First Lady Betty Ford was born as Elizabeth Ann Bloomer on April 8, 1918, in
. She was the third child and only daughter of William Stephenson Bloomer, Sr. (July 19, 1874 - July 18, 1934), a traveling salesman for Royal Rubber Co., and his wife, Hortense (nee Neahr; July 11, 1884 - November 20, 1948). Betty's two older brothers were Robert and William Jr. The family lived briefly in Chicago, Illinois Denver, Colorado, and then moved to . Betty's ancestors may have come from Grand Rapids, Michigan England and Germany or . Her father's names appear to be English; her mother's maiden name "Neahr" was found among the Palatine Germans who settled in Holland New York State and later migrated to Michigan and northern , but it could be of Holland Dutch origin. Illinois
Betty was 14 years old when the stock market crashed in 1929, and she had worked as a clothing model and a dance teacher for children (foxtrot, waltz, and big apple). She also worked at the Mary Free Bed Home for Crippled Children where she entertained and worked with the children. When Betty was 16 years old, her father was overcome by fumes while working under the car in the garage with the doors open. He died of carbon monoxide poisoning the day before his 60th birthday. Betty is described as being "short in stature" with brown hair and blue eyes.
Later Betty studied dance at the Calla Travis Dance Studio and graduated in 1835. She graduated from
Central High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1936, and wanted to continue her dance studies in . When her mother refused to give her approval, Betty spent two summers at the Bennington School of Dance in Bennington, Vermont, where she study under the director Martha Hill with choreographers Martha Graham and Hanya Holm. When Graham accepted her as a student, Betty moved to New York City and financed her dance studies by working as a fashion model for the John Robert Powers firm. She joined Graham's auxiliary dance troupe and eventually performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City with the company. New York City
Betty's mother was still opposed to her choice of careers and wanted Betty to return home. Betty and her mother compromised: Betty would live at home for six months; her mother would no longer oppose her if she decided she wanted to return to
at the end of the six months. Betty's mother won because Betty became so involved in her life in New York City Grand Rapids that she never returned to . New York City
Dancing and modeling remained an important part of Betty's life. She lived at home with her mother and her new husband while she worked as an assistant to the fashion coordinator at a local department store; she also organized her own dance group and taught dance lessons.
In 1942, Betty married William C. Warren, an insurance salesman. The couple moved frequently with his work, and Betty found work in each place. William was an alcoholic and in poor health; shortly after Betty decided to file for divorce, he went into a coma. Betty nursed him back to health and then filed for divorce, effective September 22, 1947. They had no children together.
More than a year later, on October 15, 1948, Betty married Gerald Ford at the Grace Episcopal Church. Gerald was a lawyer and a World War II veteran, and he was campaigning for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives - where he would serve for thirteen terms. According to The New York Times, "Jerry was running for Congress and wasn't sure how voters might feel about his marrying a divorced ex-dancer." The wedding was scheduled for just before the elections.
Gerald and Betty were married for fifty-eight years at the time of his death. They were "openly affectionate" with each other and were not shy about showing their "mutual love and equal respect." They were known for having a "strong personal and political partnership."
The Fords were parents of three sons and one daughter: Michael Gerald Ford (born 1950), John Gardner Ford (nicknamed Jack; born 1952), Steven Meigs Ford (born 1956), and Susan Elizabeth Ford (born 1957). Betty dealt with child discipline and punishment in constructive ways rather than spank her children.
The couple lived in the
Virginia suburbs of , for twenty-five years. Gerald became the highest-ranking Republican in the House before being appointed to the office of Vice President by President Richard Nixon after the resignation of Spiro Agnew in 1973. The next year, he was inaugurated as President of the Washington, D.C. because Nixon resigned rather than be impeached in the wake of the Watergate scandal. United States
Betty was a politically active presidential wife in setting social policy and creating precedents. Even though she was more moderate and liberal and was opposed by some conservative Republicans, she had high approval ratings. She was instrumental in raising awareness of breast cancer when she had a mastectomy in 1974. She passionately and actively supported the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), was pro-choice on abortion, and was a leader in the Women's Movement. She was considered to be "one of the most candid first ladies in history" because she commented on every "hot-button issue of the time, including feminism, equal pay, the ERA, sex, drugs, abortion, and gun control. She also raised awareness of addiction when she announced her long-running battle with alcoholism in the 1970s."
Mrs. Ford continued in the feminist movement after she left the White House. She founded the
, which is an alcohol treatment center and drug rehabilitation clinic for treating narcotic, chemical dependency, and addiction to alcohol, and served as the first chair of its board of directors. Betty Ford Center
Betty and Gerald received the Congressional Gold Medal on October 21, 1998. George H. W. Bush presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Betty in 1991.
Gerald and Betty Ford were the first President and First Lady to both live into their nineties; Ronald and Nancy Reagan became the second First Couple when
turned 90 last year. Nancy
Gerald died at age 93 on December 26, 2006, at their Rancho Mirage home of heart failure. Betty was part of his funeral events in
California, Washington, D.C., and in spite of her frail physical condition. Michigan
Betty suffered from blood clots in her legs, poor health, and increasing frailty, and she died at age 93 of natural causes on July 8, 2011, at the
in Rancho Mirage. Her first funeral service was held on July 12 in Eisenhower Medical Center and was attended by more than 800 people, including George W. Bush, Rosalyn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Michelle Obama. On July 13, her casket was flown to California Grand Rapids, Michigan, and taken to the for the night. A second funeral service was held on July 14 at the Grace Episcopal Church, and Lynn Cheney gave one of the eulogies in which she noted that Gerald would have been 98 years old on July 14. Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney, and Barbara Bush attended. Betty was interred next to her husband on the museum grounds. Gerald Ford Museum