By Kate Elswood
On the 6th of March 2016, Nancy Reagan died of congestive heart failure in her home in Bel Air, aged 94. Nancy Reagan was the wife of President Ronald Reagan, who was in office from 1981 to 1989. As she assumed her position as the first lady, she became a key part of the Reagan administration. She was hardly likely to fade into the background as a wallflower, considering her signature colour of bold red and her previous career as an actress in the 1940s and 50s. Following in the footsteps of other influential first ladies, she used the power that she had gained to campaign for causes that she believed would help the American people.
Tributes have been received from notable public figures, including President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, current presidency candidates and other public figures who met and knew Nancy Reagan. She will be buried next to her husband at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California. The public laid flowers at the entrance to this building and they will have the opportunity to pay tributes to her before the funeral.
During Ronald Reagan’s presidency, she was most well known for her impact in the ‘Just Say No’ anti-drug campaign. She spoke passionately on the issue and her influence meant that there was increased education about drugs and she is credited with pushing cocaine use down to a 10-year low. However, critics claimed that her campaign spread rampant misinformation on the dangers of class C drugs such as Marijuana stating that the drug was linked to cancer and sterility. Despite this, she continued her efforts in this field beyond her husband’s presidency with the creation of the Nancy Reagan Foundation.
Later in life, her focus moved to embryonic stem cell research. She was active in her role as an advocate for embryonic stem cell research in the last years of her husband’s life. This journey began in association with hopes of finding a cure for Alzheimer’s, from which her husband died in 2004.
Nancy Reagan spoke about the role of the First Lady, saying that part of her responsibility was to prevent the president from feeling isolated. She, like other first ladies, become a political, as well as personal, advisor to her husband and used her position to promote her campaigns. The first lady has had a unique position throughout history. She can help the president to achieve his aims and can have a profound influence on the public.
There has been debate over the amount of political influence that Nancy Reagan really had. She was criticised for having too much influence on her husband throughout his career, as he rose to his place in the White House. Moreover, as a result of the fact that she was said to be a manipulative figure, she was nicknamed the ‘dragon lady’. Reagan tried to dispel these views of her power and her supporters believed her influence was no more than that of a wifely concern for President Reagan.
Her critics also had concerns beyond her ability to gain political power through manipulating the president. She received criticism for some of her less political actions during her husband’s presidency. In the White House, she was said to have renovated the house, filling it with expensive luxuries. Her critics saw this as a waste of money. She was also discredited when it was revealed that she used astrology to decide dates of important speeches and even her husband’s surgery.
Despite certain issues, Nancy Reagan become an admired figure. Her marriage was described as the White House’s ‘greatest love affair’. She was an admired actress in her youth and her role as a campaigner also won her support and affection from the public. She will be remembered fondly and proudly by the public and influential figures.