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BIOGRAPHY

Anne Francis “Nancy” Robbins was born on July 6, 1921, the only child of Kenneth Seymour Robbins and Edith Prescott Luckett. Her parents separated shortly after her birth. After the separation, Edith continued pursuing her acting career, and eventually placed two-year-old Nancy with her sister and brother-in-law, Virginia and Audley Gailbraith, in Bethesda, Maryland. Nancy lived with the Gailbraiths for the next six years.

Edith Luckett remarried in 1929 to Loyal Edward Davis, a prominent neurosurgeon from Chicago, Illinois. Mother and daughter reunited in Chicago, where Nancy attended school and grew into a young woman. Dr. Davis, who died August 19, 1982, was Professor Emeritus at Northwestern University after serving as Professor of Surgery there for more than 30 years.  Edith Luckett Davis went on to serve with many charitable organizations. She died October 26, 1987, at the Davis’s retirement home in Phoenix, Arizona.

Nancy Reagan enjoyed a close relationship with her stepfather, and always considered him her father. Loyal Davis formally adopted Nancy when she was a teenager. Ann Francis Robbins legally became Nancy Davis at this time.

Nancy Davis graduated from Chicago’s Girls’ Latin School and went on to Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, where she majored in English and drama. She graduated in 1943 and then pursued a professional acting career.

In her acting career, Nancy Davis worked in stage, film, and television productions. Her stage performances ranged from summer stock to road tours to Broadway and, in 1949, she signed a seven-year contract with MGM. She made 11 films in all, including three after her marriage and many television appearances up to her retirement in 1962. She and her husband, Ronald Reagan appeared in her last film, Hellcats of the Navy, (Columbia, 1956).

Nancy Davis and Ronald Reagan were “set up” on a dinner date to discuss some problems she was having with another Screen Actors Guild (SAG) actress with the same name. The other Nancy Davis was associated with Communist front groups and was in danger of being blacklisted in the 1950s. Nancy asked for help with this problem from Ronald Reagan, SAG Board member. They began dating and after a nearly two year courtship were married on March 4, 1952 at The Little Brown Church in the San Fernando Valley, California. It was her first and only marriage and Reagan’s second marriage. He had previously been married to actress Jane Wyman and they had two children, Maureen and Michael. Together the Reagans had two children: Patricia Ann Reagan (Patti Davis) born on October 21, 1952 and Ronald Prescott Reagan (Ron Reagan) born on May 20, 1958.

Ronald Reagan ran successfully for Governor of California in 1966, and Nancy Reagan became the First Lady of California after his “swearing-in” in January 1967. Mrs. Reagan began some of her more public charitable work at this time starting with her visits to wounded Vietnam War veterans, hospitals and homes for the elderly and schools for physically and emotionally handicapped children. She became active in projects concerning prisoners of war (POWs) and servicemen missing in action. She wrote a syndicated column often commenting on this issue, and donating her salary to the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Action in Southeast Asia.

During one of her visits to the elderly in 1967, Mrs. Reagan observed participants in the Foster Grandparent Program, a program bringing together senior citizens and handicapped children, and she soon became its champion.  Later, as First Lady of the United States, Mrs. Reagan continued to help expand the program on a national level and promote private funding in local communities. With Jane Wilkie, she co-authored a book, To Love a Child, on the program. Songwriters Hal David and Joe Raposo wrote and dedicated a song to Mrs. Reagan entitled “To Love a Child.”

The Reagans entered the White House in January 1981 and First Lady Nancy Reagan’s special project was fighting drug and alcohol abuse among youth. To spotlight the problem, she traveled nearly 250,000 miles throughout the United States and several countries in conjunction with her campaign to fight substance abuse.  She appeared on television talk shows, taped public service announcements, wrote guest articles, and visited prevention programs and rehabilitation centers across the country to talk with young people and their parents.

In April 1985, Mrs. Reagan expanded her drug awareness campaign to an international level by inviting First Ladies from around the world to attend a two-day briefing in Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, Georgia, on the subject of youth drug abuse.  During the 40th Anniversary of The United Nations in 1985, Mrs. Reagan hosted 30 First Ladies for a second international drug conference.  She was also the first American First Lady to address the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly whose meeting she attended in October 1988.

