Nancy Reagan’s early life foretold nothing of the woman she would become. On July 6, 1921, Anne Frances Robbins was born in New York City, the only child of Kenneth Robbins, a salesman, and Edith Luckett Robbins, an aspiring actress. Early on, Anne acquired the nickname “Nancy.” With her father having left the marriage during Nancy’s infancy, Edith sent her daughter to be raised by her aunt and uncle, Virginia and C. Audley Galbraith, in Bethesda, Maryland. There, Nancy attended Sidwell Friends School for a time. In 1929, Edith married a prominent Chicago neurosurgeon, Loyal Davis. Nancy joined her mother and, in 1931, Loyal adopted Nancy, changing her last name to Davis. In her new home, she was exposed to wealth and privilege, attending the Girls’ Latin School. She then studied drama at Smith College and earned a bachelors of arts degree in 1943.
After college, Nancy worked as a sales clerk in Marshall Fields Department store in Chicago and later as a nurse’s aide. With help from some of her mother’s friends, she eased into an acting career. Her first role was a nonspeaking part in the touring company production of Ramshackle Inn. The play eventually made it to Broadway in New York City, where Nancy landed a minor role in the 1946 musical Lute Song, starring Yul Brynner and Mary Martin.
In 1949, Nancy Davis traveled to Hollywood and was given a seven-year contract with MGM Studios. But success didn’t come quickly. MGM found it difficult to cast her in the films they were making. By 1949, calls for parts had dried up. The actress noticed her name was listed on the Hollywood blacklist, which was established by the film industry to warn studios and producers of individuals suspected of being communist sympathizers. Nancy was not a communist and had no association with any communist organizations. The listing was of another actress with the same name. In November, Nancy contacted Ronald Reagan, president of the Screen Actors Guild, to see if he could help. Both were immediately attracted to each other and soon began dating, though they later saw other people. Reagan was skeptical of marriage, having just experienced a painful divorce from actress Jane Wyman the previous year. After three years, Reagan finally proposed and Nancy accepted. The couple was married on March 4, 1952.
Nancy reversed her negative image by championing drug abuse awareness and education. Traveling throughout the United States and several foreign countries, Nancy visited prevention programs and rehabilitation centers. Continuing her efforts, Nancy addressed the United Nations General Assembly in 1988, speaking in support of strengthening international drug interdiction and trafficking laws. Perhaps Nancy Reagan’s most important role as first lady was as the president’s personal protector. This partly grew out of the March 30, 1981 assassination attempt on his life. Thereafter, Nancy made it her concern to know all aspects of his itinerary, even employing the advice of an astrologer before his scheduled was finalized. This created friction between the first lady and White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan. When the Iran-Contra affair was revealed, the two argued, leading to Regan’s resignation.
Until tomorrow: Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.
Por: Dorothy Prats / [email protected]