Elizabeth Bloomer Ford
[Gerald R. Ford]
Biography: In 25 years of political life, Betty Bloomer Ford did
not expect to become First Lady. As wife of Representative Gerald R. Ford, she looked
forward to his retirement and more time together. In late 1973 his
selection as Vice President was a surprise to her. She was just becoming
accustomed to their new roles when he became President upon Mr. Nixon's
resignation in August 1974.
Born Elizabeth Anne Bloomer in Chicago, she grew up in Grand Rapids,
Michigan, and graduated from high school there. She studied modern dance
at Bennington College in Vermont, decided to make it a career, and became
a member of Martha Graham's noted concert group in New York City,
supporting herself as a fashion model for the John Robert Powers firm.
Close ties with her family and her home town took her back to Grand
Rapids, where she became fashion coordinator for a department store. She
also organized her own dance group and taught dance to handicapped children.
Her first marriage, at age 24, ended in divorce five years later on the
grounds of incompatibility. Not long afterward she began dating Jerry
Ford, football hero, graduate of the University of Michigan and Yale Law
School, and soon a candidate for Congress. They were married during the
1948 campaign; he won his election; and the Fords lived in the Washington
area for nearly three decades thereafter.
Their four children--Michael, Jack, Steven, and Susan--were born in the
next ten years. As her husband's political career became more demanding,
Betty Ford found herself shouldering many of the family
responsibilities. She supervised the home, did the cooking, undertook
volunteer work, and took part in the activities of "House wives" and
"Senate wives" for Congressional and Republican clubs. In addition, she
was an effective campaigner for her husband.
Betty Ford faced her new life as First Lady with dignity and serenity.
She accepted it as a challenge. "I like challenges very much," she
said. She had the self-confidence to express herself with humor and
forthrightness whether speaking to friends or to the public. Forced to
undergo radical surgery for breast cancer in 1974, she reassured many
troubled women by discussing her ordeal openly. She explained that
"maybe if I as First Lady could talk about it candidly and without
embarrassment, many other people would be able to as well." As soon as
possible, she resumed her duties as hostess at the Executive Mansion and
her role as a public-spirited citizen. She did not hesitate to state her
views on controversial issues such as the Equal Rights Amendment, which
she strongly supported.
From their home in California, she was equally frank about her successful
battle against dependency on drugs and alcohol. She helped establish the
Betty Ford Center for treatment of this problem at the Eisenhower Medical
Center in Rancho Mirage.
She has described the role of First Lady as "much more than a 24-hour job
than anyone would guess" and says of her predecessors: "Now that I
realize what they've had to put up with, I have new respect and
admiration for every one of them."