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During the ratification process for the Equal Rights Amendment, which ultimately failed to win approval, she wrote letters and telephoned state lawmakers in an attempt to enlist their support.
Her outspoken advocacy alienated ERA foes, who at one point organized an angry picket line in front of the White House.
Photos: Life of former First Lady Betty Ford"Throughout her long and active life, Elizabeth Anne Ford distinguished herself through her courage and compassion," President Obama said Friday in a statement.
"As our nation's First Lady, she was a powerful advocate for women's health and women's rights. Ford helped reduce the social stigma surrounding addiction and inspired thousands to seek much-needed treatment.
When turmoil engulfed Nixon during the Watergate scandal, she told anyone who asked that she did not want to be first lady, but the job became hers when the president resigned on Aug. The groundbreaking role she would play as first lady may have been foreshadowed in President Ford's inaugural address."I am indebted to no man and only to one woman — my dear wife, Betty," he told the nation.
Over the next 800 days of his tenure, she would outshine him in the polls, and when he ran for election in 1976, one of the most popular campaign buttons read "Betty's Husband for President."Her taboo-busting honesty — about abortion, sex, gay rights, marijuana and the Equal Rights Amendment — was a bracing antidote to the secrecy and deceptions of the Watergate era.
At that time, breast cancer was a taboo subject, so it was remarkable news that she not only disclosed the illness but openly talked about it and her treatment.
Ford served as vice president for only eight months, before Nixon himself resigned in the face of impeachment and certain conviction in the Senate for his role in the Watergate scandal.
Ford's belief that if it could happen to her, "it could happen to anyone," heightened public awareness of the disease.