Barbara Perry

Fast Facts

  • Gerald L. Baliles Professor and Director of Presidential Studies 
  • Former Judicial Fellow at the U.S. Supreme Court
  • Researcher for Chief Justice William Rehnquist
  • Expertise on Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy, Edward KennedyRose Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, First Ladies

Areas Of Expertise

  • Domestic Affairs
  • Law and Justice
  • Social Issues
  • Elections
  • Founding and Shaping of the Nation
  • Leadership
  • Political Parties and Movements
  • Politics
  • The Presidency
  • Supreme Court

Barbara A. Perry is the Gerald L. Baliles Professor and Director of Presidential Studies at the University of Virginia's Miller Center, where she co-directs the Presidential Oral History Program. She has authored or edited 12 books on presidents, First Ladies, the Kennedy family, the Supreme Court, and civil rights and civil liberties. Professor Perry has conducted more than 100 interviews for the George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush Oral History Projects; researched the Bill Clinton Oral History Project interviews, and directed the Edward Kennedy Oral History Project. She served as a U.S. Supreme Court fellow and has worked for both Republican and Democratic members of the Senate.

Her books include 42: Inside the Presidency of Bill Clinton (edited with Michael Nelson and Russell Riley); 41: Inside the Presidency of George H.W. Bush (edited with Michael Nelson); Rose Kennedy: The Life and Times of a Political Matriarch; Jacqueline Kennedy: First Lady of the New Frontier; Edward Kennedy: An Oral History (forthcoming), and The Priestly Tribe: The Supreme Court's Image in the American Mind.

A native of Louisville, Kentucky, Professor Perry earned a PhD in government from the University of Virginia; an MA degree in politics, philosophy, and economics from Oxford University; and a BA degree in political science, with highest honors, from the University of Louisville.

Professor Perry is a frequent media commentator for national and international news sources. She is prepared to discuss American presidents, especially FDR through Obama, with particular expertise on JFK and the Kennedy family. Professor Perry has taught all aspects of American government/politics and can respond to media questions on most topics related to presidential campaigns and elections, public policy, and presidential communications. In addition to the American presidency (including First Ladies), her research, writing, and commentary have covered the U.S. Supreme Court, particularly presidential appointments, as well as civil rights and civil liberties. 

Professor Perry has been a commentator for such outlets as CBS, PBS, CNN, C-SPAN, MSNBC, NPR, PRI, Fox News, BBC, Canadian Broadcasting Corp., Swiss TV, HuffPost LiveThe Morning RundownThe Andrea Mitchell ReportThe NewsHour1A, The Diane Rehm Show, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Sunday Times of London, USA TodayBloomberg NewsPOLITICO, the Daily Beast, and the Associated Press. She regularly contributes to UVA’s blog, Thoughts from the Lawn.

Previously, Professor Perry was the Carter Glass Professor of Government and founding director of the Center for Civic Renewal at Sweet Briar College in Virginia. In 1994-95, she received the Justice Tom C. Clark Award as the outstanding Supreme Court Fellow that year. In addition to providing research for Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s speeches, she briefed more than 3,000 visitors to the court from 70 different countries. She was the Senior Fellow for Civics Education at the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center in 2006-07, where she is currently a Non-Resident Fellow. From 1996 through 2008, she taught in the Supreme Court Summer Institute, co-sponsored by the Supreme Court Historical Society and Street Law. In 2012, Perry received the Virginia Social Science Association’s Scholar Award in Political Science. The Sons of the American Revolution, Virginia Society, awarded her their 2013 Silver Good Citizenship Medal for “her outstanding achievements in the study, writing, and teaching of American history.” The University of Louisville’s College of Arts and Sciences named her the 2014 Alumna Fellow of the Year.

Professor Perry has participated in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Information Programs and lectures for the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, for which she taught a 2015 online graduate course on the Kennedy presidency and offers a teacher institute on JFK. From 2010-14, she served as an adjunct faculty member at the Federal Executive Institute in Charlottesville, providing seminars to senior federal executives on the Kennedy presidency, the U.S. Supreme Court, and leadership.

Barbara Perry News Feed

Every president leaves their mark on the office of the presidency. The office of the presidency also leaves its mark on every person who holds it. This week, we broadcast from the Presidential Ideas Festival, hosted by the University of Virginia’s Miller Center in Charlottesville. It’s a three-day festival attended by presidential scholars, journalists, political junkies, as well as politicians and administration officials. We spent our time here talking to people who have worked closely with former presidents, on both sides of the aisle, to get their perspective on how the office changes those who serve, and on how those who served have changed the office.
Barbara Perry WNYC Politics with Amy Walter
Trump seems to have a stronghold on his party that no candidate can shake. As Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia's Miller Center put it, Trump has simply proven, time and time again, "that all previous rules do not apply." "When we look back at the lessons of history, they may repeat themselves, but they haven't so far," Perry said. "He may get a challenge by either a strong gadfly or a strong personality or a strong presence in the party," just as Ronald Reagan was to Ford in 1976 and Ted Kennedy was to Carter in 1980. "But I don't see that person on the horizon."
Barbara Perry NPR
Today, “we’re still caught in this kind of post–World War II mold of what families look like,” says Barbara Perry, the director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center for presidential scholarship. “People sometimes jokingly talk about the old-style ‘American family’ of the sitcoms in the 1960s. But that’s been the standard that we applied for our presidents, too, because that’s how society viewed the ideal American family—with the mother and the father and the 2.2 children.”
Barbara Perry The Atlantic
“He just carries forward with what he wants to do, the Constitution be damned, the institutional guardrails be damned, professional guardrails be damned and the leaders of his own party be damned,” said Barbara Perry, a presidential historian at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs. “No one is standing up to him, and they fear him now.”
Barbara Perry The Washington Post
“If I am going to a brain surgeon, I want someone who has trained to do brain surgery,” said Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. “For someone with virtually no knowledge of government and really no knowledge of politics to sweep into power still dumbfounds me.”
Barbara Perry The Columbus Dispatch
The Committee to Re-elect the President was “using mechanisms of government to attack domestic opponents in the press and the political world, even breaking into the psychiatrist’s office of the Pentagon Papers leaker, Daniel Ellsberg, to see what kind of dirt they could use to smear him,” Perry explains.
Barbara Perry TIME