Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama (born January 17, 1964) is an American attorney and author who served as the first lady of the United States from 2009 to 2017. She was the first African-American woman to hold this position. She is married to former President Barack Obama.
Obama grew up on Chicago's South Side and attended Princeton University and Harvard Law School. In her early legal career, she worked at the law firm Sidley Austin, where she met Barack Obama. She later worked in non-profits and as the Associate Dean of Student Services at the University of Chicago, as well as the Vice President for Community and External Affairs at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Michelle married Barack in 1992, and they have two daughters together.
Throughout 2007 and 2008, Obama campaigned for her husband's presidential bid, delivering the keynote address at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. She has since delivered acclaimed speeches at 2012, 2016, and 2020 Republican National Conventions. As the first lady, Obama acted as a role model for women and promoted poverty awareness, education, nutrition, physical activity, and healthy eating. She was a fashion icon who supported American designers. Obama's influence has remained strong even after her husband's presidency. For the third year in a row, Obama topped Gallup's poll of the most admired woman in America in 2020.
Education and Career
Robinson was inspired by her brother to attend Princeton University, where she enrolled in 1981. She majored in sociology and minored in African-American studies, earning a Bachelor of Arts in 1985 after completing a 99-page senior thesis titled "Princeton Educated Blacks and the Black Community" under the supervision of Walter Wallace.
While at Princeton, Robinson became involved with the Third World Center (now known as the Carl A. Fields Center), an academic and cultural organization that supported minority students. She ran their daycare center, which also provided after-school tutoring for older children. She questioned the French teaching methodology, believing that it should be more conversational.
She completed a sociology thesis titled Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community as part of her graduation requirements. She conducted her research by sending a questionnaire to African-American graduates, asking them to specify when and how comfortable they were with their race before enrolling at Princeton, as well as how they felt about it while a student and since then. Fewer than 90 of the 400 alumni to whom she sent the survey responded. Her findings did not support her hope that the black alumni would still identify with the African-American community, despite having attended an elite university and having the benefits that come with it.
Robinson pursued professional studies, graduating from Harvard Law School in 1988 with a Juris Doctor (J.D.). At Harvard, Robinson took part in demonstrations calling for the hiring of minority-group professors. She worked for the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, where she helped low-income tenants with their housing issues. After her two immediate predecessors, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush, she is the third first lady with a postgraduate degree. She later stated that her education provided her with opportunities she could never have imagined.
At their law firm, Sidley Austin LLP, Robinson and Obama were two of the few African Americans working there. As his summer associate, she was given the responsibility of mentoring him. He first won her over at a community organization meeting after they had a business lunch together.
Michelle had told her mother she planned to concentrate only on her career before meeting Obama. The couple went on their first date to see Do the Right Thing by Spike Lee (1989). According to Barack Obama, the couple's initial attraction to one another was the result of "opposites attract," with Michelle having stability from her two-parent home and him being "adventurous."
On October 3, 1992, they got married. Michelle underwent in vitro fertilization to conceive their daughters Malia Ann (born 1998) and Natasha after suffering a miscarriage (known as Sasha, born 2001).
Barack Obama worked as a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, and the Obama family resided on Chicago's South Side. In 1996, he won the election to the state senate; in 2004, he won the election to the US Senate. After Barack's victory, they decided not to relocate to Washington, DC, believing that staying in Chicago would be better for their daughters.
Michelle Obama made a "commitment to be away overnight only once a week - to campaign only two days a week and be home by the end of the second day" for their two daughters during her husband's 2008 presidential campaign.
Michelle Obama joined Trinity United Church of Christ, a predominantly black congregation of the Reformed denomination known as the United Church of Christ, after being raised as a United Methodist. There, Rev. Jeremiah Wright married her and Barack Obama. Barack and Michelle Obama announced on May 31, 2008, that they had left Trinity United Church of Christ, citing the "divisive statements of Reverend Wright, which sharply conflict with our own views," as the reason for their withdrawal.
