Updated: September 9, 2021 9:54:38 am
As of September 7, Dr Jill Biden is back to teaching in person at Northern Virginia Community College, where she has taught since 2009. She is being hailed by many for being the first-ever First Lady of the United States to have a full-time job outside the White House. Her decision isn’t exactly news: Almost as soon as her husband was elected president last November, Mrs Biden had declared that she had no intention of quitting her job. “Teaching isn’t just what I do; it’s who I am,” she said.
Jill Biden’s firm and uncompromising assertion of an identity separate from her husband’s has been a long time coming — almost nine decades, in fact, since Eleanor Roosevelt, an indefatigable campaigner for progressive causes, redefined the role of the FLOTUS. And it wasn’t easy. Consider how harsh critics were, even until the swearing-in in January, when Biden refused to drop the hard-earned “Dr” from her name. Back in 1978, Hillary Rodham was criticised for keeping her maiden name and law practice after her husband Bill Clinton was elected governor of Arkansas. Of course, she went on to build a political career for herself, being sworn in as New York senator just days before her husband’s second term as US president came to an end in 2001. Later, Michelle Obama, who quit her job at the University of Chicago Medical Center upon becoming the first lady in 2009, too forged a path in public life that, while complementing her husband’s vision, was enriched by her own concerns and interests. Michelle Obama commanded respect and admiration in her own right.
While the celebration of the current FLOTUS’s decision shows that there’s no going back to the days when women married to powerful public figures played a mere ornamental role, the grumbling that can still be heard is a reminder that big changes don’t happen overnight. And that this is merely one milestone before the next one on the long road ahead.
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