Political Issue: Jill Biden, the student’s champion


Samantha Roth

Former second lady Jill Biden is playing an important roll alongside her husband in the 2020 presidential campaign.

A lifelong educator and advocate for public education, Dr. Jill Biden never intended on being in the political spotlight. In fact, even as second lady she led a very independent and relatively nonpolitical life. She continued her longtime teaching career at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), the first to ever hold a paying job while second lady. She was also a passionate spokeswoman for a wide range of causes, including the needs of military families,  benefits of community colleges, and LGBT rights. Despite her distaste for Washington politics, she has emerged as a major political figure during the 2020 campaign. Here’s how she got to this point, her accomplishments and the impact she’s had. 


Early life and education: 

Born in New Jersey, Biden (then Jacobs) spent most of her childhood in the Pennsylvania suburb of Willow Grove. She attended Upper Moreland High School where she discovered the love of English that would shape her life’s work, as she told Vogue in 2008: “I was rebellious in high school,” Biden said. “I just had a good time. I enjoyed life. I enjoyed dating, I enjoyed my friends. But there was always that love of English class.” 

Biden attended the University of Delaware, majoring in English and graduating with a Bachelors of Arts in 1975. As a senior, she met her future husband in then-senator Joe Biden. The couple married in 1977, shortly after graduating with her undergraduate MBA. She went on to get master’s degrees from West Chester University and Villanova University, as well as a Doctorate of Education in education leadership from the University of Delaware. 



From the time she graduated college, Biden has been a passionate teacher, only taking time off from teaching to raise her daughter Ashley, who now works for criminal justice reform in Delaware. She taught high school reading and English for 13 years, including five years in a psychiatric center working with emotionally disabled children. In 1993 she began teaching English at Delaware Technical and Community College, where she taught until her move to Washington, D.C. in 2008 following her husband’s Vice Presidential win. In Washington, she continued teaching at NOVA until taking a leave of absence for the 2020 spring semester to join the campaign full time. Discussing her work for community colleges to the Washington Post, Biden said, “I feel like I can make a greater difference in their lives. I just love that population. It just feels really comfortable to me. I love the women who are coming back to school and getting their degrees because they’re so focused.”


Life as second lady: 

During her time as second lady, Biden continued to teach while doing charitable and humanitarian work, including raising awareness about the importance of community colleges. She embarked on a “Community College to Career” tour with Secretary of Labor Hilda Solias to showcase community colleges and how they lead to employment opportunities. During Obama’s reelection year, she campaigned with relatively few speaking engagements, continuing to keep a low profile. During her second term, she continued her support of veterans and military families, with visits to the Invictus Games (a sport event for injured military personnel and veterans) and a rehab center for amputees. Toward the end of her term, the Bidens lost their son Beau to brain cancer, leading Joe Biden to decide against running in the 2016 election. 


Charitable and nonprofit work: 

After her time as second lady, the couple launched a nonprofit organization, the Biden Foundation. The foundation focuses on preventing violence against women, cancer research, support for military families and funding community colleges. Biden is the board chair at Save The Children, a humanitarian aid organization. Biden also founded the Biden Breast Health Initiative to provide free breast health awareness programs to schools and groups in Delaware. Finally, she is a co-founder of the Book Buddies program, providing books for low income children, and a co-founder (with Michelle Obama) of Joining Forces, an organization aimed at highlighting the needs of military families. 


2020 Presidential Campaign: 

Biden has played an active role in supporting her husband during the 2020 presidential race, and she is important in the campaign’s attempts to connect with military and working-class families, according to reporting by the Washington Post. However, she provoked controversy in an interview with NPR after saying that “It’s time to move on” in reference to Joe Biden’s handling of the Anita Hill hearing as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Biden has also publicly defended Hunter Biden, the couple’s son, amidst criticism of his involvement with a Ukranian oil company. Throughout the campaign, she has continued to support public education and spoke on video about the impact of COVID-19 on the public school system. Most crucially, she has continually supported her husband during an especially divisive campaign year.