Betty Ford cutting an anniversary cake in the private quarters of the White House, 1975.
With Mrs. Ford at home, 2001.
My work as an historian, researcher and author of books on the American First Ladies and the political power and cultural influence they possess overlapped a timeline during which nine women who held that unofficial position were alive and helped me, either in writing, by telephone, or in formal and informal interviews.
There were several I came to eventually befriend, becoming especially privileged to be trusted to know and understand them as real human beings.
And none proved more real and human than did Betty Ford.
Mrs. Ford on the phone.
Over time, I would conduct about six formal taped interviews with her in person, one taking place over the course of two days, with each day consisting of about four hours. There were also phone calls and correspondence and private visits during her rare trips back to Washington.
Once I had relocated from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles, there were visits to her at home in Rancho Mirage, California, in the Palm Springs vicinity.
Mrs. Ford was always so present a spirit and engaging a conversationalist that even now, nearly seven years after her death in July of 2011, it still seems odd that she is gone. I still think of her often. I still miss her.
Certainly, like us all, she had her worries and distractions, fears and challenges, but when one sat down with her in that California casual, sun-soaked living room, on that comfortable, lively lime-green floral-printed sofa, she was flowing with energy and attention, reflective, poignant, intent, with a conviction of her values. She radiated an effervescence. While she never referenced the details of her deeply-held religious faith to me, it was impossible not to genuinely feel her spiritualism.
Mrs. Ford couldn’t help but radiate.
She was also unable to resist, at some point, being very funny, an outgrowth of her capacity for recognizing the irony and hypocrisy inherent in the follies of human nature. With a charming wit, her eyes lighting up and a warm smiling crossing her face, Mrs, Ford often employed self-deprecation.
Of course, she wasn’t perfect. Yet, at least in the years I knew her, she was singularly without judgmental of anyone we talked about. I think this was a reflection of a humility that, as she often pointed out, was a necessity to her ongoing recovery. Thinking of herself as special just because she’d been First Lady, was a deadly kind of egotism that would have only encouraged using alcohol.
The living room of the Ford home in Rancho Mirage, California made vivid by the seating in a lime-green upholstery and dominated by a large impressionistic portrait of Mrs. Ford as First Lady.
We always began with a particular focus but inevitably Mrs. Ford liked to meander, mixing in memories of her past life with the full range of current events we covered, from global to national to local politics, music, dance, art, theater, film, television (she loved the Sopranos), alcohol, prescription drug, even cigarette and sugar addictions, new recovery methodologies, civil, gay and women’s rights, immigration, gun violence, aging, medical experiments, emerging technologies, foreign cultures, new restaurants, and always First Ladies.
Mrs. Ford cutting her 1975 birthday cake.
No matter what numerical age she might be at any given moment during our interactions, she was forever charismatic. Her saucy blue eyes were the gateway for a natural warmth and genuinely glowing incandescence.
Simply, she was a beautiful person, inside and out.
It was an unexpected, extraordinary conferring of trust by Mrs. Ford to be encouraged to come know her. Not as a public figure or a symbol, although that was interesting for sure, exploring those elements of the historic role she filled – but simply as a friend, Betty.
The author and Betty Ford, 1991.
I especially recall our time in May 1994, shoes off, seated on her living room floor, talking about highly personal matters. I reminded her we were taping, and offered to turn it off. “Oh that’s okay, I trust you to know what to share,” she shrugged.
What proved enduring, what affects me to this day was how much I learned from Betty Ford the human being. What proved crucial to my career was her believing enough in my early writings to encourage my pursuit of the admittedly esoteric topic of First Ladies and to grant my request for an interview, even though I was unpublished and still in college. It was a study in which, I learned, she had long taken an interest, even before becoming a First Lady herself. As a child, she had identified Eleanor Roosevelt as a role model, along with her mother.
First Ladies Carter, Obama, Clinton and Reagan (with George W. Bush between the latter two. Three rows back, in the far right corner (behind Maria Shriver) is the author.
And in the days that followed her death, I discovered she had also thoughtfully remembered me. Meticulously planning her own funeral, she not only had me placed on the invitation list, but seated three rows behind her sorority in the first row: Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Reagan and Rosalynn Carter. I was blown away: what a real honor. From a real person.
I tried to always remember her especially on April eighth, her birthday, sending a bunch of her favorite white flowers ( I cannot now recall the name of them, freesia perhaps?) through her local florist Comerfords.
To commemorate her centennial for this year’s eighth of April, I’ve decided to reflect the full sweep of her life, that of, as she put it, “an ordinary person thrust into extraordinary circumstances” through photographs and videos. More may be added over time.
Most of these images are from the collection of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum part of the National Archives. To mark Mrs. Ford’s centennial, her husband’s presidential museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan has assembled the most comprehensive exhibit on her life.
Please credit this website carlanthonyonline.com as the source of image taken from it.
One of the earliest pictures of the girl born as Elizabeth Ann Bloomer a century ago .
