Tags: Presidential History | first lady | Elizabeth Ford | Gerald Ford

Elizabeth Ford: The Causes That Defined President Gerald Ford's First Lady

By    |   Monday, 06 July 2015 09:19 PM

Elizabeth Ford, known all her life as Betty, became first lady on August 9, 1974, when Gerald Ford took over the presidency after Richard Nixon’s resignation until January 1977. Her husband had served as vice-president for nine months, and Betty Ford was also an active Congressional spouse for 25 years, according to the White House Historical Association.

Betty Ford brought a relaxed style and an openness to the White House in her willingness to express her opinions, The New York Times reported. She supported several causes from equal rights for women to the performing arts. Perhaps the causes she is best known for are those that affected her personally and that she shared with the public, including her battle with addiction and with breast cancer. Her willingness to discuss her own experiences encouraged women everywhere to seek help and treatment.

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Mrs. Ford supported legalized abortion, even discussing the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in a televised interview with Barbara Walters, and the Equal Rights Amendment. She called Roe v. Wade a “great, great decision.”

Her work for the passage of the ERA earned her the National Women’s Party’s Alice Paul Award, named for the suffragist, and given to those who work for women’s rights, according to the National First Ladies’ Library. Mrs. Ford also advocated for the recognition of women through support of museum exhibits and events, including one called “Remember the Ladies,” an exhibit about women of the American Revolutionary War.

A professional dancer prior to her marriage to Ford, she supported dance as an art form throughout her life. Mrs. Ford also promoted the “Art Train,” a train of railroad cars of artisans and exhibits that traveled throughout the southern states to bring exposure to the craftsmanship to those who would not normally be able to see it.

In September 1974, shortly after becoming the nation’s first lady, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy, the Chicago Tribune reported. Mrs. Ford made public the details of her health condition and is credited with saving countless lives by raising public awareness of the disease. Although breast cancer was not an issue that Mrs. Ford had named for her support as first lady, the way she addressed both her personal circumstances and the public discussion of breast cancer has made clear her invaluable contribution to this cause.

A second personal experience defined another cause closely associated with Mrs. Ford. A year after she and Gerald Ford left the White House, in 1978, she entered a drug and alcohol treatment program for her addiction to alcohol and pain killers. She went on to found the Betty Ford Clinic that specializes in addiction treatment, including the targeted treatment for women.

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Elizabeth Ford, known all her life as Betty, became first lady on August 9, 1974, when Gerald Ford took over the presidency after Richard Nixon's resignation.
first lady, Elizabeth Ford, Gerald Ford
Monday, 06 July 2015 09:19 PM
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