The wife of the President of the United States of America is known as the First Lady. Many notable women have contributed to our great nation just as much as their husbands. Nancy Reagan, who recently passed away on March 6, 2016, is one of the top first ladies of the 20th century. She is known for being the wife of President Ronald Reagan, for her acting credits, and for her passion about discouraging drug use by youth.
She was born in New York City to actress Edith Luckett and salesman Kenneth Robbins. Anne Frances “Nancy” Robbins entered the world on July 6, 1921. Shortly after birth, her parents separated, so Nancy went to live with her aunt and uncle in Maryland. Her mother pursued her acting career and later married Chicago neurosurgeon Loyal Davis when Nancy was about eight years old. Because of this marriage, Nancy had a wealthy and prominent upbringing. She attended the Girls’ Latin School in Chicago, a private institution. Afterward, she graduated from Smith College in Massachusetts, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in drama in 1943.
Her Acting Career
After graduation, Nancy began a career as a sales clerk while also working as a nurse’s aide. However, her true vision was to become an actress like her mother. She eventually was able to enter the industry thanks to her mother’s connections. Her first role was in “Ramshackle Inn,” a touring production. In 1946, at the tender age of 23, Nancy debuted on Broadway in “Lute Song” with Yul Brynner and Mary Martin. The musical was a hit.
As she rose to fame, Nancy signed a seven-year contract with MGM Studios of Hollywood. She appeared as a supporting actress in some films, including “The Doctor and the Girl” and “East Side, West Side” in 1949.
In 1950, Nancy’s name made a “communist sympathizers” list in a magazine. She was told to get help from the Screen Actors Guild president, who just happened to be Ronald Reagan. The future president of the United States reassured her that her career was safe, and the two began dating. On March 4, 1952, the two wed at the Little Brown Church in San Fernando Valley.
In 1957, Nancy and Ronald Reagan starred in “Hellcats in the Navy.” By the end of the decade, she pursued another career: wife and mother. Nancy and Ronald had custody of his two children, Maureen and Michael, from a previous marriage to Jane Wyman. Later, the two had children together: a daughter named Patti and a son named Ron.
The Road to the Presidency
While focusing on family life, Nancy began to strategically foster relations with prominent businessmen of Southern California. It was at this time that Ronald Reagan began his road to the presidency. In 1966, he was elected governor of California. Nancy was already acting as a first lady; she used her political position to help Vietnam veterans, as well as lead a Foster Grandparents program. The Foster Grandparents program was designed to match senior citizens with special-needs children. Nancy Reagan was honorably named Los Angeles Times Woman of the Year in 1968. For her youth and fashion sense, she was compared to former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
Ronald Reagan’s election for the president of the United States began in 1980. Nancy famously refurbished rooms of the White House. More importantly, she coined the phrase “Just Say No” in 1982. Her anti-drug campaign allowed her to tour the nation to raise awareness for rehabilitation centers. Three years later, Nancy hosted an international conference on youth drug abuse with 17 first ladies from countries around the world.
Ronald Reagan won the presidency for two terms. During these eight years, Nancy faced several crises, including an assassination attempt on her husband in 1981. In 1987, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and was forced to get a mastectomy. Nancy is also known for her behind-the-scenes influence regarding her husband’s schedule and selection of cabinet members. She wanted to keep him in a favorable image for the public, as she cared deeply for his well-being.
After the White House
Nancy Reagan’s reign as the first lady ended in 1989. She and her husband returned to Bel Air to retire. However, she was not finished pursuing her many talents. Nancy published an autobiography titled “My Turn.” She also created the Nancy Reagan Foundation to continue supporting drug prevention programs. In 1991, her husband was honored in a dedication ceremony at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, which is located in Simi Valley, California.
Ronald Reagan announced he was suffering from Alzheimer’s in 1994. His loving wife was his caretaker until he passed away in 2004. Not surprisingly, Nancy pressed Congress to increase federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. In 2009, she made a rare appearance at the White House, where she signed the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act. She passed away of heart failure in 2016 at the age of 94.