Mondale, Joan

Alternative names
Birth 1930-08-08
Death 2014-02-03

Biographical notes:

Joan Adams Mondale was born in Eugene, Oregon on August 8, 1930. She was one of three daughters of Eleanor Jane (Hall) Adams and Reverend John Maxwell Adams. Dr. Adams was a Presbyterian minister and for many years was chaplain at Macalester College in St. Paul.

Joan attended public schools in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, and graduated from the Summit School (high school) in St. Paul. She graduated from Macalester College in 1952, with a major in history and minors in art and French. After graduating from college she worked at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

In 1955 Joan married Walter F. Mondale. The couple had three children: Theodore, born October 12, 1957; Eleanor Jane, born January 19, 1960; and William Hall, born February 27, 1962. In 1964 the Mondales moved to Washington, D.C. after Walter was appointed to a vacant senate seat.

Walter Mondale was elected vice president of the United States in 1976, serving in that capacity from 1977 until 1981 under president Jimmy Carter. During this time Joan Mondale served as the Carter Administration's "ombusdman for the arts." In 1987 the Mondales returned to Minnesota. Over the years Mrs. Mondale campaigned extensively for her husband, particularly in connection with the 1976, 1980, and 1984 presidential contests. She has also long been interested in, and served as an advocate for, the arts. In 1977 President Carter appointed her Honorary Chairperson of the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. She has served as an official of several arts and crafts organizations.

The Mondales lived in Japan from 1993 to 1996, while Walter Mondale served as United States ambassador to that country. During that time Mrs. Mondale was particularly immersed in Japanese art.

From the guide to the Personal papers., 1927-2006 (bulk 1960-2006)., (Minnesota Historical Society)

Joan Adams Mondale was born on August 8, 1930 in Eugene, Oregon. She was one of three daughters of Eleanor Jane (Hall) Adams and the Reverend John Maxwell Adams, a Presbyterian minister. When she was five years old the Adams family moved to Wallingford, Pennsylvania, where Joan and her sister attended the first integrated Quaker school in the state. The family later moved to Columbus, Ohio and then on to St. Paul, Minnesota, when the Reverend Adams was named Chaplain of Macalester College. Joan's last year of high school was spent at the Summit School in St. Paul and in the fall of 1948 she entered Macalester College.

During her college years she worked at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts cataloging prints and teaching children's art classes. During the summer of her junior year she studied contemporary church architecture in France. Joan Adams graduated from Macalester College in 1952 with a major in history and minors in art and French. After graduation, Joan worked as an Assistant Slide Librarian at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and later as an Assistant in Education at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, where she primarily gave guided tours and lectures. Although both Joan Adams and Walter Mondale (class of 1950) attended Macalester College, they did not meet until 1955 when Joan's sister, Jane Canby, arranged a blind date. Fifty-three days later they became engaged and they married on December 27, 1955.

The Mondales have three children: Theodore (Ted) born on October 12, 1957; Eleanor, born on January 19, 1960; and William born on February 7, 1962. In 1960, the Mondales became a political family when Walter was appointed Minnesota's Attorney General. Joan became an active and enthusiastic participant in the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and was elected chairwoman of the 7th Ward in Minneapolis, a post she held for a few years, until her husband was appointed to the United States Senate (to fill Hubert H. Humphrey's vacated seat ) in 1964. The family then moved to Washington, D.C., where the children attended school in the 1960s and 1970s. Joan actively campaigned for her husband's Senate races in 1966 and 1972, and for the Carter-Mondale ticket in 1976.

Mrs. Mondale continued to pursue her passion for art when she moved to Washington by giving tours at the National Gallery of Art and by taking pottery lessons from a master potter who has called her "my most talented student." In 1972, Joan Mondale authored "Politics in Art," a book aimed at young adults that grew out of some of the lectures she had been giving.

Joan Mondale was an active member of the Woman's National Democratic Club, serving on its board of governors and chairing its legislative program committee for two years. She served as a member of the board of the John Easton Public School PTA in the District of Columbia and on the advisory council of Reading is Fundamental, an organization which brings books and the joy of reading to young children. In 1973, Mrs. Mondale was elected to a two-year term on the board of directors of the Associated Council of the Arts, a private nonprofit organization which represents all the state arts agencies and hundreds of community arts councils and related agencies. She also conducted tours of historical and artistic points of interest for convention groups visiting the Nation's Capitol. In 1975, she helped organize a food buying cooperative in her Washington neighborhood.

Upon Walter assuming the vice-presidency in January 1977, the Mondales moved into the Admiral's House, long used by the Navy, but designated as the official vice president's residence in 1974. Mrs. Mondale turned the house into a showcase for contemporary American art, filling it with paintings, sculpture, and crafts on loan from museums. Artists from the Midwest were featured during 1977; artists from the Southwest during 1978; artists from the Northeast in 1979; and artists from the Pacific states in 1980. Works of Edward Hopper, Louise Nevelson, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Ansel Adams, and Georgia O'Keefe, as well as many other artists, several of whom had not yet reached a national audience, were exhibited. Tours of the art in the vice-president's home filled a good part of Mrs. Mondale's schedule when she was home in Washington.

During the four years her husband was the vice president, however, Joan Mondale traveled throughout the country, visiting most states at least once and many states several times, promoting government support of artists, museums, theatres, operas, schools, dance companies, and other educational groups. In 1977 President Carter appointed her honorary chairperson of the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. She served as the Carter Administration's "ombudsman for arts." Working with the General Services Administration's Art in Architecture program, Joan Mondale urged use of art items to decorate federal buildings and offices. She met with National Park Service officials and got them to reverse a ban on sales of arts and crafts at National Park stores. Mrs. Mondale's interest in the arts extended beyond arts and crafts to the other visual arts, and to dance, theatre, and music. In testimony before Congress she urged the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service to revise the tax code so that artists and their families would not be so negatively affected by estate taxes.

During foreign trips to South America, Europe, Africa, China, and various Pacific countries, Joan Mondale was often able to visit foreign artists and craftspeople and museums to broaden her perspective. In addition to numerous honorary awards (an honorary degree from Macalester College for example), a variety of the Triumph Tulip, was named the "Joan Mondale," by J.F. van der Berg, and was planted at the vice-president's residence in 1980.

Joan Mondale, of course, campaigned around the country for the Carter-Mondale ticket in 1980 and the Mondale-Ferraro ticket in 1984. Although both campaigns lost out to the Republican landslides led by Ronald Reagan, the Mondales continued to live in Washington until 1987 when Walter Mondale resumed law practice in Minneapolis. After about five years back home, duty called again when Walter Mondale served as United States Ambassador to Japan from 1993 to 1996, during Bill Clinton's first administration. During that time, Mrs. Mondale, of course, immersed herself in Japanese art. The Mondales returned to Minnesota in 1997, where Joan Mondale has since been involved with several Twin Cities arts organizations.

From the guide to the Second Lady's office files., 1933-1981 (bulk 1976-1981)., (Minnesota Historical Society)


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  • Travel
  • Women art patrons
  • Politicians
  • Art in education
  • Art, Japanese
  • Artists--Taxation
  • Art and state
  • Women--Political activity
  • Arts
  • Art--Exhibitions
  • Politicians' spouses
  • Vice Presidents' spouses--United States
  • Federal aid to the arts
  • Vice President's House (Washington, D.C.)
  • Baccalaureate addresses
  • Political Campaigns
  • Campaign speeches
  • Ambassadors
  • Ambassadors' spouses


not available for this record


  • Japan. (as recorded)