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Betty Ford: Candor and Courage in the White House (Modern First Ladies) Hardcover – December 14, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Drawing on papers deposited at the Ford library in addition to memoirs by and about his subject, historian Greene (The Presidency of George Bush) delivers an affirmative account of the life of a popular and controversial First Lady. Despite the reservations of her Michigan mother, Betty Ford (b. 1918) studied with Martha Graham to become a modern dancer, but she gave up this aspiration for family life when in 1948 she married U.S. Rep. Gerald Ford. The Fords had four children whom Betty essentially raised alone; Green believes that her later problem with alcohol (her father was an alcoholic) began to manifest itself during their childhoods. Although her addiction worsened as her husband assumed the vice presidency, she grew emotionally stronger after a bout with breast cancer, breaking the silence about her disease and lobbying for the ERA and a woman's right to choose—and infuriating White House advisers who tried to force her out of the limelight. Green provides a wealth of carefully researched detail about the conflicts between members of her staff that also created tension. Transformed by post-presidential rehab, she founded the Betty Ford Center for rehabilitation and continues to speak out for those who have substance abuse problems. Green hasn't dug up anything earth-shattering, but his account is frank enough and thorough.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
"Betty Ford was not only an outspoken supporter of ERA, but she was also a dancer, a career woman, a divorcee, and a supporter of family planning, when all such things were more than uncommon for the wife of a Republican President of the United States. These fascinating revelations ought to be better-known; Green’s laudable goal is that, starting with this book, they will."—Journal of International Women’s Studies
"With this brief and very readable volume, Greene offers the first serious, scholarly biography of Betty Ford. This study is long overdue."—Michigan Historical Review
"A well-paced, insightful, and sympathetic account of Betty Ford’s two great starring roles as the first feminist First Lady and the iconic celebrity who endured the all-too-typical descent into addiction, followed by therapeutic redemption. Greene integrates Betty Ford's story into the larger dramas of the Ford presidency, as well as modern America in general. Brief, punchy, well-organized. . . . All should salute Greene for producing a most welcome biography of a woman who, sometimes reluctantly, sometimes willingly, helped Americans redefine the boundaries of public discourse while expanding their expectations for the difficult role of the presidential spouse."—History: Reviews of New Books
"An affirmative account of the life of a popular and controversial First Lady. . . . Greene provides a wealth of carefully researched detail about the conflicts between members of her staff that also created tension. . . . Greene’s account is frank enough and thorough."—Publishers Weekly
“Greene’s engaging biography gives Betty Ford her rightful place in history—as an outspoken first lady whose public positions did not always conform to her husband’s and as a courageous advocate for solutions to breast cancer and substance abuse.”—Susan Hartmann, author of From Margin to Mainstream: American Women and Politics since 1960
“Betty Ford was like no other First Lady before or since, and John Robert Greene shows why.”—Herbert Parmet, author of Presidential Power from the New Deal to the New Right
“A fitting tribute to a free spirit and most indomitable First Lady.”—James Cannon, author of Time and Chance: Gerald Ford’s Appointment with History
Top customer reviews
John Robert Greene's biography of Betty Ford does justice to a woman who was so clearly ahead of her time, and certainly not afraid to admit it either. Whether people love or hate her, they ultimately admit that Betty Ford has ideas of her own. Greene, a historian, previously authored biographies on George H.W. Bush and (appropriately) Gerald Ford.
After Spiro T. Agnew and Richard Nixon's resignations, Gerald Ford unexpectedly became the nation's president. Although he is relatively liberal by current Republican standards (which was issue of contention in the 1976 Republican primary) Ford was conservative when compared to his own wife.
Even though she was from the World War II era generation---who weren't supposed to support women's liberation, Ford instead championed the Equal Rights Amendment and gave public thanks that abortion was `brought out of the back woods' in interviews which were undoubtedly path-breaking in their own day.
In a time when the new right was preparing for the Reagan and Bush eras, Betty Ford was a true lightning rod. Effectively defusing an idea that only `radicals' or `wide eyed youth' wanted policy AND cultural changes, she helped to successfully infuse women's rights with a public `respectability' that several other public female supporters were not able to achieve in 1974-1976. Being First Lady gave Mrs. Ford the ability to draw middle America to the very social movements which they otherwise might have feared.
For instance, after finding a lump in her own breast, Mrs. Ford encouraged other women to talk about breast cancer---and promoted the early detection which is now commonplace in America. Because then prevailing sentiment had been to `keep quiet' and attempt treating cancer in later and ultimately more difficult stages, Mrs. Ford has saved many women's lives. When compared against the Republican Party's subsequent and current `pro-family' ideology which actually attempts hiding frank discussions of human anatomy, her actions truly were `pro-life'.
For all its celebration, the book does pointedly acknowledge that Ford had a substance abuse problem. Again turning personal experience into public enlightenment/growth, Ford lent her name to the Betty Ford treatment center in California. If the center has subsequently become the stuff of pop culture, it also has humanized first ladies; they experience problems AND also have opinions how to end those problems.
Even if she was never actually a co-president and was generally content as First Lady, Betty Ford had ultimately opened the door for successors Rosalyn Carter and Hillary Rodham Clinton to increase the public role in ways which Eleanor Roosevelt had only dreamt about. This book is recommended for historians and political scientists, particularly those interested in theories about the power and influence of First Ladies on public policy.