Nancy Reagan (1921-2016) was a Hollywood film actress and First Lady of the U.S. between 1981 and 1989. She was married to Ronald Reagan from 1952 to his death in 2004 and was widely regarded as wielding significant power in the White House. She remained politically active through her various charitable causes right up her death.
Let’s have a look at the top 10 most interesting facts about Nancy Reagan.
Nancy Reagan Facts
1. Nancy was not her real name.
Nancy Reagan was born, Anne Francis Robbins, to Edith and Kenneth Robbins. Her mother, an aspiring actress, nicknamed her Nancy almost immediately. Her parents divorced when she was very young, and she was sent to live with her mother’s sister until Edith remarried. Her stepfather, Loyal Davis, a wealthy Chicago neurosurgeon, adopted her, and she took his surname.
2. Her acting career was not very successful.
Nancy Davis attended drama school at Smith College in Massachusetts. Through contacts of her mother’s, she got a job with a touring company and eventually roles on Broadway. By 1949, Davis was working in Hollywood as a film actress and landed up making a total of 11 movies. For the most part, she played minor supporting roles.
3. Nancy and Ronald Reagan dated for three years before marrying.
At one point, Nancy Davis discovered she was on Hollywood’s Blacklist – a list of performers suspected to have communist affiliations. It turned out to be another actress who shared her name. To sort out the misunderstanding, she met with Ronald Reagan, President of the Screen Actors Guild at the time. They had an instant attraction, but his marriage to Jane Wyman had recently ended, and he was skeptical of another commitment. The Reagans eventually married in 1952.
4. Nancy Reagan was a First Lady twice over.
In 1967, Ronald Reagan was elected Governor of California, and Nancy became First Lady of the State. In 1980, when he was elected President, she became First Lady of the nation for the two terms he served, an interesting fact about Nancy Reagan.
5. She was criticized for being snobbish and out of touch with ordinary Americans.
As First Lady of California, Nancy Reagan attracted harsh criticism for choosing to live in an exclusive suburb in Sacramento over the Governor’s official residence, which she described as a “fire trap.” On moving into the White House, she immediately set about redecorating it. Even though it was done with privately donated money, she was judged to be out of touch with the lives of ordinary Americans living in depressed times.
6. The President counted the First Lady amongst his advisors.
Nancy Reagan is attributed as being an influential presence at the White House. Her influence on her husband likely didn’t start on his being sworn in as president. When the couple met, Ronald Reagan was a democrat. An interesting fact about Nancy Reagan is that he leaned increasingly to the right, and his wife and father-in-law were probably the instigators of this. Don Reagan, Reagan’s Chief of Staff, was adamant that the First Lady sought to get rid of him. She denied this but confirmed that she influenced the President’s schedule out of concern for his health and safety. She also claimed responsibility for the Geneva meeting between him and Mikhail Gorbachev.
7. Her “Just Say No,” anti-drug campaign was a failure.
As part of America’s “War of Drugs” campaign in the 1980s, Nancy Reagan became the spokesperson for “Just Say No.” It was an anti-drug advertising campaign that involved the First lady being broadcast nationwide, advising young people not to bow to peer pressure when offered drugs. It also established a network of Just Say No Clubs at schools, but studies showed they did not affect the likelihood of those students using drugs. Instead, the campaign led to the perception that drugs were more prevalent in youth zones than they were at the time, an interesting Nancy Reagan fact. Police were brought into schools, and students were subjected to a zero-tolerance approach that extended beyond the possession and use of drugs. Minor infractions were prosecuted, and the school-prison pipeline was strengthened.
8. She survived breast cancer.
In 1987, the First Lady was diagnosed with breast cancer during a routine mammogram screening and had her left breast removed. She was criticized in the media for electing a mastectomy over Breast Conversation Surgery (BCS), which would have just targeted the tumor. Some prominent medical commentators accused her of being “over-treated” and of setting back the treatment progress of the disease as much as ten years. But Reagan ardently defended the right of women to choose their treatment. Studies of the effects of the media coverage of Reagan’s cancer show a small increase in the percentage of women going for screening and a more significant increase in women with cancer electing breast removal over BCS.
9. Nancy Reagan published two books.
In 1989 Nancy Reagan published her autobiography, “My Turn,” written with William Novak. In it, she confirms and justifies her influence in the White House. She also discusses her often strained relationships with her children and stepchildren. In 2004, she published a collection of her letters from her husband, entitled “I Love You, Ronnie.” Ronald Reagan was a prolific and accomplished letter writer, and the publication covers their relationship over more than half a century.
10. She was an advocate of stem cell research.
With her husband’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, Nancy Reagan took an active role in understanding the disease and possible treatments. An interesting Nancy Reagan fact is that she became a vocal advocate of stem cell research in conflict with the Republican Party’s official, conservative stand. In 1995, the couple established the Ronald and Nancy Reagan Research Institute as an affiliate of the National Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago. The former First Lady used the full extent of her influence to raise funds and dispel ignorance on the subject. She remained committed to the cause after her husband’s passing and urged President Obama to lift the federal restrictions on funding of stem cell research, which he did in 2009.
Nancy Reagan was an influential figure in recent American history. I hope that this article on Nancy Reagan facts was helpful! If you are interested, visit the Historical People Facts Page!