Born on April 26, 1970, First Lady Melania Trump is a former model and the third wife of U.S. President, real estate billionaire and former reality TV star Donald Trump.
Melania Trump (born Melanija Knavs, Germanized to Melania Knauss) was born on April 26, 1970, in Novo Mesto, Slovenia (then part of communist Yugoslavia). Her father was a car dealer and her mother was a designer for children’s clothing. She grew up in a modest home with her younger sister and later discovered she had an older half brother, whom her father had from a previous relationship.
Trump began modeling at age 16, and two years later she signed on with an agency in Milan. She enrolled at the University of Ljubljana, but dropped out after one year to pursue her modeling career.
In her early days of modeling, Trump worked in Milan and Paris, before moving to New York in 1996. There she gained steady work, working with well-known photographers like Patrick Demarchelier and Helmut Newton, and landing covers on magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar (Bulgaria), Vanity Fair (Italy), GQ (for which she posed nude in January 2000) and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
In March 2001, she was granted a green card for permanent residency in the U.S. through the EB-1 program. Her acceptance later came under scrutiny, as the so-called “Einstein visa” is often allocated to top academics, business leaders, Oscar-winning actors and others who demonstrate “extraordinary ability,” though others suggested she easily qualified for EB-1 approval.
Marriage to Donald Trump
Melania met her future husband Donald Trump at a New York fashion party in 1998. Although she first refused to date him, the couple eventually began establishing a relationship and were engaged in 2004. The following year they married in a lavish Palm Beach, Florida, ceremony, with celebrity attendees including Shaquille O’Neal, Barbara Walters, Kelly Ripa, Matt Lauer, Katie Couric, former President Bill Clinton and then New York Senator Hillary Clinton.
Presidential Campaign Trail
When Donald Trump announced his intentions to make a 2016 presidential bid for the White House, the normally private Melania was pushed into the national spotlight along with her past modeling work, some of which was considered racy. One of the first controversial images that began circulating online was her 2000 British GQ spread that had her lying naked on a fur blanket.
The controversy didn’t stop there: In July 2016, Melania Trump gave a speech at the Republican National Convention, from which some passages were found to be identical to Michelle Obama‘s 2008 Democratic National Convention speech. Initially claiming she wrote the speech, Trump was lambasted by the media and the public for plagiarism.
Shortly thereafter, Trump staff writer Meredith McIver took responsibility for the gaffe, claiming she accidentally included part of Obama’s speech in Trump’s talking points. McIver issued the following statement explaining what transpired:
“In working with Melania on her recent first lady speech, we discussed many people who inspired her and messages she wanted to share with the American people. A person she has always liked is Michelle Obama. Over the phone, she read me some passages from Mrs. Obama’s speech as examples. I wrote them down and later included some of the phrasing in the draft that ultimately became the final speech.”
Not long after, more controversy followed. On July 30, 2016, the New York Postpublished nude photos of a then 25-year-old Melania Trump, including one in which she lay in bed with another woman. Many of the photos were published for a men’s French magazine that is no longer in circulation.
Discussing the nude photos, Donald told The Post: “Melania was one of the most successful models and she did many photo shoots, including for covers and major magazines. This was a picture taken for a European magazine prior to my knowing Melania. In Europe, pictures like this are very fashionable and common.”
In November, Melania Trump delivered a rare speech on the campaign trail outlining how fighting cyberbullying would be a priority for her if she were to become first lady. “We need to teach our youth American values: Kindness, honesty, respect, compassion, charity, understanding, cooperation,” said Trump. News outlets were quick to point out the irony that her husband was known for his use of the social media platform Twitter to insult opponents.
On November 8, 2016, Donald Trump won the majority of electoral college votes and was elected the 45th president of the United States in a stunning defeat of Hillary Clinton. With her husband’s victory, Melania Trump became the first foreign-born U.S. first lady since Louisa Adams, John Quincy Adams’s wife, who was born in London.
As Donald Trump prepared for his transition to power, he told reporters that Melania and their son Barron would stay in New York City while he moved into the White House, allowing Barron to finish the year at his private school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. In June 2017, Melania and Barron finally joined the President in the White House.
An early attempt to use the first lady platform for public good generated attention for the wrong reasons: In September, Melania sent a package of Dr. Seuss books to one deserving school in each state as part of National Read-a-Book Day. However, the gift was spurned by a Massachusetts elementary school librarian, who decried both the selection of her school and the choice of Dr. Seuss as a “tired and worn ambassador for children’s literature.”
The first lady hoped to achieve better results through her passion for combating bullying. In October, she made a surprise visit with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to Orchard Lake Middle School in Michigan, as part of the #NoOneEatsAlone initiative. “I always believe that you need to treat each other with respect, and kindness and compassion,” she told the students.
The following month, the secretive first lady was profiled in Vanity Fair. According to the article, it was Melania who pushed a waffling Trump into announcing his candidacy for president, knowing that he would regret the missed opportunity if he didn’t. On the flip side, she supposedly never expected to find herself in the White House. “This isn’t something she wanted and it isn’t something he ever thought he’d win,” said one longtime friend of the couple. “She didn’t want this come hell or high water. I don’t think she thought it was going to happen.”
Whether or not she ever intended to live in the White House, the first lady went all-out for her first holiday season as a resident there. She publicly revealed her Christmas decorations on November 27, 2017, showcasing her Balsam fir trees draped with “icicles” and trimmed with glass ornaments emblazoned with the seal of each state and territory. The display reportedly came together with the assistance of 150 volunteers from 29 states.
“The President, Barron, and I are very excited for our first Christmas in the White House,” Melania said in a statement. “As with many families across the country, holiday traditions are very important to us. I hope when visiting the People’s House this year, visitors will get a sense of being home for the holidays.”