In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, this month’s featured Woman of the Word is Betty Ford, who was a Breast Cancer and Addiction Awareness Advocate when both phrases were considered indecent.
Betty Ford: Military Wife and Breast Cancer & Addiction Awareness Advocate
by: Kelli Baker
First Lady Betty Ford, the wife of President Gerald Ford, used her position to empower women to take charge of their health, despite social stigma.
Prior to Military Life
Before Military life, Betty Ford was born Elizabeth Anne Bloomer in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Betty’s father passed away when she was sixteen, leaving the family with many challenges. Betty developed her work ethic by watching her mother, Hortense surmount those struggles. Betty attended the Bennington School of Dance in Vermont after high school for two years. She worked to pay tuition, eventually moving to NYC to pursue a career in dance and modeling. Upon returning to Grand Rapids, Betty began working as a fashion coordinator in a local department store. In her spare time, she taught dance to underprivileged and disabled children. Betty often said that her time in the workforce gave her a first-hand experience with many of the inequalities women face in the workplace.
After her first marriage failed, Betty met Gerald Ford in August 1947. He was a lieutenant in the United States Navy. Gerald and Betty married only three weeks before voters elected Ford to Congress in 1948. While Gerald served in Congress, Betty raised their four children and volunteered in several charity organizations. She spent many Sundays teaching Sunday School at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill. After her husband’s 25 years in Congress, Betty became Second Lady in 1973. Shortly after becoming Second Lady, Betty became First Lady in an unprecedented turn of events when President Richard Nixon resigned. Betty was no ordinary First Lady, though. As wife to the commander-in-chief, Betty indulged in dancing at White House events and earned the title of one of the most opinionated First Ladies in history.
Breast Cancer Awareness Advocate
Betty was diagnosed with breast cancer only a few weeks after becoming First Lady. Her willingness to share shed light on breast cancer. Before sharing her illness with the world, the words “breast cancer” eluded many women’s lips. Instead of hiding or being ashamed, Betty drew significant attention to breast cancer through the influence of her position. She became a Breast Cancer Awareness Advocate and raised awareness across many platforms. Her bravery and openness about her diagnosis led many women to discuss breast health with their doctors.
Addiction Awareness Advocate
Aside from breast cancer, Betty was also a proponent of another taboo topic, addition. Betty battled an addiction to opiates and alcohol for many years. Her addiction began after receiving opiates for a pinched nerve in her mid-40s. Following an intervention by her family, Betty checked into a rehabilitation facility. The work ethic instilled in her as a young girl shone through as she completed her time in the facility. Reflecting on her time in rehab, Betty recognized she held the power to create change. Four years following the intervention, Betty used her experiences to help her establish the Betty Ford Center, dedicated to assisting others in overcoming chemical dependency. Part of the recovery program includes the need to rely on God.
On the global stage as First Lady, put on Betty’s successes and failures display for the world to see. She showed humanity through her transparency with breast cancer and honesty about addictions. Betty demonstrated her incredible strength through her willingness to be vulnerable about her struggles. This honesty left her vulnerable to attacks from the media, yet her faith in God allowed her to continue to shed light on these previously taboo topics. Betty stood confidently following her stint in rehab and decided to take what the enemy meant for evil and turn it for God’s glory. Women who previously suffered and hid their addictions secretly could walk into the Betty Ford Center with dignity and receive the help they needed. Betty’s honesty about addiction has led to the treatment of over 100,000 women since the Betty Ford Center opened in 1982.
Rather than hiding her difficulties with addition, Betty took responsibility for her actions and handled herself with grace and dignity. Betty used her position as First Lady to encourage and empower women to take control of their health and wellness. Her honesty led to millions of women undergoing breast exams. As a woman of faith, she encouraged others to bring light to their addictions and get the help they needed to live a full life. When society often told women to hide problems and disguise illness, Betty encouraged women to walk in truth and to bring other women along.
Father, thank you for the bravery of Betty Ford, who has opened doors and opportunities for millions of women in our country. Please help us to have the courage she demonstrated throughout her lifetime. Thank you for the example of flawed women who continue to pursue you amid trials and tribulations. May we be women who reflect your glory in our pursuit of your will in our suffering. Amen.
Notes and Resources
- If you enjoyed this post be sure to check out our other Women of the Word Wednesday posts.
- “First Lady Biography—Betty Ford.” National First Ladies Library. n.d. Retrieved June 22, 2022.
- National First Ladies Library. (n.d.) Betty Ford Biography :: National First Ladies’ Library Retrieved June 22, 2022.
- The history and legacy of the Betty Ford Center. (2022). The history and legacy of the Betty Ford Center | History News Network. Retrieved June 22, 2022.
- American Cancer Society. (2022, Jan 25). Breast Cancer Statistics | How Common Is Breast Cancer? Retrieved June 22, 2022.
- Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. (2021, May 19). The Promises of AA’s Big Book. Retrieved from: https://www.hazeldenbettyford.org/articles/big-book-promises
- McCubbin, L. (2019, Jul 19). Betty Ford’s Trailblazing Legacy – HISTORY. Retrieved June 22, 2022.