There are many First Ladies who stand by their husband’s side. But there are others who create legacies that nearly overshadow their husband’s political efforts. Take Betty Ford, for example. She courageously tackled taboo subjects, including breast cancer, abortion, and addiction. Because of her efforts, she is still remembered as one of the most remarkable First Ladies in American history.
The day that changed her life
Betty Ford’s life changed drastically on August 9, 1974, when her husband, Vice President Gerald Ford, suddenly became President after Richard Nixon resigned from office. There isn’t a job description for the First Lady’s responsibilities; therefore, Betty knew her every move would be watched by the American public. But no matter what, she wasn’t going to change her personality for America.
“Okay, I’ll move to the White House,” she said. “I’ll do the best I can, and if they don’t like it, they can kick me out, but they can’t make me somebody I’m not.”
Shining a light on breast cancer
Seven weeks after President Ford took office, Betty was diagnosed with breast cancer. The First Lady knew she could use her platform to shine a light on cancer. In 1974, cancer was still considered a taboo subject—especially breast cancer.
But after Betty opened up about her experience, more women across the country requested breast exams. Overnight, Betty removed the stigma from breast cancer and changed women’s health forever.
Realizing her platform
President Ford watched as his wife used her platform to empower women. Betty pushed for the Equal Rights Movement to legalize equality of the sexes. She also advocated for legalizing abortion, saying it would be “the best thing in the world.”
Betty’s popularity soared the more she spoke about these taboo subjects—even discussing her experience with addiction and “normalizing” alcoholism. She inspired women across the country to stand up for their rights and started new conversations. And for that, she should always be remembered—as not just a First Lady, but a trailblazer for us all.