|First Lady of the United States|
August 9, 1974 – January 20, 1977
|Preceded by||Pat Nixon|
|Succeeded by||Rosalynn Carter|
|Second Lady of the United States|
December 6, 1973 – August 9, 1974
|Vice President||Gerald Ford|
|Preceded by||Judy Agnew|
|Succeeded by||Happy Rockefeller|
|1st Chairwoman of the Betty Ford Center|
October 4, 1982 – January 25, 2005
|Preceded by||Position established|
|Succeeded by||Susan Ford Bales|
Elizabeth Anne Bloomer
April 8, 1918
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||July 8, 2011 (aged 93)|
Rancho Mirage, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum|
(m. 1942; div. 1947)
(m. 1948; died 2006)
Elizabeth Anne Ford (née Bloomer; formerly Warren; April 8, 1918 – July 8, 2011) was the first lady of the United States from 1974 to 1977, as the wife of President Gerald Ford. As first lady, she was active in social policy and set a precedent as a politically active presidential spouse. Ford also served as the second lady of the United States from 1973 to 1974 when her husband was vice president.
Throughout her husband's time in the office of the presidency, she maintained high approval ratings and was considered to be an influential first lady. Ford was noted for raising breast cancer awareness following her 1974 mastectomy. In addition, she was a passionate supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). As a supporter of abortion rights and a leader in the women's rights movement, she gained fame as one of the most candid first ladies in history, commenting on the hot-button issues of the time, such as feminism, equal pay, the Equal Rights Amendment, sex, drugs, abortion, and gun control. Surveys of historians conducted by the Siena College Research Institute have shown that historians regard Ford to be among the best and most courageous American first ladies.
Following her White House years, she continued to lobby for the ERA and remained active in the feminist movement. Soon after leaving office, she raised awareness of addiction when she sought help for and publicly disclosed her long-running struggle with alcoholism and substance abuse. After recovering, she founded and served as the first chair of the board of directors of the Betty Ford Center for substance abuse and addiction. Ford also became involved in causes related to HIV/AIDS. For years after leaving the White House, Ford continued to enjoy great influence and popularity, continuing to rank in the top-ten of Gallup's annual most admired woman poll every year through 1991.
Ford was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George H. W. Bush in 1991. She was also awarded the Congressional Gold Medal as a co-recipient with President Ford in 1998.
Ford was born Elizabeth Anne Bloomer in 1918 in Chicago, Illinois, the third child and only daughter of Hortense (née Neahr; 1884 – 1948) and William Stephenson Bloomer Sr. (1874–1934), who was a traveling salesman for Royal Rubber Co. She was called Betty as a child.
Hortense and William married on November 9, 1904, in Chicago. Betty's two older brothers were Robert (d. 1971) and William Jr. After the family lived briefly in Denver, Colorado, she grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she graduated from Central High School.
In 1926, when she was eight years old, her mother, who valued social graces, enrolled her in the Calla Travis Dance Studio in Grand Rapids, where Ford was taught ballet, tap dancing, and modern movement. Dance developed into a passion for her, and she decided she wanted to seek a career in it. At the age of 14, she began modeling clothes and teaching children popular dances, such as the foxtrot, waltz, and big apple, to earn money in the wake of the Great Depression. She worked with children with disabilities at the Mary Free Bed Home for Crippled Children. She studied dance at the Calla Travis Dance Studio, graduating in 1935. While she was still in high school, she started her own dance school, instructing both youth and adults.
Growing up, she was subject to teasing about her surname, with other kids in school calling her "Betty Pants" (a play on "bloomers" being a name for a type of lower-body garment). Bloomer disliked the surname.
When Ford herself began the process of recovering from her own alcoholism, she disclosed to the public that both her father and her brother Bob had suffered from alcoholism as well.
When Bloomer was 16, her father died of carbon monoxide poisoning in the family's garage while working under their car, despite the garage doors being open. He died the day before his 60th birthday. It was never confirmed whether his death had been accidental or a suicide. With her father's passing, her family lost its primary breadwinner, and her mother began working as a real estate agent to support the family. Her mother's actions in the wake of her father's passing are said to have been formative for her views in support of equal pay and gender equality.
In 1936, after graduating from high school, Bloomer proposed continuing her study of dance in New York City, but her mother refused on account of the relatively recent loss of her husband. She instead attended the Bennington School of Dance in Bennington, Vermont, for two summers, where she studied under director Martha Hill with choreographers Martha Graham and Hanya Holm. After being accepted by Graham as a student in 1940, Bloomer moved to New York to live in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood; she worked as a fashion model for the John Robert Powers firm in order to finance her dance studies. She joined Graham's auxiliary troupe and eventually performed with the company at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
Bloomer's mother was opposed to her pursuing a career in dance and insisted that she return home, and, as a compromise, they agreed that Bloomer would return home for six months and, if she still wanted to return to New York City at the end of that time, her mother would not protest further. Bloomer became immersed in her life in Grand Rapids and did not return to New York. Her mother remarried, to family friend and neighbor Arthur Meigs Godwin, and Bloomer lived with them. She got a job as assistant to the fashion coordinator for Herpolsheimer's, a local department store. She also organized her own dance group and taught dance at various sites in Grand Rapids, including the Calla Travis Dance Studio. She further taught ballroom dancing lessons for children with visual impairment and hearing loss and gave weekly dance lessons to African American children.
