Betty Ford: Wikis


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Betty Ford

In office
Succeeded by Susan Ford Bales

In office
August 9, 1974 – January 20, 1977
Preceded by Pat Nixon
Succeeded by Rosalynn Carter

In office
December 6, 1973 – August 9, 1974
Preceded by Judy Agnew
Succeeded by Happy Rockefeller

Born April 8, 1918 (1918-04-08) (age 91)
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Spouse(s) William G. Warren
(divorced; 1942-1947)
Gerald Ford
(widowed; 1948-2006)
Children Michael, Jack, Steven, Susan
Occupation First Lady of the United States
Fashion model
Religion Episcopalian

Elizabeth Anne "Betty" Bloomer Ford (born April 8, 1918) is the widow of former United States President Gerald R. Ford and served as the First Lady of the United States from 1974 to 1977. As first lady, Betty Ford was active in social policy and shattered precedents as a politically active presidential wife (Time considered her "the most since Eleanor [Roosevelt]"). In the opinion of several historians, Betty had more impact upon history and culture than her husband.

Throughout her husband's term in office, she maintained high approval ratings despite some opposition from some conservative Republicans who objected to her more moderate and liberal positions on social issues. Betty Ford was noted for raising breast cancer awareness with her 1974 mastectomy and was a passionate supporter of, and activist for, the Equal Rights Amendment. Pro-choice on abortion and a leader in the Women's Movement, she gained fame as one of the most candid first ladies in history, commenting on every hot-button issue of the time, including feminism, equal pay, ERA, sex, drugs, abortion, and gun control. She also raised awareness of addiction when she announced her long-running battle with alcoholism in the 1970s.

Following her White House years, she continued to lobby for the ERA and remained active in the Feminist Movement. She is the founder, and served as the first chairwoman of the board of directors of, the Betty Ford Center for substance abuse and addiction and is a recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal.


Early life and career

Born in Chicago as Elizabeth Anne Bloomer, she is the third child and only daughter of William Stephenson Bloomer Sr., a traveling salesman for Royal Rubber Co., and his wife, the former Hortense Neahr. She had two older brothers, Robert and William Jr., and living briefly in Denver, she grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she graduated from Central High School.

After the 1929 stock market crash, when Betty Bloomer was eleven, she began modeling clothes and teaching other children dances such as the foxtrot, waltz, and big apple. She studied dance at the Calla Travis Dance Studio, graduating in 1935.

When Bloomer was 16, her father died of carbon monoxide poisoning, reportedly while working on the family car in the Bloomers' garage; whether it was an accident or suicide remains unknown.[1] In 1933, after she graduated from high school, she proposed continuing her study of dance in New York City, but her mother refused. Instead, Bloomer attended the Bennington School of Dance in Bennington, Vermont, for two summers, where she studied under Martha Graham and Hanya Holm.

After being accepted by Graham as a student, Betty Bloomer moved to Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood and 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.

Her mother, now remarried to Arthur Meigs Godwin, opposed her daughter’s choice of a career and insisted that she move home, but Bloomer resisted. They finally came to a compromise: she would return home for six months, and if nothing worked out for her in New York, she would return to Michigan, which she did in 1941. She became the fashion coordinator for a local department store. She also organized her own dance group and taught dance at various sites in Grand Rapids; those she taught included children with disabilities.

Marriages and family

The First family, in the Oval Office, 1974.

In 1942, Bloomer married William C. Warren, a furniture salesman, whom she had known since she was 12. Warren began selling insurance shortly after and the couple moved frequently because of his work. At one point, they lived in Toledo, Ohio, where she was employed at the department store Lasalle & Koch as a demonstrator, a job that entailed being a model and saleswoman. They had no children and divorced on September 22, 1947, on the grounds of incompatibility.

On October 15, 1948, Elizabeth Bloomer Warren married Gerald R. Ford Jr., a lawyer and World War II veteran, at Grace Episcopal Church, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Ford was then campaigning for what would be his first of 13 terms as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the wedding was delayed until shortly before the elections 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."[2]

Married for 58 years, the couple had four children: Michael Gerald Ford (b. 1950), John Gardner Ford (nicknamed Jack, b. 1952), Steven Meigs Ford (b. 1956), and Susan Elizabeth Ford (b. 1957).

