Dr. Jill Biden, the first lady of the United Sates, is a longtime educator and the wife of the 46th U.S. president and former vice president, Joe Biden. From 2009-17, as second lady of the United States, she advocated for greater support of military families and breast cancer research, among other issues, while working as a professor of English and writing at Northern Virginia Community College.
Early Life & Marriage to Joe Biden
Born Jill Jacobs in 1951, in Hammonton, New Jersey, she grew up as the oldest of five sisters in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. At 18, after briefly studying fashion merchandising at a junior college in Pennsylvania, she married Bill Stevenson. The two began attending the University of Delaware together, but divorced a few years later. Jill briefly left college, but later returned to earn her bachelor’s degree in English in 1975.
That same year, she was introduced to Joe Biden, then a U.S. senator from Delaware, by Joe Biden’s younger brother, Frank. Nine years Jill’s senior, Joe Biden had lost his first wife, Neilia, and his one-year-old daughter, Naomi, in a car accident in 1972, shortly after he was elected to the Senate for the first time. His two sons, Hunter and Beau, were injured in the same accident but survived.
Joe famously proposed five times to Jill before she accepted. In June 1977, they were married at the United Nations chapel in New York City. Jill helped raise Hunter and Beau, as well as their daughter, Ashley, born in 1981.
Jill Biden earned two master’s degrees, in education (with a specialty in reading) from West Chester University in 1981 and in English from Villanova University in 1987, while teaching adolescents at a psychiatric hospital. She later taught for years at Claymont High School, Brandywine High School and Delaware Technical and Community College.
Biden returned to the University of Delaware to pursue her doctorate in education, which she earned in 2007. Meanwhile, her husband was re-elected to the Senate five times, and ran unsuccessfully for president twice, in 1988 and 2008, before Barack Obama, the eventual Democratic nominee in 2008, chose him as his running mate.
Jill Biden as Second Lady
After Obama and Joe Biden were inaugurated in 2009, Jill Biden began working as a professor of English at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA). According to the Los Angeles Times, she was believed to be the first second lady ever to hold a paying job while her husband was in office. Known to her students simply as “Dr. B,” she was known to grade papers during various state trips abroad.
Over the next eight years, Jill Biden collaborated with first lady Michelle Obama on the Joining Forces initiative, aimed at supporting military families. In 2012, she published a children’s book, Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops, based on the impact of her stepson Beau’s deployment in Iraq on his wife and young children. She also advocated for education and the value of community colleges, hosting the first White House Summit on Community Colleges with President Obama in 2010 and traveling the country for a Community College to Career bus tour in 2012. As co-founder of the Biden Breast Health Initiative, she continued to voice her support for breast cancer research and early detection.
Road Back to the White House
The Biden family sustained a tragic loss in May 2015, when Beau Biden, an Iraq War veteran and former attorney general of Delaware, died of brain cancer at the age of 46. Despite speculation that Joe Biden would run for president again at the end of Obama’s second term, he ultimately decided against it. Jill Biden continued working full time as a professor at NOVA, and in 2019 published a memoir, Where the Light Enters: Building a Family, Discovering Myself.
During Joe Biden’s campaign to defeat the incumbent President Donald Trump in the 2020 election, Jill Biden played a more visible role than in her husband’s previous presidential runs. She served as one of his most active campaign surrogates, reached out to lawmakers to discuss immigration reform on his behalf, and helped him select Kamala Harris as his historic running mate. A couple of times, she even acted as his unofficial bodyguard, memorably helping to ward off protesters who interrupted his speeches.
At the Democratic National Convention, held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Jill Biden underlined her lifelong passion for education by speaking from her former classroom at Brandywine High School. Before the election, she explained why she planned to continue teaching after her husband took office as the 46th president. “It's important,” she told CBS News. “I want people to value teachers and know their contributions, and lift up the profession.”
Dr. Jill Biden. Obama White House.
“Jill Biden is finally ready to be first lady. Can she help her husband defeat Trump?” Washington Post, August 17, 2020.
“Dr. Jill Biden on family, teaching, loss and levity.” CBS News, August 9, 2020.
“Hi, I’m Jill. Jill Biden. But please, call me Dr. Biden.” Los Angeles Times, February 2, 2009.
“Jill Biden: All the Vice President’s Women.” Vogue, November 2008.