Betty Ford, First Lady and humanitarian
Elizabeth Anne Bloomer was born April 8, 1918 in Chicago, but grew up in nearby Grand Rapids, Michigan. Upon graduating high school, Betty set off for Bennington College in Vermont, where she majored in dance. Three years later she was dancing as part of Martha Graham's troupe in New York City, where she was also a popular fashion model. But Betty was unhappy being so far away from home, and she returned to Grand Rapids in 1942, where she opened up a dance school for handicapped children and started a new troupe in the area.
After a five-year marriage ended in divorce, Betty met Gerald Ford, then a young lawyer being groomed to run for the United States Congress. The two hit it off and were married in 1948, the same year he became a U.S. Representative. Within ten years, she had had four children and had become head of the "House ladies' club", helping arrange parties and events for newcoming wives of House and Senate members.
By 1973, Betty was preparing to settle down to retired life when her husband was chosen to replace Spiro Agnew as the Vice President of the United States. Before she and Gerald could begin to unpack their bags, President Richard M. Nixon resigned, and Betty became the newest First Lady of the United States.
Betty was always known for her self-effacing humor and grace culled from years of ballet and tap. She was also a courageous woman, unafraid to face her fears, highlighted in her 1974 battle with breast cancer. Betty became one of the first women in America to undergo a mastectomy, then a radical surgical procedure. She felt it was her duty to step forward and give support to the hundreds of thousands of other women suffering from breast cancer. She also was an ardent supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment throughout her husband's term in office.
For better or for worse, though, Betty Ford is probably most known for her fight to overcome dependency on alcohol and prescription pills. Her strong will and her family's support proved successful, and she finally kicked the habit in 1978. In response to her problem Betty helped found the Betty Ford Center, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Rancho Mirage, California. Today it is considered the premiere treatment clinic in the world. In 1987 she published a book entitled Betty: A Glad Awakening about her battle with substance abuse. Today both Betty and Gerald Ford chair a number of humanitarian and philanthropic foundations, charities which give money to the underprivileged, the handicapped, and the needy. Betty herself serves as the very hands-on Chairman of the Board at the clinic which bears her name, helping others however she can.