Competing Conceptions of the First Ladyship: Public Responses to Betty Ford's 60 Minutes Interview

Authors

  • MARYANNE BORRELLI

    1. Associate professor of government at Connecticut College and coeditor of The Other Elites: Women, Politics, and Power in the Executive Branch.
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  • AUTHOR'S NOTE: The Gerald R. Ford Foundation Research Grant Program and the Connecticut College R.F. Johnson Faculty Development Fund generously supported this study. Additional thanks are due to two archivists at the Gerald R. Ford Library: Leesa Tobin endorsed this project in its earliest stages and Geir Gundersen helped bring it to a conclusion.

Abstract

Has the debate about women's roles in U.S. society allowed first ladies greater latitude in choosing the role(s) they will perform? To answer this question, two points on the spectrum of possible first lady roles–“first political wife” and “wife”–were identified. Public correspondence responding to Betty Ford's 60 Minutes interview was then studied. Ford's critics and supporters each articulated coherent ideologies of gender and presidential power, which were congruent with the theoretical constructs of first political wife and wife. In this instance, the role of first political wife mobilized more critics than supporters and influenced campaign strategies throughout the second half of the Ford administration.

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