Born in Chicago, Illinois on January 17, 1964, Michelle Robinson spent her childhood growing up in the city’s South Side. A product of humble beginnings (she identifies her parents as ‘working class’)1, her father, Fraser Robinson, worked as a pump operator for the Chicago Water Department, and her mother, Marian, stayed at home to care for her and her older brother Craig. Education, in the Robinson household, was of the utmost importance and her parents encouraged her and her brother at every turn to improve themselves. She actively embraced her parent’s encouragements, and excelled at Princeton University, where she graduated Cum Laude in 1985, with a B.A. in Sociology. Three years later, she earned her Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1988. Throughout her years in college, she was able to balance an exceptional career, in which she participated in political activities and advocated for minority rights on campus. She is the third First Lady to have received a post graduate degree, preceded only by Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush.
In 1988, she began work at Chicago law firm, Sidley & Austin, where she would eventually meet Barack Obama, a year later in 1989. He worked as a summer associate, and she was assigned to be his advisor. Prior to their first date,he asked her out a few times, but she declined, finding the prospect too inappropriate. "I went to Harvard and he went to Harvard, and the firm thought, 'Oh, we'll hook these two people up,'" she said. "So, you know, there was a little intrigue, but I must say after about a month, Barack…asked me out, and I thought no way. This is completely tacky."2 It was only after a game of basketball with her brother that she finally agreed to go out on a date with him. In 1992 the couple married. Their first daughter, Malia, was born in 1998 and their second, Natasha (Sasha), in 2001.
Though she enjoyed much success at Sidley & Austin, Mrs. Obama discovered within herself, a great passion for both community building and community service, and in 1991, left the law firm to take a job with Chicago’s City Hall as the assistant commissioner of planning and development. Later, in 1993, she became the founding executive director of Chicago’s Chapter of Public Allies; an Americorps program that encourages volunteerism and service among youth. In 1996 she joined the University of Chicago community as the associate dean of student services where she developed social outreach programs.
Following her success in developing the University’s first community service program, she began work, in 2002, as its executive director of community relations and external affairs. Three years later, she assumed the Vice Presidential position at the University’s Medical Center. While there, she managed the business diversity program and was a member of six boards, including the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.3 Mrs. Obama continued her professional work at the University until 2007, when she redirected her focus to support her family and her husband’s bid for the Democratic Presidential nomination.4
As first lady, Michelle Obama has followed closely in her predecessor’s footsteps and has taken special projects that reflect her core values, but above all she considers herself to be a mother to her daughters Sasha and Malia. Not losing sight of her role as a mother, she has focused a lot of her first lady energy on military families and women’s issues, particularly as they struggle to balance the notion of being a working mother.
Her outreach to military families has made her a powerful advocate inside the White House for the interests of millions of Americans who have fought for our country. She realized that military spouses not only balance a career life and a home life, but they are also left anxious and struggling because their husbands or wives are overseas fighting and are often unsure of when or if they will return. By listening to the struggles of these families, Mrs. Obama not only relays the heart wrenching experiences back to the White House, but she also has the ability to impact a positive change for these families.
Piggybacking on the “Organic” movement, Mrs. Obama has also gone to great lengths to follow the benefits of eating organic. Her predecessors, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush, made the first efforts to bring organic food into the White House by instructing their kitchen staff to only buy organic, but Mrs. Obama has taken these efforts to greater heights. Shortly after President Obama took office, she commissioned plans for an all organic garden to be planted on the South Lawn. Together with the students from Bancroft Elementary School in Washington, DC, she planted a 1,100-square-foot all organic garden. As a means of pollination, she brought in long time White House carpenter Charlie Brandts to be the First Beekeeper.
As an advocate for some of her husband’s policies, Mrs. Obama is a frequent visitor to Cabinet and legislative events. Following the gender Pay Equity law that passed on Capitol Hill on January 29, 2009, she hosted a White House reception for women’s rights advocates in celebration of the event.