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Jill Biden: Teacher and Political Wife


Dr. Jill Biden DNC Speech: August 18, 2020
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Dr. Jill Biden Speech: August 18, 2020 at the Democratic National Convention

Jill Biden: Teacher and Political Wife
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Jill Biden is the wife of former United States Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic Party’s nominee for president.

Jill Biden has worked as an English teacher for over 30 years. She has two master’s degrees, both of which she earned while teaching and raising a family. She earned a doctorate in education from the University of Delaware in 2007. If her husband becomes the nation’s 46th president, she will become the first-ever U.S. first lady with a doctoral degree.

Jill Biden was the nation’s second lady during the presidency of Barack Obama. In that position, she worked in support of military families, educated young women about breast cancer prevention and helped direct the public’s attention on community colleges. During the eight years that her husband served as vice president, she taught English at a community college just outside of Washington, D.C.

U.S. President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, all wave after Obama speaks at a campaign event at the University of Iowa's Jessup Hall Lawn in Iowa City, Iowa, September 7, 2012.
U.S. President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, all wave after Obama speaks at a campaign event at the University of Iowa's Jessup Hall Lawn in Iowa City, Iowa, September 7, 2012.

The early years

Jill Biden was born in New Jersey on June 5, 1951. Her given name was Jill Tracy Jacobs. She grew up in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, just north of Philadelphia. She has four younger sisters.

As a college student, Jill Jacobs first studied fashion sales at a local community college. But she was not happy with her classes and left the school. In 1970, she married Bill Stevenson, a college football player. A short time later, she began attending the University of Delaware, where she changed her major to English. She and Stevenson later separated and eventually divorced.

Jill Jacobs earned a bachelor’s degree at the university in 1975. That same year, she met Joe Biden, then a U.S. senator. The two were married two years later.

Jill Biden helped raise her husband’s two boys from his first marriage, which ended in tragedy. His first wife and their baby daughter were killed in a traffic accident in 1972. Joe and Jill Biden had their own child, a girl, in 1981. While pregnant, Jill Biden completed the first of her three advanced degree programs, a Master of Education from West Chester University in Pennsylvania. She earned a second master’s degree in 1987 from nearby Villanova University.

In the early 1980s, she began teaching English classes at a hospital for young people with mental health issues. She later spent many years as an English teacher at public high schools in Delaware and then at a local community college.

From teacher to second lady

While her husband served as vice president, Jill Biden was a full-time professor of English at Northern Virginia Community College. She taught classes there against the advice of her aides at the time.

“Being a teacher is not what I do but who I am,” she wrote in her memoir. In the book, she told about changing “into a cocktail dress and heels” in a restroom at her school before attending a White House event. She also wrote about grading papers on Air Force Two, the airplane she and her husband used for official trips.

Biden has said she plans to continue teaching if she becomes first lady. As second lady, Biden used her expertise in teaching to bring attention to the importance of community colleges. She has described those schools as “one of America’s best-kept secrets.” She worked on several projects related to community colleges during the Obama administration.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, are reflected in a monitor at the Community College Summit in the East Room at the White House in Washington, October 5, 2010. REUTERS/Jim Young
U.S. President Barack Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, are reflected in a monitor at the Community College Summit in the East Room at the White House in Washington, October 5, 2010. REUTERS/Jim Young

The 2020 presidential run

Jill Biden continued teaching English classes at Northern Virginia Community College until the autumn of 2019. Three months earlier, Joe Biden had announced he would seek the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. It marked his third time running for president.

That August, Jill Biden decided to put her teaching career on hold to help her husband on the campaign trail. In late 2019 and early 2020, she traveled extensively across the country, reaching out to voters, and speaking at campaign events. Since the coronavirus health crisis began, she has taken part in many online meetings in support of her husband’s candidacy.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden meet with people in a backyard as they discuss school reopening with local parents and educators in Wauwatosa Wis., Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden meet with people in a backyard as they discuss school reopening with local parents and educators in Wauwatosa Wis., Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Her role has marked a considerable change for someone who is a self-described introvert and who did not wish to become a political wife. In her memoir, she wrote that giving her first political speech “made me so nervous I felt sick.”

Last month, Jill Biden gave one of her biggest speeches yet during the Democratic National Convention. She offered a hopeful and emotional picture of a Biden presidency. Speaking from a Delaware high school where she taught English years ago, Jill Biden spoke about the issues raised as schools must decide whether to begin in-person teaching as the health crisis continues.

“If we entrust this nation to Joe, he will do for your family what he did for ours: Bring us together and make us feel whole, carry us forward in our time of need, keep the promise of America for us all.”

And she promised that if her husband is elected president, America’s classrooms “will ring out with laughter and possibility again.”

I’m Ashley Thompson.

Ashley Thompson wrote this story based on reports and information from the Associated Press, VOA News and The White House archives. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

master's degree - n. a degree that is given to a student by a college or university usually after one or two years of additional study following a bachelor's degree

first lady - n. the wife of the U.S. president

fashion - n. the business of creating and selling clothes in new styles

divorce- v. to legally end your marriage with (your husband or wife)

bachelor's degree - n. a degree that is given to a student by a college or university usually after four years of study​

advanced - adj. beyond the basic level

cocktail dress - n. a usually short dress that is suitable for formal occasions

(high) heels - n. women's shoes that have tall heels

introvert - n. a shy person : a quiet person who does not find it easy to talk to other people

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