Staff Favorites
from Collections at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum

EBF at desk
photo: A5314-22

Betty Ford and Equal Rights for Women
By Barbara McGregor, Education Specialist

The Washington Post featured Mrs. Gerald R. Ford, then wife of a young Congressman, in an April 4, 1954 article.  The author described her as having “a penchant for ‘quiet’ suits and ‘slightly more talkative’ hats.”  As the country learned two decades later, Betty Ford was anything but quiet on a range of topics, including equality for women.  Her openness about breast cancer, vocal support of the Equal Rights Amendment, encouraging the President to appoint women to top level positions within the government, and participation in the United Nations 1975 International Women’s Year Conference showed the nation that she was honest, open, and not afraid to speak her mind.  In the process, she was able to turn many of her life’s challenges into opportunities for women.

This photograph, taken in June 1975, is meaningful on several levels.  First, the image shows Mrs. Ford at work in the White House and is an interesting contrast to photographs of the President working in the Oval Office.  The story behind the banner hanging from the front of her desk is a favorite.  Most important, however, the photograph symbolizes Mrs. Ford’s messages about equality for women.  Equality for women meant providing opportunities … breaking down barriers and stereotypes, not dictating what women should do.  In her words, “A liberated woman is one who feels confident in what she is doing.  She’s a person who has a sense of self.”

Don’t Tread on Me … One day Mrs. Ford was talking with several of her Secret Service agents, men who were somewhat skeptical of the ERA.  She noted that the President has a flag for his limousine, the Vice President also has one, and visiting dignitaries have flags for their limousines … but the First Lady doesn’t have one.  Several days later she was presented with this handcrafted flag, the bloomers representing her maiden name.  The flag was the creation of the girlfriend of one of the agents.  In her thank you note, Betty Ford said the flag was, “Gorgeous.” and that it “should be in a museum.”  It is now in the Gerald R. Ford Museum’s collection of nearly 16,000 artifacts.

To learn more about Betty Ford you may want to read the following:

Remarks to the International Women’s Year Conference, Betty Ford (1975)
Times of My Life, Betty Ford (1978)
Betty:  A Glad Awakening, Betty Ford (1988)
First Ladies, From Martha Washington to Michelle Obama, Betty Boyd Caroli (2010)
First Ladies Volume II, Carl Sferrazza Anthony (1993)