A quick search of the internet and it's hard to find very many pictures of Nancy Reagan without her husband, President Ronald Reagan by her side. But then again, the former first lady has been quoted as saying, "My life really began when I married my husband."
While the President and Mrs. Reagan were seemingly one of the closest couples to ever reside in the White House, life for Nancy Davis Reagan actually began on July 6, 1921 in Manhattan. She was born to Kenneth Robbins, a car salesman, and actress, Edith Luckett. Her parents split up shortly after she was born, and Mrs. Reagan would spend a few years living with her aunt and uncle in Maryland, but in 1929, her mother married Loyal Davis, a neurosurgeon, the man she would refer to as her father. The family moved to Chicago where she attended Girls' Latin School and spent her time swimming, playing tennis and dancing.
Mrs. Reagan attended Smith College in Massachusetts where she studied English and theater. Upon graduation, she returned home to Chicago where she worked as both a nurse's aide and a sales clerk in a Marshall Field's department store, but soon the acting bug bit and Reagan moved to New York City to follow in her mother's footsteps, becoming a professional actress. There, she gained roles in Zasu Pitts' 1945 road tour of Ramshackle Inn and the Broadway musical Lute Song before moving to Hollywood and signing a seven year contract with MGM. During that time, Reagan appeared in eleven feature films including Hellcats of the Navy in which she starred opposite her husband. Mrs. Reagan's acting received mixed reviews but in an 1975 interview, she claimed, "I was never really a career woman but became one only because I hadn't found the man I wanted to marry. I couldn't sit around and do nothing, so I became an actress."
As her husband became involved with politics, Mrs. Reagan devoted much of her time to various causes and charity organizations. She visited and worked with veterans, the elderly, and handicapped and she was appointed to the California Arts Commission. As the first lady of California, she was voted "Woman of the Year" by the Los Angeles Times.
In January 1981, Mrs. Reagan became First Lady of the United States. Many say she brought a glamour and formality back to the role that had been missing for many years. Mrs. Reagan was very interested in fashion; her wardrobe consisted of many designer gowns and suits and she employed two private hairdressers. She also attended the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana and hosted over 56 state dinners during her eight years in Washington DC. One of her first tasks was fixing up the White House, which, at the time, had been described as being "in a state of disrepair" by an aide. Mrs. Reagan renovated and redecorated many parts of the White House with privately donated funds, claiming, "This house belongs to all Americans, and I want it to be something of which they can be proud."
The "Just Say No" drug awareness campaign is perhaps one of the most notable aspects of Mrs. Reagans's legacy. She traveled over 250,000 miles around the world and the United States to inform people of the dangers of drug abuse. She spoke to schoolchildren, visited drug abuse prevention programs and drug rehabilitation centers, and appeared on several television talk shows. She even made several guest appearances on television shows such as "Dynasty" and "Diff'rent Strokes" and spoke at the United Nations General Assembly, becoming the first First Lady to do so.
Once the couple left Washington DC, they returned home to California where they split their time between their ranch in Santa Barbara and a home in Bel Air. Mrs. Reagan continued to stay in the public eye. In 1989, she established the Nancy Reagan Foundation and continued to speak out against drug and alcohol abuse. She also authored a book about her time as First Lady. When the President was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease in 1994, she often appeared publicly on his behalf, and became very involved with the National Alzheimer's Association. Since her husband's death in 2004, she has made appearances at a number of national events, despite her deteriorating health.