From the Editor Samira Nasr
In its 155-year history, Harper’s Bazaar has never had a first lady on its cover. That changes with this issue, about the subject of freedom, featuring Dr. Jill Biden. We wanted to do this cover with Dr. Biden not as an expression of allegiance to a particular political party but to celebrate a woman who understands the gifts and responsibilities of freedom and who has made it her mission to be there for all Americans and help heal our divided nation.
As Dr. Biden tells Mattie Kahn, who profiled her for this issue, “Showing up matters.” Through her work on behalf of military families and her push for education, Dr. Biden has shown up for the people in her life and of this country in innumerable ways.
She still teaches at Northern Virginia Community College, making her the first FLOTUS to choose to continue her independent career while in the White House. For our cover story, the first lady left the well-documented confines of the White House for Philadelphia, where Cass Bird photographed her in her old stomping grounds. As we changed locations, Dr. Biden walked the cobblestone streets barefoot. When a group of high school students on a field trip to the Museum of the American Revolution spotted her, she went over to greet them, asked about their college aspirations, and offered advice.
On her mantra for balancing a whirlwind schedule where she still teaches three classes a week: “Even as a Senate spouse, I was working, going to grad school, doing campaign events, raising kids,” she remembers. The pace is intense but not new. “Showing up matters,” she explains. “That’s the feeling I get. You’re exhausted. You just do it.”
On her morning routine: At the White House, she will set her alarm for sunrise just to steal back a few minutes of alone time. “The first thing I do is open the blinds and look out,” she says.
On the learnings from her divorce: “I knew I would never, ever put myself in that position again—where I didn’t feel like I had the finances to be on my own, that I had to get the money through a divorce settlement,” Dr. Biden says. “I drummed that into [my daughter], Ashley: Be independent, be independent. And my granddaughters—you have to be able to stand on your own two feet.”
On how work allows her to have her own safety net and personal freedom: “I understand a woman’s need to have something for herself,” she says.
On her ongoing mission to bring attention to the childcare crisis: “I will keep talking about childcare and pushing childcare and hoping that we get it,” she says. “Families need it—not just women. I hear that all across America.”
Sheila Casey, a friend who met the Bidens when her husband, General George Casey Jr. was a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Dr. Biden’s focus: “She did not come into the White House and say, ‘Okay, now I can do X,’ ” Casey says. “Her focus on the military, education, community college, health, wellness—she’s been doing that for years.”
On her sharpened instincts of recognizing suffering since the loss of Beau: “I can spot it so quickly,” she says. “Just in their line of sight, their body language.
On remaining her husband’s fiercest supporter: “I try to be a support for Joe, because I don’t know how many people are saying to him, ‘That was great. That was brilliant.’ I try to be that person for him,” she says. “Some days, I see Joe and I’m just like, ‘I don’t know how you’re doing it.’ It’s the pandemic and then it’s the war and then it’s the economy and then it’s the gas prices. You feel like you’re being slammed.”
On how she delivers earnest feedback to the president: During the Obama years, they took to hashing out their occasional spats over text to avoid fighting in front of the Secret Service. (They christened it “fexting.”) Not so long ago, she tapped out a message to him in a fit of pique. “Joe said, ‘You realize that’s going to go down in history. There will be a record of that.’” She grins. “I won’t tell you what I called him that time.”
On her sisters’ reaction to getting asked about their famous sibling: Sometimes people will ask them what it’s like to have Jill Biden as a sister, a question as obvious as it is hilarious. She’s their older sister—teased, beloved, admired, revered. Dr. Biden mimics their faux horror: Please! “She’s just Jill.”
[Photo Credit: Cass Bird/Harper’s Bazaar Magazine]
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