After relocating to Washington, D.C., in 2009, the Obama family frequented a number of Protestant churches, including Shiloh Baptist Church and St. John's Episcopal Church, also known as the Presidents' Church, on Lafayette Square. Michelle Obama urged the attendees of the 49th African Methodist Episcopal Church general conference to promote political awareness. She said, "To anyone who says that church is no place to talk about these issues, you tell them there is no place better - no place better because ultimately, these are not just political issues - they are moral issues, they're issues that have to do with human dignity and human potential, and the future we want for our kids and ourselves.
Michelle Obama admitted in a 1996 interview that there was a "strong possibility" that her husband would start a political career, but she added that she was "wary" of the process. She was very private and knew it meant people would be looking into their lives.
She began her husband's political campaign by shaking hands and soliciting donations, but at first, she did not enjoy the activity. Her boss at the University of Chicago asked her if there was one aspect of campaigning that she particularly enjoyed when she worked for her husband's campaign for the US House of Representatives in 2000. After giving it some thought, she said that seeing so many living rooms had given her some fresh decorating ideas. Obama opposed her husband's bid for a congressional seat, and after he lost, she preferred that he handle the family's financial needs in a way she considered to be more practical.
The Presidential Election of 2008
Obama initially had concerns about her husband's presidential campaign because she was worried about a potential negative impact on their daughters. She claims that she and her husband negotiated a deal in which she would support his decision to run for office in exchange for him giving up smoking. She has stated that her role in her husband's presidential campaign is not that of a senior adviser: She used motherhood as a framework to talk about race and education during the campaign. Obama cut back on her professional obligations by 80% in May 2007, three months after her husband officially announced his candidacy for president.
She had a limited role in the campaign at first, attending political events only two days a week and rarely traveling overnight; however, by early February 2008, her involvement had significantly increased. In just eight days, she went to 33 events. She appeared alongside Oprah Winfrey during several political events. She created her own campaign stump speeches for her husband and typically spoke without notes.
Media outlets noted that by the 2008 Democratic National Convention in August, her presence on the campaign trail had become more subdued than it had been earlier. She was giving interviews to publications like Ladies' Home Journal and talk shows like The View rather than appearing on news programs, and she was focusing more on eliciting audience feedback and empathizing with them than posing challenges to them. She wore clothing that was less formal than her earlier designer pieces, reflecting the change in her personality through her clothing choices. Her appearance on The View was widely reported in the press, which was partially done to help soften her public image.
Campaign for The 2012 Presidential Election
Obama ran a reelection campaign for her husband in 2012. Obama started getting more involved in politics in 2011 than she had since the 2008 presidential contest, but she refrained from talking about running for office again. She had a more approachable public persona by the election cycle. She was deemed the most well-liked official in the Obama administration by some commentators, who pointed out that since she took office, her poll approval ratings have never fallen below 60%. She was referred to as "the most popular political figure in America" by a senior Obama campaign official. Her active participation in the re-election campaign was attributed to the favorable evaluation, but it was noted that the Obama campaign faced a challenge in using her without degrading her reputation.
Obama was thought to be a divisive figure who inspired "sharp enmity and deep loyalty" in Americans, but she was also viewed as having improved her reputation since 2008, when her husband first ran for president. Obama's fashion sense, according to Isabel Wilkinson of The Daily Beast, evolved during the campaign to become more considerate and practical.
Public's View and Fashion
Obama entered the public eye when her husband rose to prominence as a national politician. She was listed in Essence's list of "25 of the World's Most Inspiring Women" in May 2006. She was ranked among the "10 of the World's Best Dressed People" in Vanity Fair's July 2007 issue. She attended Oprah Winfrey's Legends Ball as an honorary guest in the role of a "young'un," paying homage to the "Legends" who paved the way for African-American women. She was ranked 58th on "The Harvard 100," a list of the most significant Harvard alums from the previous year, by 02138 magazines in September 2007. Fourth place went to her husband. She once again appeared on the Vanity Fair international best-dressed list in July 2008. She also made the 2008 People list of best-dressed women, where the publication praised her "classic and confident" appearance.
