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."
You Might Also Like
Collection Animal Ambassadors
Animals, whether pampered household pets, working livestock, birds, squirrels, or strays, have long been a major part of White House...
Podcast Entertaining at the White House
From diplomatic dinners to holiday gatherings, the White House has always played a central role in the nation’s official en...
Collection The First Ladies
Biographies & Portraits
Collection Cherry Blossoms
Since the first cherry blossom planting in 1912 by First Lady Helen Herron Taft, Washingtonians have celebrated the scenic beauty and...
Collection Women and the White House
While there has yet to be a female president, women have played an integral role in shaping the White House...
Podcast Fearless Leadership: A Conversation with Jean Case
Fearless leaders have walked the halls of White House for centuries. In this episode, White House Historical Association President Stewart...
Collection The Presidents
Biographies & Portraits
Reading Lists & Bibliography
General White House Bibliography:Aikman, Lonnelle. The Living White House. Washington, D.C.: The White House Historical Association, 1996. Cunliffe, Marcus....
White House History Table of Contents
NUMBERS 1 THROUGH 6 (COLLECTION I) WHITE HOUSE HISTORY • NUMBER 1 1 — Foreword by Melvin M. Payne 5 — President Kennedy’s Rose Garden by Rachel Lambert...
About Our Authors
WILLIAM ADAIR is a frame historian, conservator, and gilder in Washington, D.C. (WHH #54) WILLIAM G. ALLMAN served more than...
2019 2019 Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPY) The Stephen Decatur House: A History Gold, Regional Non-Fiction 2019 Next Generation Indie Book Awards The...
National History Day Resources
The White House Historical Association (WHHA) offers many different resources for students working on National History Day projects.