Who Is Mike Pence's Wife, Karen Pence? What to Know About the Second Lady

Mike Pence, who will face Senator Kamala Harris Wednesday night for the first vice presidential debate, married his wife, Karen, in 1985. They are the parents of three children, Michael, Charlotte and Audrey, and are known as an extremely tight-knit couple whose unwavering support for each other has carried through several decades and multiple political offices.

Karen grew up in Indianapolis, where she attended Butler University, earning her undergraduate and master's degrees in elementary education. She was an elementary school teacher for 25 years in Indiana and Virginia before becoming Indiana's first lady in 2013 after her husband became governor.

While serving as first lady, Karen created the Indiana First Lady's Charitable Foundation, a 501(c)(3) meant to encourage and support Indiana youth and families, according to her official White House biography.

In addition to her work in education, Karen is an award-winning watercolor artist and strong proponent of art therapy.

"Art therapy can be used for anyone who is experiencing trauma," she said in a 2017 interview with CBN News. "It's not arts and crafts, it's not therapeutic art. It's actually therapy, and I want to let people know it's something that you could go into as a profession.... I want people to know this is an alternative: If you need help, this might be the way you want to go."

After becoming second lady in 2017, Karen has furthered her mission of bringing attention to art therapy. She has observed programs all over the world and across the U.S. while traveling with her husband.

"When we travel all over the world, I visit whatever art therapy program is going on [in that area]," Karen told Indianapolis' Bishop Chatard High School in 2016. "That is one of my favorite initiatives."

Karen, whose son is in the Marines, has had another priority while serving as second lady: calling attention to the sacrifices made by military service members and their families, according to her White House biography.

She spends time educating military spouses on the resources available to them and advocating for veterans' mental health. In March 2017, she hosted around two dozen female service members at her home in honor of Women's History Month, The Washington Post reported.

"I just want you to know how much we appreciate you, and I think a lot of times people in the military, men and women, aren't told enough how much we appreciate you," she said. "So we are saying thank you to you."

Karen and Mike Pence Oct 5
Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, wave before departing Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on October 5. The Pences, who were married in 1985, are known as an extremely tight-knit couple. MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty

Karen's marriage to Mike Pence is her second. She married her first husband, John Steven Whitaker, whom she met in high school, in 1978. Whitaker later told the Post that their marriage ended after they grew apart because he was spending long hours at the hospital while in medical school.

Mike and Karen would meet several years later in Indianapolis, after Mike noticed her playing guitar during Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, the Catholic church they both attended.

"When I first met Mike Pence, it was love at first sight," Karen said in an ad from Mike's governor campaign. "On our first date, we went skating at the Pepsi Coliseum at the state fairgrounds. We skated around for a little while, then he reached over and took my hand."

The couple became engaged after nine months of dating and were married in 1985. "She's the best part of my life," Mike told The Indianapolis Star. "Everything we do in public life, we do together. I can't imagine it any other way."

Celebrating our 31st wedding anniversary today with my wonderful wife, @FirstLadyIN pic.twitter.com/1xdb5x8SJA

— Governor Mike Pence (@GovPenceIN) June 8, 2016

Both Pences identified as Roman Catholics but would later convert to evangelical Christianity by 1995. Faith continues to be a huge part of both their lives, with friends and aides telling the Post in 2017 that Karen is the family's "prayer warrior."

She is so inextricably bound to her husband, the Post reported, that President Donald Trump knew it would be necessary to consult her during critical campaign moments.

Karen wrote a letter to the editor in the Star in 1991, expressing her dismay over an article that ran in the paper's "Children Express" section. She said it encouraged "children to think they're gay or lesbian if they have a close relationship with a child of the same sex" or admire a teacher of the same gender, according to the Post.

"I only pray that most parents were able to intercept your article before their children were encouraged to call the Gay/Lesbian Youth Hotline, which encourages them to 'accept their homosexuality' instead of reassuring them that they are not," she wrote.

Karen came under criticism last year after announcing her decision to return to the Immanuel Christian School in Springfield, Virginia, in January 2019 as an arts teacher. She had previously taught there for 12 years while Mike served in the House of Representatives.

"I am excited to be back in the classroom and doing what I love to do, which is to teach art to elementary students," Karen said in a statement. "I have missed teaching art, and it's great to return to the school where I taught art for twelve years."

The school has been accused of homophobia, with its "parent agreement policy" stating that the school reserved the right to "refuse admission to an applicant or to discontinue enrollment" if either the student or a parent opposes the "biblical lifestyle the school teaches," including "participating in, supporting, or condoning sexual immorality, homosexual activity or bi-sexual activity."

"I acknowledge the importance of a family culture based on biblical principles and embrace biblical family values such as a healthy marriage between one man and one woman," the policy reads.

A similar policy applies to the school's teachers. Employees must pledge to "live a personal life of moral purity," meaning they understand "that the term 'marriage' has only one meaning; the uniting of one man and one woman in a single, exclusive convent union as delineated in Scripture," according to the Post.

Karen's spokeswoman, Kara Brooks, responded to the criticism in a statement, calling it "absurd that her decision to teach art to children at a Christian school, and the school's religious beliefs, are under attack."