Pieces of Silver
Betty Ford reviewed the table settings in the State Dining Room as preparations for the state dinner honoring the President of Liberia were underway.
For the centerpieces the White House borrowed 19th century silver presentation pieces from the Museum of the City of New York. These pieces, which had been given to individuals in recognition of service or accomplishment, had all be manufactured in America.
The decorations also featured arrangements of flowers and greenery that included Boston ivy, pink cabbage roses, eucalyptus, Gerber daisies, and mums. A pink lily was tucked in each napkin, which rested on the wildflower-patterned Johnson china.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel arrived in Washington, D.C., on September 10, 1974. The state dinner in his honor was held on September 12.
Maria Downs, Mrs. Ford’s Social Secretary, provides a description of the welcoming ceremony for visiting heads of state:
This official greeting by the President and the First Lady was a very impressive occasion which included the herald trumpet greeting, honors to the President, Ruffles and Flourishes, both national anthems, a 21 gun salute, reviewing of the troops, the welcoming remarks of our President and the honored guest’s response….In their homeland, millions of our guest’s countrymen would be scrutinizing the manner in which their leader is received – the respect shown – the guests present – all these details and many others are looked upon as significant symbols.
The First Lady’s First Press Conference
A week after the President gave his first press conference Betty Ford held one of her own. She fielded questions in the State Dining Room for 25 minutes on September 4, 1974.
Although she had interacted informally with the press since entering the White House, Mrs. Ford took a step many former First Ladies had not by making herself available to the media in an official press conference. Around 150 reporters and photographers attended the session.
During the press conference Mrs. Ford answered questions about her family’s transition to the White House, the impact of the economy on her family’s budget, and the possibility of President Ford running in the 1976 election. She spoke openly on several topics that would come up throughout the administration, including her support of the Equal Rights Amendment and women’s engagement in civic affairs. “I think that by becoming very active in politics, which I deeply encourage, that they will play a great role in the future of our country,” she said.
Reporters asked her about her role as First Lady as well. Mrs. Ford expressed her interest in supporting the arts, particularly in education, and working with underprivileged and retarded children. She also responded to a question regarding the kind of “footprint” she wanted to make during her time in the White House: “I would like to be remembered in a very kind way; also as a constructive wife of a President. I do not expect to come anywhere near living up to those First Ladies who have gone before me. They have all done a great job, and I admire them a great deal and it is only my ambition to come close to them.”
Here President and Mrs. Ford ride in the Presidential limousine during a trip to Chicago on August 19, 1974.
President Ford logged over 270,000 miles of travel while in office, and Mrs. Ford regularly accompanied him on trips. They attended public events together and made state visits to several foreign countries. “I had fun, I was privileged to travel in style and to see many wonders,” she reflected on their Presidential trips in her memoirs, “and these will stay in my memory.”-from the Ford Library
Morley Safer’s interviewed Betty Ford for the CBS news program “60 Minutes.” They taped the interview in the White House Solarium on July 21, 1975.
The “60 Minutes” segment marked Mrs. Ford’s first extensive, exclusive TV interview. Safer questioned her on a number of topics including her experiences as a politician’s wife, openness about her breast cancer, and support for women’s rights, particularly the Equal Rights Amendment.
Safer noted that unlike many political wives, for Betty Ford “the higher your husband’s gotten, the more really controversial things have been said.” This interview would be no exception. She called the Supreme Court’s ruling to legalize abortion “a great, great decision,” and discussed premarital sex and the possibility of her children using drugs.
After the segment aired on August 10 the White House received a deluge of negative comments regarding Mrs. Ford’s position on these issues. Public mail ran 2 to 1 against Mrs. Ford, although more positive comments came in over time. In the long run her approval rating increased after the controversy died down.
According to Sheila Weidenfeld, Mrs. Ford’s press secretary, the First Lady later sent Safer an autographed picture inscribed, “If there are any questions you forgot to ask – I’m grateful.”
-from the Ford Library
President Ford dances with Queen Elizabeth II while Mrs. Ford partners with Prince Philip following a state dinner honoring Her Majesty on July 7, 1976.
Betty Ford attended the dedication of Bennington College’s new Visual and Performing Arts Center on May 22, 1976. The First Lady had studied dance there as a teenager in the 1930s.
