"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
Podcast Becoming FDR: The Personal Crisis That Made a President
In 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was sworn in for the first of his four terms as president of the United States....
Collection Presidential and First Lady Portraits
Since 1965, the White House Historical Association has been proud to fund the official portraits of our presidents and first ladies,...
Podcast The Triumph of Nancy Reagan
Nancy Reagan was an iconic First Lady who helped shape the legacy of one of the most consequential presidencies of...
Podcast Conversations from History Happy Hour
In this first episode of 2021, White House Historical Association President Stewart D. McLaurin introduces the Association’s popular virtual program Hi...
Collection The White House Behind the Scenes
While the presidency is often in the eye of the public, those who ensure operations at the White House run...
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 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...
Collection Cherry Blossoms
Since the first cherry blossom planting in 1912 by First Lady Helen Herron Taft, Washingtonians have celebrated the scenic beauty and...
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...
Podcast Beyond the Textbook: Teaching White House History
The White House Historical Association is making history come alive in new and interesting ways. Stewart McLaurin hosts a roundtable...
Collection Animal Ambassadors
Animals, whether pampered household pets, working livestock, birds, squirrels, or strays, have long been a major part of White House...
Collection The First Ladies
Biographies & Portraits