In October 1987, a mammogram detected a lesion in Nancy Reagan's left breast, and it was cancer. She underwent a radical mastectomy on October 17, 1987. Mrs. Reagan chose to share her diagnosis and treatment with the public, and became an advocate for early detection.

After leaving the White House on January 20, 1989, Mrs. Reagan established the Nancy Reagan Foundation to continue her campaign to educate people about the serious dangers of substance abuse. In 1994, the Nancy Reagan Foundation joined forces with the BEST Foundation For A Drug-Free Tomorrow and developed the Nancy Reagan Afterschool Program, a drug prevention and life-skills program for youth.  Mrs. Reagan continued to travel domestically and internationally, speaking out on the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol.

In October of 1989 Mrs. Reagan’s memoirs, entitled My Turn, were published by Random House. In 1994, Ronald Reagan announced his retirement from public life due to his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

In post-White House years, Mrs. Reagan devoted her time to projects related to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, where she serves on the board of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan organization.  The Foundation is dedicated to developing and fostering individual liberty, promoting economic opportunity, advancing democracy around the world, and instilling pride in our national heritage.

Mrs. Reagan celebrated her great love affair with President Ronald Reagan by publishing, I Love You, Ronnie: The Letters of Ronald Reagan to Nancy Reagan,in 2000. The book was a light biography of their life together interspersed with the loving letters and other correspondence between the President and his First Lady.

While active in these areas, most of her time from 1994 until his death in 2004 was as the main caregiver to President Ronald Reagan and his struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. The world watched this devoted couple deal courageously and honestly with Reagan’s decline and eventual death.

After the death of President Reagan, Mrs. Reagan actively worked with the national Alzheimer’s Association and its affiliate, the Ronald & Nancy Reagan Research Institute in Chicago, Illinois. She became an outspoken proponent of stem cell research as a possible cure or treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. She lobbied President George W Bush directly about federal funding for stem cell research and was influential in Bush’s decision to do a limited ban on federal funding. Her son, Ron Reagan, later addressed the Democratic National Convention urging federal support for stem cell research.

Nancy Reagan continued to work to support the legacy of President Reagan, accepting awards on his behalf and working with the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth on February 6, 2011. Her health declined with a series of falls at her home that resulted in broken bones. She died of consumptive heart failure at her Bel Air, California home on March 6, 2016. She was 94.

Nancy Davis Reagan is buried at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library grounds next to her husband, President Ronald Reagan.

 

Collection Description

The majority of this collection currently consists of the "love letters" sent to Mrs. Nancy Davis Reagan by her husband, President Ronald Reagan over the course of their courtship and marriage. Included are letters, notes, gift tags, commercial greeting cards and Western Union telegrams.

Material within this collection was used to create the book, I Love You, Ronnie: The Letters of Ronald Reagan to Nancy Reagan, Random House, c2000. We have noted material used for the book in bold and cited the page number from the book.  Photos of the items appear in the book and/or actual text of the items. We have noted which items are photos and which are text. Please see the container list for this information.

In their salutations, the President and Mrs. Reagan frequently used the acronym, "I.T.W.W.W." According to Mrs. Reagan this meant [I love you most] "in the whole wide world."

Each page in this collection is numbered and the container list shows the actual page number for each item. The originals of these items are not served to researchers without permission from the Reagan Foundation. A full copy set of the collection is held in the Research Room. Please see the Research Room Attendant or your archivist for requesting these items. 

The collection currently consists of five series: SERIES I: Correspondence, Ronald Reagan to Nancy Reagan, 1950-1990; SERIES II: Holiday Greetings, Ronald Reagan to Nancy Reagan, 1951-1994; SERIES III: Other Holiday Greetings, 1980s; SEREIS IV: Nancy Davis Childhood Material; SERIES V: Post-Presidential Correspondence, 1989-2009.
 

SEREIS I: CORRESPONDENCE, RONALD REAGAN TO NANCY REAGAN, 1950-1990 (0.4 l.ft.; Box 1)

This series is further divided into subseries: Subseries A: Correspondence and Subseries B: Telegrams.
 

SUBSERIES A: General Correspondence, 1950-1990

This subseries consists of 23 "love letters" sent by Ronald Reagan to Nancy Davis Reagan from their courtship continuing throughout their marriage. The largest block is from the 1950s - 14 letters sent to Mrs. Reagan when Mr. Reagan was traveling for movie or television appearances, business as the President of the Screen Actors Guild, and as company representative for the General Electric Company. The later correspondence (1966-) was generally not mailed to Mrs. Reagan but left for her at home or on her desk. Some later items are undated, be we have attempted to put them in rough chronological order.

