- Category : Political - Wife
- Type : PSP
- Profile : 4/6 - Opportunistic / Role Model
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Penetration 1
Elizabeth Ann "Betty" Ford (née Bloomer; April 8, 1918 – July 8, 2011) was First Lady of the United States from 1974 to 1977 during the presidency of her husband Gerald Ford. As First Lady, she was active in social policy and created precedents as a politically active presidential wife.
Throughout her husband's term in office, she maintained high approval ratings despite opposition from some conservative Republicans who objected to her more moderate and liberal positions on social issues. Ford was noted for raising breast cancer awareness following her 1974 mastectomy and was a passionate supporter of, and activist for, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Pro-choice on abortion and a leader in the Women's Movement, she gained fame as one of the most candid first ladies in history, commenting on every hot-button issue of the time, including feminism, equal pay, the ERA, sex, drugs, abortion, and gun control. She also raised awareness of addiction when she announced her long-running battle with alcoholism in the 1970s.
Following her White House years, she continued to lobby for the ERA and remained active in the feminist movement. She was the founder, and served as the first chair of the board of directors, of the Betty Ford Center for substance abuse and addiction and is a recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal (co-presentation with her husband, Gerald R. Ford, October 21, 1998) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (alone, presented 1991, by George H. W. Bush).
Early life and career
She was born Elizabeth Ann Bloomer in Chicago, Illinois, the third child and only daughter of William Stephenson Bloomer, Sr. (July 19, 1874 – July 18, 1934), a traveling salesman for Royal Rubber Co., and his wife, Hortense (née Neahr; July 11, 1884 – November 20, 1948).
Hortense and William married on Nov 9th 1904 in Chicago Illinois. Her two older brothers were Robert and William Jr. After living briefly in Denver, Colorado, she grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she graduated from Central High School.
After the 1929 stock market crash, when Ford was aged 15, she began modeling clothes and teaching children dances such as the foxtrot, waltz, and big apple. She also entertained and worked with children with disabilities at the Mary Free Bed Home for Crippled Children. She studied dance at the Calla Travis Dance Studio, graduating in 1935.
When Ford was age 16, her father died of carbon monoxide poisoning in the family's garage while working under their car, despite the garage doors being open. He died the day before his 60th birthday.
In 1936, after she graduated from high school, she proposed continuing her study of dance in New York City, but her mother refused. Instead, she attended the Bennington School of Dance in Bennington, Vermont, for two summers, where she studied under director Martha Hill with choreographers Martha Graham and Hanya Holm. After being accepted by Graham as a student, Ford moved to New York City to live in its Manhattan's Chelsea neighbourhood and worked as a fashion model for the John Robert Powers firm in order to finance her dance studies. She joined Graham's auxiliary troupe and eventually performed with the company at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
Her mother opposed her daughter's choice of a career and insisted that she move home, but Ford resisted. They finally came to a compromise: she would return home for six months, and if she still wanted to return to New York City at the end of the six months, her mother would not protest further. Ford became immersed in her life in Grand Rapids and did not return to New York City. Her mother remarried to family friend and neighbor, Arthur Meigs Goodwin, and Ford lived with them. She got a job as assistant to the fashion coordinator for Herpolsheimer's, a local department store, as well as organizing her own dance group and taught dance at various sites in Grand Rapids.
Marriages and family
In 1942, she married William C. Warren, who worked for his father in insurance sales, and whom she had known since she was 12. Warren began selling insurance for another company shortly after, later he worked for Continental Can Co., and after that Widdicomb Furniture, and the couple moved frequently because of his work. At one point, they lived in Toledo, Ohio, where she was employed at the department store Lasalle & Koch as a demonstrator, a job that entailed being a model and saleswoman. She worked a production line for a frozen-food company in Fulton, New York, and once back in Grand Rapids returned to work at Herpolsheimer's, this time as "The" Fashion Coordinator. Warren was an alcoholic and in poor health. Just after Betty decided to file for divorce, he went into a coma. She took care of him for another two years as he convalesced, at his family's home. She stayed upstairs while he was nursed downstairs. Then when he recovered, they were finally divorced on September 22, 1947, on the grounds of "excessive, repeated cruelty". They had no children.
On October 15, 1948, she married Gerald Ford, a lawyer and World War II veteran, at Grace Episcopal Church, in Grand Rapids. Gerald Ford was then campaigning for what would be his first of thirteen terms as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the wedding was delayed until shortly before the elections because, as The New York Times reported, "Jerry was running for Congress and wasn't sure how voters might feel about his marrying a divorced ex-dancer."
Married for fifty-eight years until his death, the couple had three sons: Michael Gerald Ford (born 1950), John Gardner Ford (nicknamed Jack; born 1952), Steven Meigs Ford (born 1956), and a daughter, Susan Elizabeth Ford (born 1957). She never spanked or hit her children, believing that there were better, more constructive ways to deal with discipline and punishment.
