In 1980, when George H. W. Bush was making his first bid for the presidency, Barbara Bush covered four sheets of lined paper with her bold handwriting, then tucked the pages into a folder with her diary and some personal letters. She was trying to sort out what she believed about one of the most divisive issues of the day.
She was sure to be asked what she thought about abortion, and she wanted to have an answer.
The former first lady never released the pages or detailed the reasoning she outlined in them, not in hundreds of interviews she gave over the decades that followed nor in her two memoirs. But in February 2018, two months before she died, she gave me permission to read her diaries as I researched a biography of her. (The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty is being published by Twelve on April 2.) She had donated the diaries to the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library, in College Station, Texas, with the restriction that they be held private until 35 years after her death—as it turns out, until 2053. Only the historian Jon Meacham had been given permission to see them before, when he was working on Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush.
When I began reading her diaries, she and I planned to have another interview, our sixth, in March 2018. (I was allowed to read her papers and to make notes, but not to photograph them.) But she fell the night before and ended up in the hospital; she never recovered enough for us to meet again before she died, a month later. I never had a chance to ask her about what I found.