Early Life and Career
Laura Lane Welch Bush was born November 4, 1946 in Midland, Texas, the only child of Harold and Jenna Welch. Mr. Welch was working in El Paso, Texas as an office manager when World War II broke out. He volunteered for the U.S. Army and was shipped overseas to Europe. After the war, the family moved to Midland where Mr. Welch became a successful real estate developer.
After graduating from Robert E. Lee High School in Midland Texas, Mrs. Bush earned a Bachelor of Science in Education from Southern Methodist University in 1968, and a Master of Library Science from the University of Texas in 1973. Upon graduation, she taught in public schools in Dallas, Houston, and Austin and worked as a public school librarian.
Laura Welch and George Walker Bush married in 1977 and their twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara, were born in 1981.
Mrs. Bush began political life in 1978, when she helped her husband in his unsuccessful run for the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1994, George W. Bush was elected 46th Governor of Texas. As the First Lady of Texas from 1995 to 2000, Mrs. Bush implemented many initiatives focused on health, literacy, and education.
With the inauguration of George W. Bush as President in 2001, Mrs. Bush assumed the role of First Lady of the United States. She became a key advocate of President Bush’s public education reforms stemming from the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, and introduced the “Ready to Read, Ready to Learn” initiative, which stimulated better methods of early childhood education. To encourage reading at all ages, Mrs. Bush instituted the annual National Book Festival on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in 2001. She encouraged reading globally as well when she and the President hosted the first White House Conference on Global Literacy in 2006.
Following the attacks of September 11, 2001 and the beginning of the War in Afghanistan, Mrs. Bush became an ardent supporter of women in Afghanistan. When presenting the Presidential weekly radio address in November 2001 – the first ever recorded by a First Lady – Mrs. Bush spoke against the Taliban’s treatment of women and children. Mrs. Bush served as honorary chair of the U.S.- Afghan Women’s Council and in 2008, she delivered a presentation at the International Conference (Centre de Conferences Internationals) in support of the people of Afghanistan.
Mrs. Bush expanded her education work in 2003, when she was named honorary ambassador for the United Nations Literacy Decade. With the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, she worked to promote global literacy programs in Ghana, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Domestically, Mrs. Bush advocated for alternative teacher recruitment programs, such as Troops to Teachers, the New Teacher Project, and Teach for America, to encourage professionals to devote themselves to the cause of education.
In his 2005 State of the Union Address, President Bush announced Mrs. Bush would be leading the Helping America’s Youth Initiative, a new effort designed to introduce community leaders to the needs of at-risk children. An online Community Guide was created to direct willing adults to needs within their own communities. President and Mrs. Bush hosted the first White House Conference on Helping America’s Youth in 2005 at Howard University; the Conference would become a yearly event throughout the Bush Administration.
Mrs. Bush also advocated for the advancement of human rights in Burma, drawing attention to the oppression enforced by the controlling military regime. She convened a 2006 United Nations roundtable discussion and participated in a 2007 video teleconference on Burma, both of which expanded awareness about the suffering and human rights violations committed in that country.
Mrs. Bush increased awareness of women’s health issues, including breast cancer and heart disease. She joined the Heart-Truth campaign, sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, in 2002.
In addition, Mrs. Bush pioneered the U.S. - Middle East Partnership for Breast Cancer Awareness and Research and the Partnership for Breast Cancer Awareness and Research of the Americas, serving to connect global research resources and educational tools about breast cancer. In making five trips to Africa, she also encouraged President Bush’s humanitarian aid programs, including the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the President’s Malaria Initiative. She and the President hosted the first White House Summit on Malaria in 2006.
President Bush and Mrs. Bush collaborated to repair, improve, and protect the National Park system by establishing the Preserve America’s Heritage Initiative and the National Parks Centennial Initiative.
The President and Mrs. Bush left the White House and returned home to Texas on January 20, 2009. Mrs. Bush’s memoir, Spoken from the Heart, was published in May 2010.
On April 25, 2013, President and Mrs. Bush dedicated the George W. Bush Presidential Center located on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. She took an active role in the creation of the architectural and landscape designs for the facility. Administered by the National Archives and Records Administration, the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum is housed inside the Bush Center. Five living Presidents and First Ladies attended the Dedication Ceremony.
Today, Mrs. Bush remains actively involved in issues of national and global concern through the George W. Bush Institute, a policy institute that is part of the Bush Center and operated by the George W. Bush Foundation. She continues to emphasize education, health care, and human rights for women.