A page from a record book that Dorothy kept of Junior's first years, which document the fleeing of Omaha as his "first auto ride" to Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Flight from Omaha


The man who went on to become the 38th President of the United States came into this world under tumultuous circumstances. His mother was married to an abusive husband, and just days after his birth, Leslie L. King, Jr. was brought by his mother from Omaha to a better life farther east.


His mother was Dorothy Gardner King, a beautiful woman hailing from a well-respected family in Harvard, Illinois. She had married the dashing son of a wealthy businessman, Leslie Lynch King of Omaha, Nebraska, in September of 1912. At the age of thirty, King was ten years older than his wife, but impressed by his charm and bravado, the age difference did not matter to Dorothy. King had secured the blessing of her father, Levi, assuring him of his financial prospects and that Dorothy would be well supported. Married in Harvard on September 7, 1912, the two were the epitome of a happy couple. A few weeks later, the Kings embarked on a luxurious honeymoon to the west coast, and it was there that Dorothy was first subjected to Leslie King’s surprising temper and physical abuse.


Her husband's violence did not subside once they returned to Omaha, eventually leading to King ordering his wife to leave the large Victorian mansion that belonged to his father Charles. After only seven weeks of marriage, Dorothy came home to her parents with news of the shocking turn of events. A few days later, a remorseful Leslie King showed up and begged her to return to Omaha. She consented on the condition that his behavior would improve and that they would move out of his parents’ home.


The birthplace of Gerald R. Ford, Jr., Omaha, Nebraska, with Dorothy's descriptive handwriting.

The couple moved out of Charles King’s house and into a shoddy basement apartment. Here Leslie King revealed that he was deeply in debt, and that he had lied to Levi Gardner about his ability to support a wife. Dorothy continued to put up with her husband’s wrath. During the Christmas holidays she learned that she was pregnant with a son. For the birth of the child, the couple moved back into the King mansion, and on July 14, 1913, the hottest day of the year, Leslie L. King, Jr. was born, named such at his father’s insistence. Dorothy’s mother, Adele, was present at the birth of her daughter’s child, but was ordered to leave by King once Junior was born. She refused despite Leslie's threats, as she was concerned for her daughter's health. In a call for help, Dorothy summoned her father to come and talk to Leslie.



On his arrival to Omaha, Mr. Gardner and his son-in-law agreed that the couple should separate. “The sooner they leave, the better," King insisted. As soon as Dorothy was well enough to travel, she would depart with the newborn son, and her mother and a nurse would take care of her in the meantime. Believing the problem to be solved, Levi Gardner left for Harvard.


Almost immediately, King demanded that Mrs. Gardner and the nurse leave the house. When they refused, he threatened them with a knife. Again, Dorothy telegraphed her father, but by the time he returned, King had obtained a court order that prevented the Gardners from seeing their daughter. A virtual prisoner, Dorothy fled the King mansion, hiring a driver to take her to Iowa, where her parents were waiting at the state line. Upon reuniting, they all took a train to Chicago on July 30th, less than a year after the marriage had begun. By December 1913, the Kings were divorced.