Elizabeth Ann Bloomer was born in Chicago on April 8, 1918. She lived with her parents, two older brothers; her paternal grandmother, an Irish immigrant, lived with them until the family moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan. The future First Lady is seen here in 1921, before her fourth birthday.
William Bloomer, Betty Ford’s father, a traveling salesman. He died suddenly when she was only sixteen years old.
Hortense Nehr Bloomer, Betty Ford’s mother who also worked as a widow in real estate, serving as a role model.
Betty Bloomer at four years old, 1922, at left.
Betty Ford’s mother and two older brothers Bill and Bob.
On summer vacation at Whitefish Lake, Betty at far right, with her parents behind her, 1927.
Betty Bloomer at age 14, 1932.
From an early age, Betty Bloomer was taken with performing, specifically dance. She took lessons in the traditional forms of dance at the local Calla Travis School of Dance and also taught children younger than her. Here she is costumed, at right, from a performance of “Scenes from Scaramouche,” during the 1936 annual May Dance sponsored by the school.
Young Miss Bloomer, took her dancing seriously.
In high school, Betty Bloomer was highly athletic and part of the girls field hockey team.
“Skipper,” goofing around with a group of girlfriends known as “the Good Cheers,” at a party in Ottawa Beach, 1934.
Betty Bloomer, top row second from right, at the time of her high school graduation, 1936.
Elizabeth Ann Bloomer is seen in her high school portrait, 1936.
Vermont & New York
Intent on pursuing dance as a profession, Betty Bloomer applied for and was accepted to the Bennington College Summer School of Dance in Vermont, where she sought training with the innovative teacher of modern dance, Martha Graham. Seen here holding a dance move, she spent two summers studying there, in 1937 and 1938.
Hanging out with a fellow dance student at the Bennington College summer dance program, Vermont, 1937.
At Bennington with a fellow student.
Betty Bloomer training in modern dance, her teach Martha Hill seated on the floor.
Upon completion of her studies at Bennington, Martha Graham auditioned Betty Bloomer and found her skilled enough to hire as part of her auxiliary troop in New York.
While Betty Bloomer did not perform with the main Graham troupe, she did dance at Carnegie Hall, her name listed first under “Assistant Dance Group,” on the second page of the program.
Living in the Chelsea section of New York City, Betty Bloomer was just twenty years old and relished exploring the urban wonders of the big city. She supported herself from the spotty income she earned as a model with the John Powers agency. Seen here in one of her modeling portraits from 1938.
Betty Bloomer continued to find venues to pursue her love of dance, becoming a dance instructor in the summers after her time as part of the Graham Auxiliary, at Camp Bryn Afon.
As a camp instructor, Betty Bloomer taught a variety of dance forms, including folk and interpretive dance.
Four Jobs, Two Marriage
After giving her dance career with Martha Graham a year’s worth of effort, Betty Bloomer gave way to her mother’s wishes and returned home to Grand Rapids. She continued to both perform but also to teach at the Calla School, where she had first trained, bringing modern dance to the conservative city and even once staging a performance on the steps of the Baptist church., Seen here in a 1942 benefit performance of “Fantasy.” She is wearing a costume she designed consisting of a grey satin skirt and leotard with magenta sash and gloves.
Even though she stopped professionally dancing and teaching, dance remained Betty Ford’s lifelong passion.
Upon returning to Grand Rapids from New York, Betty Bloomer earned her own income, working as a model and fashion coordinator in the local department store Herpelscheimers. She is seen here with her mother-in-law.
In 1942, with World War II already raging, Elizabeth Bloomer married a friend she’d known since she was twelve years old, insurance salesman William G. Warren. He soon after went to work for Continental Can Company and then Widdicomb Furniture in Toledo, Ohio. This image, may have been the photo used for her wedding announcement.
The first home where Betty Warren and her first husband Bill Warren lived, in Maumee, Ohio, outside of Toledo, at 622 River Road, situated on a waterfront property, facing a busy roadway.
For ten months, from 1942 to 1943, Betty Warren worked at the Toledo department store Lasalle & Koch, modeling clothes and accessories, and working as a saleswoman and in the business office.
The Warrens moved in 1943 to Fulton, New York, where they lived in a clapboard house at 409 E. Broadway. While there, the future First Lady worked on the production line of the Birdseye Frozen Food company factory. They left Fulton in 1944.
Despite his relative youth, Bill Warren suffered with various ills and was also alcoholic. Betty was filing for divorce when he fell into a coma. She took care of him for another two years as he convalesced, at his family’s home. Their divorce was finalized on September 22, 1947. One source identifies this as Warren.
Herpolsheimers, the Grand Rapids, Michigan department store where Betty Ford worked as buyer, making bulk purchases for each season of the stock for the women’s clothing department.
The divorced Mrs. Waren had wanted to avoid another marriage too soon, but friends insisted she meet Yale Law grad and attorney Gerald Ford. They hit it off immediately.
