova University, and a doctoral degree from the University of Delaware. She taught English and reading in high schools for thirteen years, and also taught adolescents with emotional disabilities at a psychiatric hospital. From 1993 to 2008, she was an English and writing instructor at Delaware Technical & Community College. Since 2009, she has been a professor of English at Northern Virginia Community College and is thought to be the first second lady to hold a paying job while her husband was vice president. She is the founder of the Biden Breast Health Initiative non-profit organization, co-founder of the Book Buddies program, co-founder of the Biden Foundation, is active in Delaware Boots on the Ground, and is co-founder of Joining Forces with Michelle Obama.

Early life[edit]

Jill Tracy Jacobs was born on June 3, 1951, in Hammonton, New Jersey.[1][2] Moving several times while very young, she and her four younger sisters spent the majority of their childhood in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania.[3][4] Her father, Donald Carl Jacobs (1927–1999),[5] was a bank teller who became head of a savings and loan in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia.[6] His family name had originally been Giacoppa before her Italian grandfather changed it.[6][7] Her mother, Bonny Jean (Godfrey) Jacobs (1930–2008),[3] was a homemaker,[5] and was of English and Scottish descent.[8]

Growing up in the Philadelphia metropolitan area gave her a partial Philadelphia accent and a lifelong interest in rooting for Philadelphia sports teams.[9][10] The family was not particularly religious, but in ninth grade, Jacobs independently took classes in order to join the Presbyterian church.[6]

Jacobs always intended to have her own career.[11] She began working at age 15, which included waitressing at the Jersey Shore.[6][11] She attended Upper Moreland High School, where she was somewhat rebellious and enjoyed her social life, but always liked English class.[12] She graduated in 1969.[13]

Education and career, marriages and family[edit]

Jacobs enrolled in Brandywine Junior College in Pennsylvania for one semester.[14] She intended to study fashion merchandising, but found it unsatisfying.[6] She married Bill Stevenson, a former college football player, in February 1970;[15] she became known as Jill Stevenson.[16][17] Within a couple of years, he opened the Stone Balloon in Newark, Delaware, near the University of Delaware.[15] It became one of the most successful college bars in the nation; in addition to local bands, some name musical artists performed there, including a 1974, pre-Born to Run fame Bruce Springsteen[15] as well as Chubby Checker and Tiny Tim.[18]

She switched her enrollment to the University of Delaware,[14] where she declared English as her major.[6] She then took a year off from college and did some modelling work for a local agency in Wilmington.[6] She and Stevenson drifted apart;[15] they became separated during 1974.[19]

She met Senator Joe Biden in March 1975.[11][14] They met on a blind date set up by Joe's brother Frank,[14] though Biden had seen her photograph in a local advertisement.[11] Although he was nearly nine years her senior, she was impressed by his more formal appearance and manners compared to the college men she had known, and after their first date she told her mother, "Mom, I finally met a gentleman."[6] Meanwhile, she was going through turbulent divorce proceedings with Stevenson; the court case ended with her not getting the half-share in the Stone Balloon she had wanted.[15] A civil divorce was granted in May 1975.[16]

Joe and Jill, soon after meeting in the 1970s

She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Delaware in 1975[20][21] (some sources give this as 1974).[14] She began her career being employed as a substitute teacher in the Wilmington school system, then taught high school English full-time for a year at St. Mark's High School in Wilmington.[14][11] Around this time she spent five months working in Biden's Senate office;[22] this included weekly trips with the senator's mobile outreach operation to the southern portions of the state.[14]

She and Joe Biden were married by a Catholic priest on June 17, 1977, at the Chapel at the United Nations in New York City.[2][11][23] This was four and a half years after his first wife and infant daughter died in a motor vehicle accident;[2] Joe had proposed several times before she accepted, as she was wary of entering the public spotlight, anxious to remain focused on her own career, and initially hesitant to take on the commitment of raising his two young sons who had survived the accident.[6][10] She raised Beau and Hunter, and they called her Mom.[17] Although she did not legally adopt them, she considers them her children.[17]

She continued to teach and worked on a master's degree at West Chester State College, taking one course per semester.[14] This was completed when, while pregnant, she received a Master of Education with a specialty in reading from West Chester in 1981.[6][20][24] The Bidens' daughter Ashley Blazer was born on June 8, 1981,[25] and Jill stopped working for two years while raising the three children.[26]

