With her new Congressman-husband, Betty Ford arrived in the nation's capital and began to learn the ways of a political wife while struggling to raise four children with an often-absent partner.
JANE ALEXANDER: On January 3 1949 newly elected Congressman Gerald Ford and his wife Betty arrived in Washington.
RICHARD NORTON SMITH: He was this very promising, up and coming athletic, you know, former football player from a safe seat in Michigan. Who from a very early age in Congress had been noticed and taken under the wings of the old bulls who ran the place. He was a man who expected to spend his entire career in the House.
JOHN ROBERT GREENE: He was also that very rare type of politician who was welcomed on either side of the aisle. And he could be friends, honest friends with Republican and Democrat alike. He was affable. He was likeable. He was approachable.
JANE ALEXANDER: And Betty immersed herself in the obligations of a political wife.
BETTY FORD: It was very exciting for me. I had never lived in Washington before.
JANE ALEXANDER: A year after the Ford's arrived in Washington, their first son Michael was born.
BETTY FORD: When we brought home that first little boy. I was dumbfounded at the love and astonishment that my husband had for this little darling creature. He was like melted butter.
JANE ALEXANDER: In rapid succession the Fords would add Jack, Steve and Susan to the roost and build a modest house in Alexandria, Virginia.
BETTY FORD: I became very much a full time mother. I was very active at the church as a Sunday school teacher trying to make a good role model for our children.
JANE ALEXANDER: They were a quintessential middle American family one thing set them apart dad wasn't always home for dinner at five.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: He loved his wife, but he was an ambitious politician. He wanted to be Speaker of the House. One way to do that was to get IOU's from people who you helped get elected. As a result, he was on the road sometimes 200 days a year. She was at home with four children, relatively modest household income. That was a very tough thing for her to live through.
JANE ALEXANDER: Betty found herself once again, with a husband who was on the road as much as her father had been. There was no doubt that Ford was a loving attentive father when he was home, but the demands of a political career took their toll.
JACK FORD: Because Dad wasn't necessarily there all the time, she sort of played that dual role of trying to be the mom but also trying to play some of the dad role. There was no question the burden was greater on Mother.
JANE ALEXANDER: And to make matters worse, a simple accident while opening a window would set her off on a downward spiral.
JOHN ROBERT GREENE: She was taken to an osteopathic hospital and they diagnosed a pinched nerve. They dealt with that pinched nerve which was an incredible searing pain with prescription drugs. Prescription drugs that by her own admission Betty begins to take out of the prescribed dosage.
JACK FORD: The pain would be such that she was bed ridden, when you're a healthy young kid growing up you understand being hurt but you don't understand being hurt in a way that doesn't get better. The ability to treat those kinds of injuries was pretty primitive. Put some hot packs on it. You know take a couple of pills and that's about all we can do for you.
JANE ALEXANDER: In 1965 Ford became Minority Leader of the House and demands on his time increased.
BETTY FORD: And I would read all these things about my husband being someplace, great articles, but I realized that I was kind of what I considered just nobody. I had no self esteem, kind of depression, withdrawal. I really felt that I was kind of being left behind.
JANE ALEXANDER: In her memoirs Betty writes:
"I hated feeling crippled so I took more pills. Now I know that some of the pain I was trying to wipe out was emotional."
One day, Susan came home and found her mother hysterically crying.
SUSAN FORD: It was very scary when she had a breakdown and I think it was probably the stress of four kids and a husband who wasn't home and everything else. I know that she was hospitalized.
JOHN ROBERT GREENE: What was happening to her actually mirrors what Betty Friedan was talking about in the Feminine Mystique.
JANE ALEXANDER: Betty Ford mirrored the independent women in Friedan's book. Published in 1963, it showed women marrying and devoting their lives to their husbands' careers while burying their own to ambitions and losing their identities. Some, unhappy and depressed, turned to drink.
BETTY FORD: One of my doctors suggested I see a psychiatrist which I did. And we worked through it as far as my role in my life. He said you need to take one whole day for Betty and do whatever you want. Be out with friends or whatever appeals to you.
JANE ALEXANDER: And Betty returned to what she loved best -- dance.
BETTY FORD: When I started the modern dance class with these other women that was kind of pressure relief. That was the relief valve.
JANE ALEXANDER: But it was not enough, in her memoirs Betty admits that when Jerry was away she began a routine of having her, "five o'clock drink at a neighbor's house another fixing dinner and then a nightcap watching television." Something she never discussed with her psychiatrist.
JANE ALEXANDER: A landslide victory in 1972 put Republican President Richard Nixon back in the White House but Congress would remain Democratic dashing Ford's dreams of becoming House Speaker. Much to Betty's relief, Gerry began to discuss leaving politics all together.
BETTY FORD: We had plans to retire and we talked about it and we said well he would serve out that term with President Nixon and then we would retire.
JOHN ROBERT GREENE: I think clearly and some of the children point this out in later interviews, they saw that their father was now more aware of how fragile his wife had become. They start talking about retirement and then Spiro Agnew changes everything.