Ford was running for what would be his first of thirteen terms as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and asked her if they could delay their wedding until right before the election because, as she said, he “wasn’t sure how voters might feel about his marrying a divorced ex-dancer.” They are seen here at their rehearsal dinner in October 1948.
On October 15, 1948, Elizabeth Bloomer Warren married Gerald Rudolph Ford at Grace Episcopal Church, in Grand Rapids.
The Fords exit their church after their wedding ceremony.
The Fords at their wedding reception, flanked by his mother and stepfather on the left, and her mother and stepfather on the right.
Wedding reception over, the Fords are driven away by a friend.
Just two months after her wedding, Betty Ford found herself the wife of a U.S. Congressman, living in Washington, January 1949.
For twenty-two years, from 1950 until 1972, Betty Ford would join her husband back in Grand Rapids, Michigan and help him campaign for his re-election to Congress every two years.
Bess Truman was the first First Lady the young congressional wife Betty Ford would meet, at a 1949 reception. In 1952, joining her husband and Republican presidential candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower on the campaign trail, she first met Mamie Eisenhower. As First Lady, Mrs, Eisenhower often invited her up to the White House private quarters to play bridge – but Betty Ford had a household to run, young children to care for and congressional spouse obligations. “And I really didn’t know how to play bridge,” she later told me.
The Fords pose just before heading out to the first state dinner they were invited to by the President and Mrs. Kennedy, in April of 1961. “That wardrobe of hers was epidemic,” she later remarked of Jackie Kennedy’s influence on women’s clothing styles.
Posing at the U.S. Capitol, promoting a 1961 fashion show fundraiser for the Babies Welfare Guild, which she narrated.
The Fords washing dishes in their Alexandria home, the walls in knotty pine wood from their home distrrict of Grand Rapids. Lifting the kitchen window, Mrs. Ford pinched a neck nerve which would eventually lead to her prescription painkiller addiction.
The Congressman’s wife christens a ship.
Joining her husband on a congressional junket to the Bahamas, 1966.
When her husband first went to Congress, the Fords lived in a Fairfax, Virginia garden apartment complex. They are seen on the lawn of the property with their first child Michael, born in 1950.
The former modern dancer and divorcee had become a quintessential 1950s housewife, caring for the appearance of her husband, getting the family meals prepared, and caring for her growing family. Second child Jack was born in 1952. With her husband being in Congress, however, Betty Ford had to increasingly assume the role of sole parent, given the large percentage of time he was traveling or in their home district.
The third Ford child, another son, Steven, was born in 1956. Betty Ford was thirty-eight years old at the time.
By the time their fourth and last child, their only daughter Susan, was born in 1957, the family had moved to their own home on Crown View Drive in Alexandria.
With her husband usually away from Washington during weekdays, Betty Ford assumed all the responsibility for their growing children, shepherding her sons to Cub Scouts and athletic activities, her daughter to athletics and dance classes.
Although the family was able to afford hiring a housekeeper, Betty Ford still did the food shopping and helped with preparing daily meals. This was in addition to her work as a mother and the social appearances and charitable activities she undertook as a congressional spouse. She would later admit that there were times that the stress caused her to stir a spoon of vodka into her morning coffee. In time she would seek the help of a psychiatrist which proved to be of enormous relief.
Having always hoped to have a daughter, Betty Ford was especially close with her youngest child Susan, a special relationship that would continue through the rest of her life.
Following the nerve pinching in her neck, Betty Ford had to be hospitalized and put in traction. She would often have to wear a neck brace to relieve the chronic pain, as seen here in 1964. It was at this time that her physicians began prescribing strong pain narcotics for her and, in retrospect, the slow start of what would become a full-blown addiction.
By the early 1970s, Betty Ford’s responsibilities began to alleviate, as her eldest sons Mike and Jack enrolled in college and her younger children Steve and Susan were in high school.
Second Lady of the Land
After winning his 1972 re-election to Congress, Betty Ford had gained her husband’s promise that he would retire from politics. Then, in the fall of 1974, a call came through from the White House. It was President Nixon offering Ford the vice presidency, his elected Vice President Spiro Agnew having resigned under a cloud of corruption charges. Knowing that the call was coming, Betty Ford was in their den to also speak with Nixon after her husband accepted the offer.
Following President Nixon’s public announcement that he’d chosen Ford as his new Vice President, the two couples posed in the White House Blue Room. Betty Ford and Pat Nixon had been friends since the former had come to Washington, but she also noted that the First Lady had become increasingly reserved as the Watergate scandal unfolded.
Betty Ford held the Bible on which her husband placed his hand as he was sworn in as Vice President in early December of 1973; the event was held in the House of Representatives rather than the White House.
The Fords in the U.S. Capitol Building office of the new Vice President.
Betty Ford had little time to prepare for what she might hope to achieve in terms of public service as Second Lady. She expressed an interest in promoting the physical and emotional rehabilitation of children through the arts, but she largely served as a representative for the Administration, visiting Governor and Mrs. Carter in Georgia on an early bicentennial promotion and attending the funeral of the late Dr. Martin Luther King’s mother, an event which she alone had decided was important to have some symbolic presidential presence.
