Becoming The First Lady
You may or may not have heard of the Watergate Scandal, which forced president Richard Nixon to resign. Consequently, Vice President Gerald Ford became the President, which meant Betty Ford would become the First Lady. Out of nowhere, Betty had this huge responsibility dropped on her unexpectedly. However, she embraced it, and started the trend of openly being the First Lady.
Dancing was a big part of Betty’s life growing up. She learned various styles of dance, such as ballet, tap, and modern. It quickly became her passion, and while she was still in high school, she opened her own dance school.
Tragically, at the age of 16, Betty’s father died from carbon monoxide poisoning while repairing the family car in a closed garage. As he was the main source of income, Betty’s mother supported the family by working as a real estate agent. The way her mother handled herself during this tragic time really molded itself into Betty’s mind and perception of the world, making her understand the importance of equality for women.
After graduating high school, Betty attended a dance school for two summers taught by legendary dancer Martha Graham. She then appeared in many performances, including one in Carnegie Hall.
Marriage To Gerald Ford
Betty and Gerald met when he was returning from duty as a Navy Lieutenant to resume practicing law, and eventually run for U.S. Congress. They dated for about a year before he proposed in February of 1948, and married in November of that year - two weeks before the election. He won that election 3 weeks later, and Betty had no choice but to immerse herself in politics. She also took care of their four children and was involved with charities and volunteer work.
By 1973, Gerald Ford was appointed as Vice President under Richard Nixon. The following year, he resigned, and Gerald Ford was suddenly president. This meant that Betty Ford had the responsibility of being First Lady.
Betty was very open, and although some Conservatives did not like that, a lot of others did. She talked about on a 60 Minutes episode on how she would handle her children on premarital sex, the use of recreational drugs, etc. She also openly discussed abortions, equal pay, and divorce. These subjects were very taboo and unspoken of at the time, and it was considered a very big deal that a public figure such as the First Lady would speak about it.
A few weeks after Betty Ford became First Lady, she found out she had breast cancer during a routine check-up, and had to undergo a double mastectomy. She was very open about this as well, and it helped raise awareness on a topic that wasn’t discussed much before. She also supported the Equal Rights Amendment and lobbied for its passage. In 1975, she was named woman of the year in Time magazine.
Besides illness, she also struggled heavily with addiction. She started taking painkillers for a pinched nerve since the 1960’s. Her time at the White House allowed for a pause with the pills, but soon after leaving, her habits resumed. She stayed at a rehabilitation center after no amount of at-home remedies or interventions worked. She even went on to co-found a clinic, known as the Betty Ford clinic, in California. She was outspoken about her issues and was an advocate for treatments and awareness.
Gerald Ford died at the age of 93 and she died 5 years later. They were buried next to each other. Their legacy lives on.