Closing The Gap

Elizabeth Warren 'felt like a failure' because she wasn't 'cut out' to be a stay-at-home mom

Democratic presidential hopeful Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren gestures as she arrives for a town hall devoted to LGBTQ issues hosted by CNN and the Human rights Campaign Foundation at The Novo in Los Angeles on October 10, 2019.
ROBYN BECK | AFP | Getty Images

As a Senator and Democratic presidential candidate, Elizabeth Warren is outspoken about women's rights, from the pay gap for women of color to protecting abortion rights.

But when Warren was young, she struggled with what the world expected of women. And it made her feel like a "failure," she told Vogue in a story published Tuesday.

Warren, who grew up with three older brothers in Oklahoma in the 1950s and '60s, was taught that women stayed home to tend to family. But Warren was different; she was born "contrary," to the rest, her mother told her.

"As a young woman I wanted what I'd been taught to want, and I tried really hard to succeed at that," she says. "I just wasn't cut out to stay home and build my life around my husband. I understood that many women did, and for a long time I felt like a failure," she told Vogue.

In 1966 Warren graduated (a year early) from Northwest Classen High School — where she was on the pep squad and the debate team — and won a debate scholarship to George Washington University in Washington, D.C. But after she got married at age 19, Warren quit school followed her husband, Jim Warren, to Texas. There, she became the first person in her family to graduate college, completing her degree at University of Houston in 1970. 

The couple moved to New Jersey when Warren's husband got a job there and she got her first teaching job. But Warren said she was not asked to return the following year because she was visibly pregnant with her daughter, Amelia, who was born in 1971. (That account has been challenged, though Warren sticks by it.)

The transition to stay-at-home mom wasn't perfect for Warren. "I had a baby and stayed home for a couple years, and I was really casting about thinking, 'What am I gonna do?'" she said in a 2007 interview at University of California, Berkeley.

Warren says her husband's "view of it was, 'Stay home. We'll have more children. You'll love this.'"

However, "I was very restless about it," she said.

Warren enrolled at Rutgers Law School, had a second child in 1976, Alexander, and after graduating that year, taught classes there and later at the University of Houston.

Warren divorced Jim in 1979 and remarried in 1980. But her marriage to Bruce Mann was less traditional: She popped the question and they had a long-distance relationship while Warren taught at various schools, including University of Texas, University of Michigan and University of Pennsylvania, and he taught American legal history at University of Connecticut. In 1995 both Warren and Mann got teaching jobs at Harvard.

"With each one of those steps, I built a more independent life," Warren told Vogue. "Not purposefully to take me away from the vision of marriage I'd grown up with, but because I needed to do more."

In 2008, Warren entered politics when she was appointed as an expert to a congressional oversight panel, and two years later, former president Barack Obama appointed Warren to serve as special adviser to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In 2012, Warren became the first woman elected to the Senate from Massachusetts.

"Did I think I was going to be one of those 'women's libbers'? Heavens no," she said at UC Berkeley. "I wanted children. I wanted family. And somehow, I thought those were either-or choices. And yet I wanted to do things."

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