At a Glance
- Career History: White House Director for Public Engagement (January 2009 to January 2011); Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls (since March 2009); Partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP (1992 to 2009); Associate at Skadden (1984 to 1992)
- Hometown: Cleveland, Oh.
- Alma Mater: Radcliffe College, Harvard University, B.A., 1978; Northwestern University School of Law, J.D., 1984
Path to Power
Tchen was born outside of Cleveland, Ohio, to Chinese immigrants who were wealthy in their home nation. One of her grandfathers was an entrepreneur, and the other earned a law degree at DePaul University in the U.S. before returning to China to practice.
In 1949, her parents fled to the U.S. as communists approached Shanghai. Tchen's father, Peter, had recently finished medical school, and her mother, Lily, had a student visa to study chemistry at Syracuse University. The two were engaged, and they married the morning they left China so Peter could leave with Lily. They brought only one suitcase to America, and eventually settled in Beachwood, Ohio, outside of Cleveland, where Peter Tchen became a psychiatrist.
Tchen has been a lawyer her entire life, but has always been involved in Democratic politics. She worked on Harold Washington's Chicago mayoral campaigns in 1983 and 1987. She helped raise money for Obama's 2004 Senate campaign and was one of his top bundlers during the 2008 presidential campaign.
When she moved to Springfield after college, Tchen began working with NOW to pressure Illinois lawmakers to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. She stayed active in the feminist group, becoming vice president of the Illinois chapter while at Northwestern University. While working with NOW, Tchen helped write the bill that changed the Illinois rape statute to include sexual assault and other abuse.
Tchen was an early Obama supporter. A longtime feminist, Tchen says that people she worked with on women's rights issues were often surprised she wasn't supporting Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) in the 2008 presidential primary. But Tchen was one of Obama's top fundraisers during his 2004 Senate campaign, as well as during the 2008 contest. For the presidential run, she bundled more than $200,000 for Obama.
She is part of the Chicago Network, an invitation-only club of high-powered professional women. Valerie Jarrett , who is now Tchen's supervisor in the White House, was a member, along with dozens of CEOs, lawyers, judges and congresswomen. "It exists to be what it is," Tchen says, "which is a network."