Although her husband was now the second most powerful person in the country, Betty Ford continued to manage her own life with only one aide. She came and went without losing much of her privacy or freedom.
On April 19, 1974 Vice President and Mrs. Ford enjoyed live music in a Mexican restaurant, during a vacation in Palm Springs, California. There, Jerry could indulge his love of golf and Betty rest in the dry heat of the desert. Little could they know that three years later it would be the place to which they retired.
Admiralty House, on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory, was designated as the new official vice presidential residence by the time Betty Ford became Second Lady. She was working with interior designers on preparing the rooms there for her family’s occupancy when, in July of 1974 her husband gravely suggested they would never be living there.
August 8, 1974. Still in her capacity as Vice President’s wife, Betty Ford kisses farewell to her friend Pat Nixon before the outgoing First Lady boarded the helicopter that took her and President Nixon from the White House, following his farewell speech to the nation.After escorting the Nixons to their helicopter, Jerry and Betty Ford entered the residence of the White House and walked the stately Cross Hall towards the East Room.
At noon on August 8, 1974 Nixon ceased being president, his resignation due to the Watergate scandal having been announced by him in a national speech on the evening of the sixth. Just as Nixon’s resignation took effect, Gerald Ford repeated the presidential oath of office in the East Room as Betty Ford held the Bible on which he rested his hand.
In his first remarks following his becoming president, Gerald Ford acknowledged being “indebted” to his wife, the first time any president had done so in an inaugural speech.
The enormity of how fate had so dramatically changed their lives by his unexpected and sudden assumption of the presidency was evident on the faces of both the new President and new First Lady as they made their way from the residence to the West Wing.
The new presidential family posed together for the first time in the Oval Office.
For ten days, the new First Family continued to live in their suburban home.
The new First Lady wishes her husband a “good day at the office,” as he leaves their home and heads to the Oval Office.
Following the White House swearing-in, Betty Ford and her family returned to their suburban Virginia home for a meal of homemade lasagna, and then beginning to determine which personal items and furnishings they would be taking to their new home.
On August 12, 1974, the new First Lady arrived at the White House for a inspection tour of the living quarters her family would be occupying at the White House.
Mrs. Ford with her first press secretary Helen Smith, who had served Mrs. Nixon. Eventually, she named new senior staff, many of whom were feminists and had held professional positions outside of government service.
Meeting with her inherited social secretary, Mrs. Ford discovered that she was expected to host a state dinner within a matter of days,
Pausing in the small Queen’s Sitting Room during her tour, Mrs. Ford decided to retain the original refurnishing of it by Jackie Kennedy; it still remains that way, the last room of the White House from that era.
A television news clip of Betty Ford’s press conference after her tour.
Though still commuting from the suburbs, Betty Ford hosted her first state dinner as First Lady with the President, for the King and Queen of Jordan.
A Styling First Lady
Betty Ford’s official White House photograph, wearing a dress made from one of the synthetic clothes popular in the 1970s.
Since she had no Inaugural ball gown, this favorite one in green, made from silk bolts she obtained in China, showed Betty Ford in the low-cut neckline and “mandarin” color style. She not only posed for a painting in it, but donated the gown to represent her in the Smithsonian collection.
Mrs. Ford tries a dance move with the Harlem Dance Theater in another favored silk gown, this time with a high-neck color but still in a Chinese style.
Betty Ford created a unique style for herself in fashion and entertaining by blending the traditional fand informal.
One of the First Lady’s initial designers was her friend Frankie Welch, famous for her various colored scarfs.
One of the Welch scarfs of Mrs. Ford, later produced for the public during the 1976 Bicentennial.
The neck scarf was a signature Betty Ford fashion touch.
Hosting a tea for the wife of the Shah of Iran in a dress including both of her signature fashion touches, the scarf and mandarin collar.
Being fitted for a gown by designer Albert Capraro, one of her frequent favorites.
Capraro tying her neck knot.
Reviewing submitted designs by fashion designer Albert Capraro.
Betty Ford often wore formal gowns that had sheaths and trains.
Meeting with fashion designer Luis Estevez.
Mrs. Ford pulled off a chocolate-colored gown with elegance.
One of Mrs. Ford’s White House gowns.
An electric red and orange gown and shawl.
In one of her elegant gowns, the First Lady makes a dance turn during an October 1975 state dinner honoring Egyptian President Anwar Al-Sadat.
Being guided by Diana Vreeland, Metropolitian Museum Costume Institute curator for the “American Women of Style” exhibit, March 29, 1976.
Attentive to entertaining details, Mrs. Ford always determined which china, glassware and tableware was to be used at the formal events she hosted.
With her Social Secretary Maria Downes, Betty Ford reviews one of the centerpieces before a formal dinner Mrs. Ford liked to include rustic and unconventional touches in these, from antique hardware to carved wood.