In 1942, Elizabeth Bloomer married William G. Warren, whom she had known since she was 12. At the time they married, Warren worked for his own father in insurance sales. Shortly after they married, he began to sell insurance for another company. He later worked for the Continental Can Company, and after that for the Widdicomb Furniture Company. The couple moved frequently because of his work. At one point, they lived in Toledo, Ohio, where Elizabeth was employed at the department store Lasalle & Koch as a demonstrator, a job that entailed being a model and saleswoman. She worked a production line for a frozen food company in Fulton, New York. When they returned to Grand Rapids, she worked again at Herpolsheimer's, this time as the fashion coordinator. She had, three years into the marriage, concluded that their relationship was a failure. She desired to have a family with children and was unhappy with the frequent moves between cities she had experienced in her marriage. Warren was an alcoholic and diabetic, and was in poor health. Shortly after she decided to file for divorce, Warren fell into a coma. She paused her divorce, and supported him, living at Warren's family's home for the next two years as his health recovered. During these two years, she lived upstairs while he was nursed downstairs She worked jobs in order to support both herself and Warren. This experience has been credited with further cementing Ford's understanding of gender-based income inequalities between individuals doing the same work. After he recovered, they were divorced on September 22, 1947.
In August 1947, she was introduced by mutual friends to Gerald Ford, a lawyer and World War II veteran who had just resumed his legal practice after returning from Navy service, and was planning to run for the United States House of Representatives. They married on October 15, 1948, at Grace Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids. Gerald Ford was in the middle of his campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives. In the first of adjustments for politics, he had asked her to delay the wedding until shortly before the primary election because, as The New York Times reported, "Jerry was running for Congress and wasn't sure how voters might feel about his marrying a divorced ex-dancer." For their honeymoon, the two briefly traveled to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where they attended a college football game between the Michigan Wolverines and the Northwestern Wildcats, before driving to Owosso, Michigan, to attend a campaign rally for Republican presidential nominee Thomas Dewey. The Fords would ultimately be married for the next 58 years, until Gerald Ford's death. An anecdote that was later reported was that, when Gerald Ford left Grand Rapids for Washington, D.C., Betty Ford's new sister-in-law Janet Ford remarked to her, "with Jerry, you'll never have to worry about other women. Your cross will be his work."
Betty and Gerald Ford had four children together: Michael Gerald Ford (born 1950), John Gardner Ford (nicknamed Jack; born 1952), Steven Meigs Ford (born 1956), and Susan Elizabeth Ford (born 1957).
The Fords lived in Washington, D.C. after his election, until the spring of 1955, when the Fords moved into a house they constructed in the D.C. suburb of Alexandria, Virginia. Gerald Ford had ambitions to rise to the rank of speaker of the house, and therefore maintained a busy travel schedule, regularly crisscrossing the United States to fundraise and campaign on behalf of other Republicans in hopes that they would, in turn, provide him with the support he'd eventually need to become speaker. This meant that Gerald Ford was away from home for roughly half the year, placing a great burden on Ford to raise their children. As a mother, Ford never spanked or hit her children, believing that there were better, more constructive ways to deal with discipline and punishment.
Ford served as a parent-teacher association member, Sunday school teacher at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill, and a Cub Scout "den mother". She regularly drove her children around to their activities, such as her sons' Little League Baseball games and her daughter's dance classes. She was also involved in her husband's political career by fulfilling the commitments expected of congressional spouses to help elevate her husband's regard among his House colleagues. She accompanied her husband to congressional and White House events, as well as on some trips abroad, and made herself available to newspaper and magazine articles. Ford also posed for newspaper publicity photographs and was a clothing model for charity fashion shows, after a Republican had urged her to do so since they felt that Democratic Party spouses had far outnumbered Republican spouses in such publicity-generating activity. Ford also volunteered for local charitable organizations, including serving as the program director of the Alexandria Cancer Fund Drive. Ford also held active membership in groups such as the 81st Congress Club and National Federation of Republican Women.
Ford's busy life took a toll. In 1964, a pinched nerve on the left side of Ford's neck sent her to the hospital for two weeks. After her pinched nerve, she began suffering several effects, including muscle spasms, periphrasic neuropathy, numbing the left side of her neck, and arthritis on her shoulder and arm. She would be given prescription medication, including Valium. Ford would ultimately develop an addiction to prescription medication (and would ultimately confront and recover from this addiction in 1978). Ford's health problems and the stress of her husband's career (which saw him frequently away from their household) compounded, particularly after her husband's career became even more demanding after he became House minority leader in January 1965. In 1965, Ford suffered a significant nervous breakdown, erupting in severe crying that had appeared inexplicable to others. This led her to seek psychiatric assistance. Ford had weekly meetings with a psychiatrist approximately between August 1965 and April 1967. Ford received support from her family and managed to resume a busy lifestyle. However, notably, Ford had not managed to address her increasing prescription pain medication dependency, which sometimes saw her taking as many as twenty pills in a single day. Nor did she address her relationship with alcohol, which she, at the time, believed was typical consumption.
Ford accompanied her husband on a trip to mainland China in 1972. That same year, her husband brought up the possibility that he might retire from congress in 1977, which would make the 1974 United States House of Representatives election the last he would run in. This prospect elated Ford. Such talk was due to Gerald Ford, following the Republican Party's failure to win a majority in the 1972 United States House of Representatives elections, seeing it as unlikely that he would ever fulfill his ambition of becoming speaker of the House.
Spiro Agnew resigned as vice president on October 10, 1973. Two days later, on October 12, 1973, President Richard Nixon nominated Gerald Ford to serve as vice president. Ford felt an obligation to attend her husband's testimony at his confirmation hearings. During his testimony, Gerald Ford was questioned about attending psychiatric care. After this, Betty Ford was transparent with the news media that she had received psychiatric care. She explained that, while her husband had attended two sessions with a psychiatric doctor, those sessions were for her care, and not care of his own. Gerald Ford was confirmed as vice president by the United States Congress on December 6, 1973, and Gerald Ford took the oath of office before a joint session of the United States Congress, placing his hand upon a bible which Betty Ford held. With her husband assuming the office of vice president, Ford became the second lady of the United States.
