Who Was Neilia Hunter Biden, The First Wife Of Joe Biden?

Published May 14, 2024

On December 18, 1972, Joe Biden's first wife Neilia Hunter died in a car accident alongside the couple's baby daughter Naomi.

Neilia Hunter

Delaware Public ArchivesFuture president Joe Biden with his first wife Neilia Hunter and the couple’s three children: Beau, Hunter, and Naomi.

Before becoming the president of the United States, Joe Biden faced several personal tragedies that redefined his life and work as a politician, including the death of his first wife, Neilia Hunter.

Joe Biden’s first wife was known for being a devoted mother to the couple’s three young children: Beau, Hunter, and Naomi. However, she was also known as the “brains” behind her husband’s early political career, offering him advice that helped him win his first election to the U.S. Senate.

But then, on December 18, 1972, tragedy struck. While 30-year-old Neilia Hunter was out shopping for a Christmas tree with her three children, she died in a sudden car accident in Delaware. Sadly, her youngest child, 13-month-old Naomi, was also killed in the horrific car crash.

This is the tragic story of Joe Biden’s first wife and her untimely death.

The Short Life Of Neilia Hunter

Neilia Hunter was born on July 28, 1942 in Skaneateles, New York to her parents, Robert and Louise Hunter, who were diner owners.

She attended Penn Hall Preparatory School in Pennsylvania and participated in several extracurricular activities, including French club, swimming, and student council. Her enthusiasm for education ultimately led her to pursue a degree at Syracuse University and then later a career as a teacher.

Her future changed forever when she met another college student, Joe Biden, in the Bahamas during spring break. She was instantly charmed by him, especially after he spoke to her and her family about his aspirations.

According to The New Yorker, when Neilia Hunter’s mother asked Biden about what kind of career he wanted in the future, Biden confidently answered, “President of the United States.” Biden and Hunter would later wed in 1966, while Biden was attending law school in Syracuse, New York.

Joe Biden's First Wife

Newspapers.comA newspaper clip announcing Neilia Hunter’s engagement to Joe Biden.

The pair went on to have three children: Beau, Hunter, and Naomi. They also made a home in Wilmington, Delaware, where Biden found a job as a lawyer and began to serve on the New Castle County Council. Eventually, Biden set his sights on running for a Delaware seat in the U.S. Senate.

In 1972, Joe Biden officially ran for the U.S. Senate in the hopes of defeating veteran politician J. Caleb Boggs. Biden was just 29 years old at the time and the clear underdog, but with Neilia Hunter’s careful guidance, he launched a successful campaign that attracted plenty of attention.

Joe Biden’s first wife played a key role as his closest advisor during the campaign. Not only did she travel with him all over Delaware, but she also encouraged him to meet with as many people as possible. With their children in tow, the youthful couple offered a new kind of leadership that could be possible in the state, which appealed to many young voters.

Ultimately, Biden won the Senate seat by just over 3,100 votes, enabling him to become a junior senator. The Biden family was ecstatic.

But their joy would not last long. Just weeks later, Neilia Hunter ominously asked her husband: “What’s going to happen, Joey? Things are too good.”

The Car Accident That Killed Neilia Hunter

On December 18, 1972, Neilia Hunter and her three children left home to purchase a Christmas tree. While driving on a rural road in Hockessin, Delaware, Hunter fatefully collided with a tractor-trailer.

According to the Newark Post, the driver of the tractor-trailer, Curtis C. Dunn, reportedly swerved out of the way to avoid hitting Hunter’s vehicle. But unfortunately, he wasn’t able to move fast enough.

Police determined that Neilia Hunter likely drove into the path of the tractor-trailer by accident. Rumors later emerged that the driver of the truck was drunk, but the police and the legal system rejected this claim.

Neilia Hunter Biden

Wikimedia CommonsA photo of Neilia Hunter that was featured on her funeral Mass card.

