In 25 years of political life, Betty Ford did not expect to become first lady. As wife of Representative Gerald R. Ford, she looked forward to his retirement and time together. In late 1973 his selection as vice president was a surprise. She was just getting used to their new roles when he became president upon Mr. Nixon's resignation in August 1974.
Born in 1918 in Chicago, Elizabeth Anne Bloomer grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She studied modern dance at Bennington College in Vermont, and became a member of Martha Graham's noted concert group in New York City, supporting herself as a fashion model for the John Robert Powers firm. Close ties with her family and her hometown took her back to Grand Rapids, where she became fashion coordinator for a department store. She also organized her own dance group and taught dance to handicapped children.
Her first marriage ended in divorce after five years on the grounds of incompatibility. She began dating Jerry Ford, soon a candidate for Congress. They were married during the 1948 campaign. He won his election, and the Fords moved near Washington, D. C., where their four children - Michael, Jack, Steven, and Susan - were born in the next ten years. Betty Ford found herself shouldering many of the family responsibilities. She supervised the home, did the cooking, undertook volunteer work, and took part in the activities of "House wives" and "Senate wives" for congressional and Republican clubs. In addition, she was an effective campaigner for her husband.
Betty accepted her new life as first lady as a challenge. "I like challenges very much," she said. Betty Ford had the self-confidence to express herself with humor and forthrightness whether speaking to friends or to the public. Forced to undergo radical surgery for breast cancer in 1974, she reassured many troubled women by discussing her ordeal openly. As soon as possible, she resumed her duties as hostess at the Executive Mansion and her role as a public-spirited citizen. She did not hesitate to state her views on controversial issues such as the Equal Rights Amendment, which she strongly supported.
From their home in California, she was equally frank about her successful battle against dependency on drugs and alcohol. She helped establish the Betty Ford Center for treatment of this problem at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage.
She described the role of first lady as "much more of a 24-hour job than anyone would guess" and said of her predecessors: "Now that I realize what they've had to put up with, I have new respect and admiration for every one of them."