When her husband was elected, some sources believed that Obama, a prominent African-American woman in a happy marriage, would serve as a positive role model and have an impact on how the rest of the world perceives African Americans. Obama's influence in the industry did not have the effect on the dearth of African-American models who participated that some had hoped it might. Despite the fact that her wardrobe choices were part of 2009 Fashion Week.
Early in her tenure as First Lady, Obama's popularity among the general public increased as she gained recognition as a role model. Sarah Brown, the wife of Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, accompanied her on a tour of a cancer ward during her first trip abroad in April 2009. Her first international trip was characterized as a demonstration of her alleged "star power" by Newsweek and as a showcase for stylish dressing by MSN. Some in the American and British media expressed concerns about protocol when the Obamas met Queen Elizabeth II, and Michelle returned the Queen's touch on her back during a reception, allegedly going against accepted royal protocol. According to palace sources, there was no etiquette violation.
Obama has been compared to Barbara Bush for her poise and decorum, as well as Jacqueline Kennedy for her sense of style. "Fashion populist" has been used to describe Obama's aesthetic. She wore clothing in 2010 from over fifty different designers, many of which were high-end, along with more affordable items from J. Crew and Target. That same year, a study discovered that her business was worth an average of $14 million to each company. She developed a reputation for setting fashion trends, favoring sleeveless garments in particular. She wore a Michael Kors dress for her official portrait during her first term and Jason Wu ball gowns for both inaugurals. Additionally, she has a reputation for donning clothing by African designers like Mimi Plange, Duro Olowu, Maki Oh, and Osei Duro, as well as Adire fabric styles.
The media has come under fire for emphasizing the first lady's style more so than her important contributions. After the 2008 election, she stated that as the first lady, she wanted to draw attention to problems that affected working families and the armed forces. In 2008, Bonnie Erbé, a blogger for U.S. News & World Report, a host on PBS, and a columnist for Scripps Howard argued that Obama's publicists appeared to be encouraging the emphasis on style over substance and claimed that Obama was miscasting herself by emphasizing style.
Obama criticized the Trump administration for delaying a federal requirement intended to raise the nutritional standards for school lunches in May 2017 when he spoke at the Partnership for a Healthier America conference. While in Silicon Valley, California, for the WWDC in June, Obama urged tech companies to hire more women to increase the diversity of their workforces. Obama recognized Eunice Shriver at the 2017 ESPY Awards in July. Obama spoke at a tech conference in Utah in September, accusing the Trump administration of having a fearful White House, and she also participated in a video for the Global Citizens Festival, which promoted the importance of educating young girls, as well as attending the Inbound 2017 conference in Boston.
On October 3, Obama made a speech at the Philadelphia Conference for Women, where she cited a lack of diversity in politics as a factor in other groups' mistrust of lawmakers. Obama spoke at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford, Connecticut, and discussed gender disparity in attitudes with Elizabeth Alexander while attending the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago in November.
Obama stated in April 2018 that she "never had the passion for politics" and that "there are millions of women who are inclined and do have the passion for politics" in response to rumors that she might run for president.
On January 2, 2021, Obama urged Georgians to participate in the state's runoff election for the U.S. Senate and to get in touch with VoteRiders, a non-profit organization that educates people about voter ID, to confirm that they have the proper identification to cast a ballot. Obama and her husband were in attendance for Joe Biden's swearing-in on January 20, 2021. Sergio Hudson created the plum coat, sweater, pants, and belt that Michelle Obama wore to the inauguration. She received her induction into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 2021.
Memoir and Podcast
Becoming Obama's autobiography was published in November 2018. In November 2019, 11.5 million copies were sold. On May 6, 2020, Netflix released the documentary Becoming, which follows Obama's book tour to promote the memoir.
She launched a podcast called The Michelle Obama Podcast in July 2020. Obama was announced as the executive producer and host of the kid-friendly cooking program Waffles + Mochi in February 2021. On March 16, 2021, Netflix made it available. On September 11, 2021, the Obamas attended a 9/11 memorial to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the attacks. More recently, Regina Hicks had signed a deal with Netflix alongside her and Barack's Higher Ground production company to develop comedies.