Looking over the table arrangements with the press before the bicentennial state dinner for Queen Elizabeth.
Among the Ford state dinner guests were many artists popular at the time, in all fields. At the First Lady’s table, she chats with actor Clint Eastwood. To his left is legendary syndicated advice columnist Eppie Letterer, known as “Dear Abbie.” Two seats to Mrs. Ford’s right is Martha Graham.
Among the guests included at the First Lady’s table this time: “high society” garden columnist C.Z. Guest, actor Danny Kaye former First Daughter Margaret Truman, Second Lady Happy Rockefeller, actor Cary Grant and popular “society” gossip columnist Aileen “Suzy Says” Mehle.
Mrs. Ford was also willing to mix up the rooms where she hosted dinners, placing round tables on one occasion in the Red, Blue and Green rooms.
Betty Ford, at an outdoor luncheon, was also conscious of the recession affecting the economy at the time she became First Lady. Since First Families pay for all their own food and the Fords were not wealthy, she relied on many casseroles, meat loafs and other “extender” recipes. She also made copies of these recipes available to the public who requested them.
For the first time since the Kennedy era, opera returned to the White House, Betty Ford inviting opes singer Beverly Sills to perform at the January 30, 1975 state dinner for British Prime Minister Harold Willson.
With an impish sense of irreverent humor, Betty Ford always tried to dispel the stuffiness of White House events. She invited the popular comedian Flip Wilson to perform in his popular drag character of “Geraldine” at the President’s 62nd birthday party, on July 14, 1975.
Just two months after becoming First Lady, Betty Ford discovered she had breast cancer and underwent a radical mastectomy, saving her life. She decided to go public with all the details of what had once been a taboo subject. It was a revolutionary move and likely saved untold millions of iives.
When Mrs. Ford was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a radical mastectomy, she received a commemorative get-well declaration signed by officials, which she reads with the President.
The First Lady tosses a football given to her by manager of the Washington Redskins in the hallway outside the presidential suite at Bethesda Naval Hospital.
The President and Bob Hope visit with the recuperating First Lady.
President Ford escorts the First Lady from the hospital.
Upon returning to the White House from the hospital, Betty Ford was welcomed by the White House staff.
Just a month after Mrs. Ford’s breast cancer, the wife of the Vice President Happy Rockefeller also discovered that she did as well. It only further got the point across that it could strike any woman, regardless of status.
As First Lady, Betty Ford headlined and addressed the vast annual American Cancer Society fundraiser in New York.
Mrs. Ford raised national consciousness about breast cancer, the first public figure to discuss it publicly without shame, helping other women do so and prevent death to it. She is seen here promoting a mobile breast cancer detection unit.
During a trip to Florida, while the President golfed, the First Lady slipped on a button showing her commitment to passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.
Betty Ford congratulates the President upon his signing of a proclamation declaring 1975 the Year of the Woman.
One of Mrs. Ford’s first speeches after recovering from breast cancer was to address head on the issue of equal pay for equal work and other relevant policy reform and societal attitudes necessary to full gender equality.
Some of Mrs. Ford’s staff and Secret Service detail gave her a banner showing woman’s bloomers (a reference to her maiden name) in the spirit of her feminism.
From her private office adjoining her bedroom, Mrs. Ford made phone calls lobbying state legislators and governors seeking to influence them to bring the issue of state ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the floor of their legislatures up for a vote.
Mrs. Ford delivering her historic speech before the Greater Cleveland Congress of the International Year of the Woman.
Mrs. Ford accepts the first Alice Paul Award from members of the National Women’s Party.
The First Lady being presented with a proclamation at a National Archives reception honoring International Woman’s Year.
Being given the Woman of the Year Award, a televised event sponsored by Ladies Home Journal.
The President and Mrs. Ford listening to a report from American delegates who attended the United Nations Conference on the International Year of Women.
Betty Ford never neglected to encourage the traditional girls and women’s organizations, seen here with a group of Girl Scouts and their leaders.
Helping the Visiting Nurses Association celebrate their anniversary.
Not yet First Lady for a month, Mrs. Ford returns from a trip to Alabama surrounded by the regular group of women reporters who covered First Ladies. She had a breezy and friendly relationship with the group.
Betty Ford looks on as Anne Armstrong is sworn in as the first woman Ambassador to the Court of St. James in September of 1976. Three years earlier Armstrong had established an office of women’s affair in the West Wing and was an especial favorite of the First Lady who had urged the President to chose her as his vice presidential running mate.
During her appearance at the opening of an exhibit on American Revolutionary women’s roles in the fight for independence, the First Lady read a letter the President had received from a six-year old girl asking why First lady Betty Ford why women can’t be equal. (AP)
As First Lady Betty Ford celebrated dance as a performing art – especially by enjoying all forms of it at White House events. One of her favorite dance partners was the actor Fred Astaire who had become legendary for his duet dancing with Ginger Rogers, a staple of her childhood movie-going.
