State Dinner Styling
Betty Ford wore this chiffon gown at the state dinner honoring President Kekkonen of Finland. Designed by Albert Capraro, the floor-length dress features a two layered sandstone-stripe design.
Mrs. Ford paired the gown with the “Collar of St. Arsene,” which First Lady Jehan Sadat of Egypt had given to her as a state gift on October 27, 1975. The necklace, made of gold-plated silver and cut glass, dates to the pre-Arabic Roman period.
Albert Capraro was one of Betty Ford’s favorite designers during her time in the White House. Capraro previously had worked for Oscar de la Renta before striking out as an independent designer. Mrs. Ford admired his clothing and also appreciated that it was designed and made in the United States.
Capraro described working with Mrs. Ford as a joy. “She is warm and charming, and she knows what she wants,” he said. Here he adjusts her collar during a consultation at the White House on February 21, 1975.
As part of her visit Queen Elizabeth II presented a number of state gifts to the Fords. These included an ornate Bicentennial Commemorative tureen painted with red, blue, and gold. An image of the White House is painted on one side, while the other shows a side view of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. For display the tureen came with a specially designed wooden base with an engraved plaque.
Queen Elizabeth also gave gifts to individual family members. Betty Ford received a custom designed gold and diamond star burst brooch, while Jack Ford was given a set of four gold-tone cuff links. The jewelry featured Her Majesty’s cipher “E II R.”
In return the Fords presented Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip with the bronze statue “Two Champs” by Henry Jackson, which depicted a rider on a bucking horse.
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.
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.
Betty Ford enlisted the aid of David Jones, a floral designer and interior decorator from Los Angeles, to put together decorations for this dinner honoring the Shahahshah and Empress of Iran. It was a white tie event, and one of the more formal dinners that the Fords would host.
The garden-themed decor featured bronze sculptures on loan from the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they were designed by American artists Robert Ingersoll Aitken, Abstenia St. Leger Eberle, Janet Scudder, and Bessie Potter Vonnoh. Each sculpture was placed on a low platform surrounded by greenery and candles.
Garlands draped on the back of the chairs and around the room finished the decor. The garden theme carried outside of the State Dining Room as well with the addition of trees and planters in the Cross Hall.
Although the Johnson china with its wildflower pattern was often used at state dinners, for this one the meal was served on the Truman china with its green border. The Kennedy crystal and Monroe vermeil completed the table settings.
Presidential Pups x 7 = Cute
In the fall of 1975, the Ford family’s Golden Retriever Liberty gave birth to puppies. Here they are, exhibiting seven sorts of cute with President Gerald Ford, Betty Ford, and daughter Susan. South Lawn of the White House, November 5, 1975.
-From the Ford Library
Betty Ford and Breast Cancer Awareness
As October draws to a close, we thought we’d highlight Betty Ford’s own experience with breast cancer. Known for her candor on many topics, Mrs. Ford spoke openly about her experience with the disease after undergoing a mastectomy in September 1974.
“I had that critical checkup at the insistence of a friend, and I’ve tried to repay that act of friendship by talking about how important regular checkups are for early detection of breast cancer and, of course, other types of cancer,” she said in her remarks at an American Cancer Society dinner the following year.
Pictured (Top):President Ford visits Mrs. Ford in the President’s Suite at Bethesda Naval Hospital, Bethesda, Maryland, following her breast cancer surgery on October 2, 1974.
Pictured (Middle and Bottom): Letter from Mrs. Edna Kaufhold to Betty Ford, about the impact of her advocacy. 11/18/1974.
-from the Ford Library