Dr Jill Biden, the first ‘second lady’ to draw a paycheck

// 3 February 2009

Dr Jill Biden is married to Joe Biden, the vice-president of the US. That makes her, apparently, “second lady”.

According to the LA Times, she’s the first “second lady” to hold down a paying job while her husband is in office, as an instructor in education at a community college.

There’s a nice quote about this buried at the very end of the post:

McClellan declined to say exactly how much Biden would earn, but said she was teaching 10 hours a week and that the range of pay for her adjunct position was $900 to $1,227 per credit hour. (That means each semester her pay could be from $9,000 to $12,270.)

“It’s not that much,” McClellan said. “She could have done anything with her time and make a difference, but she chose to teach, and teach at a community college. That says to our students that they are important and that community colleges are an important piece of the American educational system.”

But most of the LAT piece is about how Dr Biden might be being a bit pretentious to go by the title “Dr”. The newspaper even notes that Lynne Cheney, the previous “second lady”, also holds a doctorate, in English. But she didn’t have the temerity to insist on being recognised as a professional in her own right, and “goes by Mrs Cheney”.


Joe Biden, on the campaign trail, explained that his wife’s desire for the highest degree was in response to what she perceived as her second-class status on their mail.

“She said, ‘I was so sick of the mail coming to Sen. and Mrs. Biden. I wanted to get mail addressed to Dr. and Sen. Biden.’ That’s the real reason she got her doctorate,” he said.

Via Echidne

Comments From You

Feminist Avatar // Posted 3 February 2009 at 11:13 pm

Ah, yes, because we all know how much avoiding being called Mrs inspires women to spend a significant chunk of their life in research; it was certainly my inspiration.

Post-PhD, I am willing to patronise the poor [students] with the philantropic giving of my knowledge. All funded of course by a rich husband, the connection to whom, I am studiously avoiding through changing my title.

Kez // Posted 4 February 2009 at 10:03 am

Well, how stunningly unreasonable of her to prefer to be known by her correct title (rather than just as “wife of….”).

I assume Joe Biden’s tongue was a little bit in his cheek when he said that was the real reason she got her doctorate, though!

Jess McCabe // Posted 4 February 2009 at 10:26 am

Feminist Avatar – those weren’t Biden’s words, they were the description of the head of the community college.

Also, I agree with Kez that her husband’s description is surely tongue in cheek.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 5 February 2009 at 1:39 pm

Yeah, but the head of college’s comments still imply that Dr Biden’s inspiration for teaching there is philantropic and not part of HER professional goals.

Adjuncting for her may well be about keeping her hand in at her profession, while giving her enough free time to fulfil the responsibilities of VP’s wife. (Hey, it may even be that she is stuck like many post-docs in adjuncting hell, unable to progress up the TT ladder to a a fulltime job.) Instead, she disappears and becomes the wife of VP Biden, whose actions can only be interpreted through him. She teaches at a college to show that the college is a valuable part of society, as part of her philantrophy as the wife of VP Biden- not as an academic, as a career women, as someone with her own interests.

And while I have no doubt Biden is being funny, he should know better than to devalue his wife’s achievements to a public news-outlet.

Jess McCabe // Posted 5 February 2009 at 2:02 pm

@Feminist Avatar

That’s how the head framed it, not Dr Biden. And it’s unsurprising that the college would want to sell it like that, no? I don’t know much about the US college/university system, but my understanding is that community colleges are considered by many as second-rate, not as good?

Also, the impression I have from the post is that Dr Biden has always taught at community colleges.

Kez // Posted 5 February 2009 at 2:19 pm

I think you’re being rather picky here, Feminist Avatar. Dr Biden has no control over what her employer says to the press. She seems to be damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t, from what you’re saying.

I don’t think Senator Biden is devaluing his wife’s achievements. I think he is simply being humorous. Admittedly, it’s unfortunate that some people may misinterpret this in the way that you have, and possibly his remark was misjudged in that context. However, he is rather known for making gaffes, I believe.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 5 February 2009 at 3:54 pm

Unsuprising, but still sexist. It just annoyed me that an article [not yours- the one your report on] about Jill Biden effectively removed her as a person and as an academic and made her into nothing more than a ‘wife of’, and through doing so, devalued her achievements. And, this was done not only by her head of college (no doubt for publicity), but by her husband who turned her achievement into a discussion of him, (even if jokingly).

You’re right that she worked in community colleges for years- so why is her long-term job now being seen as VP Biden’s achievement (through funding his little wife and allowing her philantropic efforts). ‘She could have done anything with her time’- why? Because she is married to a rich man, who is allowing her to have this job, and through his agreement, supporting the college. That statement makes her entire professional career into little more than a hobby.

Given than Jill spent a large chunk of her life working in community colleges and then did her PhD (in education and on student retention in community colleges) finsihing in 2007 suggests that her reason for working there are much more deep-rooted and about her professional life and her values. These are side-lined in the article quoted to bring VP Biden to the forefront and to erase her achievements.

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