Before the end of December, Ford played a role in establishing the Republican Women's Federal Forum, partnering with Barbara Bush, whose husband George H. W. Bush was chairman of the Republican National Committee at the time. The organization sought to bring together political spouses and female government federal employees to discuss current party activates and ideas about legislation. Ford also, in a television interview with Barbara Walters, expressed her support for the United States Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision ruling abortion as constitutionally protected. Ford remarked, "I agree with the Supreme Court’s ruling. I think it’s time to bring abortion out of the backwoods and put it in the hospitals, where it belongs.” Disregarding criticism to her stance, Ford would remark, “Maybe I shouldn’t have said it, but I couldn’t lie. That’s the way I feel."
The media "broke" the story that Ford had a previous marriage and had been divorced, initially reporting it as a secret revelation. However, Ford simply responded by giving the explanation that it was not something she had tried to hide, but, rather, something she had only not shared with the news media because none of them had broached the topic in their previous questions to her. This response proved effective in killing the speculation that she was covering-up her past, and earned her some admiration in the media. At one point, Ford disclosed to the public that her husband had previously promised her that he would retire from the House of Representatives in 1976 in order to return to private legal practice and dedicate more time to his family. Ford became overwhelmed by the media attention she received and became somewhat reclusive for a period early into her time as second lady. However, by the spring of 1974, Ford was seen as embracing her position as second lady, becoming less reclusive and more active. Ford would, ultimately, for most of the nine months she was second lady, be a high-profile public figure.
As she became a more active second lady, Ford adopted an objective of promoting the arts. In April 1974, she made her first official solo trip as second lady when she spent two-days visiting the states of Georgia and Tennessee to help in publicizing the "ARTRAIN", which was a traveling exhibit of art, visual displays, and performance pieces housed in six railway cars, and which was to travel through small towns across the southern United States. Ford was the most prominent national supporter of the project. Her candor on this trip received a positive reception by the news media. Among those she met on the two-day trip was Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn Carter. The Carters would, ultimately be the Fords’ successors as president and first lady after Carter defeated Ford in the 1976 United States presidential election. On May 31, 1973, Ford made her first major speech when she gave a commencement address to the graduates of the Westminster Choir College. This set a contrast with First Lady Pat Nixon, who routinely rejected invitations to give formal speeches. Ford was also observed as upgrading her wardrobe, adding designer clothing. In addition to the arts, Ford also gave focus to projects helping the disabled during her time as second lady.
On March 12, 1974, the Fords hosted a state dinner for King Hussein of Jordan after president Nixon, with a week's notice, asked Vice President Ford to take over for him in hosting the already-scheduled state dinner. The dinner was held in the John Quincy Adam's Drawing Room, one of the Diplomatic Reception Rooms at the United States Department of State headquarters at the Harry S Truman Building.
In June 1974, Ford represented the Nixon administration by attending the funeral of Alberta Williams King, the assassinated mother of the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Other Nixon administration official figures did not attend, continuing with other obligations. Ford was the only individual in attendance at the funeral not directly ingrained in the civil rights movement, with the exception of Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter. Ford's attendance at the funeral was, in actuality, a break from the administration. Ford had believed it to be of great importance for the administration to show an expression of direct concern pertaining to the assassination, while Nixon's staff disagreed with her. Ford also broke from the administration in giving her support to the prospect of federally-funded child daycare, which the Nixon administration opposed.
Ford had an extremely busy schedule by July 1974. Magazines such as Vogue and Ladies Home Journal were planning to publish spreads on Ford in upcoming issues. With her husband, as vice president, tasked with heavily campaigning on behalf of his party for the 1974 midterm elections, Ford occasionally hit the campaign trail herself. Ford had declared that she would be accompanying her husband at campaign functions, "when he wants me to." The Fords had planned to make a diplomatic trip to European nations after the midterm elections.
Both Betty and Gerald Ford refused to comment on speculation that President Nixon might be forced out of office due to the Watergate scandal. Ford did indirectly indicate her willingness to step into the role of first lady by affirming that she would make any sacrifices required for her husband to carry out his constitutional obligations, but also opined that it would be traumatic if the nation had to endure a president being forced from office. Ford also publicly expressed admiration and friendship toward First Lady Pat Nixon.
On August 9, 1974, after the resignation of Richard Nixon (who was facing the prospect of impeachment and potential removal from office), Gerald Ford ascended to the position of president of the United States, and Betty Ford became the first lady of the United States. As was the case during Gerald Ford's vice presidential swearing-in, Betty Ford held the Bible upon which he placed his hand while taking his oath of office. In his remarks at his inauguration, Gerald Ford remarked, "I am indebted to no man and only one woman, my dear wife, Betty, as I begin this very difficult job."
At the time her husband assumed the presidency, reporters speculated on what kind of first lady Ford would be, as they thought her predecessor, Pat Nixon, as noted by one reporter, to be the "most disciplined, composed first lady in history." Ford ultimately became a popular and impactful first lady. In the opinion of The New York Times and several presidential historians, "Mrs. Ford's impact on American culture may be far wider and more lasting than that of her husband, who served a mere 896 days, much of it spent trying to restore the dignity of the office of the president." She was regarded to be the most politically outspoken first lady since Eleanor Roosevelt. Ford regarded Roosevelt a role model. Active in social policy, Ford broke new ground as a politically active presidential spouse.
