It was the night last March when Joe Biden knew in his heart he had seen off his Democratic rivals and earned the right to go head-to-head with Donald Trump in the presidential election. Back then, the coronavirus had yet to devastate America. Big gatherings were not considered a health hazard. So the former Vice President celebrated his string of victories on a date in the US political calendar known as Super Tuesday, in front of a packed crowd of supporters at an outdoor rally in Los Angeles. With his wife Jill and sister Valerie at his side, the 50-year Washington veteran’s trademark grin seemed wider and brighter than ever.
Five minutes into his victory speech, however, there was a commotion behind him, and the future President’s face betrayed concern, even alarm. A protester had somehow evaded security and jumped on the stage. Alert to the danger, Jill managed to block the protester from reaching her husband. Then, as the first protester was bundled away by security, another rushed the podium. This time, Jill leapt to her husband’s defence, raising her arms to stop what turned out to be an anti-dairy activist.
Her poise in that dramatic moment was extraordinary. “We’re okay, it’s okay,” she reassured her husband, as campaign aides belatedly managed to restore order. Then she started clapping, like a mother on the sidelines encouraging a child who has just been tackled to get on with the game. Her broad smile was the signal for Joe to resume his speech.
Within seconds, Jill had gone viral. She was trending on Twitter. She became the heroine of a torrent of admiring memes.
“No need for Secret Service when your wife is Jill Biden,” read one. “Jill Biden leaps in front of Joe to protect him, while Melania can’t barely bring herself to hold Donald Trump’s hand,” observed another.
America realised that night what those close to the Bidens have known for decades: the country’s new First Lady is the most formidable of women.
“That moment was Jill in all her encapsulations,” says family friend Wade Randlett, a key figure in Team Biden. “‘I’m in the fray. I’m going to do crazy stuff, but it’s still going to be fun.’”
If the country’s outgoing First Lady, Melania Trump, looks like she has stepped from the set of a high-end ’80s soap opera like Dynasty or The Colbys, Jill Biden could easily be cast as a much-loved matriarch, like Sally Field in Brothers & Sisters. Hers is a distinctly American beauty – so much so, that when Vogue conducted a family photo shoot near the Bidens’ holiday home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, the writer thought the pictures looked like they belonged in a Ralph Lauren catalogue.
But it is the mind and character of Jill Biden that should interest us more. The 69-year-old has four degrees, including a doctorate in education. She is a professor of English at the Northern Virginia Community College, a role she kept up while her husband served as Vice President for eight years under Barack Obama. White House aides said it would be insane to juggle a full-time teaching role with her duties as the Second Lady, but Jill was undeterred.
“Teaching is not what I do,” she explains. “It’s who I am.” Whenever she accompanied her husband on official overseas trips or speaking engagements around America, she would bring with her a stack of student coursework to mark.
When Jill delivered her keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention last summer, she did so from an empty classroom where she used to teach in Delaware. “This quiet is heavy,” she said of the school forced into shutdown by COVID-19. “The rooms are dark as the bright young faces that should fill them are now confined to boxes on a computer screen.” Rather than affecting faux concern, it seemed to be the real thing.
Even though she has now become America’s First Lady, following in the footsteps of luminaries such as Jackie Kennedy, Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama, she has no intention of giving up her day job. With that, she is breaking new ground. No presidential wife has ever continued to pursue her paid career after moving into the Executive Residence at the White House.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
The real wild west
Exmouth is the gateway to the World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Reef and offers a swag of wild experiences, writes Carolyn Beasley.
PIP COURTNEY “There's not a day I don't think of John”
As the ABC’s Landline celebrates 30 years of telling the stories of rural Australians, host Pip reveals it was those same people who helped her heal in a time of overwhelming grief.
Riding the wave
Surfing may be an individual sport but when faced with overwhelming inequality, a band of renegade female champions put aside any rivalry to fight for their rights. They share their stories of battling discrimination, bigotry and even violence with Beverley Hadgraft.
Could a simple app hold the key to financial freedom? We investigate the top tech for your bucks.
Fight or flight
When hang-gliding champion Helen Ross Lee suffered a traumatic brain injury after a crash, she had to learn to walk, talk, eat and write again. She shares her story of courage, resilience and love with Alley Pascoe.
Finding “The One”
As a fortysomething woman in politics, finding a partner was tricky for Kamala Harris – until she went on a date with Doug Emhoff. In this extract from her memoir, the US Vice President goes back to the day she met the love of her life in 2013.
Kamala Harris The People's Vice President
Kamala Harris was raised to believe in a just and equal world, even if she couldn’t see it. Juliet Rieden discovers how America’s new beacon of hope rose from segregation to the second-highest office in the land.
Sylvia Jeffreys Beautiful Chaos
As she prepares to become a mother to two boys under the age of two, Sylvia Jeffreys tells Tiffany Dunk why she’s never been happier, both in life and in her marriage.
Murder In The Suburbs
After WWII, a crime wave washed through Sydney proving women killers can be just as ruthless as men. Sue Williams investigates a new book that uncovers the wives who killed their husbands and other inconvenient family members with rat poison.
The Sweet Science Of Scent
Fragrance sceptic Genevieve Gannon had dismissed aromatherapy – until a lavender candle changed her sleeping habits forever and sent her on a journey of discovery.