Jane or Jill?
Before speculation begins about potential vice presidential candidates of the two leading Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, their marital partners Jill and Jane deserve an introduction. They share numerous biographical facts.
Both women are overtly political in terms of advising their spouses on political strategy. Jane is as involved on policy formulation as was Hillary Clinton, both she and Jill disseminate policy specifics in public more easily than did Laura Bush, Michelle Obama and Melania Trump.
Both worked throughout their husbands’ political careers. Jane Sanders has held official positions on her husband’s staff.
Jill Biden worked in her profession full-time while serving as Second Lady and led a presidential initiative on community colleges.
Both had their own long careers in higher education; Sanders as a college president, Biden as an English and writing professor to a variety of student demographics.
Both were born into families of the Roman Catholic faith.
Jill Jacobs (Giacoppa) was born on the third of June in 1951 in New Jersey, and is of Italian ancestry
Mary Jane O’Meara was born on the third of January in 1950 in Brooklyn, New York, and is of Irish ancestry.
Both are one of five children; Jane was the only daughter, with four brothers. Jill is the first-born of five girls.
Both were divorcees.
Jill Biden was divorced from Bill Stevenson for a year before she married Biden in 1977.
Jane Sanders was divorced from David Driscoll when she married Bernie Sanders in 1988.
Jane had three children and became stepmother to Bernie’s son by his relationship with Susan Mott (he had no children with first wife Deborah Shilling).
Jill has a daughter with Joe and became stepmother to two sons by his first wife Neilla, who had died with their daughter in a car accident.
Married to a U.S. Senator, then Vice President (Jill) and of a U.S. Senator (Jane) both women were colleagues in the gatherings of Senate spouses, a custom now a century old.
Finally, both earned PhDs (Jane in politics and education; Jill in education).
The potential of political power, emotional influence and symbolic impact of a presidential candidate’s spouse and possible First Lady can often become factors in campaigns and elections.
If either woman were to become First Lady they both would continue at least one trend among that rarified demographic.
In earning graduate degrees, they would follow Pat Nixon, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama who also did so.
Three previous First Ladies had first marriages which ended in divorce: Rachel Jackson (who died after her husband’s 1828 election as president but before his 1829 inauguration); Florence Harding, who became the first First Lady to cast a vote for her husband as president in 1920; and Betty Ford, whose husband was not elected as either vice president or president.
They would also be married to Presidents who had previous wives: Julia Tyler and Edith Wilson who both married incumbent Presidents who had first wives that died in the White House, Edith Roosevelt who married her husband as a widower before he became President, Nancy Reagan and Melania Trump who both married men who divorced before becoming presidents.
Known best by their political roles and professional careers, neither Jill Biden nor Jane Sanders has sought to create a public persona through their personal style, unlike recent First Ladies Jacqueline Kennedy, Nancy Reagan, Michelle Obama, and Melania Trump.