The Surprisingly Normal Jobs of Former First Ladies Before They Lived in the White House

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

Rosalynn Carter
Mrs. Carter was a stay at home mom. | Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

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

lou hoover
She was a remarkable lady herself. | Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons

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 portrait
Nancy Reagan was an actor like her husband. | National Portrait Gallery

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

louisa adams portrait
She spent her childhood abroad. | Office of the President of the United States

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

Portrait of former First Lady Pat Nixon wife of American President Richard Nixon
She was the first to have her graduate degree. | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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

Elizabeth Betty Ford portrait
She worked in dance and fashion. | White House Historical Association

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 portrait
She spent years teaching the deaf. | White House Historical Association

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

US First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy is greeted by the crowd during her visit in Paris
She soon ended up on the other side of the camera. | -/AFP/Getty Images

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

Michelle Obama
She was Barack’s supervisor when he first started out. | Jim Young/AFP/Getty Images

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

Ellen Louise Wilson
She won awards for her art. | Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons

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

Barbara Bush
She was a stay-at-home mom and taught Sunday school. | Sean Rayford/Getty Images

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

laura bush with christmas trees 2013
She was a literacy advocate. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

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

She was a lawyer before she was a first lady. | Joyce Naltchayan/AFP/Getty Images

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

American president Lyndon Baines Johnson poses with his wife Lady Bird Johnson in front of a fireplace at the White House
Lady Bird was a journalist. | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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

Melania Knauss at the Aida opening
She started at the age of 16. | Scott Gries/Getty Images

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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