The Fords moved to the Virginia suburbs of the Washington, D.C., area and lived there for 25 years. Ford rose to become the highest-ranking Republican in the House, then was appointed Vice President when Spiro Agnew resigned from that position in 1973. He became president in 1974, upon Richard M. Nixon's resignation in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

Betty and Gerald Ford were among the more openly loving and intimate First Couples in American history. Neither was shy about their mutual love and equal respect for one another, and were known to have a strong partnership, both personally and politically.[3]

First Lady of the United States


National power, influence, and candor

Vice President Gerald Ford is sworn in as the 38th President of the United States by Chief Justice Warren Burger in the East Room at the White House as Betty Ford looks on

When compared to her predecessor, Pat Nixon, who was noted by one reporter to be the "most disciplined, composed first lady in history," reporters questioned what kind of first lady Ford would be.[4] 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." The paper went on to describe her as "a product and symbol of the cultural and political times—doing the Bump 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."[5] In 1975, in an interview with McCall's magazine, Ford said 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."[1]

The President and Mrs. Ford in the presidential limousine, 1974
The Fords host Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh in the President's Dining Room during a 1976 state visit

She was open about the benefits of psychiatric treatment, she spoke understandingly about marijuana use and premarital sex, and the new First Lady pointedly stated that she and the President shared the same bed during a televised White House tour. After Betty Ford appeared on 60 Minutes in a characteristically candid interview in which she discussed how she would counsel her daughter if she was having an affair and the possibility that her children may have experimented with marijuana, some conservatives called her "No Lady" and even demanded her "resignation", but her overall approval rating was at 75%. As she later said, during her husband's failed 1976 presidential campaign, "I would give my life to have Jerry have my poll numbers".[5] Some campaign buttons were reported to say "Vote for Betty's husband".

Social policy and political activism

Betty Ford's official White House portrait, painted in 1977 by Felix de Cossio

During her time as First Lady, Ford was also an outspoken advocate of women's rights and was a prominent force in the Women's Movement of the 1970s. She supported the proposed Equal Rights Amendment and lobbied state legislatures to ratify the amendment, and took on opponents of the amendment. She was also an activist for the legalization of abortion and her active political role prompted TIME magazine to call her the country's "Fighting First Lady" and name her a Woman of the Year, representing American women along with other feminist icons. For a time, it was unclear whether Gerald Ford shared his wife's pro-choice viewpoint. However, he told interviewer Larry King that he, too, was pro-choice and had been criticized for that stance by conservative forces within the Republican Party

Health and breast cancer awareness

Weeks after Betty Ford became First Lady, she underwent a mastectomy for breast cancer on September 28, 1974. Her openness about her illness 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 magazine. "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." Further amplifying the public awareness of breast cancer were reports that several weeks after Betty Ford's cancer surgery, Happy Rockefeller, the wife of vice president Nelson Rockefeller, also underwent a mastectomy.[6]

The Arts

Betty Ford was an advocate of the arts while First Lady and was instrumental in Martha Graham receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1976.

Betty Ford also received an award from Parsons The New School for Design in recognition of her style.

Conceding the 1976 election

After her husband's defeat in the 1976 Presidential election she delivered his historic concession speech. Betty spoke for the president and conceded the election to Jimmy Carter after President Ford lost his voice campaigning.

Post-White House career

In the years after leaving the White House in 1977, Mrs. 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.

The Betty Ford Center

In 1978, the Ford family staged an intervention and forced her to confront her alcoholism and an addiction to opioid analgesics that had been prescribed in the early 1960s for a pinched nerve. "I liked alcohol," she wrote in her 1987 memoir. "It made me feel warm. And I loved pills. They took away my tension and my pain". In 1982, after her recovery, she established the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California, for the treatment of chemical dependency. She wrote about her treatment in a 1987 book, Betty: A Glad Awakening. 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, Betty Ford relinquished her chairmanship of the center's board of directors to her daughter, Susan. She had held the top post at Betty Ford since its founding. President Ford good-naturedly joked about how Betty had been Chairman of the Board while he had only been a President.[3]

The Women's Movement

Betty Ford continued to be an active leader and activist of the Feminist Movement after her tenure as First Lady had expired, and continued to strongly advocate, and lobby politicians and state legislatures for, passage of the ERA.

