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Michelle Obama

First Lady of the United States (since January 2009)

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Why She Matters

From her policy positions to her fashion choices, Michelle Obama has pushed the boundaries of what it means to be a 21st-century first lady.

Obama's personal narrative made her a unique entry in the succession of women to occupy the East Wing. She is a descendant of slaves (and slave owners) from a working class family on the South side of Chicago who is also an Ivy-League educated lawyer, a working mother of two young daughters and a down-to-earth fashion icon.

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Some countries get Obama, but want his wife, too

(Andy Wong, File / Associated Press)

When President Barack Obama travels abroad, sometimes it’s not enough for just the leader of the free world to show up. People in other countries want the first lady, too.

Michelle Obama and Bow Wow spotted at Howard University

The first lady and former child rap star joined high school students from Chicago for a tour of the historically black college’s campus.

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Michelle Obama: High school diploma is not enough

(Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)

It may be a few years before the first daughters head to college, but Michelle Obama is already brainstorming a dorm room checklist while encouraging high school students to dream big about their education beyond graduation.

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Mrs. Obama, ‘first dogs’ visits military families

(Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)

Michelle Obama said Monday she is shining a light on military families who are her heroes and a medical facility that treats them as she gives thanks during an early Easter celebration.

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Kansas speech by Michelle Obama draws complaints

If expanding the guest list to include Michelle Obama at graduation for high school students in the Kansas capital city means fewer seats for friends and family, some students and their parents would prefer the first lady not attend.

Obama: Doors ‘swung open for me’ because of LBJ’s legacy

The president lauded Johnson’s legacy at a 50th anniversary commemoration of the Civil Rights Act.

Michelle Obama joins Washington women in cause for veterans’ caregivers

The women will meet at the White House on Friday to push for expanded benefits for the veterans’ caregivers.

Obama: Fort Hood victims are American patriots

President Obama pays tribute to those killed and wounded in Fort Hood rampage.

 
 

At a Glance

  • Career History: Vice president for community and external affairs, University of Chicago Hospitals (2005 to 2008); Executive director for community affairs, University of Chicago Hospitals, (2002 to 2005); Associate dean of Student Services, University of Chicago, (... to 2002)
  • Birthday: January 17,1964
  • Hometown: Chicago, Ill.
  • Alma Mater: Princeton University, B.A., 1985; Harvard Law School, J.D., 1988
  • Spouse: Barack Obama
  • Religion: Christian
  • Office: Office of the First Lady, The White House1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
  • Web site
 

Path to Power

In the Obama family narrative, it is Michelle's life that is often held up as the truly American success story. It was a path that took her from her working-class roots to an Ivy League education to the White House. She is only the third first lady to hold a graduate degree (Laura Bush and Hillary Rodham Clinton preceded her).

Born Michelle LaVaughn Robinson on the South Side of Chicago to working-class parents - her father, Fraser Robinson worked for the city's water treatment centers and her mother, Marion, stayed home with Michelle and her brother Craig - the future first lady grew up in modest circumstances.

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The Issues

Obama is the first presidential wife who is African-American, the third with a graduate degree and the first to have a child born in the 21st century. As she assumed her new role, she was deluged with expectations. Many White House-watchers hoped she would revolutionize what it meant to be a first lady in one way or another.

Obama entered the policy realm with enthusiasm, but kept to the areas traditionally associated with presidential wives, specifically children and families. Though disappointing to some, Obama gained swaths of fans. Her approval ratings hit a high of 72 percent in March 2009, and remained quite a bit higher than her husband's.

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The Network

A native Chicagoan, Obama introduced her husband to many of the Chicago political insiders who formed a tight-knit group around the couple and fueled Barack's rise in Illinois politics.

Nearly two decades ago, Obama first encountered now-senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett when Jarrett hired her to work in Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley's (D) office after Michelle's stint in corporate law. Jarrett soon became a close friend and mentor to both Obamas. It was working for Daley that Michelle met her current chief of staff, Susan Sher.

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Additional Resources

  1. Swarns, Rachel L. and Jodi Kantor, The New York Times, "In First Lady's Roots, A Complex Path from Slavery," October 7, 2009
  2. Mundy, Liza, "When Michelle Met Barack," Washington Post Magazine, October 5, 2008
  3. Lee, Jesse, White House Blog, "Planting the Garden," April 9, 2009
  4. Henderson, Nia-Malika, Politico, "Michelle Obama's Poll Number's Slide," November 9, 2009
  5. Henderson, Nia-Malika, "Michelle Obama Kicks off United We Serve Program," The Politico, June 23, 2009
  6. Givhan, Robin, The Washington Post, "'Michelle: Her First Year as First Lady,' excerpt, the Mom-in-chief effect," January 17, 2010
  7. Michelle Obama: "As Barack's First Lady, I Would Work to Help Working Families and Military Families," US News&World Report, October 17, 2008
  8. Wildman, Sarah, "Portrait of a Lady ; How Laura Bush conquered feminism," The New Republic, August 21, 2001
  9. Gruber, Jack, USA TODAY, "Michelle Obama Aims to End Childhood Obesity in a Generation," February 9, 2010
  10. Murray, Shailagh, "A Family Tree Rooted In American Soil; Michelle Obama Learns About Her Slave Ancestors, Herself and Her Country," The Washington Post, October 2, 2008
  11. Tapper, Jake, ABC News, Political Punch, "Michelle Obama Announces New Funding for Military Families," January 26, 2010
  12. Walsh, Kenneth T., U.S. News and World Report, "Michelle Obama Makes Military Families her Mission," March 26, 2009
  13. White House Press Release: "Let's Move National Campaign to Sove the Problem of Childhood Obesity Marks First Year Anniversary," February 8, 2011
  14. Swarns, Rachel L., "Hints of Agenda and Tone for New First Lady," New York Times, January 20, 2009
  15. Wildman, Sarah, "The First Lady Tightrope Walk," Guardian, July 15, 2008
  16. Swarns, Rachel L., "First Lady Steps into Policy Spotlight in Debate on Health Care," The New York Times, July 18, 2009
  17. Swarns, Rachel L., "From Home and Away, Advice for a First Lady," New York Times, November 24, 2008
  18. Wildman, Sarah, "The Normalcy of Michelle Obama," The Guardian, August 26, 2008
  19. Glanton, Dahleen, "Michelle Obama Reaches out to Military Families," The Chicago Tribune, October 29, 2008
  20. Swarns, Rachel L., "From Home and Away, Advice for a First Lady," New York Times, November 24, 2008
  21. Kantor, Jodi, "Obama Denounces Statements of His Pastor as 'Inflammatory'" New York Times, march 21, 2008