“The rumor about alcohol being involved by either party, especially the truck driver (Dunn), is incorrect,” Delaware Superior Court Judge Jerome O. Herlihy told the Newark Post in 2008, amidst reports that Joe Biden was repeating the false rumors that Dunn “allegedly drank his lunch.”

Neilia Hunter and her baby daughter Naomi died instantly in the car crash. Her two sons Beau, who was four years old, and Hunter, who was three, did not die, but both boys were left with serious injuries. Emergency services transported the two wounded children to the Wilmington Medical Center, where they would eventually make a full physical recovery.

At the time of the fatal car accident, Joe Biden was in Washington, D.C., interviewing staff members for his new office. His sister Valerie was reportedly the one who answered the phone when news came in about the crash, and she told Joe there had been a “slight accident.”

According to The New Yorker, Joe Biden somehow immediately sensed what had happened to his wife: “She’s dead, isn’t she?” Tragically, he would soon learn that his baby daughter had perished as well.

How The Tragedy Impacted Joe Biden

Joe Biden With His Sons

AlamyJoe Biden caring for his sons in the hospital after the car accident.

Joe Biden immediately left his office to visit his wounded sons at the hospital and put his upcoming Senate swearing-in ceremony on hold. During this time, he considered resigning as a senator before his term even began. He also thought about dying by suicide, but he ultimately decided that he could not abandon his two sons as they recovered from their injuries.

“They had lost their mom and their sister, so they cannot lose their father, and that’s what made him get out of bed in the morning,” Valerie Biden Owens told The New Yorker. Meanwhile, senior members of the Senate encouraged Joe Biden to give his new job a try for at least six months, and then decide whether he wanted to leave at that point. Ultimately, Joe Biden was sworn into the Senate while staying with his sons in the hospital.

In the years following the accident, Joe Biden would continue to work in the political arena, representing Delaware in the U.S. Senate for 36 years until he was elected as vice president to Barack Obama in 2008. They would serve two terms together, and Biden would later be elected president in 2020.

Biden Family

Wikimedia CommonsDecades after losing his first wife Neilia Hunter and his baby daughter Naomi in a car crash, Joe Biden would later lose his son Beau to brain cancer in 2015.

Joe Biden also remarried five years after the loss of his first wife. In 1977, he wed Jill Jacobs, and the couple welcomed a daughter, Ashley, in 1981.

Later, while Biden was serving as vice president, he experienced yet another loss in 2015, when 46-year-old Beau Biden lost his battle with brain cancer.

Trouble has also followed Hunter Biden, the last living child of Neilia Hunter and Joe Biden. His struggles with addiction and his difficulty coping with the deaths of his mother and brother have led to a string of controversies, scandals, and legal troubles, including tax and gun charges.

Joe Biden has often reflected on his family’s difficult past, and he continues to honor Neilia Hunter and his other loved ones who have died. He says that keeping them in his memory inspires him to get through each day.

“Put one foot in front of the other, as my son Beau used to say, just keep moving forward,” Joe Biden said at the Athenagoras Human Rights Awards in 2015. “It is my faith that has kept me moving forward.”

After reading the heartbreaking story of Neilia Hunter, Joe Biden’s first wife, discover 37 facts about America’s first ladies that you probably didn’t know. Then, see how the so-called “Kennedy Curse” has tormented one of America’s most famous first families for several decades.

Amber Morgan
Amber Morgan is an Editorial Fellow for All That's Interesting. She graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in political science, history, and Russian. Previously, she worked as a content creator for America House Kyiv, a Ukrainian organization focused on inspiring and engaging youth through cultural exchanges.
Jaclyn Anglis
Jaclyn is the senior managing editor at All That's Interesting. She holds a Master's degree in journalism from the City University of New York and a Bachelor's degree in English writing and history (double major) from DePauw University. She is interested in American history, true crime, modern history, pop culture, and science.
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Morgan, Amber. "Who Was Neilia Hunter Biden, The First Wife Of Joe Biden?." AllThatsInteresting.com, May 14, 2024, https://allthatsinteresting.com/neilia-hunter. Accessed May 23, 2024.