The Fords moved to the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., and lived there for twenty-five years. Gerald Ford rose to become the highest-ranking Republican in the House, then was appointed Vice President to Richard Nixon when Spiro Agnew resigned from that position in 1973. He became president in 1974, upon Nixon's resignation in the wake of the Watergate scandal.
They were among the more openly affectionate First Couples in American history. Neither was shy about their mutual love and equal respect, and they were known to have a strong personal and political partnership.
First Lady of the United States
When compared to her predecessor, Pat Nixon, who was noted by one reporter to be the "most disciplined, composed first lady in history", reporters questioned what kind of first lady Ford would be. In the opinion of The New York Times and several presidential historians, "Mrs. Ford's impact on American culture may be far wider and more lasting than that of her husband, who served a mere 896 days, much of it spent trying to restore the dignity of the office of the president."
The paper went on to describe her as "a product and symbol of the cultural and political times — doing the Bump dance along the corridors of the White House, donning a mood ring, chatting on her CB radio with the handle First Mama — a housewife who argued passionately for equal rights for women, a mother of four who mused about drugs, abortion and premarital sex aloud and without regret." In 1975, in an interview with McCall's, Ford said that she was asked just about everything, except for how often she and the president had sex. "And if they'd asked me that I would have told them," she said, adding that her response would be, "As often as possible."
She was open about the benefits of psychiatric treatment, and spoke understandingly about marijuana use and premarital sex, and as a new First Lady pointedly stated during a televised White House tour that she and the President shared the same bed. After Ford appeared on 60 Minutes in a characteristically candid interview in which she discussed how she would counsel her daughter if she was having an affair, saying that she "would not be surprised," and the possibility that her children may have experimented with marijuana. Some conservatives called her "No Lady" and even demanded her "resignation", but her overall approval rating was at seventy-five percent. As she later said, during her husband's failed 1976 presidential campaign, "I would give my life to have Jerry have my poll numbers."
Social policy and political activism
During her time as First Lady, Ford was also an outspoken advocate of women's rights and was a prominent force in the Women's Movement of the 1970s. She supported the proposed ERA and lobbied state legislatures to ratify the amendment, and took on opponents of the amendment. She was also un-apologetically pro-choice and her active political role prompted Time to call her the country's "Fighting First Lady" and name her a Woman of the Year in 1975, representing American women along with other feminist icons.
For a time, it was unclear whether Gerald Ford shared his wife's pro-choice viewpoint. However, in December 1999, he told interviewer Larry King that he, too, was pro-choice and had been criticized for that stance by conservative forces within the Republican Party.
Health and breast cancer awareness
Weeks after Ford became First Lady, she underwent a mastectomy for breast cancer on September 28, 1974, after being diagnosed with the disease. Ford decided to be open about her cancer because "There had been so much cover-up during Watergate that we wanted to be sure there would be no cover-up in the Ford administration" Her openness about her illness raised the visibility of a disease that Americans had previously been reluctant to talk about. "When other women have this same operation, it doesn't make any headlines," she told Time. "But the fact that I was the wife of the President put it in headlines and brought before the public this particular experience I was going through. It made a lot of women realize that it could happen to them. I'm sure I've saved at least one person — maybe more." Further amplifying the public awareness of breast cancer were reports that several weeks after Ford's cancer surgery, Happy Rockefeller, the wife of vice president Nelson Rockefeller, also underwent a mastectomy. The spike in women self-examining after Ford went public with the diagnosis led to an increase in reported cases of breast cancer, a phenomenon known as the "Betty Ford blip".
Ford was an advocate of the arts while First Lady and was instrumental in Martha Graham receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1976. She received an award from Parsons The New School for Design in recognition of her style.
Conceding the 1976 election
After Gerald Ford's defeat by Jimmy Carter in the 1976 Presidential election she delivered her husband's concession speech because he lost his voice while campaigning.
Post-White House career
After leaving the White House in 1977, she continued to lead an active public life. In addition to founding the Betty Ford Center, she remained active in women's issues taking on numerous speaking engagements and lending her name to charities for fundraising.
The Betty Ford Center
In 1978, the Ford family staged an intervention and forced her to confront her alcoholism and an addiction to opioid analgesics that had been prescribed in the early 1960s for a pinched nerve. "I liked alcohol," she wrote in her 1987 memoir. "It made me feel warm. And I loved pills. They took away my tension and my pain". In 1982, after her recovery, she established the Betty Ford Center (initially called the Betty Ford Clinic) in Rancho Mirage, California, for the treatment of chemical dependency. She co-authored with Chris Chase a 1987 book about her treatment, Betty: A Glad Awakening. In 2003, Ford produced another book, Healing and Hope: Six Women from the Betty Ford Center Share Their Powerful Journeys of Addiction and Recovery.
