Documents: Barbara Bush's love for George H.W. Bush grew at Charleston's Ashley Hall School

Published: Apr. 18, 2018 at 9:55 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 18, 2018 at 11:31 AM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Barbara Pierce Bush was home on Christmas break from Ashley Hall in 1941 when she attended a dance in Greenwich, Conn. A young man named George Bush noticed her from across the room.

As Jon Meacham writes in Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bushshe was wearing a red and green holiday themed dress. Bush asked another guest, Jack Wozencraft, who that "strikingly beautiful" girl was. Wozencraft introduced the future president Bush by his nickname, Poppy.

The meeting between Bush and Pierce began a love story which included a 73-year marriage. It may not have come to fruition if the two hadn't been determined to keep in touch once Pierce returned to the Ashley Hall.

"He went back to his school and I went back to mine," Bush wrote in her memoir. "We wrote letters all winter."

Bush used her time at the school to prepare for entrance into Smith College and came to the school following in the footsteps of her sister, Martha Pierce Rafftery, who graduated in 1937.

"She got a letter from George Bush every damned day and once a week I got a letter from my mother," roommate Shevaun Robinson Towers recalled in Rosemary Stevens Barbara Bush, Matriarch of a Dynasty. 

In the spring of 1942, Bush invited Pierce to prom at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts.

Meachem wrote that Pierce replied on Ashley Hall stationary from Charleston saying, "I think it was perfectly swell of you to invite me to the dance and I would love to come or go or whatever you say. I really am excited, but scared to death, too."

Stevens added Bush shared a room with three other girls her junior year.

"The room was very simple," roommate Cordelia Lambert Stites told Stevens. "We had a fireplace with nice big windows looking out over the oak, dripping with Spanish moss."

"We hardly went out at all," Bush said in Stevens' book. "It was right in the middle of the war and the navy men were in town. I don't think it was until my senior year that we could go to church without a chaperone."

Bush said in her memoir she loved swimming and acting in the school plays. She once played the role of the angel in Christmas Play, which is still staged every year.

"All during my fourteenth year, we rode bikes every Saturday afternoon to somebody's house," Bush wrote. "Or just rode around picking people up and then dropping them off again after a fun, exhausting day of bike riding."

Bush returned to the school in 1984 and spoke at Ashley Hall's 75th graduation.

"Ashley Hall taught me the importance of friendship and values," she said during her remarks. "They were treasured years and remembered fondly."

She visited the school again in her later years.

"It was really lovely with so many new buildings including a new swimming pool." she wrote in Reflections: Life after the White House. "I saw the grove where I used to be in school plays and they had a picture of me in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.It had all changed so-- from a day/boarding school to a much bigger campus with no boarders."

Her last visit to the school came in 2016. Many Ashley Hall classes also visited Bush during her time as both first and second lady.

Bush, 92, died Tuesday night, 75 years after graduating from the downtown school in 1943. She was only the second woman in U.S. history to be both wife and mother to a U.S. president.

"We are saddened to hear of the passing of Ashley Hall alumna and former First Lady Barbara Pierce Bush '43," the school said in a statement Tuesday. "She will forever hold a special place in the history & ethos of our School, and we take much pride in the fact that she was an Ashley Hall graduate. Through her character, resilience, and integrity, Barbara Bush will always be an inspiration to us all. PQV on a life well lived."

Copyright 2018 WCSC. All rights reserved. Reflections: Life After the White House by Barbara Bush, Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by Jon Meachem, Barbara Bush: Matriarch of a Dynasty by Rosemary Stevens, Barbara Bush: A Memoir by Barbara Bush, and information from the Ashley Hall School contributed to this report.