But unlike many other wives of presidents, Mrs. Ford rarely hesitated to make public her views on touchy subjects. She held a White House news conference announcing her support of the Equal Rights Amendment; the mail response ran three to one against her. In 1975, appearing on “60 Minutes,” she said she “wouldn’t be surprised” if her daughter, Susan, had a premarital affair; the mail was four to one against her. Her husband jokingly told her later that the comment had cost him 20 million votes in the 1976 election, she said.
I remembered that Betty Ford supported the Equal Rights Amendment while her husband did not, but I didn't remember the news conference. Can you imagine the agita that must have caused Gerald Ford and his aides? She was also a vocal supporter of abortion rights and encouraged her then-president husband to appoint women to cabinet positions, ambassadorships, and the Supreme Court. (She was successful on the first two, but not on the Court appointment.)
To my mind, Betty Ford's greatest accomplishments were making the nation more aware of breast cancer and addiction. Breast cancer screening in this country got a lot more widespread after Betty Ford was diagnosed with the disease and underwent a mastectomy. I remember being taught how to perform a breast self-examination because of Betty Ford. And addiction? Simply not discussed. But then Betty Ford announced publicly that she was being treated for painkiller and alcohol addiction and later opened the Betty Ford Center. For all the jokes people make about celebrities cycling in and out of rehab and "therapy culture", I think the world is definitely a better place because at least some of us are able to think about and discuss addiction with less shame.
Here's a slide show of pictures from Betty Ford's life.