Ford, Betty

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Betty Ford, 1918–2011, American first lady (1974–77), wife of President Gerald Ford, b. Chicago as Elizabeth Anne Bloomer. A candid, outspoken, and popular first lady, she became an effective social advocate and reformer. Raised in Grand Rapids, Mich., she attended the Bennington School of the Dance and studied with Martha Graham, whose New York City troupe she joined. Returning home in 1941, she married (1948) Ford, then running for his first term as a congressman; they had four children. As first lady, she became known for her liberal feminist views, e.g., supporting the Equal Rights Amendment and legalized abortion. Diagnosed with breast cancer, she underwent a mastectomy and chemotherapy, and instead of hiding her illness, as others had before her, she made the facts known, causing thousands of American women to seek diagnosis and treatment. She was treated in 1978 for addictions to pills and alcohol, leading her to found (1982) and chair (until 2005) S California's Betty Ford Center, now a noted addiction-treatment facility.

See her autobiographies (both with C. Chase, 1978 and 1987); biography by J. R. Greene (2004); S. R. Weidenfield, First Lady's Lady: With the Fords at the White House (1979).