Mrs. Ford (in green) and the President join a folk dance circle during a state visit to Romania.
in China, the American First Lady kicked off her shoes to spontaneously join a dance troupe.
Mrs. Ford follows the coordinated arm and leg movements of a Chinese dance instructor.
The First Lady foxtrots with Vice President Nelson Rockefeller.
Mrs. Ford breaks a new move with ballet dancer Edward Villella.
Another move with Villella.
The Fords join a traditional hora dance line. Or was it the Hustle?
Doing a spontaneous soft shoe routine with Bob Hope.
Gerald and Betty Ford have their first dance in the White House in August 1974 at the state dinner for Jordan’s king. The dance? An old one called “Betty Coed.”
The First Lady’s favorite dance partner was always the President.
Betty Ford joined Martha Graham for a dance rehearsal at her studios before an evening fundraising gala for her school.
The former student and her teacher.
The First Lady joined her former teacher onstage at a June 19, 1976 gala performance marking the Martha Graham Dance Company’s 50th anniversary at New York’s Uris Theater.
On stage at the gala, Mrs. Ford and Miss Graham join the legendary ballet duo Dame Margot Fonteyn and ]Rudolf Nureyev, who performed Graham’s new ballet entitled “Lucifer.”
Betty Ford invited her “idol” upstairs to the White House private quarters.
Toasting with Martha Graham at a fundraising performance for the Graham dance company at the Kennedy Center.
Mrs. Ford was instrumental in having Martha Graham presented with the Presidential Medal of Honor, the first person in the dance field to be so honored.
Leading a Blue Room conga line at a fundraiser for the Ford’s Theater shortly before leaving the White House, 1977.
That Seventies Celebrity
Betty Ford broke precedent as First Lady by making a brief guest star appearance on the popular television sitcom “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
Before the birthday of the late civil rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr. was declared a national holiday, Betty Ford commemorated the day in 1976 by visiting the Washington, D.C. library named in his honor.
On July 21, 1975, Betty Ford granted a taped interview to Morley Safer of 60 Minutes. Her responses to questions about marijuana use, unmarried couples living together (she understood why young people might do both), use of psychiatry (it had worked for her) and abortion (she supported the Supreme Court decision Roe vs. Wade which legalized it) created a political firestorm. Initially there were more citizens who registered their anger and disapproval with either her opinions or her willingness to discuss the issues. Shortly thereafter, there was even more overwhelming support – even among those who disagreed with some of her views – for a First Lady honestly addressing many of the social issues of the 70s that other American families were grappling with.
At an October 1976 ceremony of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Jesse Owens, the President and Mrs. Ford had a chance to meet one of the sensations of that summer, Olympic gold medalist, swimmer Mark Spitz.
After two years in the White House, Betty Ford had become a familiar enough national figure to be caricatured in cartoon.
A cartoon combining her overt feminism and the Bicentennial spirit.
A drawing celebrating her being part of the CB radio community.
Trying a new instant SX-70 Polaroid camera. She also slipped a “mood ring” on, a popular fad of the era.
With the President and medical staff at the San Francisco airport, on her way to welcome Vietnamese refugee children into the United States, 1975.
First Lady Betty Ford personally greeting some of the child refugees from Vietnam who were given asylum in the United States after the fall of Saigon, South Vietnam to the communists.
With her daughter and entertainer Pearl Bailey, at the Kennedy Center celebrating her birthday in 1976.
Betty Ford couldn’t help shaking her booty in the popular disco dance craze known as “the Bump,” with Tony Orlando during the 1976 Republican National Convention.
Betty liked to “bump” so much, she tried it out in the White House with comedian Marty Allen.
…and gave the “Bump” another whirl with Tony Orlando, this time at a White House state dinner.
Goofing around in the family quarters with Meadowlark Lemon, one of the era’s famous Harlem Globetrotter basketball team performers.
Betty Ford became the first First Lady parodied on the new comedy sketch show on NBC that began during the Ford presidency, “Saturday Night Live.” Actress Jane Curtin depicted her.
Aboard an aircraft carrier on July 4, 1976 in New York harbor, where she watched the parade of tall ships known as “Op Sail.”
Welcoming the Japanese Emperor Hirohito and Empress on their state visit, in the Red Room.
The state dinner for the Japanese Emperor.
Flanking Queen Elizabeth of England during the legendary White House state dinner during the monarch’s U.S. visit during the Bicentennial.
Mrs. Ford dancing with Prince Philip during the state dinner for his wife the Queen.
Hosting France’s President and First Lady at a state dinner.
With her predecessor Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis during a January 1976 bicentennial concert at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Joining Lady Bird Johnson for the opening night of the Broadway musical “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”
Visiting the renovated Independence National Park in Philadelphia raising public awareness of what could be seen there, before the huge crowds came.
Checking out the Liberty Bell.
Visiting Philadelphia’s Liberty Hall and posing at a bicentennial quilt display.
Betty Ford joined Kitty Dukakis, Joan Kennedy, Margaret Heckler and Nancy Kissinger to christen “Remember the Ladies,” a bicentennial exhibit on the role of women in the American Revolution at Plymouth, Massachusetts.
In a ceremony to help promote the PBS Bicentennial dramatic series “The Adams Chronicles,” Betty Ford welcomed home her “predecessor,” the actress who portrayed feminist First Lady Abigail Adams, before the real First Lady’s portrait.
At the June 1976 Smithsonian ceremony of her state gown donation.
A Bicentennial handbag made for the First Lady, using her CB radio handle.
White House Living
Breaking with a tradition dating back to the Hoover presidency, Betty Ford did away with the separate bedrooms maintained for presidential couples. When a reporter asked her how often she slept with the President, she quipped, “As often as possible.”
Betty Ford especially enjoyed being able to enjoy the presence of her daughter living in the White House. Sons Jack and Steve would also reside there more regularly for a period of time.
Posing with the White House cat Shan.
Looking in on the First Dog Liberty, a golden retriever, and her new puppies.
The Fords spend a quiet evening together in their private living room, both working.
Posing with her husband, daughter, sons and daughter-in-law on the South Lawn, September 1976.
Enjoying a rare dinner alone with her husband.
Hosting an afternoon gathering in the Yellow Oval Room.
Hosting a surprise birthday party for the President in July of 1975.
Welcoming Susan with Liberty’s puppies at an anniversary party the Fords hosted for friends.
With Susan and one of Liberty’s puppies while decorating the family tree in the White House solarium.
In a white ski suit, Mrs. Ford poses with some friends during the Ford family’s annual Colorado Christmas vacations.
The Fords on Christmas Day 1975 in their Vail residence.
Mrs. Ford was relieved to not only have three of her four children but also her husband home – following one of the two assassination attempts on his life.
Chatting with a friend from the historic Queen’s Bedroom.
At Camp David. Unknown to the public, Mrs. Ford still suffered with arthritis and her chronic pinched neck nerve and often had to rely on painkiller narcotics.
The affectionate First Couple in the Oval Office…
…and on Air Force One.
Visiting New Hampshire in primary season, with the President and their son Mike. (Life)
Mrs. Ford campaigns in Bettendorf, Iowa, for both her husband and Jim Leach, congressman from Iowa’s Fourth Congressional District, at Leach’s headquarters. (AP)
During the winter and spring Republican primaries, Betty Ford made limited campaign visits to states where her more liberal Republican views were favored. In the fall general campaign, after the convention, she travelled more widely. Here at a regional Ford campaign headquarters she makes calls encouraging citizens to vote for her husband.
Manning another Ford-Dole campaign phone bank, this time n Downey, California, October 19, 1976.
The First Lady could always expect a large and enthusiastic crowd to welcome her at airports during her campaign trips.
Wading into a crowd at a campaign rally.
In 1976, with a new interest in ancestry prompted by the Bicentennial, many Americans began discovering the roots of their ethnic heritage and culture; Mrs. Ford encountered many such Americans during her campaign trips.
Reviewing public mail with her director of correspondence Carolyn Porempka, while making an independent campaign swing through liberal Republican districts in Florida, February 1976.
One of several popular campaign buttons featuring the First Lady.
Attending her first Oktoberfest and enjoying German food while campaigning through the Midwest.
Enjoying herself on the campaign plane.
As she became more comfortable campaigning on her own, the First Lady also became a more vigorous defender of the President’s policy record, making a case to elect him to his own four-year term.
Campaigning in the South; although conservatives were wary of her views, Mrs. Ford had a unique constituency among truck drivers, due to her becoming part of the CB radio community.
The First Lady greets cheering crowds at a convention reception where Tony Orlando performed.
Watching the convention hall demonstration for her husband.
Addressing a Republican women’s luncheon during the convention; Nancy Reagan seated at far right.
At the podium with the President following his official nomination.
During one campaign stop, Betty Ford was excited to re-unite with one of Liberty’s pups born in the White House.
With Elizabeth Dole, the wife of President Ford’s vice presidential running mate, U.S. Senator Bob Dole of Kansas.
Among those who came to support Ford for President were many women Democrats, drawn by the First Lady’s feminism.
Campaigning in California with her son Steve.
On the final day of campaigning, when the President lost his voice, the First Lady delivered his campaign speeches.
On a final stop in her hometown of Grand Rapids, cheering to the Michigan fight song.
Election Day. She was fully confident that her husband would win.
The First Lady delivered her husband’s concession speech the day after the election.
In her final television interview as First Lady, Betty Ford took Barbara Walters through some of the family’s private rooms.
The Fords welcome the incoming Carters two weeks after the election, to introduce them to the White House.
The night before leaving the White House, the First Lady kicked off her shoes and assumed a dance pose on the Cabinet table for her friend and White House photographer David Kennerly.
Addiction, Recovery & Founder
Betty Ford emerges from the Long Beach Naval Hospital alcohol and drug recovery treatment program. Deciding to do as she had done by publicly disclosing her breast cancer detection and surgery, she made the decision to share news of her addiction with the public in hopes that it would lead others, particularly women, to also confront their addictions.
