Mrs. Bush’s sense of humor helped make her popular, but her selection as a commencement speaker at Wellesley College in 1990 sparked a debate on what defines feminism.
Some 150 students at the 2,200 all-women school signed a petition saying they were “outraged” by the selection.
“Wellesley teaches that we will be rewarded on the basis of our own merit, not on that of a spouse,” the petition said. “To honor Barbara Bush as a commencement speaker is to honor a woman who has gained recognition through the achievements of her husband, which contravenes what we have been taught over the last four years at Wellesley.”
The petition prompted President Bush to defend his wife’s choice to drop out of Smith College in order to marry him in 1945 and start a family.
Mrs. Bush appeared at the Wellesley commencement, sharing the podium with Soviet first lady Raisa Gorbachev, who had been a college professor.
“Somewhere out in this audience may even be someone who will one day follow in my footsteps, and preside over the White House as the president’s spouse,” Mrs. Bush told the graduates.
“I wish him well!”