In her remarks Mrs. Ford reflected on her time at Bennington and her appreciation for the arts. “For those of us who studied here, Martha Hill, Martha Graham and others gave us something else. They touched our hearts with fire and infused us with spirit,” she said. “Isn’t that what the arts are about? Nourishment for the soul. The arts, especially for me the dance, draw out our emotions and make us more alive. Very often the arts help me to see life in a new way.”
During the ceremony Mrs. Ford affixed a plaque to the building, officially dedicating the center. She and Martha Hill, who had been one of her dance instructors at Bennington, watched a presentation of pieces choreographed and performed by students from the college’s dance department in the new building’s West Dance Studio.
(White House photograph A9928-14A)
Reviews of a Revue
The Fords invited actress-singer-dancer Ann-Margret to entertain guests after the dinner honoring the Shahanshah and Empress of Iran. Known for her work in musicals and movies including Bye Bye Birdie and Tommy, she had also traveled to Southeast Asia on a USO tour to entertain troops stationed there.
Ann-Margret’s debut White House performance was based on her night club act. Her musical numbers included “I Won’t Last a Day Without You,” “Swedish Lullaby,” and a “Salute to the Bicentennial.”
Press reaction to the entertainment was mixed to negative. The Fords took it in stride. “We certainly didn’t please all of the people all of the time. We thought it was great, for instance, to ask Ann-Margret,” Betty Ford wrote in her memoirs. “Well, Betty Beale came out with a column in the Washington Star that ripped us up and down for having made that choice.” Other commentators called the Vegas-style revue tasteless and deemed it too low-brow for the White House and its royal guests.
Time Flies When You’re Having Fun
It’s hard to believe, but we’ve made it through all of the state dinners hosted by President and Mrs. Ford. We hoped you’ve enjoyed going behind the scenes at these White House events.
Although we’re saying goodbye to our state dinner focus, don’t worry! We’ll be back soon with even more great items from our collections.
President and Mrs. Ford wave goodbye to Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti as he departs the White House following a state dinner held in his honor on December 6, 1976.
We loved the State Dinner series and we’ll be reblogging those over the next few months. Looking forward to seeing what else our colleagues at fordlibrarymuseum have planned!
On the Menu: Suprême of Royal Squab
Chefs in the White House kitchen begin preparing the squab that will be the main course at the state dinner for Prime Minister Harold Wilson of Great Britain.
One of the first steps in planning what to serve at a state dinner involved contacting the State Department to inquire about dietary restrictions and likes or dislikes of the visiting guests. In this case, they were informed Prime Minister Wilson didn’t like oysters.
White House executive chef Henry Haller would prepare sample menus that were sent to the First Lady’s staff. Mrs. Ford approved this menu on January 23, a week before the actual dinner.
Today marks the 90th anniversary of the first time the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was introduced in Congress in 1923. Both Gerald and Betty Ford were strong supporters of this constitutional amendment that stated, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
When the ERA was again introduced in the early 1970s, Congressman Ford voted in favor of it. Just over 30 states had ratified the amendment by the time he entered the White House. As President, Ford urged “those States who have not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment to give serious consideration to its ratification and the upholding of our Nation’s heritage.” He hoped that the requisite goal of ratification by 38 states would be reached in the Bicentennial year of 1976.
First Lady Betty Ford staunchly and vocally supported the ERA. “It is my personal opinion that ratification of the ERA is the single most important step that our nation can take to extend equal opportunity to all Americans,” she said.
Here is one of her statements explaining why she was firmly in favor of this amendment.
Photo: First Lady Betty Ford Expressing her support for the Equal Rights Amendment in Hollywood, Florida. 2/25/75.
King Hussein, President Ford, Queen Alia, and Mrs. Ford pause at the base of the Grand Staircase before proceeding to the East Room to receive their guests.
Having attended White House functions before, President Ford felt that this first state dinner “would also give Betty and me an opportunity to put our personal imprint on White House social occasions.” He observed that during the previous administration after dinner entertainment had been formal and the Nixons usually left just after the show. The Fords wanted their dinners to be “more relaxed” and included after-dinner dancing as part of the evening.
Happy Birthday Bob Hope! The entertainer would be celebrating 110 years today.
Here, Hope and Betty Ford do a few steps to warm up during preparations for the State Dinner held in honor of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip on July 7, 1976. Hope was featured during the entertainment portion of the evening.
-from the Ford Library