Repeatedly speaking out on women's issues, Ford was a leader in the changing status of women in American society. Ford surprised the media and the public by explicitly supporting a woman's right to an abortion, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and grass roots activism. Ford took these stances despite recognizing that they created a political risk of conservative backlash against her husband. However, not everything Ford did as first lady broke tradition. Ford also enjoyed the traditional role as hostess of the White House and on a daily basis spent most of her energy on the family, health, and filling in for her husband on the hustings.
Steinhauer of The New York Times described Ford as "a product and symbol of the cultural and political times—doing the Bump dance along the corridors of the White House, donning a mood ring, chatting on her CB radio with the handle First Mama—a housewife who argued passionately for equal rights for women, a mother of four who mused about drugs, abortion and premarital sex aloud and without regret." Ford was open about the benefits of psychiatric treatment, and spoke understandingly about marijuana use and premarital sex. The New York News Service wrote that Ford was, "constitutionally incapable of uttering 'no comment' or otherwise fudging an answer.". As first lady, remarking on her honest candor and the sometimes-controversial remarks it resulted in, Ford declared, "I am not very good at making up stories." In another instance, she commented, "it's just impossible for me to lie and look someone in the eyes and talk to them. This is my problem". While President Ford never attempted to silence his wife, some of his senior staff resented her independent candor.
Ford filmed an interview with the television news program 60 Minutes which was broadcast on August 10, 1975. The broadcast of the interview saw strong interest from the public. After the interview aired, a number of Ford's remarks in this interview on hot-button issues generated particularly immense media attention. Due to conservative backlash from Ford's comments on premarital sex, marijuana use, and abortion in a 1975 60 Minutes interview, President Ford initially quipped to her that her comments had lost him a large number of votes. However, polling would show that her comments were accepted by many Americans.
In 1975, when Time named the "American women" as its "Person of the Year", the magazine profiled Ford as one of eleven women selected to represent "American women". That same year, People named Ford one of the three most intriguing people in America. In 1977, the World Almanac included Ford in its ranking of the 25 most-influential American women. In January 1976, Ford made a cameo appearance on the popular television program The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
The Fords were among the more openly affectionate first couples in United States history. Neither was shy about their mutual love and equal respect, and they were known to have a strong personal and political partnership. This open affection was evident from the beginning of Gerald Ford's presidency. Ford was observed audibly telling her husband "I love you" following a kiss they shared right after he was sworn in as president. Later that day, President Ford was caught momentarily patting Betty's buttocks before the press gathered outside of their Virginia residence. Weeks later, when the Fords moved from their Virginia residence into the White House their king size bed was photographed being moved into the White House, which prompted Betty to quip that they had been outed for breaking the tradition of first couples keeping separate bedrooms in the White House. Early into her time in the White House, during a televised tour of the White House she once again noted that she and her husband shared the same bed. In a 1975 interview with McCall's, Ford remarked that she was asked just about everything, except for how often she and the president had sex. "And if they'd asked me that I would have told them," she said, adding that her response would be, "As often as possible."
Ford was popular with the American public. Her overall approval rating was, at times, as high as 75%. Ford's popularity often was higher than her husband's. Ford said, during her husband's failed 1976 presidential campaign, "I would give my life to have Jerry have my poll numbers." This reflects a common trend of American first ladies often being more popular than the presidents to which they are married.
Ford ranked as one of the top-10 most admired women in the results of Gallup's annual most admired man and woman poll every year from 1974 (the year her husband first became president) through 1991, with the exception of Gallup having failed to conduct such a poll in 1976 (the final full year of her husband's presidency). The poll gauges Americans' most admired men and women without providing respondents any pre-arranged list of names. In 1974, Ford placed second in the poll. She placed first in 1975. In 1977, the year her husband left office, she placed fourth. After her tenure as first lady ended, she would top the poll for a second time in 1978, the year she had established herself as an advocate for people with drug and alcohol dependence. Contrarily to her, while President Ford ranked in the top-10 positions of most admired men in multiple years, he never managed to top it.
In Good Housekeeping's annual readers' poll of most admired women, Ford placed second in 1974 and first in 1975. By late-1975, Harris found Ford to have established herself as one of America's most popular first ladies. In January 1976, the editors of the New York News Service wrote that Ford was, "one of the most charming and popular First Ladies ever to occupy the White House".
|1976||no poll conducted||1982||8th||1988||5th|
|1979||5th (tied with Jaclyn Smith)||1985||7th||1991||10th|
|Segment polled||Polling group||Date||Approve||Disapprove||Sample size||Margin-of-error||Source|
|National poll||Roper Center||1976||71%||24%|||
|National poll||Roper Center||1975||50%||36%|||
During her time as first lady, Ford was an outspoken advocate of women's rights and was a prominent force in the Women's Movement of the 1970s. Her active political role prompted Time to call her the country's "Fighting First Lady" and was the reason they profiled her, among several others, to represent the "American Women" as the magazine's 1975 Person of the Year. On September 4, 1974, weeks after becoming first lady, Ford conducted press conference in the State Dining Room of the White House in which she remarked that she, "would like to be remembered in a very kind way; also as a constructive wife of a president."
Ford avidly supported the proposed Equal Rights Amendment. In her September 4, 1974 press conference, Ford declared her support for it. Ford lobbied state legislatures to ratify the amendment, and took on opponents of the amendment. Ford utilized phone calls, letter-writing, and telegrams as means of lobbying in support of the ERA.
