Throughout history women have made their mark in a wide variety of ways. Each Saturday I plan to highlight one of these remarkable women. There will be no limit to the areas of history that I may include; however as a guide I will look to the month of their birth, the month of their death or the month associated with their mark in history when I select them. Is there an outstanding women in history you would like me to include? I welcome your suggestions. Would you like to guest blog one of the world’s outstanding women? Let me hear from you.
Today an outstanding woman from the world of politics. Meet Michelle Obama. I meant to post this last week on her birthday, but I couldn’t find the time to complete the post.
You see, at the end of the day, my most important title is still ‘mom-in-chief.’ My daughters are still the heart of my heart and the center of my world.
Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama (born January 17, 1964) is an American lawyer and writer. She is the wife of the 44th and current President of the United States, Barack Obama, and the first African-American First Lady of the United States. Raised on the South Side of Chicago, she is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, and spent the early part of her legal career working at the law firm Sidley Austin, where she met Obama. Subsequently, she worked as part of the staff of Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley, and for the University of Chicago Medical Center.
Throughout 2007 and 2008, she helped campaign for her husband’s presidential bid. She delivered a keynote address at the 2008 Democratic National Convention and also spoke at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. She and her husband have two daughters together. As the wife of a senator, and later the first lady, she has become a fashion icon and role model for women, and an advocate for poverty awareness, nutrition, and healthy eating.
Early life and ancestry
Born on January 17, 1964, in Chicago, Illinois, her parents were Fraser Robinson III, a city water plant employee and Democratic precinct captain, and Marian (née Shields), a secretary at Spiegel’s catalog store (after Michelle entered high school). Michelle can trace her ancestry to Pre-Civil War African Americans in the American South. Her paternal ancestry are the Gullah people of South Carolina’s Low Country region. Her paternal great-great grandfather, Jim Robinson, was a slave on Friendfield Plantation in the state of South Carolina. Some of her paternal family still reside in South Carolina.
Her maternal Great-great-great-grandmother was Melvinia Shields, a slave on Henry Walls Shields’ 200-acre farm in Clayton County, Georgia; he and his children would have worked along with the slaves. Melvinia’s first son, Dolphus T. Shields, was biracial and born into slavery about 1860. Based on DNA and other evidence, in 2012 researchers said his father was likely 20-year-old Charles Marion Shields, son of her master. (Charles later married a white woman and had white children). Melvinia did not talk to relatives about Dolphus’ father. Dolphus Shields moved to Birmingham, Alabama after the Civil War, and some of his children migrated to Cleveland, Ohio and Chicago.
Michelle grew up in a two-story house on Euclid Street in Chicago’s South Shore community area. It was a small apartment on the second floor of a house owned by Michelle’s great-aunt. Michelle attended elementary school down the street. They attended services at nearby South Shore Methodist Church. She and her 21-month older brother, Craig, skipped the second grade. Her brother is a former basketball coach at Oregon State University and Brown University. By sixth grade, Michelle joined a gifted class at Bryn Mawr Elementary School (later renamed Bouchet Academy).
Education and early career
Michelle attended Whitney Young High School, Chicago’s first magnet high school, where she was a classmate of Jesse Jackson’s daughter Santita. The round-trip commute from the Robinsons’ South Side home to the Near West Side, where the school was located, took three hours. Michelle Robinson was on the honor roll for four years, took advanced placement classes, was a member of the National Honor Society, and served as student council treasurer. She graduated in 1981 as the salutatorian of her class.
Michelle was inspired to follow her brother to Princeton University, where Craig graduated in 1983. As part of her requirements for graduation, she wrote a thesis entitled Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community. “I remember being shocked,” she says, “by college students who drove BMWs. I didn’t even know parents who drove BMWs.” While at Princeton, she got involved with the Third World Center (now known as the Carl A. Fields Center), an academic and cultural group that supported minority students, running their day care center, which also included after school tutoring. She majored in sociology and minored in African American studies and graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in 1985. She earned her Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from Harvard Law School in 1988. At Harvard she participated in demonstrations advocating the hiring of professors who were members of minorities and worked for the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, assisting low-income tenants with housing cases. She is the third First Lady with a postgraduate degree, after her two immediate predecessors, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Laura Bush. In July 2008, Obama accepted the invitation to become an honorary member of the 100-year-old black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, which had no active undergraduate chapter at Princeton when she attended.
