Elizabeth Bloomer Ford
April 18, 1918, in Chicago, Illinois
July 8, 2011 Rancho Mirage, California.
Betty Ford was 56 years old when President Nixon resigned and her husband, Gerald Ford, became president. Betty subsequently served as first lady during her husband’s single term in the years 1974-1977.
Betty may be the most candid first lady ever to set foot in the White House. At her very first press conference as first lady, Betty not only announced her support of the arts and the elderly as causes important to her, but also declared her support of the highly controversial Equal Rights Amendment, legislation that would guarantee equal rights to all regardless of sex. And when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she spoke out on her illness and the radical surgery she faced. Though women’s health issues were rarely discussed publicly at that time, she had hoped that her upfront disclosure would help educate other women about the need for early detection. In the years following her husband’s term in office, Betty also publicly admitted that she had suffered an addiction to alcohol and painkillers. She not only sought treatment for herself, but used the experience to found the now internationally acclaimed Betty Ford Clinic in California to treat others with chemical dependencies. In addition to advocating for women’s rights and health education, Betty also sought to implement programs for handicapped children.
About her candor, Betty commented, “I tried not to dodge subjects. I felt the people had a right to know where I stood.”
Regarding the responsibilities of a first lady, Betty noted, “[The role of first lady] is much more of a twenty-four-hour job than anyone would guess . . . Now that I realize what they’ve had to put up with, I have new respect and admiration for every one of them.”