In 1977 President Jimmy Carter appointed Ford to the National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year. That same year, she joined First Ladies Lady Bird Johnson and Rosalynn Carter to take part in the National Women's Conference in Houston, Texas and, unlike Rosalynn Carter, announced full support for the Conference's National Plan of Action, which included controversial planks advocating the continued legalization of abortion, supported state-funded day care, and supported affirmative action programs and gay and lesbian rights.

In 1978 the deadline for ratification of the ERA was extended from 1979 to 1982, resulting largely from a march of hundred of thousands of people marching on Pennsylvania Avenue. The march was led by prominent feminist leaders, including Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, and Ford herself. Following the extension for ERA, in 1981, National Organization for Women President Eleanor Smeal announced Ford's appointment to be the chair of the ERA Countdown Campaign and events, with Alan Alda as her co-chair. As the deadline approached, Ford led marches, parades, and rallies for the Equal Rights Amendment with other feminists, such as First Daughter Maureen Reagan, and Hollywood actors. Ford was credited with rejuvenating the ERA Movement and inspiring women to continue the ERA.[7]

In 2004 she reaffirmed her pro-choice stance and her support for Roe v. Wade. She still believes in and supports the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Later life

Betty Ford (far right) with President George W. Bush and former President Ford on April 23, 2006
Former First Lady Betty Ford during the state funeral of Gerald Ford in early 2007

In 1987, the former first lady underwent corrective open heart surgery, but soon recovered without complications. In 1991, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George H.W. Bush and a Congressional Gold Medal in 1999. On May 8, 2003, Mrs. Ford received the prestigious Woodrow Wilson Award in Los Angeles for her public service from the Woodrow Wilson Center of the Smithsonian Institution. She resided in Rancho Mirage, California and in Beaver Creek, Colorado with her husband during these years. Gerald Ford died at their Rancho Mirage home of heart failure on December 26, 2006 at the age of 93. Despite her advanced age and frail physical condition, Mrs. Ford traveled across the country and took part in the funeral events in California, Washington D.C., and Michigan. She was greatly admired for the dignity she showed the nation during this period.

Betty Ford continues to live in Rancho Mirage, California. At the age of 91, she is the oldest surviving former occupant of the White House. She is also the third longest-lived first lady behind Bess Truman and Lady Bird Johnson. Poor health and increasing frailty due to operations in August 2006 and April 2007 for blood clots in her legs have caused her to largely curtail her public life. Ill health prevented her from attending the funeral of former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson in July 2007. Mrs. Ford's daughter Susan Ford represented her mother at the funeral service.

See also


  1. ^ a b Tucker, Neely, "Betty Ford, Again Putting On a Brave Face", The Washington Post, December 29, 2006. Retrieved July 20, 2009.
  2. ^ Jane Howard, "The 38th First Lady: Not a Robot At All", The New York Times, December 8, 1974. Retrieved July 20, 2009.
  3. ^ a b Betty Ford: The Real Deal, Public Broadcasting Service. Retrieved July 20, 2009.
  4. ^ Anthony, C.S. (1991), p. 220
  5. ^ a b Tweed, Michael, "Back in View, a First Lady With Her Own Legacy", The New York Times, 31 December 2006. Retrieved July 20, 2009.
  6. ^ "Breast Cancer: Fear and Facts", Time, November 4, 1974. Retrieved July 20, 2009.
  7. ^ "The Feminist Chronicles, 1953-1993 - 1981", Feminist Majority Foundation. Retrieved July 20, 2009.

References and external links

Honorary titles
Preceded by
Judy Agnew
Second Lady of the United States
Succeeded by
Happy Rockefeller
Preceded by
Pat Nixon
First Lady of the United States
Succeeded by
Rosalynn Carter
United States order of precedence
Preceded by
Ambassadors Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of foreign states (in order of tenure); otherwise
Hillary Rodham Clinton

United States Secretary of State
United States order of precedence
Widowed Former First Lady
Succeeded by
Nancy Reagan
Widowed Former First Lady


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