In 2005, Ford relinquished her chair of the center's board of directors to her daughter Susan. She had held the top post at the center since its founding. Her husband joked about how she had been chairperson of the board while he had only been a president.
Ford continued to be an active leader and activist of the feminist movement after the Ford administration, and continued to strongly advocate and lobby politicians and state legislatures for passage of the ERA. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed Ford to the second National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year (the first had been appointed by President Ford). That same year, she joined First Ladies Lady Bird Johnson and Rosalynn Carter to open and participate in the National Women's Conference in Houston, Texas, where she endorsed measures in the convention's National Plan of Action, a report sent to the state legislatures, the U.S. Congress, and the President on how to improve the status of American women. As she was during her years in the White House, Ford continued to be an outspoken supporter of equal pay, breast cancer awareness, and the ERA throughout her life.
In 1978, the deadline for ratification of the ERA was extended from 1979 to 1982, resulting largely from a march of a hundred thousand people on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. The march was led by prominent feminist leaders, including Ford, Bella Abzug, Elizabeth Chittick, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. In 1981, Eleanor Smeal, the National Organization for Women's president, announced Ford's appointment to be the co-chair, with Alan Alda, of the ERA Countdown Campaign. As the deadline approached, Ford led marches, parades and rallies for the ERA with other feminists including First Daughter Maureen Reagan and various Hollywood actors. Ford was credited with rejuvenating the ERA movement and inspiring more women to continue working for the ERA and visited states, including Illinois, where ratification was believed to have the most realistic chance of passing. In 2004, she reaffirmed her pro-choice stance and her support for the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade and reaffirmed her belief in and support for the ratification of the ERA.
An arching stone wall is set into a small grass-covered hillside. The wall is engraved thus: "Lives Committed to God, Country, and Love", with two names engraved underneath, reading "Gerald R. Ford, 1913–2006" and "Elizabeth Bloomer Ford, 1919–2011 ". Two flowered wreaths are placed beside the names on stands.
In 1987, Ford underwent quadruple coronary bypass surgery and recovered without complications.
In November 18, 1991, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George H.W. Bush and a Congressional Gold Medal in 1999. A Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars was dedicated to her and her husband in 1999.
On May 8, 2003, Ford received the Woodrow Wilson Award in Los Angeles for her public service from the Woodrow Wilson Center of the Smithsonian Institution.
During these years, she and her husband resided in Rancho Mirage and in Beaver Creek, Colorado.
Gerald Ford died, aged 93, at their Rancho Mirage home of heart failure on December 26, 2006. Despite her advanced age and frail physical condition, Ford traveled across the country and took part in the funeral events in California, Washington, D.C., and Michigan.
Following her husband's death, Ford continued to live in Rancho Mirage. She was the third longest-lived first lady behind Bess Truman and Lady Bird Johnson. Poor health and increasing frailty due to operations in August 2006 and April 2007 for blood clots in her legs caused her to largely curtail her public life. Her ill health prevented her from attending Johnson's funeral in July 2007; Ford's daughter Susan represented her mother at the funeral service.
Gerald and Betty Ford were the first U.S. President and First Lady to both live into their nineties. Bess Truman and Lady Bird Johnson lived into their nineties but their husbands Harry S. Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson did not. Herbert Hoover and John Adams both lived into their nineties but their wives Lou Henry Hoover and Abigail Adams did not. On April 8, 2011, Ford turned 93, the same age that her late husband, President Ford reached on his last birthday, July 14, 2006. On July 6, 2011, former First Lady Nancy Reagan turned 90, and thus she and her husband, former President Ronald Reagan, joined the Fords as the second first couple to both live into their nineties.
Death and funeral
Betty Ford died of natural causes on July 8, 2011, at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, aged 93.,
Funeral services were held in Palm Desert, California, on July 12, 2011, with over 800 people in attendance, including former president George W. Bush, First Lady Michelle Obama and former first ladies Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Rosalynn Carter, Cokie Roberts and Geoffrey Mason, a member of the Board of the Betty Ford Center delivered eulogies.
On July 13, her casket was flown to Grand Rapids where it lay in repose at the Gerald Ford Museum overnight.
On July 14, a second service was held at Grace Episcopal Church with eulogies given by Lynne Cheney, former Ford Museum director Richard Norton Smith and son, Steven. In attendance were former President Bill Clinton, former Vice President Dick Cheney and former first lady Barbara Bush. In her remarks, Ms. Cheney noted that July 14 would have been Gerald Ford's 98th birthday. After the service, she was buried next to her husband on the museum grounds.
In 1985, Ford received the Award for Greatest Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards.