In 1990, First Lady Barbara Bush was invited to Wellesley College to give the commencement address. She was not the student body’s first choice. That honor had gone to Alice Walker, the author of “The Color Purple.” Walker declined the invitation, but Bush was the runner-up on a list populated by powerful women of the time — “novelist Toni Morrison, the actresses Whoopi Goldberg and Glenn Close, the television anchor Connie Chung, the astronaut Sally Ride, Associate Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.”
The New York Times called the invitation of a Republican First Lady to a women’s liberal arts school in Massachusetts, “seemingly harmless.” Those were more innocent days.
As it turned out, the invitation was not to be without controversy. Instead, a group of about 150 students publicly protested the choice, which as the Times reported, “ignited a dispute that has roiled the campus and raised questions around the country about the nature of feminism.”
The students objected to Bush because she was known for her role as a wife and mother instead of her own career, having left Smith College to marry her first love and first kiss, George H.W. Bush in 1945.
“Wellesley teaches that we will be rewarded on the basis of our own merit, not on that of a spouse,” the students said in the petition. “To honor Barbara Bush as a commencement speaker is to honor a woman who has gained recognition through the achievements of her husband, which contravenes what we have been taught over the last four years at Wellesley.”
Read more at The Federalist.