Barbara Bush, former First Lady and literacy campaigner, died on April 17th at the age of 92. She was married to George H.W. Bush, 41st President of the United States, and also raised George W. Bush, who began his two-term presidency in 2001. “My dear mother has passed on at age 92. Laura, Barbara, Jenna, and I are sad, but our souls are settled because we know hers was. Barbara Bush was a fabulous First Lady and a woman unlike any other who brought levity, love, and literacy to millions”, said George W. Bush in a statement. Besides her role as a political matriarch, Barbara Bush was also known for her constant campaigning against social injustice and racism, as well as her drive to end illiteracy across the US. In this article, we take a closer look at Barbara Bush’s legacy, paying tribute to the loss of such an inspirational woman.
BARBARA’S PUSH TO END ILLITERACY
In an interview with Great Day Houston, Barbara’s son Neil recalled how books were always a big part of the Bush family. “When I was a kid, she would read to me and my siblings. I’ve had the privilege—probably the last four or five years, ever since dad has been going in and out of the hospital—of reading to them”, he said. Neil was diagnosed with dyslexia as a child, and it was his own struggle with reading that motivated his mother to help eradicate illiteracy across the US. After discovering Neil couldn’t read at a reading circle at school, Barbara set out to bring his reading level up to the standard of his classmates. Barbara immediately enrolled Neil in a variety of programs to help him deal with his dyslexia. Neil’s struggle with illiteracy eventually pushed Barbara to write C. Fred’s Story, a children’s book from which all proceeds she donated to various literacy charities.
During her husband’s presidency, Mrs Bush continued her focus on literacy. As First Lady, she coined family literacy as “the most important cause we have”. She became actively involved with many literacy organisations, visited schools, and encouraged reading among students. She even chaired many organisations before establishing her own foundation, The Barbara Bush Foundation For Family Literacy, which she chaired up until 2012. She used media platforms like the Oprah Winfrey Show and her own radio program, Mrs Bush’s Story Time, to stress the importance of literacy all throughout her husband’s presidency, during which the US experienced an increase in immigration from Latin America and spiking rates of illiteracy all across the population. In 1997, Barbara Bush received The Miss America Woman of Achievement Award for her work with literacy charities. She has also received honorary degrees from various universities around the US, including Doctors of Laws, Humane Letters, and Public Service.
Besides her push to eradicate illiteracy, Barbara Bush also campaigned for a variety of other causes. She often spoke out about racial bigotry and social injustice, and helped raise money for other causes like child leukaemia (following the death of her daughter). During her role as First Lady, Barbara was renowned for holding liberal views that often clashed with those of her husband or the Republican party. For example, she was pro-choice during abortion debates of the late-1980s and early-1990s. While she toned her down her view initially, she resparked the abortion debate in 1992.
After her husband lost the election to Clinton in 1993, Barbara continued to focus on her many campaigns and projects. She also joined her son, George W. Bush, in his political campaigns all throughout his career. Barbara Bush will always be remembered for her many achievements and campaigns, her skill as a speaker, and of course, her advocacy for literacy—something that we at Yuqo believe is increasingly important, especially during the digital age. As we become more and more dependent on technology to correct/edit our writing, or turn to screens instead of physical literature, we hope to see Barbara’s legacy live on for many years to come.