Elizabeth Ann Bloomer Warren Ford (April 8, 1918 – July 8, 2011), better known as Betty Ford, was the wife of former United States President Gerald Ford and served as the First Lady of the United States from 1974 to 1977. As First Lady, Ford was active in social policy and shattered precedents as a politically active presidential wife (TIME considered her “the most since Eleanor Roosevelt”). In the opinion of several historians, Ford had more impact upon history and culture than her husband.
Throughout her husband’s term in office, she maintained high approval ratings despite opposition from some conservative Republicans who objected to her more moderate and liberal positions on social issues. Ford was noted for raising breast cancer awareness following her 1974 mastectomy and was a passionate supporter of, and activist for, the Equal Rights Amendment. Pro-choice on abortion and a leader in the Women’s Movement, she gained fame as one of the most candid first ladies in history, commenting on every hot-button issue of the time, including feminism, equal pay, 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.
Following her White House years, she continued to lobby for the ERA and remained active in the feminist movement. She is the founder, and served as the first chairwoman of the board of directors, of the Betty Ford Center for substance abuse and addiction and is a recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal (co-presentation with her husband, Gerald R. Ford, October 21, 1998) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (alone, presented 1991, by George H.W. Bush).