Saturday, July 9, 2011

w o m a n h o u s e Remembers: Betty Ford

Betty Ford, known for her role as First Lady alongside Gerald Ford, and perhaps more importantly, for her charity work and candid discussion of addiction has died at age 93.

 Ford stands out in comparison to past First Ladies, not only in her outspoken demeanor and disregard for taboo subject matter, but also for the revolutionary changes she brought to what it meant to be "The President's wife". For example,  when running for election in 1976, Gerald Ford was quoted as saying, "I am indebted to no man and only one woman - my dear wife, Betty". In the same year, popular campaign buttons read, "Betty's Husband For President".

Throughout her lifetime, more specifically her life in the public realm, Ford spoke honestly  about her views regarding abortion, sex, gay rights, marijuana usage and the Equal Rights Amendment as well as sharing her opinions on the behavior of her teenaged children, their dating habits and possible drug usage. 
A quote from an article in the Los Angeles Times today says, "She enthusiastically campaigned for the feminist causes that she believed in - the Equal Rights Amendment, for example, and the nomination of a woman to the Supreme Court. Her vigorous support of the women's movement inspired leading feminist Gloria Steinem to remark that she 'felt better knowing that Betty Ford was sleeping with the president.'"

Soon after moving into the White House, a malignancy was found in Ford's breast. Soon after she underwent a mastectomy and chemotherapy. Her willingness to talk openly about breast cancer was revolutionary. Breast cancer was considered innapropriate to talk about in public at the time. Her openess in sharing her struggle inspired an influx of breast screening and breast cancer awareness throughout the country. 

After suffering and surviving breast cancer, Ford faced another of life's hurdles when she became addicted to alcohol and tranquilizers, used as a way to cope with her life in the "fishbowl" of the American Presidency. When her family intervened, she went to treatment and later started what is now familiar to many as the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California which has treated over 75,000 people with addictions since 1982.

It's important to remember people like Ford who, though she may not be in the book of 100 Most Famous Feminists, still set standards for truth, self-confidence and integrity for women in the public eye.  

 "I didn't have the vaguest idea what being a First Lady was and what was demanded of me. I just decided to be myself."

This article was written with the aid of this Los Angeles Times article from Saturday, July 9, 2011

Posted by: Molly Davy