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Written by Ed Lengel

George W. Bush’s Children


George W. Bush, the forty-third President of the United States and the oldest child of President George H.W. Bush, was born on July 6, 1946, in New Haven, Connecticut. Although his life started in New England while his father studied at Yale University, George W. Bush spent most of his childhood in the small Texas town of Midland, and later, Houston.

Like his father, he attended Yale, and then Harvard Business School.

In 1977, Bush met Laura Jane Welch, a native of Midland who, unlike many First Ladies, had humble roots. She was then a school librarian, having previously been an elementary schoolteacher. She and Bush quickly fell in love and married on November 5, 1977. While Laura supported George’s growing interest in politics, she also had a steadying influence on a man who sometimes had troubles with alcohol abuse. In 1986, he swore off it altogether.

George and Laura Bush’s lives were transformed on November 25, 1981, with the births of their fraternal twin daughters, Barbara, and Jenna. Their family’s close relationship persisted through many challenging years ahead as George W. Bush became governor of Texas, and then president of the United States, from 2001-2009.

 

Barbara Pierce Bush

Barbara and Jenna Bush were born five weeks prematurely in Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, having been delivered by Caesarian section. Barbara, named after her father’s mother, and future First Lady Barbara Pierce Bush, was delivered first at five pounds, four ounces, and joined her sister Jenna in “their first press conference two hours after they were born.” As children, Barbara and Jenna would attend public elementary school, but their otherwise everyday lives were interrupted by forays into the spotlight—for of course, theirs was no normal everyday family.[1]

On their sixth birthdays, the girls visited the National Christmas Tree in Washington, D.C. Wearing matching red sweatshirts and pants, they rode a cherry picker to the top of the tree with their grandmother, Barbara’s namesake. They were “clinging tenaciously to the side of the bucket as it moved up but seemed to like it after spending several minutes on high.” After watching the star being placed atop the tree, the children rode the bucket to the ground but, as they gathered around their grandmother for a photo-op, one of them toppled over into the grass.[2]

When their father became governor of Texas in 1994, they switched from private school to Stephen F. Austin High School. Barbara later admitted in her joint memoirs with her sister, titled Sisters First: Stories from our Wild and Wonderful Life, that she became a “nonconformist conformist” –even something of a goth with “a very real obsession with vamp nail polish and Courtney Love.” At graduation in the spring of 2000, Barbara was chosen “most likely to appear on the cover of Vogue” by her fellow students. With her father’s political career reaching its culmination—he was elected to the presidency by a razor-thin margin–Barbara, like her sister, preferred to avoid politics and the media spotlight.[3]

After completing high school, Barbara Bush went to Yale, and graduated in 2004. She had been considering a career in the fashion industry, but a 2003 trip to Africa with her father in which he sought to publicize the AIDS crisis there, inspired her to become involve in global health issues, and creating her Global Health Corps Foundation in 2009.

Now a resident of New York City, Barbara Bush has also advocated for women’s health issues, and campaigned for same-sex marriage. Neither Barbara nor Jenna are registered Republicans. More recently, Barbara Bush has become an outspoken proponent of Black Lives Matter.

On October 7, 2018, Barbara married Craig Coyne, a screenwriter, in a small private ceremony.[4]

Jenna Welch Bush

Born one minute later than her older sister—and somewhat smaller at four pounds, twelve ounces—Jenna Bush inevitably followed a similar path through childhood, attending the same schools and public events–as her sister. Jenna, was named after her maternal grandmother, but was especially attached to her paternal grandparents, President George H.W. Bush, and First Lady Barbara Pierce Bush. Jenna called them “Gampy” and “Ganny,” and delighted in getting up early in the morning to join her grandfather on fishing trips.[5]

Upon graduation from Stephen F. Austin High School, Jenna was voted “most likely to trip on prom night”; and she has followed an independent path in adulthood. While her older sister attended Yale University, Jenna chose the University of Texas at Austin, finished in 2004 with a B.A. in English. Around that time, she met Henry Chase Hager, who she married in 2008 in Crawford, Texas, on her parents’ ranch. They have three children.[6]

Taking inspiration from her mother’s career as a teacher and librarian, but also from her family’s interest in social service, Jenna Bush has been deeply involved in literacy causes; has written and co-authored several books, such as the young adult, Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope (2009), about a teenage mother living with AIDS; the elementary level, Read All About It! (2011) and Our Great Big Backyard (2016), co-written with her mother; a memoir with her sister, and, the recent, Everything Beautiful in its Time: Seasons of Loss and Love (2020), a tribute to her grandparents.

Jenna has been an at-large editor for Southern Living magazine, and a correspondent for NBC–lately as co-anchor for the Today Show.[7]

Ed Lengel is the Chief Historian at the National Medal of Honor Museum; Arlington, Texas

[1] Associated Press, Dec. 19, 2000.
[2] Associated Press, Nov. 26, 1987.
[3] Barbara Pierce Bush and Jenna Bush Hager, Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2017), 192; Associated Press, Dec. 19, 2000.
[4] Washington Times, Sept. 5, 2014; https://www.thelist.com/94418/untold-truth-barbara-bush/; https://people.com/politics/barbara-pierce-bush-on-staying-at-home-with-husband-and-parents-during-pandemic/
[5] https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/entertainment/a34079229/jenna-bush-hager-letter-george-hw-barbara-bush/
[6] Associated Press, Dec. 19, 2000.
[7] USA Today, Nov. 26, 2012.