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American actor and First Lady from 1981 to 1989, Nancy Reagan (1921-2016), was in kinship care as a child. 

Anne Frances Robbins was born in Queens, New York City to Edith Luckett (1888-1987), a stage actor, and Kenneth Robbins (1894-1972), a car salesman. After her parents separated, Anne (who was nicknamed Nancy) was sent to live with relatives Virginia and Audley Galbraith in Bethesda, Maryland. She was two years old. 

After Edith Luckett married neurosurgeon Loyal Davis in 1929, eight-year-old Nancy moved to Chicago to live with her mother and stepfather. She was legally adopted by Loyal Davis in 1935. 

Nancy Davis went to university at Smith College in Massachusetts and graduated in 1943 with a major in drama. 

Nancy Davis began her acting career by playing in a production of Ramschackle Inn which toured for two months. Eventually, she moved to Hollywood to take up a seven-year contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and to work on her first feature film, The Doctor and the Girl (1949), which starred Janet Leigh and Glenn Ford and in which Davis played the role of Mariette Esmond. Nancy Davis went on to work in eleven feature films including the documentary The Dark Wave (1956) which was nominated for two Academy Awards. 

Nancy Reagan married fellow actor Ronald Reagan in 1952. She continued her career in films until 1958, before retiring from acting in 1962 after four years in television. Nancy then took up responsibility for raising the couple’s children, including two children from Ronald’s first marriage to actor Jane Wyman (1917-2007). 

Nancy Reagan joined her husband on the campaign trail when he announced his candidacy for governor of California in 1966.  

She masterminded much of her husband’s campaign, including a fund-raising drive sponsored by celebrities such as Walt Disney, James Cagney, Robert Taylor and Randolph Scott. She was never off the telephone to rich potential backers and notorious for her gimlet-eyed vetting of campaign staff. Ronald romped into the governorship in 1967 by a margin of nearly two to one (Jackson and Bergan). 

As the wife of Governor Reagan, Nancy became active in the community, for example, visiting Vietnam War veterans and championing Foster Grandparents, a government-funded program founded by Robert Sargent Shriver (1915-2011) and which brings together elderly people to support children who have disabilities.  

Nancy Reagan was back on the campaign trail when Ronald decided to run for the presidency in 1976 and in 1980. During her tenure as First Lady to the 40th President of the United States, Nancy Reagan attracted considerable criticism for spending money on renovating and re-decorating the White House at a time when social programs were being cut; while donations were sought and received these attracted tax deductions for the donors. She continued her involvement in public life, sponsoring a major drug prevention campaign—Just Say No—and touring the United Nations and internationally to promote that. 

Reagan is considered to have impacted significantly on her husband’s presidency, well beyond the symbolic role generally expected of first ladies. She is widely held responsible, for example, for White House Chief of Staff, Donald Regan (1918-2003), losing his job in 1987. The First Lady was often accused of “managing the President” (Benze, 786)—long after the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan—controlling his diary, and even discussing policy with him. 

When Ronald Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s research in 1994, Nancy Reagan formed the Ronald and Nancy Reagan Research Institute in Chicago—an associate of the National Alzheimer’s Association—in 1995. She later also spoke out in favour of stem cell research because, she said, she did not want others to suffer as her husband had. 

Nancy Reagan was ninety-four when she died at home in Los Angeles. She was buried at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California alongside her husband. 


Benze, James. “Nancy Reagan: China Doll or Dragon Lady?” Presidential Studies Quarterly, vol. 20 (1990): 777-790. 

Check, Erika. “Bush pressured as Nancy Reagan pleads for stem-cell research.” Nature, vol. 429 (2004): 116.  

Conrad, Peter. “The Triumph of Nancy Reagan review – foibles and failings of a troubled first lady.” The Guardian, 30 May 2021.  

Dick, Bernard. The President’s Ladies: Jane Wyman and Nancy Davis. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2014. 

“Foster Grandparent Program.” Benefits.Gov.  

Gonzalez, David. “Talk and More Talk About Nancy (That One!) in Flushing.” The New York Times, 12 April 1991.  

Harold Jackson & Ronald Bergan (2016) Nancy Reagan obituary. The Guardian, 7 March 2016.  

McCarthy, Colman. “The First Lady and the Foster Grandparents.” The Washington Post, 5 December 1982.  

“Nancy Reagan – Her Life & Times.” Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation. 2006.  

Percha, Julie. “Nancy Reagan, Former First Lady, Dies at 94.” ABC News, 7 March 2016. 

Spencer, Wendy. “Mrs. Reagan’s Legacy of Supporting Foster Grandparents.” AmeriCorps, 3 August 2016.  

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