Women’s History Month

Michelle Obama
Former U.S. First Lady, Lawyer, Mother
 
 

Michelle Obama was the 44th first lady of the United States and wife of U.S. President Barack Obama. Prior to her role as first lady, she was a lawyer, Chicago city administrator and community-outreach worker.

Michelle Obama was born on January 17, 1964, in Chicago, Illinois. She attended Princeton University, graduating cum laude in 1985, and went on to earn a degree from Harvard Law School in 1988. Following her graduation from Harvard, she worked at a Chicago law firm, where she met her husband, future U.S. president Barack Obama. The couple married on October 3, 1992. As first lady, she focused her attention on current social issues, such as poverty, healthy living and education.

Michelle was raised in a small bungalow on Chicago’s South Side. Her father, Fraser Robinson, was a city-pump operator and a Democratic precinct captain. Her mother, Marian, was a secretary at Spiegel’s but later stayed home to raise Michelle and her older brother, Craig. They were a close-knit family, typically sharing meals, reading and playing games together.

Craig and Michelle, 21 months apart in age, were often mistaken for twins. The siblings also shared close quarters, sleeping in the living room with a sheet serving as a makeshift room divider. They were raised with an emphasis on education and had learned to read at home by age four. Both skipped the second grade.

By the sixth grade, Michelle was taking classes in her school’s gifted program, where she learned French and completed accelerated courses in biology. She went on to attend Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, the city’s first magnet high school for gifted children, where, among other activities, she served as the student government treasurer. In 1981, Michelle graduated from the school as class salutatorian.

Following in her older brother’s footsteps, Michelle then attended Princeton University, graduating cum laude in 1985 with a B.A. in Sociology. She went on to study law at Harvard Law School, where she took part in demonstrations calling for the enrollment and hiring of more minority students and professors. She was awarded her J.D. in 1988.

After law school, Michelle worked as an associate in the Chicago branch of the firm Sidley Austin, in the area of marketing and intellectual property. It was there, in 1989, that she met her future husband, Barack Obama, a summer intern to whom she was assigned as an adviser.

Initially, she refused to date Barack, believing that their work relationship would make the romance improper. She eventually relented, however, and the couple soon fell in love.

After two years of dating, Barack proposed, and the couple married at Trinity United Church of Christ on October 3, 1992. Their daughters, Malia and Sasha, were born in 1998 and 2001, respectively.

After her husband’s political role pushed the Obama family into the spotlight, Michelle was publicly recognized for

 
 
her no-nonsense campaign style as well as her sense of fashion. In May 2006, Michelle was featured in Essence magazine as one of “25 of the World’s Most Inspiring Women.” In September 2007, Michelle was included in 02138 magazine as number 58 in “The Harvard 100,” a yearly list of the school’s most influential alumni. She has also twice appeared on the cover of Vogue and made the Vanity Fair best-dressed list two years in a row as well as People magazine’s 2008 best-dressed list.

As the 44th first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama has focused her attention on issues such as the support of military families, helping working women balance career and family and encouraging national service. During the first year of the Obama presidency, Michelle and her husband volunteered at homeless shelters and soup kitchens in the Washington D.C. area. Michelle also has made appearances at public schools, stressing the importance of education and volunteer work.

Ever conscious of her family’s diet and health, Michelle has supported the organic-food movement, instructing the White House kitchens to prepare organic food for guests and her family. In March 2009, Michelle worked with 23 fifth graders from a local school in Washington D.C. to plant an 1,100-square-foot garden of fresh vegetables and install beehives on the South Lawn of the White House. Since 2010, Michelle has put efforts to fight childhood obesity near the top of her agenda.

Michelle Obama remains committed to her health-and-wellness causes. In 2012, she announced a new fitness program for kids as part of her Let’s Move initiative. Along with the U.S. Olympic team and other sports organizations, she has worked to get young people to try out a new sport or activity. “This year, 1.7 million young people will be participating in Olympic and Paralympic sports in their communities—many of them for the very first time. And that is so important, because sometimes all it takes is that first lesson, or clinic, or class to get a child excited about a new sport,” she said in a statement.

Putting her message in print, Michelle released a book as part of her mission to promote healthy eating. American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America (2012) explores her own experience creating a vegetable garden as well as the work of community gardens elsewhere. She told Reuters that sees the book as an opportunity to help readers understand “where their food was coming from” and “to talk about the work that we’re doing with childhood obesity and childhood health.”

“Every day, the people I meet inspire me, every day they make me proud, every day they remind me how blessed we are to live in the greatest nation on Earth. Serving as your first lady is an honor and a privilege.” —Michelle Obama

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