Jill and Joe Biden meeting Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in April 1980

She then returned to work, teaching English, acting as a reading specialist, and teaching history to emotionally disturbed students.[11] She taught in the adolescent program at the Rockford Center psychiatric hospital for five years in the 1980s.[2][6] In 1987, Biden received her second graduate degree, this one a Master of Arts in English from Villanova University.[2][20] During her husband's 1988 bid for the presidency, she said she would continue her job of teaching emotionally disturbed children even if she became first lady.[27] She taught for three years at Claymont High School.[6] In the early 1990s, she taught English at Brandywine High School in Wilmington;[28] several of her students there later recalled her as genuinely caring about them.[29] In all, she spent thirteen years teaching in public high school.[11]

From 1993 through 2008, Biden was an instructor at the Stanton/Wilmington campus of Delaware Technical & Community College,[20][30][31] where she taught English composition and remedial writing, with an emphasis on instilling confidence in students.[30][32] She has said of teaching at a community college, "I feel like I can make a greater difference in their lives. I just love that population. It just feels really comfortable to me. I love the women who are coming back to school and getting their degrees, because they're so focused."[30]

Biden is president of the Biden Breast Health Initiative, a nonprofit organization begun in 1993 that provides educational breast health awareness programs free of charge to schools and other groups in the state of Delaware.[33][34][35] In the following 15 years, the organization informed more than 7,000 high school girls about proper breast health.[35] In 2007, Biden helped found Book Buddies, which provides books for low-income children,[35] and has been very active in Delaware Boots on the Ground, an organization that supports military families.[32] She runs five miles, five times a week, and she has run in the Marine Corps Marathon.[11]

Biden later returned to school for her doctoral degree, studying under her birth name, Jill Jacobs.[26] In January 2007, at age 55, she received a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in educational leadership from the University of Delaware.[2][35][36][37] Her dissertation, Student Retention at the Community College: Meeting Students' Needs, was published under the name Jill Jacobs-Biden.[36]

Role in 2008 presidential campaign[edit]

Biden at the August 2008 announcement of her husband becoming Barack Obama's running mate

Despite personally opposing the Iraq War, Biden had not wanted her husband to run in the 2004 presidential election, to the point where she interrupted one strategy meeting discussing the possibility by entering in a swimsuit with the word "NO" inscribed on her stomach.[10] But following George W. Bush's reelection in 2004, she urged her husband to run again for president,[31] later saying: "I literally wore black for a week. I just could not believe that he won, because I felt that things were already so bad. I was so against the Iraq War. And I said to Joe, 'You've got to change this, you have to change this.'"[30] During Joe Biden's 2008 campaign to be the Democratic nominee, she continued to teach during the week and would join him for campaigning on weekends.[31] She said that she would have taken an activist role in addressing education as her chief focus of concern as a potential first lady.[38] She also said that she was basically apolitical and would not seek inclusion in Cabinet meetings.[31]

Once her husband was selected as the running mate to Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, she began campaigning again. She wore a Blue Star Mothers Club pin in recognition of Beau Biden's deployment to Iraq.[30] She was not a polished political speaker, but was able to establish a connection with the audience.[30] She also made some joint appearances with Michelle Obama.[39] Throughout the time her husband was running for vice president, Jill Biden continued to teach four days a week at Delaware Technical & Community College during the fall 2008 semester, and then campaigned over the long weekend, while grading class papers on the campaign bus.[3][30][40]

Second Lady of the United States[edit]

First term[edit]

Jill and Joe Biden dancing at the President Obama Home States Ball, January 20, 2009; the gown was by Reem Acra
Official portrait, March 2009

Despite moving to Number One Observatory Circle (the official vice presidential residence in Washington) as Second Lady of the United States, Biden intended to keep teaching at a Washington-area community college, and several of them recruited her.[41][42][43] In January 2009, she began teaching two English courses as an adjunct professor at the Alexandria campus of Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), the second largest community college in the nation.[37][44] It has been rare for second ladies to work while their spouses serve as vice president,[39][42] and Biden is believed to have been the first second lady to hold a paying job while her husband was vice president.[37][10] In White House announcements and by her preference, she was referred to as "Dr. Jill Biden."[37][45]

