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Pat Nixon was the first first lady to wear pants in public. Hillary Clinton was the first first lady to be elected to a public office. And now, Jill Biden is projected to become the first first lady to keep her full-time job outside of the White House.
Katherine Jellison, a history professor at Ohio University, said Biden will bring the role of first lady of the United States into the 21st century.
“If Dr. Biden is able to pull this off, she will be leading a life that is much more like that of everyday American women: balancing their role in a family with a professional life,” Jellison said.
Biden said she will commute from the White House to the Northern Virginia Community College, where she has taught English for a decade.
In her introduction video during the Democratic National Convention, Biden made it clear that she could do both jobs: FLOTUS and professor. She managed to keep teaching full time when she served as second lady for eight years. When asked in August during a CBS interview about her plans if her husband, Joe Biden, were to win the presidential election, Biden responded: “Oh, yes, I will continue teaching. I’m a teacher. That’s who I am.”
Michael LaRosa, a spokesperson for Biden, said the future first lady is “enormously grateful” to the country for electing her husband.
“She is spending time with her children and grandchildren in Wilmington, Delaware,” LaRosa said in a statement. “Dr. Biden is focused on building her team and developing her priorities focused on education, military families, and veterans and cancer.”
Historically, first ladies are among the most important political actors in the White House as trusted advisors to the president, according to Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. Since 1992, the Office of the First Lady has averaged about 16 to 25 staff members. Her most important tasks include presidential advising and communications.
Biden’s tenure will coincide with the vice presidency of Kamala Harris, the first woman and Black and South Asian person to serve in the country’s second-highest office. According to Jellison, this “dynamic duo” has the potential to inspire young girls and reshape the country’s expectations for what leaders can and should be.
“I think they are both great role models for American women and, frankly, American everyone,” Jellison said. “It’s good for little boys and men to see women like this in the spotlight.”
The pandemic exacerbated long-existing inequities, but perhaps nowhere more acutely than in education as schools shut down and teachers were tasked with navigating the return to the classroom. Teaching is the profession that employs the most women in the United States: 4.2 million. President-elect Biden released a “five-step roadmap” in September to reopen schools that would establish national safety guidelines, call on Congress to pass an additional coronavirus relief package with school funding and establish a Department of Education project studying best practices in distance learning.
In his victory speech on Saturday night, Biden said: “For America’s educators, this is a great day. You’re going to have one of your own in the White House.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Jill Biden was the first presidential spouse to earn a doctoral degree. Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama both received JDs. We regret the error.