Today is Gerald Ford's birthday. It's also the day that Betty Ford will be buried.
I've always had a fondness for first ladies. As a child, I loved the exhibit at the Museum of American History of all the first ladies' dresses and other objects. It wasn't until much later that I started to question why this exhibit was the only one to feature women prominently in the whole Smithsonian system, or so it seemed to me.
Ah, the 1970s! I want to believe that we'd see more balanced representations of women and their accomplishments if we spent our summer vacation going from museum to museum--it would be more balanced than when I was a child, to be sure, but I suspect we'd conclude it's still a far ways from an equal representation.
When I was young, those were still the days when the surest way for a woman to be influential was to be married to an influential man. And to my childhood brain, who could be more influential than the President of the Free World?
I was a kid--what did I know? A generation of feminists was fighting to give women the opportunity to be influential while unattached to a man, and I shall be forever grateful. I could make the argument that Betty Ford helped in that fight, with her outspoken support for feminism, the ERA, and women in general.
The world has changed in many significant ways since the 1970's, when Betty Ford was so influential. It's hard to remember a time when no one spoke openly about cancer. Betty Ford blazed an important trail when she talked so freely about her breast cancer. By doing so, she has likely saved tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands? thousands upon thousands upon thousands?) of lives by stressing early detection and intervention. What an amazing thing she did.
Now I don't know many lives untouched by cancer--was that always the case, but people just didn't talk about it, so we didn't know?
When I think about the changes that Betty Ford helped bring about, I sometimes wish that people talked a bit less about their afflictions, their demons, their addictions. But I do understand the importance of being able to talk about these issues and being able to seek help. By her honesty about her addictions, Betty Ford blazed that important trail too. Again, how many lives have been redeemed by her example?
So, rest in peace, Betty Ford. Thank you for all you did to make the world better for women--and for everyone.