Catherine Russell, a former adviser to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was named Biden's chief of staff for her second lady role.[46] Courtney O’Donnell, a former spokesperson for Howard Dean and Elizabeth Edwards, was named her communications director[47] and Kirsten White, a lawyer at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, her policy director.[48] As second lady, Biden had a staff of eight overall and occupied a corner suite in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.[45]

In May 2009, Obama announced that Biden would be in charge of an initiative to raise awareness about the value of community colleges.[49] Biden continued teaching two English reading and writing classes at NOVA in fall 2009.[50] In January 2010, she gave the commencement speech at the University of Delaware's winter commencement, the first such address by her at a major university.[51] In August 2010, Biden appeared as herself in an episode of Lifetime's Army Wives, making it part of her campaign to raise awareness of military families.[52]

In April 2011, she and Michelle Obama founded a national initiative, Joining Forces, to showcase the needs of U.S. military families.[53][54][55] In September 2011, Biden lent her support to USAID's FWD campaign, a push for awareness surrounding the deadly famine, war, and drought affecting over 13 million people in the Horn of Africa.[56]

She continued to teach at NOVA,[57] and by 2011 held a permanent position as an associate professor, teaching three English and writing composition courses two days per week.[58] She made her position there as normal as she could, sharing a cubicle with another teacher, holding regular office hours for students, and trying to get her accompanying Secret Service agents to dress as unobtrusively as possible.[58] Her students were often unaware of exactly who she was, referring to her simply as "Dr. B."[59] She told a colleague, "My standard line when students ask me if I am married to the VP is to say that I am one of his relatives. That usually quiets them."[10] Staffers recall Biden always carrying students' work around with her on trips, and Michelle Obama's recollection of her time travelling with Biden was simply, "Jill is always grading papers."[17]

An examination by the New York Times of her e-mails while second lady concluded that, "she shared the perks of the White House with her teaching colleagues, arranging for tickets to White House events like a garden visit and a holiday tour. But she didn't appear to pull rank; when she needed to take time off work – to attend an event with the Obamas or go an overseas trip with her husband – she requested permission from the college."[10] In February 2012 she staged a "Community College to Career" bus tour with Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis that aimed to showcase alliances between community colleges and local and regional businesses.[60]

Her life with her husband at Number One Observatory Circle tended towards the informal and was centered around family and their nearby grandchildren.[58] In June 2012, she published a children's book, Don't Forget, God Bless Our Troops, based around her stepson Beau's deployment.[61] The same month, the Bidens' daughter Ashley, a social worker and staffer at the Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth, and Their Families, was married.[62]

Role in 2012 presidential campaign[edit]

In the 2012 U.S. presidential election, in which her husband was running for re-election as vice president, Biden played a modest role.[61] She did not cut back on her teaching schedule and made few solo campaign appearances.[61] This reflected her continuing distaste for both politics and public speaking, even though the Obama campaign considered her valuable in connecting to military families, teachers, and women.[61]

Second term[edit]

Biden with Juliana Awada, the First Lady of Argentina during her visit to Buenos Aires, June 2016.

Following the re-election of Obama and her husband on November 6, 2012, Biden began a second term as second lady. She wore a silk blue gown by Vera Wang when she appeared at the inaugural balls in January 2013.[63]

During her second term, Biden continued to be involved with supporting military personnel, including staging multiple visits to the Center for the Intrepid rehabilitation facility for amputees and attending the inaugural Invictus Games in London.[64] During the 2014 U.S. midterm Congressional elections she campaigned for a number of Democrats, including some ones in high-profile contests such as Mark Udall in Colorado and Michelle Nunn in Georgia.[65][66]

In May 2015 she suffered the death of her stepson Beau Biden from brain cancer. She later said the loss "was totally shattering. My life changed in an instant. All during his illness, I truly believed that he was going to live, up until the moment that he closed his eyes, and I just never gave up hope."[59] She has said that she lost her faith following his death and stopped attending church but later found faith again.[17]

She was present at her husband's side in the Rose Garden on October 21, 2015, when he announced he would not run for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in the 2016 election.[67] By her own account, Biden was disappointed by his decision, believing her husband was highly qualified for the position, and "would have been the best president."[68]

Biden continued to teach at NOVA, handling a full load of five classes during the Fall 2015 semester.[69] During 2016, she was present with her husband on a listening tour for Cancer Moonshot 2020, an effort he was leading.[70] In March 2016 she headed the official party that welcomed American astronaut Scott Kelly back to Earth from his almost full year in space.[71]

