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Nancy Reagan's life was far from charmed, but she managed to make it into the stars

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Nancy Reagan's legacy as a First Lady should be noted here, on, at least in a brief op-ed piece. She died Sunday, March 6, at age 94, from congestive heart failure at her home in Bel-Air, Calif. What was Nancy Reagen's legacy? Well, as far as I see it, it was a life of great obstacles to overcome, great achievement, and to a large degree, a snobbish callousness that had a weird edge to it of being very entrenched in trying to help some aspects of a suffering humanity. She was not just the wife of the 40th U.S. President who served from January 20, 1981 - January 20, 1989. She was very much an independent woman with her own ideas and plans. And in many ways - with some very bad ones, in this writer's opinion - she ran the White House.

Although many liberals and progressives will most likely think an opinion on a First Lady may be a silly exercise in journalism, and for a writer writing for a progressive online magazine like to be penning an article on a woman who was married to a man that many progressives and liberals really love to hate, I expect a good beating on the comment thread below. Or worse, no comments whatsoever. Anyhow, I thought I'd try to put something together for Rob Kall and the gang at this magazine. The worst thing that can happen to the story is rejection, right? It's not like the first time it's happened to me here, or elsewhere, for that matter; so about all I can do if this comes to pass is to suck it all in and write on something else tomorrow, or perhaps, later in the week.

So here goes: Anne Frances Robbins was born in New York City on July 6, 1921 , the only child of Kenneth Robbins, a salesman, and Edith Luckett Robbins, an aspiring actress. She got the nickname "Nancy" after a time. Unfortunately, her biological father, Kenneth Robbins, left his marriage to Edith Luckett Robbins during Nancy's infancy, so Edith sent her daughter to be raised by her aunt and uncle, Virginia and C. Audley Galbraith, in Bethesda, Maryland. There, Nancy attended Sidwell Friends School for a time. She and her aunt would travel to visit her mother whenever Edith was in New York for lengthy theater runs. In 1929, Edith married a prominent Chicago neurosurgeon, Loyal Davis. A little bit later, Nancy joined her mother and, in 1931, Loyal adopted Nancy, changing her last name to Davis. In her new home, she was exposed to wealth and privilege. She attended the prestigious Girls' Latin School. She then studied drama at Smith College and earned a BA degree in 1943.

This was an unusual thing. A young woman earning a college degree. For the times this woman lived in, very few women went to college and earned degrees. But some girls of the privileged and wealthy classes did so during this time period. And then, even many 'pampered rich girls' from powerful families did not venture into academia to earn a college or university degree. They got married, had babies, and became socialites. This was a woman's place, after all, that these times dictated. Colleges and universities were for young men. Normally, young white men. But still, even then, there were exceptions, too. There were, after all, Historically Black Colleges and Universities. And even some women of the lower classes earned degrees.

A big turning point in Nancy Reagan's life wasn't so much her marriage to Ronald Reagan, but her mother' s marriage to a prominent doctor. What would have become of Nancy if Edith Luckett Robbins had not married Loyal Davis? Well, she very well could have earned a college degree, though very few women of this day who were born outside of an affluent family did so. After all, I am writing about a very different sort of girl here -- someone who was most likely driven and tackled challenges even at a young age. But let's face it, the odds were against it. This was a time when women in America were entering the workforce -- and being employed at labor jobs -- such as at factories. It was a time when a young girl in her 20's would be sewing a dress, not designing one. It was a time when a young woman would be working on an assembly line making lightbulbs, not working as an engineer to build a better lightbulb.

It's easy to see that her early life wasn't all that easy. Not only was Nancy Reagan the victim of a broken home at a time in life that holds so much value and importance, she was raised by relatives, not a father and mother.

During this time in American history, divorce and broken homes were the exception, not the rule, as they are during these turbulent days. People tended to stay married then, even if they hated one another. Of course, when a father wants to skip out and leave town, well...this type of behavior really isn't limited to an age or era.

But overall, society's norms were different then and although even religions have softened their views about divorce over the past few decades, during the time when Nancy Reagan was a child, a broken home could be a place of shame and distrust. Although this little tidbit of information will ultimately fall through the cracks of history, and won't even be a footnote, the First Lady's early years were marked by the same types of problems that many children face today. Today's statistics on broken homes are bleak and alarming. At least 50% of all North-American children will witness the divorce of their parents today. Almost half of them will also see the breakup of a parent's second marriage. One out of 10 children of divorce experiences three or more parental marriage breakups. And 40% of all kids growing up in America today are being raised without their fathers.

Nancy Reagan later in life. She died Sunday at age 94 at her home in California. - Wikimedia Commons
Nancy Reagan later in life. She died Sunday at age 94 at her home in California. - Wikimedia Commons
(Image by (From Wikimedia) Unknown author, Author: Unknown author)
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I found it interesting, too, that Nancy Reagan was a victim of McCarthyism. And for her, this could have been a good thing in the end. Because with this big problem she faced as a young actress, it put her in touch with the man who would be her lifetime significant other. And although she was widowed for many years, I still consider this time to be devotion to her one and only love. She never remarried and reports indicate that she grieved. How else would you consider this time as a widow? Anyhow, in 1949, Nancy Reagan noticed her name was listed on the Hollywood blacklist, which was established by the film industry to warn studios and producers of suspected communist sympathizers. The then Nancy Davis was not a communist and had no association with any communist organizations. The listing was of another actress with the same name. In November 1949, Nancy contacted Ronald Reagan, president of the Screen Actors Guild, to see if he could help. And that's how the thing all got started. To say the least, sparks flew. Both were immediately attracted to each other and soon began dating, though they later saw other people. Reagan was skeptical of marriage, having just experienced a painful divorce from actress Jane Wyman the year before. After three years, Reagan finally proposed and Nancy accepted. The couple were married on March 4, 1952. At the time, these young people were going to set Hollywood ablaze. But reports indicate that during the time Ronald and Nancy Reagan were young movie stars and were not yet actively involved in politics, this dynamic duo - driven by power, pride, and ambition - still had political aspirations galore. They were power players. They had no interest in being in the Rat Pack, they wanted to run the big show. The scenery, props, actors, and even the lights in the parking lot. Anyhow, what is, is. And that's the nature of their marriage and how they rolled. But suffice it to say, early in their marriage, their main concern was getting film roles and being on the silver screen. And although they were interested in politics as young people, little did they know back then that someday they would be longtime inhabitants of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C., 20006.

The former First Lady's leaving this world was the top news Sunday. President Barack Obama said, "Our former First Lady redefined the role in her time here Later, in her long goodbye with President Reagan, she became a voice on behalf of millions of families going through the depleting, aching reality of Alzheimer's, and took on a new role, as advocate, on behalf of treatments that hold the potential and the promise to improve and save lives. We offer our sincere condolences to their children, Patti, Ron, and Michael, and to their grandchildren."

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Samuel Vargo worked as a full-time reporter and editor for more than 20 years at a number of daily newspapers and business journals. He was also an adjunct English professor at colleges and universities in Ohio, West Virginia, Mississippi (more...)

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