Ford was also unapologetically pro-abortion rights. In a 1975 interview with the news program 60 Minutes, Ford called Roe v. Wade a "great, great decision". Ford's abortion position differed from the political platform of the Republican Party. For a long time, it was unclear whether Gerald Ford shared his wife's pro-abortion rights viewpoint. In December 1999, he told interviewer Larry King that he, too, was pro-abortion rights and had been criticized for that stance by conservative forces within the Republican Party.
Ford successfully lobbied her husband to, in 1975, sign an executive order to establish the National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year. Ford also, unsuccessfully, lobbied her husband to appoint the first woman to the Supreme Court of the United States or as a running mate in the 1976 election. Ford took personal credit for the appointment of Carla Anderson Hills as secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
In May 1975, during a four-day trip, Ford met with former Prime Minister of the Republic of Vietnam Nguyễn Cao Kỳ to discuss Southeast Asia refugees. Afterwards, Ford stated she was impressed with the conduct of the refugees.
Ford's involvement in political issues received some conservative criticism. Phyllis Schlafly accused Ford of acting improperly by intervening in state affairs. Some women protested Ford's lobbying for the ERA by carrying placards outside of the White House reading "Betty Ford, Get Off the Phone". On June 30, 1976, Ford attended the opening of "Remember the Ladies", a Revolutionary War-era women's exhibit. She drew boos from demonstrators against the Equal Rights Amendment in stating, "This exhibit about neglected Americans should give us strength and courage to seek equal rights for women today."
Weeks after Ford became first lady, she underwent a mastectomy for breast cancer on September 28, 1974, after having been diagnosed with the disease. Ford decided to be open about her illness because "There had been so much cover-up during Watergate that we wanted to be sure there would be no cover-up in the Ford administration." Her openness about her cancer and treatment raised the visibility of a disease that Americans had previously been reluctant to talk about.
"When other women have this same operation, it doesn't make any headlines," she told Time. "But the fact that I was the wife of the President put it in headlines and brought before the public this particular experience I was going through. It made a lot of women realize that it could happen to them. I'm sure I've saved at least one person—maybe more."
Adding to heightened public awareness of breast cancer were reports that several weeks after Ford's cancer surgery, Happy Rockefeller, the wife of Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, also had a mastectomy. The spike in women self-examining after Ford went public with the diagnosis led to an increase in reported cases of breast cancer, a phenomenon known as the "Betty Ford blip".
According to Tasha N. Dubriwny, the massive media coverage of Ford's mastectomy was constrained by stereotypical gender roles, particularly the need for breast cancer patients to maintain their femininity. Betty Ford was portrayed as an ideal patient within a success narrative that presented the key sequences of her breast cancer diagnosis and treatment in a progressive, linear fashion that inspired optimism. Her coverage minimized the complexity of breast cancer as a disease and ignored the debates surrounding best treatment practices. It amounted to as aestheticization of breast cancer and her coverage became the major discursive model for looking at all breast cancer survivors.
As First Lady, Ford was an advocate of the arts. She successfully lobbied her husband to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to choreographer and dancer Martha Graham in 1976. She received an award from Parsons The New School for Design in recognition of her style.
Despite the brevity of her husband's presidency (roughly two and a half years), he hosted 33 state dinners, the fifth most state dinners of any United States president. The first of these came only a week into Ford's presidency, hosting King Hussein of Jordan on August 16, 1974. Once she became first lady, it fell to Ford to arrange this already-scheduled dinner. She found out of this upcoming dinner and her responsibility for planning it through a phone call she received within 24-hours after her husband's swearing-in as president. As previously mentioned, the Fords had hosted a state dinner for King Hussein months earlier, during Gerald Ford's vice presidency, on March 12, 1974, after president Nixon asked then-Vice President Ford to take over for him in hosting a planned dinner for the King. At the first state dinner that she arranged as first lady, Ford revived dancing as an activity of White House state dinners. The Nixons had previously removed dancing from the state dinners during Nixon's presidency. At the state dinners of the Ford presidency, the president and first lady always led off the dancing, and dancing often lasted beyond midnight.
The Fords opted to have eclectic array of guests at their state dinners, including notable celebrities from the entertainment industry. The Fords' children often also attended the dinners they hosted.
During their final year in the White House, the Fords hosted eleven state dinners. This large number of state dinners was, in part, due to great interest from foreign dignitaries in visiting the United States for a state dinner amid the United States bicentennial celebrations. Ford made the decision that year to erect a tent in the White House Rose Garden to host dinners outside. For state dinners held using this tent, the receptions, entertainment, and dancing portions of the evenings were still held inside of the White House.
Among the most notable state dinners the Fords hosted was a July 7, 1976 state dinner honoring Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. This dinner was part of the American bicentennial celebrations, and was held in tent on the South Lawn of the White House.
Of the state dinners she planned, Ford said, "From the beginning, Jerry and I tried to make the White House a place where people could have fun and enjoy themselves. Most of all we wanted the state dinners to express the very best about America, particularly during the bicentennial year."
Dishes that Ford particularly liked serving at state dinners included wild rice, Columbia River salmon, soufflé, and flambé. The state dinners that Ford planned as first lady made a deliberate effort to showcase American ingredients. By late 1974, Ford had shifted to exclusively serving wine that was American-cultivated at state dinners. The November 12, 1974 state dinner for Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky saw the first instance in which a wine from the Fords' home state of Michigan was served at a White House state dinner, with wine from the Tabor Hill Winery being served. It was not until 2016 that a Michigan wine would again be served at a White House state dinner.
|Gallery of images|
Ford accompanied her husband abroad on several diplomatic trips. Among the nations that Ford accompanied her husband to were China, Poland, Romania, and Yugoslavia.