Mrs. Ford would continue the new behavioral habits she learned in recovery at home, but within months would begin plans to more publicly help others confronting the problems created by addiction.
With Leonard Firestone, co-founder of the recovery center named in her honor.
At the groundbreaking ceremony of the Betty Ford Center.
Betty Ford, served as chairwoman and co-founder of the Betty Ford Center since its inception in 1981 until 2005, when she passed the leadership to her daughter, Susan Ford Bales.
In the Serenity Room of the Betty Ford Center, which she helped design.
Mrs. Ford worked almost daily at the Betty Ford Center, counseling patients and keeping abreast of the latest findings affecting addiction recovery.
Former First Lady
Former First Lady Betty Ford joined incumbent First Lady Rosalynn Carter and former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson at the Women’s Conference in Houston, Texas, the first large national gathering of feminists to organize with an agenda of equality legislation.
Joining Rosalynn Carter and Liz Carpenter, among others, at a rally promoting passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, a move opposed by the conservative wing of the Republican Party.
Meeting with Nancy Reagan during the 1980 Republican National Convention; Mrs. Ford strongly opposed her husband accepting an unprecedented proposal to run as the presidential nominee Ronald Reagan’s vice presidential candidate. She was happy to be out of politics.
Mrs. Ford seating in the Alpine Gardens named in her honor in Beaver Creek, Colorado, where the Fords had a second home, where they resided in summers.
Continuing her commitment to breast cancer detection and awareness, Mrs. Ford cut the ribbon on a new mobile unit.
Joining the Reagans, Bushes and Lady Bird Johnson during the Ford Presidential Library dedication.
With the former President at their Colorado home.
Betty Ford appeared in public for the first time following her facelift at a Martha Graham fundraiser held at the legendary New York nightclub Studio 54, flanked by one of its owners Steve Rubell and Graham.
Her friend, actress Elizabeth Taylor, presented the former First Lady with the first award of the Arizona Aids Project; Mrs. Ford had declared herself in support of greater legal equality for gays and lesbians. in 1993 she voiced her support of permitting openly-gay people in the military at a time when almost no other public figures even addressed the controversial issue.
The President and Mrs. Ford joined the Nixons, Reagans and Bushes for the 1990 dedication of the Nixon Library.
Betty Ford joined Lady Bird Johnson, Rosalynn Carter, Pat Nixon, Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush at the 1991 dedication of the Reagan Library.
Congresswoman Mary Rose Oakar (D-OH) greets Betty Ford who arrives to testify before the Select Committee on Aging, Subcommittee on Health and Long-Term Care in support of public spending and insurance coverage for substance abuse treatment programs, such as those offered by the Betty Ford Center. March 25, 1991.
In her Rancho Mirago dining room with the former President enjoying dinner – and their dog Happy.
Visting Hillary Clinton in the White House, posing in front of her portrait, 1993.
Speaking with the Clintons at the 2004 funeral of Ronald Reagan.
The Fords and Reagans at the Carousel Ball.
President and Mrs. Bush present the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Betty Ford, on November 18, 1991.
Both former President and Mrs. Ford were present with the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor in 199 by President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Hastert.
Commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the Betty Ford Center’s opening, Betty Ford was joined by former First Ladies Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton, 2003.
In what would be their last visit to the White House, Gerald and Betty Ford visit with President George W. Bush, following his hosting of the former president’s 90th birthday party in their former residence.
Former President Ford kisses his wife after presenting her with the Gerald R. Ford Medal for Distinguished Public Service at The Lodge in Rancho Mirage, Calif., Monday, June 6, 2005.
Following former President Ford’s death at the end of 2006, Mrs. Ford flies to Washington where he would lie in state, part of for his state funeral.
Residing at the presidential guest house while in Washington for her late husband’s services, Mrs. Ford was joined by both Presidents and Mrs. Bush.
Mrs. Ford greets the Carters; she formed an especially close friendship with Rosalynn Carter, and they worked on several joint projects together. At her request, Rosalynn Carter delivered her eulogy in 2011.
Mrs. Ford and her sons Michael and Steve during the former president’s services in the U.S. Capitol.
Betty Ford prays at the flag-draped coffin of her late husband in the U.S. Capitol Building rotunda.
Following the burial of Gerald Ford at his presidential library in Grand Rapids, Mrs. Ford kisses the flag that covered his coffin. She would be buried beside him four years and seven months later.
Four months after the state funeral and burial of her husband, 89-year old Betty Ford underwent surgery for blood clots. She was too frail to attend the funeral of her friend Lady Bird Johnson in July of 2007. Venturing not far from her home to Palm Springs, she attended a ceremony where a stamp honoring former President Ford was unveiled on August 31, 2007. It was her last public appearance. She lived alone at their Rancho Mirage home for the next four years. She died at age 93 years old on July 8, 2011.