With the news this weekend that former First Lady Nancy Reagan has died, the National First Ladies’ Library offers a tribute to a woman who offered her enthusiastic support for its creation, development and realization. When the NFLL Founder and President Mary Regula first contacted Mrs. Reagan, she decided to lend her name to the organization and became an honorary chairman, helping to establish the institution and later donating personal items for its personal collection.
Her life would find the woman born by the name of Ann Frances Robbins living across the span of the nation. There are many different perspectives to remember her life, but perhaps one of the least considered is how well she knew the country, as a resident of different regions – long before she began campaigning by bus, car, train and plane in the three presidential races her husband made, in 1976, 1980 and 1984.
She was born on July 5, 1921 in Flushing, New York, in the New York City borough of Queens. With her mother Edie Luckett pursing a professional career out on the road and divorcing her birth father Kenneth Robbins, their only child would be moving south.
Young Nancy, as she was nicknamed spent her earliest years being raised by her maternal aunt and her husband in Bethesda, Maryland. Enrolled at the Quaker school Sidwell Friends, she made her first visit to the White House as a child during the presidency of Calvin Coolidge, when she attended the annual Easter Egg Roll.
Upon her mother’s 1929 remarriage to neurosurgeon Loyal Davis, she moved to his high-rise apartment overlooking Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. Becoming active in the Windy City’s young social life, Nancy Davis was an excellent student at the Girls’ Latin School.
She would then move back east again, to attend college at Smith College, in Northhampton, Massachusetts. There she majored in drama and took part in many of the theater department productions, be they drama or comedy. It was soon down to New York City, where she broke into show business as a stage actress.
Given the opportunity to make a screen test, however, Nancy Davis soon headed to Los Angeles, California. Except for her eight years as the American First Lady, when she lived in Washington, D.C., she would remain a lifelong resident of the Golden State.
Before her 1952 wedding to Ronald Reagan, while working as a film actress under contract at MGM, she would have several different residences around the city, from Hollywood to Westwood. Through marriage and motherhood, Nancy Reagan would live for the longest period in the Pacific Palisades section of Los Angeles until she and her husband left for the White House. During the presidency they resided in the penthouse suite of a Century City hotel, as well as enjoying their ranch near Santa Barbara. After the presidency, the Reagans bought a home in the Bel Air section. There the former President died in 2004 and there the former First Lady died the other day.
Nancy Reagan had the longest-living mother among First Ladies and is herself now the second-longest living, surviving some twenty days longer than Lady Bird Johnson, who died in 2005. With the passing of Mrs. Reagan, there are now five living First Ladies: Rosalynn Carter, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama.