Betty Ford’s Legacy to be Honored with Commemorative Forever Stamp

On April 5th, three days before what would have been the former First Lady Betty Ford’s 106th birthday, the U.S. Postal Service held a dedication ceremony for a new commemorative Forever Stamp designed in her honor. The stamp’s design, which was unveiled at the White House by First Lady Jill Biden, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, and Ford’s daughter Susan Ford Bales, is taken from the official White House portrait done by Felix de Cossio in 1977. 

Advocacy in the White House

Mrs. Ford used her role as First Lady as an opportunity to support women’s liberation. “Betty Ford was the first first lady to really be consistently, publicly (outspoken) about women’s rights and women’s issues,” explained Susan Hartmann, a historian of feminism. “She was the most visible Republican feminist.”

Falling into her new role quickly, Betty Ford began advocating for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). She lobbied state legislatures, and when she received complaints that accused her of using taxpayer money to place long distance phone calls to lobby for the ERA, she had an outside line installed that served as a way for her to continue her advocacy in a new home office. 

Mrs. Ford also openly battled breast cancer during her time as First Lady. She spoke publicly about her illness, destigmatized getting screenings and treatment for breast cancer. In the 1970s, there was a “traditional silence about breast cancer” and Mrs. Ford’s openness and honesty at that time led to a 15% increase in breast cancer diagnoses. She also spoke out on “60 Minutes” in 1975, stating that the Supreme Court’s recent ruling legalizing abortion was “the best thing in the world” as it would “bring it out of the backwoods and into the hospitals where it belonged.”

Work After the White House 

Betty Ford’s advocacy didn’t stop when she left the White House and she began supporting the coalition, ERAmerica. In 1980, the ERA was in a precarious position as the Republican party held the National Republican Convention in Detroit and decided to oust it from the platform. Betty Ford protested this decision, marching out of the convention with the First Lady of Michigan, Helen Milliken, and joining the National Organization of Women (NOW), then NOW President Eleanor Smeal, and 12,000 others who were protesting against the decision. 

In 1981, Mrs. Ford served as the National Honorary chair for the ERA Countdown Campaign alongside Alan Alda. When asked by Eleanor Smeal if she would co-chair the campaign, she didn’t hesitate to agree. The Countdown Campaign took place in the year ahead of the ratification deadline and Betty Ford helped strategize for the campaign, which included 172 rallies in 42 states. However, strong support for ERA had begun to diminish in the Republican party with the election of Ronald Regan and the ERA fell short of 38 states required to approve ratification. 

Mrs. Ford continued to advocate for women’s rights across the nation throughout her life. Her frankness and strength left a lasting impact on the American people and as we continue to push for the ERA, we thank Betty Ford for what she has done in helping pave the way for other feminist advocates. 

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