Janel Dyan

Women Crushing It Wednesday

#WCIW: Dr. Jill Biden

Lifelong Educator.  Military Mom. Advocate for Women's Empowerment.

If the name of Dr. Jill Biden only brings to mind her role as former Second Lady of the United States and wife of Vice President Joe Biden, a slightly closer look will reveal a woman who is a force to be reckoned with in her own right. Born in a small town in New Jersey, Jill Tracey Jacobs was the daughter of a World War II veteran and spent most of her childhood in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. At first, Jacobs seemed destined to live a conventional life: she married young, dropped out of fashion school, and moved to Delaware with her husband. She returned to school at the University of Delaware with her first husband, this time majoring in English, but decided to take a year off when she and her husband divorced.

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Newly single and making ends meet, Jacobs became a model for a local agency and posed for several print campaigns. It was in one of these campaigns that she was first spotted by the young Delaware Senator Joe Biden at a bus shelter in 1975. Three years earlier in 1972, just before Christmas, Biden's wife and three children were involved in a terrible car accident that claimed the lives of his wife Neilia and daughter Naomi.

Determined to meet her, Joe sought her out in the relatively small community and eventually landed a blind date with her. The two fell hard for each other, and eventually married in 1977. Jill raised Joe’s two sons as her own and gave birth to their daughter in 1981.

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Determined to finish her education, Jill worked in a psychiatric hospital as she finished not one, not two, but three degrees, including Masters degrees in English and Education. Despite taking a few years off to help raise the three children, Biden found her calling in teaching, especially emotionally disturbed children whom most educators at the time were ill-equipped to handle. As Joe's career rose, she taught at both the high school and college levels and maintained that she would continue her work no matter how high her husband rose politically.

She also witnessed the powerful impact that access to community college could have on young people for the rest of their lives, cementing her belief that education is “the great equalizer”. This passion for community college and access to higher education would eventually become her major platform as Second Lady of the United States.

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In 2003, the Biden’s eldest son, Beau, joined the National Guard, adding Military Mom to Jill’s already-impressive resume. Jill was overwhelmingly supportive of her son, and when he was deployed to Iraq in 2008, Jill joined the organization Delaware Boots on the Ground which provides support to families of deployed soldiers. In 2012 she authored a children’s book, Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops. As Second Lady, Biden worked alongside First Lady Michelle Obama to empower and protect families of veterans and active service members by forming the Joining Forces initiative.

In 2015, Beau passed away after battling a brain tumor. Although devastated by the loss, Joe and Jill refused to back down from their duties. In an emotional moment at the 2017 Tony Awards, Jill appeared to introduce the cast of the Broadway show Bandstand and to support the active military and veterans’ support organization Got Your 6.

In the armed forces, ‘got your six’ means, ‘I’ve got your back’. As the daughter of a World War II signal man and the mother of an army captain, I’ve seen how the scars of service can haunt even in the best of situations. As veterans cope with returning to civilian life, they form a band unlike any the nation has ever seen and discover the power of music to find their voice, their purpose and redemption. I’m honored to say to our veterans on behalf of Joe, myself and the company of ‘Bandstand’ and everybody else here, we’ve got your six."

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As the very first Second Lady to hold a paying job while in office, women’s affairs in the United States has also been a major cause for Jill Biden. She earned her doctorate degree in English in 2007 and worked as a professor while Joe became Vice President. Jill has always said that she would continue not just to work no matter how far Joe rose politically, but to advocate for higher education, military families, and women’s issues, as well. She has spoken out about breast cancer awareness, and has visited the African continent multiple times to draw awareness to female empowerment and access to education for African girls.

Together with her husband, she helped to establish the Biden Foundation in 2016 which works to eliminate violence against women by providing resources for abused women and educational materials to begin to change the social norms surrounding domestic violence.

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Whether or not Joe Biden decides to run for the nation’s highest office, Jill is determined to continue in her own way and to positively impact the lives of her students, fellow military families, and women in powerful and positive ways.

For her lifelong commitment to education, her proud stance as a military mom, and her advocacy for women, Dr. Jill Biden is this week’s #WCIW.

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