Subsequent activities[edit]

The former second couple launched the Biden Foundation in February 2017, with the purpose of allowing them to pursue the causes they cared most about, including focuses upon preventing violence against women, his moonshot initiative, and her interests in community colleges and military families.[72][22] That same month she was named board chair of Save the Children; she said, "I think [their] emphasis on education fits with my life's work." [73] Her husband was seen as a popular ex-vice president and she received a standing ovation when she was a presenter at the 71st Tony Awards.[22]

In June 2017 the couple bought a $2.7 million, off-the-water vacation home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware near Cape Henlopen State Park, where they planned to host members of their extended family.[74][75] Their ability to purchase this family property was due in part to deals they signed with Flatiron Books upon leaving office, with Biden contracted to write one and her husband two.[22][75] Indeed, by 2019 the couple reported some $15 million in income since leaving the vice presidency, including $700,000 in speaking engagements for her.[76] The couple also substantially increased their charitable giving during this period.[76]

The Bidens at a dinner for the Human Rights Campaign in 2018

Jill Biden continued to teach full-time at NOVA after her husband left office,[73] with a salary of close to $100,000.[75] She was selected to give the keynote address at a commencement for Milwaukee Area Technical College in May 2017.[77] She gave the keynote address at a California teachers summit in July 2017, emphasizing the importance of communities supporting their teachers given the emotional and circumstantial stresses they often have to function under.[78] Then in May 2018, she gave a commencement address at Bishop State Community College in Alabama, telling the graduates that "Maybe like me, life got in the way and it's taken you a lot longer than you expected to get here today. ... Whoever you are, know this, if you can walk across this stage, you can do anything."[79] In February 2019 she spoke to the graduating class of the Newport News Apprentice School, telling them that she realized many of them were in complicated life situations with multiple responsibilities, and that "Sometimes your day is a jigsaw puzzle that never seems to get completed.... But no matter where life takes you, as of today you are a master of a craft, a shipbuilder and a leader, and no one can take that away from you."[80]

In May 2019 her memoir Where the Light Enters: Building a Family, Discovering Myself was published.[81] The book has little political content, instead focusing on aspects of family.[82] In it she states that while she is "grateful" to have been second lady, "The role I have always felt most at home in is being 'Dr. B.'"[59] USA Today called it an "often-poignant memoir that charts her journey from a rebellious teen to young divorcee to the second lady of the United States."[81] Biden did some book signings to help promote the work.[82]

Role in 2020 presidential campaign[edit]

Regarding the much-discussed possibility of her husband running in the 2020 United States presidential election, Biden was a key participant in his decision-making process.[83] By one report in March 2019, she was "enthusiastically" in favor of his running.[84]

Biden at an August 2019 campaign event

The Joe Biden presidential campaign, 2020 was officially announced on April 25, 2019.[85] A Town and Country magazine headline declared that "Jill Biden Might Just Be Joe Biden's Greatest Political Asset".[85]

Days later, Biden addressed the matter of women who had accused her husband of inappropriate physical contact that had made them feel uncomfortable by saying, "I think what you don't realize is how many people approach Joe. Men and women, looking for comfort or empathy. But going forward, I think he's gonna have to judge – be a better judge – of when people approach him, how he's going to react. That he maybe shouldn't approach them."[86] She said she had experienced male intrusion on personal space herself in the past and that "I just sorta stepped aside. I didn't address it. ... things have changed. There was a time when women were afraid to speak out. I can remember specifically it was in a job interview ... if that same thing happened today, I'd turn around and say, 'What do you think you're doin'?' ... it's totally different."[86] She also attracted attention by saying that "It's time to move on" with respect to her husband's role in 1991 regarding Anita Hill and the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination.[87]

The Bidens in Des Moines on the eve of the February 2020 Iowa caucuses

Biden continued to teach at NOVA during 2019, at one point telling a reporter, "I'm here grading research papers in between interviews." [59] She staged appearances without her husband in early contest states such as Iowa, in some cases accompanied by a granddaughter.[88] She attracted notice during one campaign stop in New Hampshire when she emphasized the electability argument in favor of her husband, saying, "you know, your candidate might be better on, I don't know, health care, than Joe is, but you've got to look at who's going to win this election, and maybe you have to swallow a little bit and say, 'OK, I personally like so-and-so better,' but your bottom line has to be that we have to beat Trump."[89]

