US Stamps

Design of surprise U.S. stamp for first lady Betty Ford unveiled March 6 at White House

Mar 7, 2024, 8 AM
The nondenominated (68¢) Betty Ford forever commemorative stamp will be issued April 5 in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

By Allen Abel, Washington Correspondent

First lady Jill Biden and senior officials of the United States Postal Service convened in the East Room of the White House on March 6 to unveil a new postage stamp honoring one of her most popular and controversial predecessors: Betty Ford.

Also participating in the unveiling were Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and Ford’s daughter, Susan Ford Bales.

The nondenominated (68¢) forever commemorative stamp, which features a cropped image of Felix De Cossio’s 1977 White House portrait of Ford, will be issued April 5 at the Annenberg Health Sciences Building in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

Ford, a breast cancer survivor who also battled dependencies on alcohol and painkillers, died July 8, 2011, at age 93.

“Mrs. Ford’s extraordinary story is a lesson in the beautiful and sometimes cruel unpredictability of life, and our capacity for redemption,” Biden said. “Heroism is not perfection. It’s resilience. Ultimately, Betty gave us hope.”

Choking back tears as the portrait of Ford was undraped, her daughter recalled how her mother gathered her close in the White House residence and spoke four monumental words: “I have breast cancer.”

“The time for women hiding this disease behind closed doors has to stop,” Bales said of her mother’s determination.

DeJoy said that Ford “changed the role of first lady. She used the role not just as a platform to represent the nation and advance and support her husband, she used it to speak openly and honestly about issues she cared about, and about personal issues she faced.”

As the wife of President Gerald Ford, who assumed office when Richard Nixon resigned in August 1974, Betty Ford spent only two years and five months in the White House before Jimmy Carter was inaugurated in January 1977.

But her candor and determination to go beyond the traditional first lady’s role as hostess and quiet helpmate made her one of the most consequential of America’s first ladies.

“I told my husband if we have to go to the White House, ‘Okay, I will go. But I’m going as myself,’ ” Ford told Morley Safer of CBS’ 60 Minutes in a 1975 interview. “It’s too late to change my pattern,” she said. “And if they don’t like it, then they’ll just have to throw me out.”

“I think it’s so terrific that she’s going to be commemorated in this way,” Anita McBride, former chief of staff for first lady Laura Bush, told Linn’s Stamp News before the White House event. McBride is executive-in-residence at American University’s School of Public Affairs and the co-author of the first college-level textbook on America’s first ladies.

“She was so true to herself and so authentic and so courageous and willing to speak her mind in a way that helped people,” McBride said.

“She was really willing to go out and be risky on the political stage,” McBride added. “She spoke out on reproductive health. She spoke out on sex before marriage. Only six weeks after coming to the White House, she made the extraordinarily difficult decision to go public about her breast cancer at a time when the word ‘breast’ wasn’t even mentioned in public. Her candor turned out to inspire life-saving decisions for millions of women.”

The Betty Ford stamp follows two years after the July 6, 2022, issuance of a commemorative stamp (Scott 5702) honoring Nancy Reagan, the wife of Ronald Reagan, the 40th president.

Five other first ladies have appeared on U.S. postage stamps: Martha Washington in 1902, 1929 and 1938; Dolley Madison in 1980; Abigail Adams in 1985; Eleanor Roosevelt in 1963, 1984 and 1998; and Lady Bird Johnson in 2012.

“In her post-first lady life, she talked about her addictions in a way that really changed the way the nation looks at alcohol dependency and substance dependency,” McBride said. “In the world of women’s health, it’s measured as ‘before Betty Ford’ and ‘after Betty Ford,’ and that’s an extraordinary legacy.”

This story was updated Thursday, March 7.

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