In addition, this subseries contains 16 "love notes," 14 undated general gift tags sleeved in plastic preservation sleeves and 22 general commercial greeting cards to Mrs. Reagan from President Reagan. These items also range fro the earliest years of the Reagan's marriage through the White House years. Most of these items are undated, but we have attempted some rough chronological order based on the pricing of the cards and the type of greeting card graphic design.

SUBSERIES B: Telegrams, 1951-1965

This subseries consists of the 51 telegram sent to Mrs. Reagan when President Reagan was traveling, particularly during his time as host of General Electric Threatre and company representative for General Electric. Mr. Reagan traveled by train during this time period and passed through Albuquerque, NM on the "Super Chief" out of Los Angeles. He frequently got off the train at this point to send a telegram to Mrs. Reagan both coming and going on his journeys. Thirty-nine of the 51 telegrams originate from Albuquerque, NM. Each folder contains preservation plastic sleeves with two  Western Union telegrams encased in each sleeve. The dates for each telegram are given on the item list. A single telegram to Mrs. Reagan's mother (Mrs. Loyal Davis) from President Reagan is also included.

SERIES II: HOLIDAY GREETINGS, RONALD REAGAN to NANCY REAGAN, 1951-1994 (1.5 l.ft.; Boxes 1-5)

This series consists of letters, notes, gift tags, and commercial greeting cards sent to Nancy Davis Reagan by her husband, President Ronald Reagan, over the course of their courtship and marriage. The material is arranged chronologically by holiday - Valentine's Day, Wedding Anniversary (03/04/1952), Easter, Mother's Day, Mrs. Reagan's Birthday (July 2), Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Within each holiday, the material is arranged as follows: letters/notes, gift cards, and then commercial greeting cards. Valentine's Day consists of 4 letters, 7 gift tags, and 53 Valentine's Day commercial greeting cars. There are 9 anniversary letters, 4 anniversary gift tags and 34 Anniversary commercial greeting cards. Easter greetings include 2 handmade cards, 1 Easter telegram, 5 Easter gift tags, and 39 commercial greeting cards. Mother's Day greetings include 5 gift tags, 1 handmade card, 1 Mother's Day letter and 44 commercial greeting cards. There is 1 Father's Day greeting card, 1 Birthday postcard, 3 Birthday letters, 3 Birthday messages, 65 Birthday commercial greeting cards, 8 Birthday gift tags, and 14 Thanksgiving commercial greeting cards. Christmas greetings include 11 Christmas letters, 22 Christmas gift tags, and 21 Christmas commercial greeting cards.  Much of this material was hand-delivered and the dates are uncertain. We have attempted to put them in rough chronological order based on the pricing of the cards, stationery, and/or types of graphics used in the material.

SERIES III: OTHER HOLIDAY GREETINGS, 1980s (0.1 l.ft.; Box 5)

This series consists of Valentine's Day, Anniversary and Birthday greetings from First Lady Nancy Reagan to President Ronald Reagan and a single love note from Nancy Reagan to Ronald Reagan. They are all from their time in the White House, 1981-1989.  Also included in this series are birthday greetings from her son Ron Reagan and his wife Doria to Nancy Reagan and an Anniversary card from Maureen Regan to her father and stepmother.

SERIES IV: NANCY DAVIS CHILDHOOD MATERIAL, 1938 (1 folder; Box 6)

This series consists of a handwritten essay by 17 year-old Nancy Davis for a school assignment. It is about her adoptive father, Dr. Loyal Davis and is entitled, "Surgeon Extraoridnary."

SERIES V: POST-PRESIDENTIAL CORRESPONDENCE, 1989-2009 (0.1 l.ft.; Box 6)

This series consists of 50th wedding anniversary (March 4, 2002) greetings from President Ford and Betty Ford, President Carter, President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush and President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush. Also included are letters regarding the 2007 Women's Heart Health campaign from First Ladies Betty Ford, Laura Bush, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, Rosalynn Carter, Lady Bird Johnson and one from Nancy Reagan herself. The rest of the material is a handwritten note from Mrs. Reagan and White House entertainment lists.

Last Updated: 02/23/2021 11:42PM

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