When Gerald Ford became president on August 9, 1974, he said, “I am indebted to no man and only one woman, my dear wife, Betty.” An outspoken and inspirational first lady, Betty Ford unflinchingly embraced such hot-button issues as the Equal Rights Amendment and legalized abortion. Most important, she destigmatized attitudes about two illnesses that struck her during her very public life: as first lady, she talked openly about her battle with breast cancer; in 1982, after conquering her own addiction to alcohol and drugs, she founded the Betty Ford Center for substance abuse. Her post–White House life set a standard for future first ladies, and in 1991 President George H.W. Bush awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of her continuing contribution to American life and culture.


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