Skip to main content

Early lives of 10 V.P. wives

  • Story Highlights
  • Many wives of vice presidents had careers before jumping into politics
  • Lynne Cheney co-hosted a talk show; Marilyn Quayle was a lawyer
  • Tipper Gore was a freelance photographer; Joan Mondale worked at art museum
  • Betty Ford danced with Martha Graham company
  • Next Article in Living »
By Stacy Conradt
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
Mental Floss

(Mental Floss) -- As the election approaches, we're learning more than we ever wanted to know about the presidential and vice presidential candidates. You even hear a lot about the potential first ladies -- I have somehow picked up the fact that Barack and Michelle Obama saw movie "Do the Right Thing" on their first date.

Former dancer and first lady Betty Ford  later founded a chemical dependency treatment center.

Former dancer and first lady Betty Ford later founded a chemical dependency treatment center.

But you don't hear as much about the second ladies -- or, in this case, the second spouses. Todd Palin, for example, holds down a few jobs in addition to his snowmachine racing -- he works for BP and is also a commercial fisherman. His wife, Gov. Sarah Palin, refers to him as the "First Dude" of Alaska.

Jill Biden taught English and history for 13 years at a public high school and later became a professor of English at Delaware Technical and Community College. She still holds the same job, but now has her doctorate and is the president of the Biden Breast Health Initiative.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that we're taking a look at what ten vice presidential spouses did with their lives before they were second ladies.

1. Lynne Cheney. Among other things, she was the co-host of CNN's "Crossfire" from 1995 to 1998. She was also on the Lockheed board of directors

2. Tipper Gore was a freelance photographer and was working toward her master's degree in psychology. She ultimately gave both up, saying it was hard to get a job in the news industry with her husband serving in the Senate. Mental Floss: 10 shocking tales of America's first ladies

3. Marilyn Quayle was part owner of a law practice. The other owner? Her husband. Quayle & Quayle operated in Huntington, Indiana.

Don't Miss

4. Joan Mondale acquired the nickname "Joan of Art" pretty honestly. After she graduated from college, she worked as the assistant slide librarian at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and later was an assistant in education at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (translation: she gave tours and lectures). While her husband served as vice president, she was the honorary chairperson of the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities and wrote a book called "Politics in Art."

5. Margaretta "Happy" Rockefeller. You'd be happy too, if you were a Rockefeller. OK, bad joke, and probably not true. Anyway, she earned her "Happy" nickname as a child, before she was a Rockefeller. But she was already wealthy in her own right -- she was heiress to a cordage fortune. But she worked for Nelson Rockefeller anyway, and eventually left her husband for him. He divorced his wife of 32 years and married Happy almost immediately. There is speculation that this scandal probably cost him the presidential nomination.

6. Betty Ford probably had the most glamorous pre-political career: she was a model and a dancer with the Martha Graham company. But when a permanent career didn't pan out in either of those fields, she returned home to Michigan and worked as a fashion coordinator at a local department store. She also continued dance, but this time in the form of teaching. After she married her first husband, she earned money by working as a product demonstrator at another department store. Identify the first lady portrait

7. Muriel Humphrey is actually responsible for her husband's success -- she worked as a bookkeeper at a utility company to put Hubert through college in the 1930s. When he died, she took over his vacancy in the Senate.

8. Lady Bird Johnson financed Lyndon Baines Johnson's campaigns, managed his Congressional office while he was in the Navy, and bought a small radio station in Austin, Texas, with some money from her inheritance. Business was booming, and about 19 years later, her investment was worth more than $6 million (at least $40 million by today's standards). Mental Floss: 6 of LBJ's favorite things

9. Ilo Brown Wallace, the 33rd second lady of the U.S., hailed from Indianola, Iowa. Before living large in Washington, she was the co-founder of Hi-Bred Corn Company in 1926. She and her husband used money she had inherited from her parents to start it. It's now Pioneer Hi-Bred International, the world's second-largest seed company.

10. Unlike Lady Bird and Ilo Brown, Pat Nixon definitely did not receive an inheritance from her parents. Her mom died when she was 12 and her dad died when she was 17. When she was 18, she headed across the country to New York, where she worked as a secretary and an X-ray tech; she earned enough money to get back to California and go to school. To pay for her merchandising major at the University of Southern California, she had some walk-on parts in movies (including "dancing pirate," "small town girl" and "Ziegfeld girl"). After graduation in 1937, she ended up teaching shorthand and typing in Whittier, California, for $190 a month.

For more mental_floss articles, visit

Entire contents of this article copyright, Mental Floss LLC. All rights reserved.

  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print