A Tribute to First Lady Betty Ford
By: Joan Wages, NWHM President & CEO
First Lady Betty Ford was both a controversial pioneer, a crusader for women’s rights, and one of the most respected and beloved women in America.
Like the suffragists, she empowered generations and changed the lives of thousands. It is women like her who have shaped our nation.
Soon after her husband was inaugurated, the first lady held her first press conference, immediately addressing the Equal Rights Amendment. In 1975, Ford spoke at the International Women’s Year meeting where she made what was called “the most progressive [speech] made by any president’s wife since Eleanor Roosevelt,” she encouraged all women to work for passage of the ERA. To quote Mrs. Ford, “the search for human freedom can never be complete without freedom for women.”
Before Ford’s admission, the subject of breast cancer and substance abuse was taboo. She freed women from their emotional solitary confinement. Ford’s brave disclosure gave men and women suffering from addiction a sense they were not alone.
In 1982, she went on to found the Betty Ford Center for substance abuse and addiction in Rancho Mirage, California. She tirelessly campaigned to raise funds for, and awareness of, drug addiction and treatment.
In 1991, Ford was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George H.W. Bush for her contribution to health issues, with a citation reading, “her courage and candor have inspired millions of Americans to restore their health, protect their dignity, and shape full lives for themselves.” Ford’s ability to influence and advocate so effectively – and to overcome the controversy generated by some of her candor –stemmed from the nation’s introduction to her as an appealing and relatable first lady. While she infused the role of first lady with passionate advocacy, she also embraced her traditional duties with the same enthusiastic energy. We ALL owe a great debt of gratitude to Betty Ford –we will never forget her! Click here to read the Washington Post’s tribute to Betty Ford.
Click here to read the Washington Post’s tribute to Betty Ford.