Published January 14, 2015
"My life really began when I married my husband," Nancy Reagan (search) once said. In reality, her story began 31 years prior on July 6 1921.
Born Anne Francis Robbins, Mrs. Reagan enjoyed a carefree childhood that included summer camp, tennis, and dance classes. Her mother, Edith, married Dr. Loyal Davis when she was six years old, and the couple raised Anne in Chicago. Following in her stage actress mother's footsteps, young Anne cultivated her love of the arts at Massachusetts's Smith College, where she majored in theatre.
Soon after graduation she became a professional stage actress, touring with a road company before landing a role on Broadway in the hit musical "Lute Song." Buoyed by her theater success Anne, who now went by the name Nancy Davis, left New York for Hollywood, signing a seven-year contract with MGM studios.
Nancy first met Ronald Reagan (search) in 1951, when Ronald was president of the Screen Actors Guild. The two were married a year later. And, after starring in three more films, Mrs. Reagan decided to give up her budding film career for the role of full time wife and mother.
Her decision to step out of the limelight was not done in vain. She used her newfound free time to explore charities, and began to spend countless hours with veterans, the emotionally and physically handicapped and the elderly. In 1967, after her husband took office as the governor of California, she got particularly involved with the Foster Grandparent Program (search), an organization that later was the focus of her 1982 book, "To Love A Child."
But perhaps her most famous cause was that of drug and alcohol abuse in teenagers. Her "Just Say No" campaign helped fuel the United States' awareness of the ever-growing drug problem amongst adolescents. She spent time at rehabilitation centers and wrote special articles on the subject, making herself the top soldier in the war on drugs. In 1985, Mrs. Reagan held a two-day briefing for 17 international first ladies, which focused on the international problem of drug and alcohol dependency.
Her efforts did not go unnoticed. Between 1981 and 1989, Gallop Polls showed that Americans viewed Mrs. Reagan as one of the 10 most admired women in the world. In 1984,1985 and 1986 she was ranked number one in a Good Housekeeping poll.
After leaving Washington at the end of her husband's second term in 1989, she established the Nancy Reagan Foundation (search) to continue teaching youth about the dangers of substance abuse. She also continued to travel abroad, speaking out on the detrimental effects of alcohol and drugs.