Main Content

"My life really began when I married my husband," says Nancy Reagan. Her story actually began in New York City, where she was born on July 6, 1921. When she was six, her mother, Edith—a stage actress—married Dr. Loyal Davis, a neurosurgeon, who adopted Nancy, and she grew up in Chicago. She received her formal education at Girls’ Latin School and at Smith College in Massachusetts, where she majored in theater.

After graduation she toured with a road company, then landed a role on Broadway in the hit musical Lute Song. More parts followed. One performance drew an offer from Hollywood. Billed as Nancy Davis, she performed in 11 films from 1949 to 1958.

She met Ronald Reagan in 1949, when he was president of the Screen Actors Guild. In 1952, they were married in a simple ceremony in Los Angeles. Mrs. Reagan soon retired from making movies to devote her self to the roles of wife and mother of two.

As first lady of California, Mrs. Reagan regularly visited hospitals, nursing homes, and schools for disabled children, where in 1967, she first saw the seniors reach out to disabled young people. She quickly adopted the Foster Grandparents Program, and later became its champion in the White House. In 1982, the program was the focus of her first book, To Love a Child. Her interest in young people led her to become an outspoken critic of drug and alcohol abuse. As part of her "Just Say No" campaign, she traveled almost 250,000 miles, appeared on dozens of radio and television shows, and hosted a 1985 White House conference on drug abuse. Mrs.Reagan also devoted her considerable energies to the arts. She gave young artists a forum in the PBS televised "In Performance at the White House" and directed a major renovation of the second and third floors of the White House.

Nancy Reagan remained active after the Reagans returned to California. She worked with the Nancy Reagan Foundation to promote the dangers of addiction and with the Nancy Reagan Afterschool Program. In 1989, her memoir My Turn was published. She joined the board of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, played a key role in the development of the Ronald Reagan Library, and lent her time to the Alzheimer’s Association and its affiliate, the Ronald and Nancy Reagan Research Institute.

As President Reagan grew ill, Nancy Reagan rarely left his side, and when he died she planned his funeral. Her poise and courage in the depths of her grief honored her husband. She died twelve years later, on March 6, 2016, and is buried along side her husband at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California.

You Might Also Like