Ford did not take any solo trips aboad as first lady. She is the most recent first lady not to have done so. Ford's failure to conduct a solo trip is not all that extraordinary, however. The first instance of a first lady conducting one had been Eleanor Roosevelt in 1942. Ford's recent predecessor Lady Bird Johnson was among other first ladies that did not conduct solo trips abroad.
During the Fords' 1976 trip to mainland China, when being shown an exhibition by a Chinese arts college dance group, Ford decided to join the dancers. Photos of this moment were published widely in the American press, resulting in Betty Ford somewhat upstaging President Ford in the press.
Ford supported numerous charities as first lady. Ford assisted in fundraising for the little-known Hospital for Sick Children in Washington, D.C., whose patients were predominantly African American. She also fundraised for No Greater Love, in appreciation of its work benefiting Children of Vietnam War MIA and POWs. She served as the honorary president of the National Lupus Foundation, regarding lupus as a disease which impacted women, yet received minimal public attention. Her philanthropic support additionally placed a specific focus on charities serving children with special needs.
See also: 1976 United States presidential election
In November 1975, it was reported by the Associated Press that Ford's husband's advisors, who had previously worried her outspoken comments would hurt him in the 1976 presidential election, were now recognizing her popularity and desiring for her to have a greater role in the campaign. Ford ultimately played an important role in the 1976 election campaign. Ford made campaign appearances and delivered speeches across the United States.
Ford was also used, both by Ford supporters and detractors, as a symbol of liberal Republicanism, with her politics contrasting with the Republican Party's conservative and moderate wings.
During the campaign, many Ford supporters wore campaign buttons with phrases like "Betty's Husband for President in '76" and "Keep Betty in the White House". The use of Ford in such a manner to promote her husband's candidacy was not the work of the campaign itself, but rather, produced by supporters outside of the campaign organization. The campaigns of the previous three presidents that sought election to an additional term (Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon) had needed to manufacture campaign publicity involving their first ladies (Mamie Eisenhower, Lady Bird Johnson, and Pat Nixon). In contrast, there was tremendous organic excitement for Betty Ford among supporters of the campaign.
Ford campaigned actively both during primary elections and the general election. A contrast was publicly drawn between Ford and Nancy Reagan, the wife of Ford's primary election challenger Ronald Reagan. Reagan had contrasting views on issues such as drug experimentation by teenagers and the Equal Rights Amendment (which she opposed passing). Many of Ford’s views were aligned-with, or even more liberal than, Rosalyn Carter, the wife of Ford’s Democratic general election opponent Jimmy Carter.
During the primaries, Ford recorded radio advertisements on behalf of the campaign that were broadcast in New Hampshire. She also traveled to Iowa before its caucus, and delivered a speech on behalf of the president (who had been unable to make his planned appearance) in which she labeled herself as being his political partner. The campaign made a deliberate effort, ahead of the 1976 Republican National Convention, of sending Ford to liberal and moderate-leaning states and not more conservative states in the western and southern United States.
Between Labor Day and election day, for the general election campaign, Ford conducted multi-stop speaking tours, during which she visited western states (including California, Colorado, Texas, and Utah) as well was northern midwest states including Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
The heavy campaigning placed a strain on Ford's health. During the general election, her busy campaign activity saw the reigniting of her pinched nerve. However, even after this, Ford continued with her planned campaign schedule.
After Gerald Ford's defeat by Jimmy Carter in the 1976 presidential election she delivered her husband's concession speech because he had lost his voice while campaigning. The speech was delivered on the day after the election. This is the only time that a major United States presidential candidate's spouse has delivered their concession on their behalf.
After her husband's narrow defeat, there was some anecdotal speculation that Ford may have both have helped to alienate conservative Republicans from voting for her husband and at the same time helped attract him support from liberal and moderate Republicans, Democrats, and independents.
See also: Presidential transition of Jimmy Carter
During the period after the election, Ford postponed scheduled plans to give her slated successor, Rosalyn Carter, a tour of the White House. Unknown to Carter at the time, this was likely due to Ford’s fragility caused by her prescription drug abuse. When Ford attempted to postpone the plans a second time, President-elect Carter called the White House and threatened to make a fuss in the news if the tour was not held as planned. Ford capitulated and have a brief, but cordial, tour of the White House to Rosalyn Carter on November 22, 1976, coinciding with President-elect Carter’s White House meeting with President Ford.
On January 19, 1977, her last full day as first lady, Betty Ford used her training as a Martha Graham dancer to jump up on the Cabinet Room table. White House photographer David Hume Kennerly took a photo of her on the table. Gerald Ford did not know about or see the photo until 1994. A Ford family friend said that President Ford "about fell off his chair" when he saw the photo for the first time. The photo was subsequently published and is regarded as an "iconic" photograph of Ford's time as First Lady. Kennerly has touted the image as both capturing Ford's personality and being a symbolic image showing the feminist first lady posing in what had been a space occupied predominantly by white men.
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After leaving the White House in 1977, Ford continued to lead an active public life. In addition to founding the Betty Ford Center, she remained active in women's issues, taking on numerous speaking engagements and lending her name to charities for fundraising. Many of Ford's most significant contributions as an activist came following the Fords' departure from the White House.
In 1977, the Fords moved to Rancho Mirage, California.
In March 1977, Ford signed with NBC News to appear in two news specials within the following two years along with contributing to Today, and jointly signed with her husband to write their memoirs. In June 1977, Ford was a speaker at the Arthritis Association Convention. In September of that year, Ford traveled to Moscow for a television program taping and to serve as hostess for The Nutcracker. In November 1977, Ford appeared at the opening session of the National Women's Conference in Houston, Texas.
