Nancy Davis Reagan (Anne Frances “Nancy” Robbins) was born on July 6, 1921 in New York City, the only child of Kenneth Seymour Robbins and Edith Prescott Luckett. Her parents separated shortly after her birth. After the separation, Edith pursued an acting career, and eventually placed two year old Nancy in the care of her sister and brother-in-law Virginia and Audley Gailbraith in Bethesda, MD. Nancy lived with the Gailbraiths until Edith married neurosurgeon Loyal Edward Davis, and in 1929 moved to Chicago IL where she would spend the rest of her childhood.
In Chicago, she enjoyed a close relationship with her stepfather, and always considered him her father. Loyal Davis formally adopted Nancy when she was a teenager, at which time she officially changed her name to Nancy Davis.
In Chicago, she attended Girls' Latin School. After graduation she attended Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she majored in English and Drama. She graduated in 1943 and set out to pursue a professional acting career.
In her early career, Nancy Davis worked as an actress in stage, film, and television productions. Her stage performances ranged from summer stock to road tours to Broadway. In 1949 she was signed to a seven-year contract with MGM. During this time, she met Ronald Reagan and they were married on March 4, 1952. She made eleven films in all, including three after her marriage. She and her husband appeared together in her last film, Hellcats of the Navy.
As First Lady of California, Mrs. Reagan made regular visits to wounded Vietnam veterans, hospitals and homes for the elderly, and schools for physically and emotionally handicapped children. She became active in projects concerning POWs and servicemen missing in action. She wrote a syndicated column, 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, she observed participants in the Foster Grandparent Program. This program brings 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, and a song by the same title was written and dedicated to her by Hal David and Joe Raposo.
As First Lady of the United States Mrs. 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.
Mrs. Reagan endured a series of controversies while in the White House, some stemming from her projected image of sophistication, elegance and wealth. In the press and elsewhere this image translated to "Queen Nancy." The purchase of over 4000 pieces of china - with donated funds - was over $200,000. Her personal wardrobe of designer clothing grew by leaps and bounds as these designers were as happy to have the First Lady wear their creations as she was to wear them. Ultimately this became a problem for President Reagan, when questions about whether the gowns were gifts or loans led to questions about the Reagans' personal tax liabilities and ethics. At the height of the criticism, Nancy Reagan appeared at the annual Gridiron Dinner in a mismatched wardrobe to perform a musical parody "Second Hand Clothes."
"Queen Nancy" may have had a sense of humor, but elements of the image persisted. Reports that she could be difficult and unreasonable, feuded with staff, fought with her children and more were detailed in the press and alluded to in memoirs. Mrs. Reagan received intense criticism after former chief of staff Don Regan revealed that she used information from an astrologer to determine President Reagan's schedule.
In spite of the controversies, she had many admirers. In each Annual Gallup Poll from 1981 to 1989, the American public voted Mrs. Reagan one of the ten most admired women in the world, and in 1981, 1985, and 1987, voted her number one.
In October 1987, a mammogram detected a lesion in Nancy Reagan's left breast, which was found to be cancerous. She underwent a radical mastectomy on October 17, 1987. She chose to share her diagnosis and treatment with the public, and became an advocate for early detection.
After leaving the White House 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 later years, Mrs. Reagan devoted her time to caring for her husband and projects related to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. She served on the board of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to developing and fostering President Reagan's Four Pillars of Freedom: preserving individual liberty, promoting economic opportunity, advancing democracy around the world, and instilling pride in our national heritage. In addition, Mrs. Reagan was actively involved with the national Alzheimer's Association and its affiliate, the Ronald & Nancy Reagan Research Institute in Chicago, Illinois.
Mrs. Reagan died on March 6, 2010 in Los Angeles. Husband Ronald and step-daughter Maureen preceded her in death. She was survived by her children Patti Davis, Ron Prescott Reagan and step-son Michael Reagan, and step-brother Richard Davis.