Internet InfoMedia first lady jill biden throws big support to womens health research

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First Lady Jill Biden just announced a significant commitment of $100 million in federal funding to fuel research that will advance, in her words, “a health care system that puts women and their lived experiences at the center.” 

Now three years into her role, the first lady’s announcement brings the convening power of her platform as the president’s spouse into sharp focus.  

The office of the first lady and the role these women can play in an administration is often misunderstood or relegated to a “second story” in American history. But I saw the influence of this office firsthand in my years working in the White House and, over the last decade, leading an initiative at American University’s School of Public Affairs that researches and promotes the legacies of American First Ladies. From both experiences, one thing is clear: Don’t discount the influence of the president’s spouse. 

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First Ladies have long been asked to advocate for causes relevant to the well-being of Americans, particularly on public health. The question for each first lady is how to prioritize requests, leveraging their podium to better serve the public – and push societal advances to meet changing times.  

First lady Jill Biden speaks about the holiday season and unveils the White House holiday decor while thanking volunteers who helped set it up, at the White House on November 27, 2023 in Washington, DC. The theme for this year's White House decorations is

First lady Jill Biden speaks about the holiday season and unveils the White House holiday decor while thanking volunteers who helped set it up, at the White House on November 27, 2023, in Washington, DC. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Caroline Harrison, as first lady in the 1890s, was asked to help raise money for Johns Hopkins Medical School. Notably, she agreed, but on one condition: The institution must admit women.  

Dr. Biden joins her modern predecessors who have led positive change in our nation’s public health – especially women’s health. Take Laura Bush’s leadership of the “Heart Truth” campaign – a public-private partnership aimed at tackling heart disease, the leading cause of death in women. Together with the fashion industry, Mrs. Bush and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched the Red Dress Campaign, propelling awareness in households across the U.S. and enlisting brands like Coca-Cola to take on the cause. 

It is likewise worth putting Dr. Biden’s work in the context of Betty Ford, who tackled the stigma around both breast cancer and addiction during and after her time in the White House. When she passed away in 2014, President Barack Obama honored her legacy saying, “Mrs. Ford helped reduce the social stigma surrounding addiction and inspired thousands to seek much-needed treatment.”  

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Indeed, her openness on topics previously kept behind closed doors led the way for deeper social awareness and improved medical treatments – a fact that Dr. Biden will recognize with the unveiling of a new U.S. Postal Service Stamp honoring Betty Ford at a White House ceremony next week.  

In women’s health – a broad topic with tangible repercussions for American women – Dr. Biden has now identified her own powerful platform. Her commitment reflects an awareness of a cultural moment where women are confronted with the relative lack of research around their unique health challenges. She has responded to, and amplified, the expert advice that these types of investments “would change everything.”   

Her rollout of the historic announcement has smart tactics behind it, including its framing of private sector partners as key to delivering measurable success – giving the message bipartisan appeal, similar to what we saw from Laura Bush on “Heart Truth.” 

Tapping a little-known division of a sprawling government agency is a reminder that the tools of government fulfill a valuable role when deployed strategically, and in partnership with start-ups and innovators that can take necessary risks to advance life-changing discoveries.  

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First Ladies have long been asked to advocate for causes relevant to the well-being of Americans, particularly on public health. The question for each first lady is how to prioritize requests, leveraging their podium to better serve the public – and push societal advances to meet changing times.  

The timetable for deliverables over the next year is ambitious – and Dr. Biden is certainly keenly aware of her announcement timing, as the State of the Union and Super Tuesday approach.  

Women now out-vote men, and in an election year, the impact of Dr. Biden’s voice should not be underestimated. For this first lady, who did not feel the pressure to choose a single issue when she entered the White House but rather chose to be open to addressing all issues that need her attention, she has made this choice on her own terms. For all of us who champion the role of first lady, it’s the latest example of the power of this unique office to change lives throughout our history.  

Anita McBride, the former chief of staff to First Lady Laura Bush, is one of the longest-serving women in White House history, with experience in three administrations across the East and West Wings. She is the co-author of “Remember the First Ladies: The Legacies of America’s History-Making Women” and the co-founder of the First Ladies Association for Research and Education (FLARE). 

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