Ford had suffered from a dependency on prescription medication and from alcoholism prior even to her husband's presidency. Ford had, particularly, become addicted to prescription medication (opioid analgesics) that she had been originally prescribed in the early 1960s to treat a pinched nerve. Ford took doses of this medication in excess of her prescription. In her 1987 memoir she reflected on these addictions, writing, "I liked alcohol, it made me feel warm. And I loved pills. They took away my tension and my pain". The fact that Ford had, for years, been given tranquilizers to treat a pinched nerve in her neck, was public knowledge as far back as her time as second lady. During her time as first lady, there had even been some speculation about substance abuse by friends and members of the press who observed occasional slurred speech from Ford. After they left the White House, her addictions became more evident to her family and appeared life-threatening. On April 1, 1978, her family staged an intervention which forced her to acknowledge the negative impact that her addiction was having on her health and family relationships. She agreed, that day, to detox from her medicine. She also, ultimately agreed to attend rehab at the Naval Regional Medical Center in Long Beach, California. Ford succeeded in getting sober. Ford registered herself at the hospital on April 11, 1978.
As she had previously been with her breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, Ford was transparent with the public about her addictions and admittance to rehab. Ford's transparency was praised by experts in drug abuse treatment, who predicted that it would make a major and positive impact. The week she entered rehab, Ford disclosed her addiction to prescription medication. Days later, Ford also disclosed to the public that she had come to realize that she was additionally an alcoholic. She disclosed her alcoholism through a statement that a family spokesman read on her behalf at a press conference (at which Ford was not herself present) held outside of the hospital. In this statement, Ford disclosed, "I have found I am not only addicted to the medication I have been taking for my arthritis but also to alcohol". In this statement, she also praised the reputation of the hospital's addiction treatment program, and declared her pleasure to have the opportunity to attend the treatment. The statement also declared, "I expect this treatment and fellowship to be a solution for my problems. I embrace it, not only for me, but all the many others who are here to participate." The Washington Post reported that Ford's disclosure of alcoholism came as a surprise to a number of Ford's close friends, who had regarded her as merely a social drinker and were oblivious to her drinking problem.
Ford published her first memoir in 1978, The Times of My Life, in which she discussed her battle with addiction.
During a January 1984 address in Michigan to a crowd of individuals who were in the early stages of alcohol and drug dependency treatment, Ford declared that the six years since she began her treatment for alcohol and drug abuse, "have been the best years in my life from the standpoint of feeling healthier and feeling more comfortable with myself".
Main article: Betty Ford Center
In 1982, after recovering from her own addictions, Ford established the Betty Ford Center (initially called the Betty Ford Clinic) in Rancho Mirage, California, for the treatment of chemical dependency, including treating the children of alcoholics. She partnered with her friend Ambassador Leonard Firestone to found it. She served as chair of the board of directors. She also co-authored with Chris Chase a book about her treatment, Betty: A Glad Awakening (1987). In 2003, Ford produced another book, Healing and Hope: Six Women from the Betty Ford Center Share Their Powerful Journeys of Addiction and Recovery. In 2005, Ford relinquished her chair of the center's board of directors to her daughter Susan. She had held the top post at the center since its founding.
Barbara Bush, a later first lady, opined that Ford, after discovering she was dependent on drugs, "transformed her pain into something great for the common good. Because she suffered, there will be more healing. Because of her grief, there will be more joy."
Ford continued to be an active leader and activist of the feminist movement after the Ford administration. She continued to strongly advocate and lobby politicians and state legislatures for passage of the ERA. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed Ford to the second National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year (the first had been appointed by President Ford). That same year, she joined First Ladies Lady Bird Johnson and Rosalynn Carter to open and participate in the National Women's Conference in Houston, Texas, where she endorsed measures in the convention's National Plan of Action, a report sent to the state legislatures, the U.S. Congress, and the President on how to improve the status of American women. Ford continued to be an outspoken supporter of equal pay for women, breast cancer awareness, and the ERA throughout her life. She was an active member of the Junior League.
Ford continued to advocate for the ratification of the ERA. In November 1977, Ford and First Lady Rosalynn Carter joined together to advocate for its ratification at the National Women's Conference in Houston. In 1978, the deadline for ratification of the ERA was extended from 1979 to 1982, resulting largely from a march of a hundred thousand people on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. The march was led by prominent feminist leaders, including Ford, Bella Abzug, Elizabeth Chittick, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. In 1981, Eleanor Smeal, the National Organization for Women's president, announced Ford's appointment to be the co-chair, with Alan Alda, of the ERA Countdown Campaign. In November 1981, Ford stated that Governor of Illinois James R. Thompson had not done enough in support of the ERA as well as her disappointment with First Lady Nancy Reagan not being in favor of the measure, though also relayed her hopes to change the incumbent First Lady's mind in further encounters with her. As the deadline approached, Ford led marches, parades and rallies for the ERA with other feminists, including First Daughter Maureen Reagan and various Hollywood actors. Ford was credited with rejuvenating the ERA movement and inspiring more women to continue working for the ERA. She visited states, including Illinois, where ratification was believed to have the most realistic chance of passing. On October 12, 1981, Ford spoke in support of the ERA on a rally held at the National Mall. The amendment did not receive enough states' ratification. In 2004, Ford reaffirmed her pro-abortion rights stance and her support for the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, as well as her belief in and support for the ratification of the ERA.
Ford tackled the stigmatized issue of HIV/AIDS during the HIV/AIDS crisis. Through the work she did at the Betty Ford Center, Ford recognized the link between drug abuse and AIDS. She involved herself in the Los Angeles AIDS Project. In 1985, Ford received the Los Angeles AIDS Projects "Commitment to Life Award". Her acceptance speech spoke hopefully of the prospect that attitudes towards HIV/AIDS would shift, being de-stigmatized as cancer and alcoholism had (in part due to her contribution). When she attended the 1992 Republican National Convention, Ford wore an AIDS ribbon pin.
