Washington, D.C. is crammed with people eager to bend your ear about statistics, polls, and policies. Karen Pence is more likely to talk about beekeeping—if she’s not busy teaching an art class, painting watercolors, or riding her bike.
An elementary school teacher who never expected to leave Indiana, Karen found during her extraordinary journey to becoming Second Lady that — despite the turbulence inherent to political campaigning, and through eighteen moves and countless surprises — God’s grace was sufficient.
Pence was born as Karen Sue Batten at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas on January 1, 1957, the daughter of Lillian (née Hacker; 1931–2004) and John M. Batten (1931/1932–1988), a United Airlines official. Her parents divorced when she was very young, and her mother married Bernard Barcio in 1967. She grew up in the Broad Ripple Village neighborhood of Indianapolis, where she graduated as valedictorian of Bishop Chatard High School. Pence attended nearby Butler University where she studied to become a teacher, and minored in art. She received both a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) and a Master of Science (M.S.) in elementary education from Butler University.
After the birth of her first child, Pence took a class in watercolor painting. This led to a career painting portraits of houses and historic buildings. She has completed as many as thirty-five paintings a year, some on commission and selling others at local art fairs.
While her husband was in Congress, Karen worked at Immanuel Christian School, a private Christian school in Springfield, Virginia, as an art teacher for twelve years.
Pence was the first lady of Indiana during her husband’s term as governor of the state from 2013 to 2017. In her first year of the role, she established the Indiana First Lady’s Charitable Foundation to “promote individuals and organizations that encourage children, families, and the arts,” also offering grants and scholarships. In 2015, Pence started a small business named “‘That’s My Towel!’ Charm,” which made metal charms for attaching to towels so they can be more easily identified when among others. The business was put on hold when Mike Pence became a vice presidential candidate. A honey bee conservation advocate, Pence had a beehive installed at the Indiana Governor’s Residence while first lady of the state.
Karen Pence became the second lady of the United States on January 20, 2017, succeeding Jill Biden. She hired Kristan King Nevins as her chief of staff; Nevins had served in the same position under former First Lady Barbara Bush. As second lady, Pence worked to raise awareness of art therapy, to which she was first exposed when visiting a Washington hospital during her husband’s tenure as a congressman. In October 2017, she visited the campus of Florida State University to highlight the university’s art therapy program, which dates back to the 1990s. Pence continued to raise awareness of honey bee habitat destruction and the importance of pollination in 2017 by having a beehive installed at the official vice presidential residence, Number One Observatory Circle.
In January 2019, Karen Pence returned as a part-time art teacher for Immanuel Christian School, and she said in a statement that she was “excited to be back in the classroom and doing what I love to do,” and that she had “missed teaching art.”
Pence is known for her dedication to promoting art as a way of healing. She provided the watercolor illustrations for her daughter Charlotte’s 2018 children’s book, Marlon Bundo’s A Day in the Life of the Vice President, the proceeds from which are given to charities, including an art therapy program.