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Betty Ford: A Fearless First Lady

The position of First Lady of the United States is often a role associated with grace, poise, and elegance, but it was First Lady Betty Ford that added candor to the role as a cancer survivor and activist.

The position of First Lady of the United States during Betty Ford‘s era was often a role associated with grace, poise, and quiet strength, but it was First Lady Ford that added candor to the role when she decided to open up about her battle with breast cancer while in the White House. Ford underwent a mastectomy on September 28, 1974—only one month after her husband, Gerald Ford, had taken office. The news of her procedure came at a time when revealing the private lives of public figures was taboo, which made it that much more impactful.

While undergoing the procedure, Ford received massive support from people all over the United States, including thousands of letters and hundreds of phone calls. Having shown that cancer wasn’t a poor man’s—or woman’s—illness with her bold statement, Ford ignited a fire in women across the country to get examined and treated for breast cancer. Although it took two years for the fearless FLOTUS (a.k.a. First Lady of the United States) to make a full recovery after her mastectomy, she returned stronger and even more determined than ever to create transparency in her husband’s administration and for the rest of her life.

Although Ford served only three years as First Lady, breast cancer awareness wasn’t the only issue she brought to the forefront of American’s minds. Her social and political impact was far reaching, as she actively and openly discussed hot button issues of her time, such as premarital sex, drugs, abortion, gun control, and feminism. In the late 1970s, she came to terms with her alcoholism and addiction to pain killers, and after recovering, opened the Betty Ford Center in 1982 to help bring awareness to chemical dependency.