Op-ed: Inspiring First Ladies: Nancy Reagan

Nancy Reagan is remembered today for being one of the “powerful” and influential First Ladies in the modern presidency, being one of the most prominent examples of an equal partner to the president during his time in office. 

Nancy Reagan met her future husband Ronald in 1949 when they were starring in a Hollywood film together. A few years after this initial meeting, the two wed in 1952 with Nancy being his second wife. She decided to retire from acting to dedicate herself to being a wife and mother. After a few decades of being an actor’s wife, Nancy suddenly found herself being a politician’s wife when Ronald decided to retire from Hollywood to pursue a political career. 

Their hard work paid off when Reagan was elected President in 1980, making Nancy the new First Lady. 

The first months of Reagan’s presidency were uneventful, dedicated to transitioning to his new role in office. The everything changed in March of 1981 when there was an assassination attempt against Ronald Reagan which resulted in a non-fatal shot to the shoulder. Understandably, Nancy went into a panic following this attempt on her husband’s life, causing her to remain close by his side and take charge of his safety. Here is where her heavy involvement in her husband’s presidency began. 

Other members of the Reagan cabinet described Nancy Reagan as a corporate wife who did everything behind the scenes. She was the one who had the president’s ear and anyone who got on her bad side quickly found themselves torn down with a smeared name in politics. Nancy Reagan was a woman who was not afraid to use her influence. 

Following in Jackie Kennedy’s footsteps, Nancy also took an interest in renovating the White House for the modern times yet also managed to maintain the historical charm that was first instilled in Jackie’s time. Nancy Reagan also became known for her campaign against drug and alcohol abuse called ‘Just Say No’. 

In 1983, Ronald decided to run for re-election, something she wasn’t a huge fan of, but nevertheless she supported his ambitions and recognized that they still had work to do as president and first lady. As the oldest president ever at the time, Ronald heavily relied on his wife during this time and their hard work paid off when he won re-election in 1984. It was during this time that Nancy accomplished one of her greatest achievements; helping to establish peace between America and the Soviet Union, taking the first steps towards ending the Cold War. 

When Reagan’s second and final term ended in 1989, Nancy was grateful and told journalists that she would always consider this to be their greatest adventure as husband and wife, but was happy to be going back to a quieter life. 

Nancy Reagan was a strong-willed woman, who will always be remembered for her time in office even after her dedication and efforts to further stem cell research following Ronald’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s towards the end of his life. She was comfortable and unafraid to use her power as First Lady and her dedication to protecting her husband’s name and reputation, both during and after his time as president. Nancy and Ronald began as co-stars in film and ended as co-stars in the White House and American politics.

Katie Hayes is Managing Editor for The Hub. She can be contacted at hayesc@emmanuel.edu.