Dr. Jill Biden is stepping back onto the international stage as the First Lady of the United States. She has been married to President Joe Biden for more than 40 years and has learned to navigate life in the spotlight.
During her husband’s first term, Jill Biden was expected to make history as the 1st First Lady to have a paid job outside of the White House. Prior to inauguration day, she had repeatedly expressed a desire to continue teaching community college after Joe Biden took office.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Joe Biden Says His Sons Encouraged Him to Propose to Jill But He Had to Ask Several Times Before She Said Yes
Jill Jacobs Biden tied the knot for the first time when she was a young college student. According to History, she married Bill Stevenson, in February 1970 when she was 18. But the marriage didn’t last and the couple separated in 1974. (According to Town Square Delaware, Stevenson played football at the University of Delaware and later opened a successful bar called The Stone Balloon).
The following year, while still a student at the University of Delaware, Jill Biden met her second husband. Joe Biden’s brother, Frank, set the two up on a blind date, NBC Philadelphia reported.
Joe Biden wrote in his autobiography Promises to Keep that Jill enabled him to heal and move forward following the tragic death of his wife Neilia in 1972. “[Jill] gave me back my life; she made me start to think my family might be whole again.” His sons, Beau and Hunter, agreed and encouraged their dad to make Jill a permanent member of the family. Joe Biden wrote in the memoir about Beau declaring one day in 1976, “We think we should marry Jill. What do you think, Dad?”
Joe Biden agreed that he wanted to marry Jill but she took some time to convince. She expressed concern about becoming a full-time mother and wanted to ensure she was ready for the responsibility before she said yes. She later explained her reasoning in an interview with Vogue: “By that time, of course, I had fallen in love with the boys, and I really felt that this marriage had to work. Because they had lost their mom, and I couldn’t have them lose another mother. So I had to be 100% sure.”
Joe Biden eventually gave Jill an ultimatum after proposing at least five times: they either got married or they would break up. Jill finally agreed to marry him. The couple tied the knot on June 17, 1977, at the United Nations Chapel in New York City. According to Biden’s campaign website, Jill had been working as a high school teacher at that time but she temporarily put her career on hold to be a full-time mother to Beau and Hunter. Their daughter, Ashley Biden, was born in 1981.
2. Jill Biden Began Teaching English at a Community College in Virginia in 2009
Jill Biden has been a teacher for much of her professional life. According to her White House profile during the Obama administration, her resume included time spent teaching at a “psychiatric hospital for adolescents” in Delaware. She also taught at Claymont High School, Brandywine High School and Delaware Technical and Community College, History reported.
After the Bidens moved to Washington, D.C. in 2009, Jill Biden went to work at Northern Virginia Community College as an English professor. The Dean of Liberal Arts, Dr. Jim McClellan, told WJLA-TV that Jill Biden was treated like any other member of the faculty. “She sits in a rustic cubical just like the rest of us with minimal equipment and no ambiance. Sometimes Jill brings a change of clothes to the office and she will leave from the campus straight to a State Dinner. She is able to separate those two worlds.”
As Politico reported, Jill Biden took a break from teaching in January 2020 in order to be with her husband on the campaign trail. She intended to return to the classroom in 2021. McLellan told WJLA-TV he and Jill Biden stayed in communication via text about a plan for her to return to the college.
As of this writing, Jill Biden was not listed as a faculty member on NOVA Community College’s website.
3. She Has 2 Master’s Degrees & a Doctorate in Education
In addition to her bachelor’s degree from the University of Delaware, Jill Biden has multiple advanced degrees. She earned her first master’s degree in education from West Chester University in 1981, Forbes reported. She next obtained a master’s degree in English from Villanova University in 1987.
Jill Biden was teaching at Delaware Technical and Community College when she decided to head back to the classroom as a student herself. In January 2007, she earned a Doctorate in Education from the University of Delaware. As Delaware First reported, Jill Biden focused on strategies for improving student retention at community colleges for her dissertation.
The topic of Jill Biden’s title made headlines after the election. In December 2020, conservative writer Joseph Epstein wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in which he suggested the future First Lady drop the “Dr” from her name because, in his opinion, its use “sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic” because she isn’t a medical doctor.
Epstein’s editorial was widely criticized as sexist and patronizing. Jill Biden addressed the controversy on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. She said Epstein’s remarks took her by surprise. “It was really the tone of it. You know, he called me ‘kiddo.’ One of the things that I’m most proud of is my doctorate. I mean, I worked so hard for it.” She added that she felt grateful for how the public largely rallied to her defense in the aftermath.
4. Jill Biden Grew up in Pennsylvania With 5 Sisters & Initially Dreamed of a Career in Fashion
Jill Jacobs was born on June 3, 1951, in Hammonton, New Jersey, Biography reported. But she spent most of her childhood in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania.
According to Town & Country, Jill’s father, Donald, worked in banking and her mother, Bonny, was a full-time parent to Jill and her four younger sisters. The Washington Post reported in 2020 that Jill Biden was very protective of her sisters and “once punched a bully in the face for throwing worms on one of her sisters.”
After graduating from Upper Moreland High School in 1969, Jill decided to pursue a career in the fashion industry. She spent one semester at Brandywine Junior College studying fashion merchandising before deciding she preferred education. Jill Biden explained in a Washington Post Q&A with young students how she became interested in becoming a teacher:
When I was younger I wanted to have a glamorous career in fashion marketing. But in college I started working with kids who couldn’t read, and I knew that I’d found my calling. I’ve always loved to read, and I wanted to help them find that same joy that I found in books. And now I’ve been a teacher for over 30 years.
5. Jill Biden Advocated on Behalf of Military Families & Promoted Community College Education When She Was the Second Lady
Jill Biden juggled her teaching responsibilities with her role as the Second Lady while her husband was serving as the Vice President. According to an archived version of the White House website, she partnered with Michelle Obama on an initiative called Joining Forces that focused on supporting military families. The page explained the initiative aimed to “educate, challenge, and spark action from all sectors of our society – citizens, communities, businesses, non-profits, faith-based institutions, philanthropic organizations, and government – to ensure that service members, veterans, and their families have the tools they need to succeed throughout their lives.”
Jill Biden was also committed to raising awareness about the importance of getting regular screenings to detect breast cancer. The issue has been a decades-long effort by the Bidens. She launched the Biden Breast Health Initiative in Delaware in the early 1990s as an educational outreach effort to high school girls.
As Second Lady, Jill Biden also made sure to advocate on behalf of community colleges. She hosted the first White House Summit on Community Colleges in 2010. In 2012, she traveled to eight community college campuses during a three-day bus tour to highlight the positive actions specific schools were taking to ensure student success in the workforce.
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