Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama is an American attorney and author who served as the First Lady of the United States from 2009 to 2017. She was the first African-American woman to serve in this position. She is married to the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama.
Michelle LaVaughn Robinson was born on January 17, 1964, in Chicago, Illinois, to Fraser Robinson III (1935–1991), a city water plant employee and Democratic precinct captain, and Marian Shields Robinson , a secretary at Spiegel’s catalog store. Her mother was a full-time homemaker until Michelle entered high school
The Robinson and Shields families trace their roots to pre-Civil War African Americans in the American South. On her father’s side, she is descended from the Gullah people of South Carolina’s Low Country region. Her paternal great-great grandfather, Jim Robinson, was born into slavery in 1850 on Friendfield Plantation, near Georgetown, South Carolina. He became a freedman at age 15 after the war. Some of Obama’s paternal family still reside in the Georgetown area. Her grandfather Fraser Robinson, Jr. built his own house in South Carolina. He and his wife LaVaughn (née Johnson) returned to the Low Country from Chicago after retirement.
Robinson was inspired to follow her brother to Princeton University, which she entered in 1981. She majored in sociology and minored in African-American studies, graduating cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in 1985 after completing a 99-page senior thesis titled “Princeton Educated Blacks and the Black Community” under the supervision of Walter Wallace.
Robinson met Barack Obama when they were among the few African Americans at their law firm, Sidley Austin LLP (she has sometimes said only two, although others have noted that there were others in different departments). She was assigned to mentor him while he was a summer associate. Their relationship started with a business lunch and then a community organization meeting where he first impressed her.
Before meeting Obama, Michelle had told her mother she intended to focus solely on her career. The couple’s first date was to Spike Lee’s movie Do the Right Thing (1989). Barack Obama has said the couple had an “opposites attract” scenario in their initial interest in each other, since Michelle had stability from her two-parent home while he was “adventurous”.
During an interview in 1996, Michelle Obama acknowledged there was a “strong possibility” her husband would begin a political career, but said she was “wary” of the process. She knew it meant their lives would be subject to scrutiny and she was intensely private.
Although she campaigned on her husband’s behalf since early in his political career by handshaking and fund-raising, she did not relish the activity at first. When she campaigned during her husband’s 2000 run for United States House of Representatives, her boss at the University of Chicago asked if there was any single thing about campaigning that she enjoyed; after some thought, she replied that visiting so many living rooms had given her some new decorating ideas. Obama opposed her husband’s run for the congressional seat, and, after his defeat, she preferred he tend to the financial needs of the family in what she deemed a more practical way.