Laura & Barbara Bush - First Ladies of Literacy

by Mel Dugosh

Laura Bush, former First Lady of the United States has been an advocate for literacy, education, and women’s rights. As First Lady, Ms. Bush advocated the importance of literacy and education to advance opportunity for America’s young people and to foster healthy families and communities. She highlighted the importance of preparing children to become lifelong learners convening a White House Summit on Early Childhood Cognitive Development resulting in educational reform initiatives that worked to improve student achievements through effective school leadership, middle school transformation, and use of accountability. In addition, Ms. Bush worked with the Library of Congress to create the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. which continues to this day and annually attracts more than 120,000 Americans.


Now as Honorary Ambassador for United Nations Literacy Decade, she has visited schools and met with students across America and nations from Afghanistan to Zambia, with a particular focus on the education of girls and women. For more than a decade, she has led efforts through the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council to protect the hard-earned rights of women.


Ms. Bush also serves as the Chair for the Bush Institute’s Women’s Initiative, guiding the Institute’s programs to advance economic opportunity, good health, and human freedom for women and girls focusing on global healthcare innovations empowering women from emerging democracies, training women leaders in Egypt, raising awareness of Afghan women’s progress and plight, and convening African first ladies, government officials and public-private partnerships to invest in women’s health to strengthen Africa and spread freedom by promoting human rights across the globe.


As former First Lady the late Barbara Bush chose family literacy as her main cause and was instrumental in passing the National Literacy Act, which focused on teaching millions of American adults to read with the express purpose of providing access to educational opportunities for women and young children. Ms. Bush motivated by her son Neil's dyslexia founded the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, a charity that encourages reading and writing in low-income households. Since 1989, the foundation has partnered with local organizations and raised more than $110 million to create and expand literacy programs across the country. Ms Bush said "the American Dream is about equal opportunity for everyone who works hard. If we don't give everyone the ability to simply read and write, then we aren't giving everyone an equal chance to succeed."