- NAME: Betty Ford
- OCCUPATION: U.S. First Lady
- BIRTH DATE: April 08, 1918
- DEATH DATE: July 08, 2011
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Chicago, Illinois
- PLACE OF DEATH: Rancho Mirage, California
- Maiden Name: Elizabeth Anne Bloomer
- AKA: Betty Ford
- Full Name: Elizabeth Anne Ford
- AKA: Elizabeth Ford
- AKA: Elizabeth Bloomer
- AKA: Betty Bloomer
- AKA: Betty Warren
Best Known For
Betty Ford became the First Lady when President Nixon resigned and made her Vice President husband, Gerald Ford, the acting President.
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Weeks after Betty Ford became first lady, she was diagnosed with malignant breast cancer during a routine exam. Ford underwent a mastectomy, and her openness about her illness raised visibility for a disease that Americans had previously been reluctant to discuss. During her convalescence, she realized the influence and power being a first lady had on influencing policy and creating change. She supported the Equal Rights Amendment,
and lobbied hard for its passage. She also became a strong advocate for a women's right to free choice in many decisions that affected their lives. As a result of her efforts, TIME magazine named her woman of the year in 1975.
In 1976, Betty Ford showed her innate political skills when her husband ran for the presidency against Democratic challenger Jimmy Carter, who formerly served as governor of Georgia. The first lady played a highly visible role during the campaign. She not only advocated for her husband, but also stood as a symbol of a moderate Republican as the conservative Republican wing of the party began to emerge. Betty taped radio ads, spoke at rallies, and campaigned hard, despite the tremendous strain on her health. Though most of her activities were spontaneous, she was often confined to stops in moderate-to-liberal states by the campaign staff, who worried at times that Betty Ford was appearing more liberal than Rosalynn Carter, the Democratic candidate's wife. She remained very popular with the public, however, and many supporters for President Ford wore buttons saying "Vote for Betty's Husband." When Gerald Ford lost to Jimmy Carter in the election, it was Betty Ford who delivered his concession speech, due to her husband's bout with laryngitis in the last days of the campaign.
Since the early 1960s, Betty Ford had been taking opioid analgesics for pain from a pinched nerve. Her dependency on these drugs had dissipated during her time in the White House, but after leaving Washington, D.C., her drinking of alcohol increased—as did her use of prescription drugs. In 1978, the Ford family staged an intervention, and forced Betty to confront her addition to alcohol and pain pills. After her initial anger over the intrusion in her life, Betty remained home for a week, and underwent a monitored detoxification. She then entered Long Beach Naval Hospital for drug and alcohol rehabilitation. There, the former first lady shared a room with other women, cleaned restrooms, and participated in emotional therapy sessions. In keeping with her sense of authenticity, Betty fully disclosed her addictions and resulting treatment to the public shortly after her release from the hospital.
The experience in drug rehab had a profound effect on Betty. She realized during her convalescence that, as a former first lady, she had the power to create change and affect behavior. She also realized there was no recovery facility specifically established to help women with the unique problems associated with drug and alcohol abuse.
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Few people know the challenges that go along with fighting breast cancer. Aside from the powerful women who have to fight the illness, family, friends and colleagues band together during these trying times as well. And those women who survive the hardships that go along with the affliction—particularly those in the public eye, such as Nancy Reagan, Melissa Etheridge and Wanda Sykes—become inspirations for women everywhere to get checked regularly and stand up to breast cancer. Browse through our group to see the courageous women who triumphed in their fight against breast cancer.
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When the 19th Amendment was ratified, women were finally given the right to vote, and over the years many courageous women have stepped onto the national political stage as well. In 1916, Jeannette Rankin became the first woman elected to Congress and almost a century later Sonia Sotomayor became the first Latina woman to serve on the Supreme Court. And within the last two decades, the esteemable Hillary Clinton has served as First Lady, a New York senator and Secretary of State. These women, and many more, are setting the stage for the future of female leaders in Washington.
Visit Biography.com's Women's History group to explore more biographies, photos and videos of some the world's most fascinating women."
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