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Nancy Reagan's legacy — inside the White House and out of it




Actor Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy sitting together holding hands at a party in Hollywood circa 1955.
Actor Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy sitting together holding hands at a party in Hollywood circa 1955.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Actor Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy sitting together holding hands at a party in Hollywood circa 1955.
Actor Michael J. Fox presents an award to former first lady Nancy Reagan at 'A Love Story...Finding A Cure' gala tribute to Reagan on May 8, 2004 in Beverly Hills. The event raised funds for stem cell research and benefitted the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Vince Bucci/Getty Images


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Nancy Reagan, who died Sunday in Los Angeles at 94, saw her share of controversies — and not just during her time in the White House. 

Coming from Sacramento, she and her husband brought national attention to California. But her early years as the state's first lady didn't start smoothly.

After Ronald Reagan's election as governor of California in 1967, she persuaded her husband to move into a private residence in a wealthy Sacramento neighborhood instead of living in the Victorian house where previous governors had lived.

That upset many people, said Wesley Hussey, a professor at California State University, Sacramento. But the first lady slowly won them over. 

“It made it seem like this Hollywood couple came in and the cow town of Sacramento wasn’t good enough for them,” said Wesley. “But Nancy Reagan worked really hard to win people over. She had open houses and she had parties. She'd invite local kids from the area. Movie stars would come up and as time went on, people liked the idea that the Reagans socialized and mixed with people.”

Controversies involving redecorating, astrology, AIDS and the war on drugs hounded the first lady in the White House. Following her husband’s death in 2004 from Alzheimer’s, she broke with the Republican Party and supported stem cell research. 

Time medical reporter Alice Park explains: “[It] took many people by surprise when she actually came out in support of the research, and I think her words at that point were very telling. She said it was getting harder and harder to sort of watch the president as he struggled with Alzheimer's and no longer recognize her or remembered the life that they had shared together. And you know, she said given the promise of stem cell research I don't see how we can turn our backs on this.”

Park added, “What was so impactful was that she was doing that really from a more personal perspective than a political one.”

For more about the former first lady’s impact on California politics and stem cell research, listen to the full conversation above.