Ford supported gay and lesbian causes, speaking against discrimination in the United States military. In 1993, Ford was quoted as speaking against existing bans gays from serving in the military, remarking,
Constitutionally all citizens have the right to serve their country as long as they abide by the rules and regulations of military service. There have been gays and lesbians serving our country for many years. There haven't been any more problems than there have been in situations like Tailhook with heterosexuals. I do not believe they should be asked to leave the military.
In 1985, Ford received the Award for Greatest Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged, an annual award given by the Jefferson Awards. That same year, Ford received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement. This was formally presented to her by President Ford, who was an Academy Awards Council member.
In 1987, Ford underwent quadruple coronary bypass surgery and recovered without complications.
In the early 1990s, Ford voiced admiration for First Lady Hillary Clinton and praised her for taking an active role in policy within her husband's administration by leading the Clinton health care plan
In 1987, Ford was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame. On November 18, 1991, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George H. W. Bush. In 1999, she and President Ford were jointly awarded Congressional Gold Medals. That same year, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars was dedicated to her and her husband. In 2000, the Lasker Foundation awarded Ford its annual Mary Woodard Lasker Public Service Award. On May 8, 2003, Ford received the Woodrow Wilson Award in Los Angeles for her public service, awarded by the Woodrow Wilson Center of the Smithsonian Institution.
During her and President Ford's later years together, they resided in Rancho Mirage and in Beaver Creek, Colorado. President Ford died, aged 93, of heart failure on December 26, 2006, at their Rancho Mirage home. Despite her advanced age and own frail physical condition, Ford traveled across the country and took part in the funeral events in California, Washington, D.C., and Michigan. Following her husband's death, Ford continued to live in Rancho Mirage. Poor health and increasing frailty due to operations in August 2006 and April 2007 for blood clots in her legs caused her to largely curtail her public life. Ill health prevented Ford from attending the funeral of former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson's in July 2007, and her daughter Susan Ford Bales instead represented her at the funeral service.
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Betty Ford died of natural causes on July 8, 2011, three months after her 93rd birthday, at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage. Ford left $500,000 to the Betty Ford Center.
Funeral services were held in Palm Desert, California, on July 12, 2011, with more than 800 people in attendance, including former president George W. Bush, then-First Lady Michelle Obama, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, herself a former First Lady, former First Ladies Rosalynn Carter, who gave a eulogy, and Nancy Reagan.
On July 14, a second service was held at Grace Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids, with eulogies given by Lynne Cheney, former Ford Museum director Richard Norton Smith, and Ford's son Steven. In attendance were former president Bill Clinton, former vice president Dick Cheney and former first lady Barbara Bush. In her remarks, Mrs. Cheney noted that July 14 would have been Gerald Ford's 98th birthday. After the service, Betty Ford was buried next to her husband on the museum grounds.
In July 2018, a statue of Ford was unveiled outside of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
According to John Robert Greene:
Only a part of Betty Ford's legacy will be that of her role as first lady. Throughout her post-Washington life, she established herself as one of the nation's first public advocates for women's self-examination, a prodigious fund-raiser for arthritis research, and, most important, a tireless campaigner for the rights and dignity of those afflicted with the disease of substance abuse. Her role as a public health advocate distinguishes her as one of the most influential women of the latter part of the twentieth century.
Since 1982 Siena College Research Institute has conducted occasional surveys asking historians to assess American first ladies according to a cumulative score on the independent criteria of their background, value to the country, intelligence, courage, accomplishments, integrity, leadership, being their own women, public image, and value to the president. Ford has consistently ranked among the top-nine most highly assessed first ladies in these surveys. In terms of cumulative assessment, Ford has been ranked:
The 2008 Siena Research Institute survey ranked Ford the 5th-highest of the twenty 20th and 21st century First Ladies. The 2008 survey also ranked Ford the 5th-highest in their assessment of first ladies who were “their own women” as well as 5th-highest in courage. In both the 1993 and 2003 Siena Research Institute surveys, Ford was similarly ranked the 5th-highest in historians' assessment of first ladies' courage. In the 2014 Siena Research Institute survey, historians ranked Ford 3rd-highest among 20th and 21st century First Ladies in the greatness of post-White House service, 3rd-highest in advancement of women's issues, and 4th-highest in creating a lasting legacy. In the 2014 Siena Research Institute survey survey, Ford and her husband were ranked the 19th-highest out of 39 first couples in terms of being a "power couple".
In 2021, Zogby Analytics conducted a poll in which a sample of the American public was asked to assess the greatness of twelve First Ladies from Jacqueline Kennedy onwards. The American public ranked Ford as the eighth-greatest among these first ladies.
Ford's life is the focus of the 1987 ABC biographical television film The Betty Ford Story, which has a story adapted from her memoir The Times of My Life. Gena Rowlands won both an Emmy Award and a Golden Globe Award for her portrayal of Ford. Ford is also one of three former first ladies whose lives are the focus of the Emmy-nominated 2022 Showtime television series The First Lady, in which she is portrayed by Kristine Froseth and Michelle Pfeiffer.
In 1975, when Time named "American women" as its "Time Person of the Year", the magazine profiled Ford as one of eleven women selected to represent "American women".
Other honors and awards include:
Gerald R. Ford, Jr., and Betty Bloomer Warren at their wedding rehearsal dinner..
Betty Ford (1918 – ) ... Presidential Medal of Freedom received November 18, 1991