With a household nickname Betty, Elizabeth Anne Bloomer was born on April 8, 1918, in Chicago, Illinois, to William Bloomer Sr. and Hortense Neahr. Betty was the only daughter of William Bloomer Sr. and Hortense Neahr. Her father worked for the Royal Rubber Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and her mother came from a wealthy furniture-making family in the city.
Betty’s mother believed that social graces were necessary, so she joined Calla Travis Dance Studio in Grand Rapids when she was eight years old, where she studied ballet, tap, and contemporary dance. Dance became a passion for Betty, and she wanted to make a profession out of it. She began teaching younger children dances, including the foxtrot, waltz, and “The Big Apple” when she was 14. She started her dancing studio while still in high school, teaching both youngsters and adults.
Betty’s father died of carbon monoxide poisoning while working on the family automobile in a locked garage when she was 16 years old. It was never determined if her father’s death resulted from an accident or a suicide attempt. Betty’s mother maintained the family by working as a real estate agent after the primary breadwinner left. Her grit and independence shaped Betty’s ideas on equal pay and equality for women in the face of tragedy.
Betty spent two summers after graduating from high school at the Bennington School of Dance in Vermont, where she studied under Martha Graham, the famed choreographer, and dancer. She worked as a model at a Grand Rapids department shop during the year to help pay for her courses. Betty was admitted into Martha Graham’s auxiliary group in New York City in 1940 to study and perform. As a dancer, she made multiple engagements, including one at Carnegie Hall.
Hortense Bloomer was never satisfied with her daughter’s professional decision and wanted Betty to return home. Betty returned to Grand Rapids in 1941 to work full-time at Herpolscheimer’s department store. She kept her passion for dancing alive by teaching at Travis Dance Studio in Grand Rapids and forming her own dance company. She also taught African American youngsters monthly dance sessions and ballroom dancing to youngsters with vision and hearing impairments.
Betty married William C. Warren, a furniture dealer she had known since she was 12 years old, in 1942. Warren worked as a traveling salesman in various locales, while Betty worked as a department store saleswoman and model in the places where they lived. Betty understood the marriage was not going to work after three years. She desired a house, a family, and children and was fed up with the couple’s nomadic existence. Warren, however, became ill with severe diabetes before she could negotiate a divorce. Betty struggled to support them both as he healed over the following two years. She was left with a strong sense of the disparities in pay between men and women for doing the same work due to this encounter. Finally, Warren healed, and the pair decided to divorce.
Betty met Gerald Ford, a 34-year-old lawyer and U.S. Navy lieutenant, in August 1947. Gerald had returned from service to continue his legal business and run for Congress in the United States. Ford proposed in February 1948 after dating for a year, and the pair married two weeks before the November election. He chose this date because he was anxious that voters in his conservative constituency would object to him marrying a divorced former dancer. Unfortunately, Gerald had to depart early from the wedding rehearsal supper to give a campaign address. The Fords attended a political rally the day after their wedding, followed by a University of Michigan football game and a speech by New York governor Thomas Dewey. Three weeks later, Gerald won the election, welcoming Betty into the political sphere.
The Fords relocated to a Virginia suburb outside of Washington, D.C., in December 1948. Betty became quickly engrossed in the political process. She became acquainted with the names and positions of key legislative leaders, functioned as her husband’s unofficial counsel, and networked with the spouses of other Congressmen. In addition, Betty took on the typical obligations of a father and mother to their four children. At the same time, Gerald established his Congressional career, earning re-election 13 times and advancing to the post of House Minority Leader. She became active in charitable activities and volunteer activities as well.
Role as a First Lady
After Vice President Spiro Angew resigned, Gerald was chosen Vice President by Richard Nixon on December 6, 1973. Then, on August 9, 1974, under pressure from the Watergate crisis, Nixon resigned from office unprecedentedly. As a result, Gerald was sworn in as the 38th President of the United States, and Betty became the first lady of the United States.
Betty became well-known for her ability to dance to disco music during informal White House gatherings. On the other hand, Betty may be pretty serious about equal rights for women, abortion, and divorce. Her outspokenness drew criticism from the Republican Party’s more conservative sections at times. Some conservatives dubbed her “No Lady” and demanded her resignation when she appeared on 60 Minutes and frankly revealed how she would advise her children if they were involved in premarital sex and recreational drugs.
Health Concerns and Political Will
Betty found out she had malignant breast cancer during a regular test only weeks after becoming the first lady. Betty had a mastectomy, and her honesty about her condition elevated awareness of cancer previously taboo in the United States. During her recovery, she recognized the impact and authority she had as the first lady in influencing policy and bringing about change. Betty was a strong supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment and worked tirelessly to ensure its ratification. She has become a vocal supporter of women’s ability to make their own decisions in many areas of their lives. TIME magazine honored her woman of the year in 1975 as a consequence of her efforts.
Betty demonstrated her political insight in 1976 when her husband campaigned for President against Democratic rival Jimmy Carter, who had previously served as governor of Georgia. During the campaign, the first lady was a prominent figure. She was a symbol of a moderate Republican when the conservative Republican side of the party began to grow, not just for her husband but also for herself. Despite her deteriorating health, Betty filmed radio advertising, spoke at rallies, and campaigned tirelessly.
Addiction and Establishment of Betty Ford Center
Betty Ford had been using opioid analgesics for discomfort from a pinched nerve since the early 1960s. Her dependence on these medicines had faded during her stay in the White House, but once she left Washington, D.C., her drinking and prescription drug usage resumed. Betty was forced to address her addiction to alcohol and painkillers after the Ford family conducted an intervention in 1978. Betty stayed at home for a week after her initial rage about the intrusion in her life subsided, and she underwent controlled detoxification. She was then admitted to the Long Beach Naval Hospital for drug and alcohol treatment.
Betty Ford helped found the Betty Ford Center in 1982 after she had fully recovered. The Betty Ford Center is committed to assisting persons with chemical dependency, particularly women. Betty began to recognize the link between drug addiction and HIV/AIDS patients via her work at the Betty Ford Center. In addition, she immediately began to speak out in favor of gay and lesbian rights in the workplace and same-sex marriage.
Betty died of natural causes on July 8, 2011, at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, California.