First Lady Elizabeth Ann 'Betty' Bloomer
- Born: 8 Apr 1918, Chicago, Cook Co., Illinois
- Marriage (1): President Gerald Rudolph Ford on 15 Oct 1948
- Died: 8 Jul 2011, Rancho Mirage, Riverside Co., California at age 93
Elizabeth Ann "Betty" Bloomer Warren Ford
Born: April 18, 1918 Chicago, Illinois
Father: William Stephenson Bloomer
Mother: Hortense Neahr Bloomer
Siblings: Youngest of three with two older brothers, Bob and Bill, Jr.
Physical Description: Fairly tall, with brown (later blonde) hair and blue eyes. Mrs. Ford has always maintained a trim figure, a legacy of her years of dancing. She usually wears her hair in an upsweep style, away from her face.
Education and Childhood:
Betty Ford was a tomboy when she was young. She followed her brothers around everywhere \endash when she could escape her loving, but strict, mother. At age eight, Betty started dance lessons. Dancing was, as she later said, ". . .my happiness." She envisioned a career teaching, as well as performing.
After the 1929 stock market crash, when Betty was eleven, she began modeling clothes and teaching other children dances such as the fox trot, waltz and Big Apple. During the depression, the independent Eleanor Roosevelt had a big impact on Betty Bloomer.
When Betty was sixteen, her father died accidentally from carbon monoxide poisoning. In 1936, Betty completed high school and wanted to pursue her study of dance in New York. Her mother refused to let her. Instead, Betty attended the Bennington School of Dance in Bennington, Vermont for two summers, where she studied under Martha Graham. Martha was a tough, demanding teacher who shaped the young Betty Bloomer's life. Betty asked Martha Graham if she could work with her and, to Betty's delight, Martha agreed.
Betty Bloomer moved to Manhattan's Chelsea section and modeled hats and dresses to pay for her lessons with Graham. Betty was chosen to be in Martha Graham's auxiliary troupe and even got to perform at Carnegie Hall.
Betty's mother Hortense was opposed to her daughter's choice of a career and insisted that Betty move home, but Betty resisted. They finally came to a compromise: Betty would return home for six months; if, after that time, nothing worked out for her, Betty would return to New York.
Betty Bloomer taught dance at various sites in Grand Rapids, became an assistant in a department store's fashion section and had an active social life. Among those she dated was Bill Warren, who she had known since she was twelve. Betty's mother and stepfather (Arthur Godwin) did not approve of the match. They eventually agreed \endash reluctantly - to Betty and Bill's marriage, which took place in their home.
First Husband: William "Bill" Warren
Date of First Marriage: Spring, 1942
Age at First Marriage: 24 years
First Marriage: Bill Warren kept moving from city to city, trying various jobs. Betty was forced to live with Bill's parents while he was between jobs. She taught dancing, worked on an assembly line and in a department store. Bill rarely came home, and Betty was very unhappy.
When Bill collapsed in a diabetic coma, Betty learned to give him insulin shots. His condition grew serious enough to require hospitalization. Betty cared for him until he recovered enough to come home.
Betty began divorce proceedings and was granted the divorce on September 22, 1947. About this time, friends persuaded Betty to meet a young veteran and former flyer, Gerald Rudolph Ford. She reluctantly agreed and found that time flew in his company. They fell in love and he proposed in February 1948.
Second Husband: Gerald Rudolph Ford (1913 - )
Second Marriage: The wedding was planned for the fall of 1948. Gerald was running for U.S. Congress and wanted the wedding to take place after the primary, but before the November 2nd general election. It took place at the Grace Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids.
Date of Second Marriage: October 15, 1948
Age at Second Marriage: 30 years, 190 days
Outgoing, bubbly and cheerful, Betty Ford was a natural politician's wife. She was an asset to her husband's career but, from the start, she made it clear that she had opinions of her own. She enjoyed people, parties and music. Betty had a love of the arts that was equal to that of Jacqueline Kennedy. As the wife of the rising politician from Michigan, Betty had the opportunity to become acquainted with influential people in the political world. She got to know Bess Truman and later attended the inauguration of John F. Kennedy.
