The jobs of former first ladies before they stood with their politically powerful husbands weren’t much different from the careers many of us hold right now. They were mothers, teachers, artists, and lawyers. One even studied geology, and became the first woman to graduate with such a degree from Stanford.
Find out what Laura Bush, Nancy Reagan, and others did before they took on their roles in the White House.
1. Rosalynn Carter
Before she set foot in the White House, Rosalynn Carter spent her days raising her and the former president’s children. She also took part in his political efforts before he was elected, and served on a committee in support of mental health.
Next: This first lady probably had more jobs before the White House than any other.
2. Lou Hoover
The first woman to graduate with a geology degree from Stanford, Lou Hoover took her education — and her many careers — seriously. She also studied linguistics, spoke multiple languages, earned a teaching certificate, and led fundraising and relief efforts during World War I.
Next: This first lady moved to Hollywood to pursue a unique career.
3. Nancy Reagan
Nancy Reagan earned a bachelor’s degree in dramatic arts. Before landing her first minor acting role, she worked as both a sales clerk and nurse’s aide in Chicago. She eventually moved to Hollywood to pursue her career as an actress, which is where she met her husband.
Next: John Quincy Adams’ wife studied the creative arts.
4. Louisa Adams
Spending her childhood in France and England, Louisa Adams studied with an emphasis in art and music. She spent much of her time writing essays and playing the piano, and eventually moved on to writing plays.
Next: She had the highest level of education of any previous first lady.
5. Pat Nixon
Pat Nixon was the first first lady to earn a graduate degree. She attended the University of Southern California on a research scholarship, and taught a variety of high school courses both before and after marrying future President Nixon.
Next: This first lady’s mother didn’t approve of her career choice.
6. Betty Ford
A lifelong passion for dance eventually inspired Betty Ford to teach dance classes and organize her own dance troupe. Between dancing and teaching, she also worked as a fashion coordinator at a department store.
Next: She spent much of her life helping kids with disabilities.
7. Grace Coolidge
Grace Coolidge spent many years teaching at the Clarke School for the Deaf in Massachusetts before marrying. She also continuously volunteered with her church while her husband worked in politics prior to being elected president.
Next: She was on the job when she and her future husband first met.
8. Jackie Kennedy
This future first lady first worked as an “inquiring camera girl.” Jackie Kennedy was working as a photojournalist for the Washington Times-Herald when she first met then-senator John F. Kennedy. Pat Nixon was one of her first interviewees.
Next: She was a gifted student, which fueled her career.
9. Michelle Obama
Former first lady Michelle Obama earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Princeton, and a law degree from Harvard. She was working as an associate specializing in intellectual property and marketing law when she met her husband.
Next: She changed career paths, and never looked back.
10. Ellen Wilson
Always a promising art student, Ellen Wilson’s failed attempt at studying to become a teacher didn’t faze her much. She eventually attended art school, and her skills and projects won her numerous awards. Against her husband’s will, she gave up her career to help him pursue his.
Next: She was more than just a stay-at-home mom.
11. Barbara Bush
While her husband was away on business, Barbara Bush spent most of her time caring for their six children at home. She also volunteered wherever she could, helping out at the local theater company and YMCA, and teaching Sunday school
Next: This first lady really loved books.
12. Laura Bush
Before she spent her White House years as an influential literacy advocate, Laura Bush worked as a school teacher and librarian. She first taught second grade, then earned her master’s in library science and spent her days surrounded by books.
Next: Her career prepared her for the tough years to come.
13. Hillary Clinton
After attending Yale Law School, Hillary Clinton eventually became a law professor at the University of Arkansas. Before that, she was a member of the presidential impeachment inquiry staff during the Watergate scandal.
Next: She focused on her career while her husband was fighting in a war.
14. Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson
Lady Bird Johnson first studied art, and expressed an interest in pursuing a career in journalism writing before meeting and marrying her husband. While he was serving in World War II, she began managing and later chaired the KLBJ radio station in Texas.
Next: Her glamorous career began when she was still a teenager.
15. Melania Trump
At 16, Melania Trump began the modeling career that would take her around the world — and eventually bring her face-to-face with Donald Trump. She has posed for publications such as Vanity Fair and GQ, where she was photographed nude.
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