Once Hunter Biden became a figure in the scandal related to the Ukraine that led to a presidential impeachment, she was adamant about defending him: "Hunter did nothing wrong. And that's the bottom line."[10] The strain of the subsequent impeachment trial was enough that it fractured a friendship she had with South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham, who repeatedly called for Hunter Biden to be questioned as a witness at the trial.[90]

Biden played a more active role in this presidential campaign than she had in her husband' two prior ones,[17] and for the first time, Biden reluctantly took a leave of absence from NOVA for the spring 2020 semester, so that she could be on the campaign trail full-time.[10] She did take training in online teaching once the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States struck, and she has indicated that she intends to resume teaching at NOVA even if her husband is elected.[17] If that were to happen, she would become the first First Lady to have a paying job outside the White House.[17]

In the weeks leading up to the Iowa caucuses, she sometimes staged more campaign appearances in that state than her husband did.[10] She gave out her campaign e-mail address to voters in case they wanted to ask her follow-up questions.[9] In joint appearances she sometimes spoke after he did, acting in the "closer" role.[9] She gained some media attention during the March 3 Super Tuesday primaries when, during her husband's speech after experiencing a number of victories around the nation, she physically blocked a protester from getting at him.[91]

With her husband having become the presumptive Democratic nominee, in June 2020 she published the children's book Joey: The Story of Joe Biden, which portrayed him as having been "brave and adventurous" as a child despite having a stutter that he was bullied for.[92] In July 2020 she spoke out about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education, appearing in a video with her husband to emphasize that she understood the frustrations that children, parents, and teachers were having with virtual education substitutes but saying that "Schools and parents alike want a clear, science-based strategy, not mixed messages and ultimatums."[93] She criticized U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos for what she saw as political motivations in advocating a reopening of schools no matter what, and said that "the first thing [Joe Biden]'s going to do is pick a secretary of education, who is a public school educator and has experience in the classroom. I mean I hear that, again and again and again – no more Betsy DeVos."[94]

She was heavily involved in the vice-presidential selection process that resulted in Senator Kamala D. Harris being chosen.[17] On the second night of the virtual 2020 Democratic National Convention, Biden spoke from the classroom at Brandywine High School where she had once taught English.[28] She drew parallels between family suffering and the plight of the country, saying, "How do you make a broken family whole? The same way you make a nation whole. With love and understanding and with small acts of kindness, with bravery, with unwavering faith."[95]

Writings[edit]

  • Student Retention at the Community College: Meeting Students' Needs (University of Delaware, 2007) [Ed.D. disseration]
  • Don't Forget, God Bless Our Troops (Simon & Schuster, 2012) [children's, illustrations by Raúl Colón]
  • Where the Light Enters: Building a Family, Discovering Myself (Flatiron Books, 2019)
  • Joey: The Story of Joe Biden (Simon & Schuster, 2020) [children's, illustrations by Amy June Bates]

Honorary degrees[edit]

Honorary degrees
Location Date School Degree Gave Commencement Address
 New York June 2009 City University of New York Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL) [96] Yes at Kingsborough Community College [97]
 Delaware 9 January 2010 University of Delaware Doctorate [98] Yes
 Rhode Island 15 May 2011 Salve Regina University Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL) [99] [100] Yes
 Pennsylvania 19 May 2011 Montgomery County Community College Associate of Letters [101] [102] Yes [103]
 Pennsylvania 16 May 2014 Villanova University Doctor of Humanities (DHL) [104] [105] [106] Yes
 New York 21 May 2017 Hofstra University Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL) [107] [108] Yes

Awards[edit]

Location Date Institution Award
 Delaware 8 January 2018 Delaware State Chamber of Commerce Josiah Marvel Cup Award

References[edit]

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External links[edit]

Honorary titles
Preceded by
Lynne Cheney
Second Lady of the United States
2009–2017
Succeeded by
Karen Pence
Preceded by
Elizabeth Edwards
Spouse of the Democratic nominee for Vice President of the United States
2008, 2012
Succeeded by
Anne Holton
Preceded by
Bill Clinton
Spouse of the Democratic nominee for President of the United States
2020
Most recent