Betty A Ford

Lived:April 8, 1914—July 8, 2011 (aged 97)
Career:Chairman of the board, Betty Ford Center, 1982-2005
First lady of the United States, 1974-1977
Second lady of the United States, 1973-1974

Elizabeth Ann "Betty" Ford was first lady of the United States from 1974-1977, the wife of the 38th president of the United States, Gerald Ford.

Ford was born April 8, 1918, in Chicago, Illinois and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She intended to pursue a profession in dance, studying at Bennington College School of Dance, Vermont, in the summers of 1937 and 1938. During high school, she opened her own dance school called Betty Bloomer Dance School, renting space to use as a studio where she taught children and adults. She danced for the Martha Graham Auxiliary Dance Company in New York, New York, from 1940 to 1941, making numerous appearances in New York, including one at Carnegie Hall.

She married William Gustavas Warren, an insurance and furniture salesman, on April 23, 1942. As she was planning on filing for divorce, her husband suffered a coma. For two years, she cared for him while he recovered; however, once he was able to return to work, the divorce proceeded on the grounds of "extensive repeated cruelty."

Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr. and Betty Ford met through mutual friends and married on Oct. 15, 1948. On November 2, 1948, Gerald Ford was elected to the first of twelve consecutive terms as a U.S. congressman.

In late 1964, Ford pinched a nerve on the left side of her neck, causing severe muscle spasms, periphrastic neuropathy, a numbed left neck, shoulder and arm, and arthritis. Treatment with prescription pain medications led to a dependency on them. Ford also developed a dependency on alcohol during the same period.

With the resignation of President Richard Nixon after the Watergate scandal, Gerald Ford was sworn in as president on August 9, 1974.

On September 26, 1974, Ford was diagnosed with malignant breast cancer during a routine mammogram, and underwent a mastectomy two days later. Her openness about her condition – unusual for the time – raised public awareness about breast cancer screening and treatment options and lead thousands of women to also have mammograms.

In 1975, Ford was the first recipient of the National Women's Party's Alice Paul Award and was named Time magazine's Woman of the Year for her work for the Equal Rights Amendment.

In April of 1978, after her family staged an intervention, Ford registered herself in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program. As with her breast cancer, Ford publically disclosed her addiction and treatment. Recognizing the need for recovery facilities specifically for women, Ford co-founded the non-profit Betty Ford Center at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, California, which was dedicated on October 3, 1982.

Ford was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George H. Bush awarded Ford in 1991, and the Congressional Gold Medal by President Bill Clinton in 1999.

Ford passed away on July 8, 2011.


National First Ladies Library. (n.d.). First Lady Biography: Betty Ford. Retrieved on October 5, 2020, from

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation. (n.d.). Betty Ford Biography. Retrieved on October 5, 2020, from