She met Barack Obama when they were among the few African Americans at their law firm, Sidley Austin (she has sometimes said only two, although others have pointed out there were others in different departments), and she was assigned to mentor him as a summer associate. Their relationship started with a business lunch and then a community organization meeting where he first impressed her. The couple’s first date was to the Spike Lee movie Do the Right Thing. They married in October 1992, and have two daughters, Malia Ann (born 1998) and Natasha (known as Sasha, born 2001). After his election to the U.S. Senate, the Obama family continued to live on Chicago’s South Side, choosing to remain there rather than moving to Washington, D.C.
The Obamas’ daughters attended the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, a private school. As a member of the school’s board, Michelle fought to maintain diversity in the school when other board members connected with the University of Chicago tried to reserve more slots for children of the university faculty. This resulted in a plan to expand the school. Malia and Sasha now attend Sidwell Friends School in Washington, after also considering Georgetown Day School. Michelle stated in an interview on The Ellen DeGeneres Show that they do not intend to have any more children. The Obamas have received advice from past first ladies Laura Bush, Rosalynn Carter and Hillary Rodham Clinton about raising children in the White House. Marian Robinson, Michelle’s mother, has moved into the White House to assist with child care.
Following law school, she was an associate at the Chicago office of the law firm Sidley Austin, where she first met her future husband. At the firm, she worked on marketing and intellectual property. She continues to hold her law license, but as she no longer needs it for her work, it has been on a voluntary inactive status since 1993.
In 1991, she held public sector positions in the Chicago city government as an Assistant to the Mayor, and as Assistant Commissioner of Planning and Development. In 1993, she became Executive Director for the Chicago office of Public Allies, a non-profit organization encouraging young people to work on social issues in nonprofit groups and government agencies. She worked there nearly four years and set fundraising records for the organization that still stood 12 years after she left.
In 1996, she served as the Associate Dean of Student Services at the University of Chicago, where she developed the University’s Community Service Center. In 2002, she began working for the University of Chicago Hospitals, first as executive director for community affairs and, beginning May 2005, as Vice President for Community and External Affairs. She continued to hold the University of Chicago Hospitals position during the primary campaign, but cut back to part-time in order to spend time with her daughters as well as work for her husband’s election; she subsequently took a leave of absence from her job.
She served as a salaried board member of TreeHouse Foods, Inc., a major Wal-Mart supplier with whom she cut ties immediately after her husband made comments critical of Wal-Mart at an AFL-CIO forum in Trenton, New Jersey, on May 14, 2007. She also served on the board of directors of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
First Lady of the United States
During her early months as First Lady, she visited homeless shelters and soup kitchens. She also sent representatives to schools and advocated public service. Michelle Obama advocated for her husband’s policy priorities by promoting bills that support it. She hosted a White House reception for women’s rights advocates in celebration of the enactment of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 Pay equity law. She supported the economic stimulus bill in visits to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and United States Department of Education. Some observers looked favorably upon her legislative activities, while others said that she should be less involved in politics.
Other initiatives of First Lady Michelle Obama include advocating on behalf of military families, helping working women balance career and family, encouraging national service, and promoting the arts and arts education. Michelle has made supporting military families and spouses a personal mission and has been increasingly bonding with military families. According to her aides, stories of the sacrifice these families make move her to tears.
Michelle Obama has been criticized for not using her position and education to advocate for women’s issues but instead promoted gardening and healthy eating, and support of military families. This criticism was not accepted across the political spectrum. Supporters of Obama note that the First Lady has been one of the only people in the administration to address obesity, through promoting good eating habits, which is one of the leading US public health crises. In January 2010, the First Lady announced Let’s Move! and President Barack Obama created the Task Force on Childhood Obesity to review all current programs and create a national plan towards change
In March 2014, Michelle Obama posted on a blog on the White House website that she and her two daughters Malia and Sasha, and her mother Marian Robinson, would visit China later that month. She met with Peng Liyuan, the wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping and visited historic and cultural sites, as well as a university and two high schools.
In May 2014, Obama joined the campaign to bring back school girls who had been kidnapped in Nigeria. The First Lady tweeted a picture of herself holding a poster with the #bringbackourgirls campaign hashtag.