Born Anne Frances Robbins
July 6, 1921 (age 94)
Manhattan, New York City, New York, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Ronald Reagan
(m. 1952; died 2004)
Relations Parents: Kenneth Seymour Robbins, Edith Luckett Davis adopted by stepfather Loyal Davis
Children Patti Davis
Ron Reagan Jr.
Alma mater Smith College (B.A.)
Nancy Davis Reagan (born Anne Frances Robbins, July 6, 1921) is a former actress and the widow of the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan. She was the First Lady of the United States from 1981 to 1989.
She was born in New York City. After her parents separated, she grew up in Maryland, living with an aunt and uncle for some years. As Nancy Davis, she was an actress in Hollywood in the 1940s and 1950s, starring in films such as The Next Voice You Hear…, Night Into Morning, and Donovan’s Brain. In 1952, she married Ronald Reagan who was then president of the Screen Actors Guild. They had two children together. Reagan was the First Lady of California when her husband was Governor from 1967 to 1975 and she began to work with the Foster Grandparents Program.
Nancy Reagan became First Lady of the United States in January 1981, following her husband’s landslide election victory. She was criticized early in his first term largely due to her decision to replace the White House china, despite its being paid for by private donations. She sought to restore a Kennedy-esque glamour to the White House following years of lax formality, and her interest in high-end fashion garnered much attention as well as criticism. She championed recreational drug prevention causes by founding the “Just Say No” drug awareness campaign, which was considered her major initiative as First Lady. More controversy ensued when it was revealed in 1988 that she had consulted an astrologer to assist in planning the president’s schedule after the attempted assassination of her husband in 1981. She had a strong influence on her husband and played a role in a few of his personnel and diplomatic decisions.
The Reagans retired to their home in Bel Air, Los Angeles, California in 1989. Nancy devoted most of her time to caring for her ailing husband, diagnosed in 1994 with Alzheimer’s disease, until he died at age 93 in 2004. Nancy Reagan has remained active within the Reagan Library and in politics, particularly in support of embryonic stem cell research.
Anne Frances Robbins was born on July 6, 1921, at Sloane Hospital for Women in New York City. She was the only child of car salesman Kenneth Seymour Robbins (1894–1972) and his actress wife, Edith Luckett (1888–1987). Her godmother was silent-film-star Alla Nazimova. From birth, she was commonly called Nancy.
She lived her first two years in Flushing, Queens, in New York City, in a two-story house on Roosevelt Avenue between 149th and 150th Streets. Her parents separated soon after her birth and were divorced in 1928. After their separation, her mother traveled the country to pursue acting jobs and Nancy was raised in Bethesda, Maryland, for six years by her aunt, Virginia Luckett (1883-1966) and uncle, Audley Gailbraith (1877-1968). Nancy describes longing for her mother during those years: “My favorite times were when Mother had a job in New York, and Aunt Virgie would take me by train to stay with her.”
In 1929, her mother married Loyal Davis (1896–1982), a prominent conservative neurosurgeon who moved the family to Chicago. Nancy and her stepfather got along very well; Nancy later wrote that he was “a man of great integrity who exemplified old-fashioned values.” He formally adopted her in 1935 and she would always refer to him as her father. At the time of the adoption, her name was legally changed to Nancy Davis. She attended the Girls’ Latin School of Chicago (describing herself as an average student), graduated in 1939, and later attended Smith College in Massachusetts, where she majored in English and drama and graduated in 1943.
During her Hollywood career, Davis dated many actors, including Clark Gable, Robert Stack, and Peter Lawford; she later called Gable the nicest of the stars she had met. On November 15, 1949, she met Ronald Reagan, who was then president of the Screen Actors Guild. Nancy had noticed that her name had appeared on the Hollywood blacklist and sought Reagan’s help to maintain her employment as a guild actress in Hollywood, and for assistance in having her name removed from the list. Reagan informed her that she had been confused with another actress of the same name. The two began dating and their relationship was the subject of many gossip columns; one Hollywood press account described their nightclub-free times together as “the romance of a couple who have no vices”. Ronald Reagan was skeptical about marriage, however, following his painful 1948 divorce from Jane Wyman, and he still saw other women. After three years of dating, he eventually proposed to Davis in the couple’s favorite booth at the Beverly Hills restaurant Chasen’s. They married on March 4, 1952 in a simple ceremony designed to avoid the press at the Little Brown Church in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. The only people in attendance were fellow actor William Holden (the best man) and his wife, actress Brenda Marshall (the matron of honor). Coincidentally, all four people were professional actors. The couple’s first child, Patricia Ann Reagan (better known by her professional name, Patti Davis), was born on October 21, 1952. Their son, Ronald Prescott Reagan, was born six years later on May 20, 1958. Nancy Reagan also became stepmother to Maureen Reagan (1941–2001) and Michael Reagan (born 1945), the daughter and adopted son of her husband’s first marriage to Jane Wyman.
Observers described Ronald and Nancy Reagan’s relationship as intimate. As President and First Lady, the Reagans were reported to display their affection frequently, with one press secretary noting, “They never took each other for granted. They never stopped courting.” Ronald often called Nancy “Mommy”; she called him “Ronnie”. While the President was recuperating in the hospital after the 1981 assassination attempt, Nancy Reagan wrote in her diary, “Nothing can happen to my Ronnie. My life would be over.” In a letter to Nancy, Ronald wrote, “whatever I treasure and enjoy … all would be without meaning if I didn’t have you.” In 1998, while her husband was afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, Nancy told Vanity Fair, “Our relationship is very special. We were very much in love and still are. When I say my life began with Ronnie, well, it’s true. It did. I can’t imagine life without him.” Nancy was known for the focused and attentive look, termed “the Gaze”, that she fastened upon her husband during his speeches and appearances. President Reagan’s death in June 2004 ended what Charlton Heston called “the greatest love affair in the history of the American Presidency.
Nancy’s relationship with her children was not always as close as that with her husband. She frequently quarreled with her biological children and her stepchildren. Her relationship with Patti was the most contentious; Patti flouted American conservatism and rebelled against her parents by joining the nuclear freeze movement and authoring many anti-Reagan books. The nearly 20 years of family feuding left her very much estranged from both her mother and father. Soon after her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Patti and her mother reconciled and began to speak on a daily basis. Nancy’s disagreements with Michael were also public matters; in 1984, she was quoted as saying that the two were in an “estrangement right now”. Michael responded that Nancy was trying to cover up for the fact she had not met his daughter, Ashley, who had been born nearly a year earlier. They too eventually made peace. Nancy was thought to be closest to her stepdaughter Maureen during the White House years, but each of the Reagan children experienced periods of estrangement from their parents.