Barbara Pierce was born in New York City on June 8, 1925, the third of Marvin and Pauline (nee Robinson) Pierce’s four children. She was raised in Indian Village in Rye, New York, and received her primary education at Milton Public School and Rye Country Day School before attending Ashley Hall, a boarding school in South Carolina.

At a December 1941 Christmas dance, neighborhood friend Jack Wozencraft introduced 16 year-old Barbara to her future husband, “Poppy” Bush of Greenwich, Connecticut. They danced briefly and sat out the waltz that followed, chatting for 15 minutes. The courtship that followed was largely conducted courtesy of the U.S. Postal Service, as George had already determined he would join the fledgling war effort following the attack at Pearl Harbor. They were secretly engaged just before Lieutenant Junior Grade Bush was dispatched to the Pacific where he flew torpedo bombers.

With the onset of war, young Barbara spent a summer working as a gofer at a nuts and bolts factory in Port Chester, New York. She eventually interrupted her studies at Smith College in 1944 as the couple prepared for marriage in Rye on January 6, 1945.