In 1982, she went on to found the Betty Ford Center for substance abuse and addiction in Rancho Mirage, Calif. She tirelessly campaigned to raise funds for, and awareness of, drug addiction and treatment.

In 1991, Ford was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George H.W. Bush for her contribution to health issues, with a citation reading, “Her courage and candor have inspired millions of Americans to restore their health, protect their dignity, and shape full lives for themselves.”

Ford’s ability to influence and advocate so effectively — and to overcome the controversy generated by some of her candor — stemmed from the nation’s introduction to her as an appealing and relatable first lady. While she infused the role of first lady with passionate advocacy, she also embraced her traditional duties with the same enthusiastic energy. We ALL owe a great debt of gratitude to Betty Ford — we will never forget her! 

Joan Wages is president and CEO of the National Women's History Museum.