A groundbreaking First Lady, Betty Ford is often remembered for her candor in addressing the controversial issues of her time.
Elizabeth Anne “Betty” Bloomer was born in Chicago and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. After graduating from Central High School, she went on to study modern dance at Bennington School of the Dance. While a student at Bennington, she met renowned choreographer Martha Graham and became a member of her Auxiliary Performance Troupe in New York City.
Bloomer returned to Michigan in 1941 and became a fashion coordinator for a department store. During this time, she continued to pursue her love of dance by starting her own performance group and teaching dance to handicapped children.
Shortly after her marriage to Gerald Ford, the Fords moved to Washington, DC, where Mr. Ford served as a member of the House of Representatives and Mrs. Ford assumed the duties of a congressional spouse.
In 1973, Mr. Ford was appointed Vice President of the United States. One year later, in a dramatic turn of political events, upon the resignation of President Nixon, Gerald Ford became the 38th President of the United States and Mrs. Ford became the First Lady. A few months later, Mrs. Ford was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a radical mastectomy. Rather than suppressing the diagnosis, she courageously shared her story and inspired countless women across the nation to get breast examinations. During her tenure as First Lady, Mrs. Ford continued to be an outspoken advocate of women’s rights, addressing public issues like the Equal Rights Amendment and increasing the number of women appointed to senior government posts.
The Fords left politics in 1976 and moved to Rancho Mirage, California. In 1978, following a family intervention, Mrs. Ford underwent successful treatment for addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs. She again used her personal story to raise public awareness of addiction, and in 1982, she co-founded the Betty Ford Center to treat victims of alcohol and chemical dependency.
Mrs. Ford was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1991 and the Congressional Gold Medal, with President Gerald R. Ford, in 1999.