Children: 1. Michael Gerald Ford (1950 - )
2. John (Jack) Gardner Ford (1952 - )
3. Steven Meigs Ford (1956 - )
4. Susan Elizabeth Ford (1957 - )
Years Before the White House:
Both Betty and Gerald Ford were new to Washington and set out to learn the ropes. At times Betty worked at her husband's office: answering mail, stuffing envelopes and entertaining. She met Bess Truman at Blair House, and they began a twenty-five year friendship.
As the children came, Betty began to spend more time at home, joining the P.T.A, becoming a Sunday school teacher and a den mother. Eventually the Fords moved to Alexandria, Virginia, where Betty became involved in the Alexandria Cancer Fund.
In 1964 Mrs. Ford woke up with a pain in her neck that was diagnosed as a pinched nerve. It became serious enough to keep her in bed for weeks. She also developed arthritis and was put on painkillers to which she became addicted. As she began to spend more and more time alone, Betty also developed a drinking problem that haunted her through the White House years. She began seeing a psychiatrist but refused to admit that she had a problem with pills or alcohol.
In 1972 the Fords accompanied President and Mrs. Nixon to China. After the resignation of Spiro Agnew, no one was more surprised than Betty Ford when President Nixon chose her husband as his new Vice President.
August 9, 1974 \endash January 20, 1977: On August 9, 1974 Gerald Ford, with Betty at his side, was sworn in as President upon the resignation of Richard Nixon the day before. A month later, President Ford pardoned Nixon, effectively ending the Watergate scandal. It was a momentous decision, but one that ultimately cost him his chance for election in 1976.
First Lady Betty Ford's pace was hectic from the beginning. There were many social functions that had been planned by the Nixons before the resignation. She spoke out on abortion rights, ERA and her desire for a woman to serve on the Supreme Court. She shocked America by saying that she wouldn't be shocked if her daughter were to have an affair. She expressed herself honestly and openly. When his staff cautioned Ford about repercussions to Betty's frankness, he replied that, although his wife was First Lady, she had a right to her own opinions.
In 1974, not long after entering the White House, Mrs. Ford discovered a lump in her right breast. Rather than hide her condition, Betty Ford spoke out openly about it. The nation watched and waited as she underwent surgery and treatment. Her openness made women more aware of the importance of breast examinations and early treatment.
Betty Ford instituted a more open relationship with the White House staff, and she sometimes even played tricks on them. She appeared on television \endash once on the Mary Tyler Moore Show and once on a Bicentennial Minute. One of her most treasured moments was her success in lobbying for the Presidential Metal of Freedom Award for Martha Graham.
Mrs. Ford continued to speak out in favor of the E.R.A amendment. The reactions to her frankness were sometimes violent.
Betty Ford threw herself wholeheartedly into the 1976 campaign, but the pace was catching up with her. The pinched nerve in her neck began to cause her problems again, and she used painkillers heavily. Her speech was sometimes slurred during appearances due to the painkillers and alcohol.
When Gerald Ford was defeated by Jimmy Carter, no one was more devastated than Betty Ford.
Years After the White House:
At their retirement home in California, Betty Ford was often left alone as her husband continued to pursue his interests \endash politics, lectures and golf. She countered her loneliness with alcohol and pills. Her family became alarmed with Betty's drinking and apparent addiction to pain pills. In 1978, just before her 60th birthday, they had an intervention. Thereafter, Betty Ford checked into the Long Beach Naval Hospital for treatment. The treatment was tough, but she later acknowledged that it probably saved her life.
Betty's experiences led her to create the Betty Ford Treatment Center in Rancho Mirage, California. From the start, Mrs. Ford was again open with what she had gone through. The Center has become her greatest accomplishment. As the head of the Board, she continues to be actively involved in the Center.
Betty Ford spoke out on important issues of the day \endash abortion, E.R.A, and the importance of women in politics \endash because of experiences in her own life. Her openness on breast cancer gave women a new awareness of the need for breast exams and early treatment. She was a First Lady who was in touch with the times. By admitting her own weaknesses, she made her messages even more valuable.
Elizabeth married President Gerald Rudolph Ford, son of Leslie Lynch King and Dorothy Ayer Gardner, on 15 Oct 1948. (President Gerald Rudolph Ford was born on 14 Jul 1913 in Omaha, Douglas Co., Nebraska and died on 26 Dec 2006 in Rancho Mirage, Riverside Co., California.)
Elizabeth next married Warren.