tv American Artifacts Early Life of President Gerald Ford CSPAN July 1, 2021 11:10am-11:33am EDT
museum at grand rapids, michigan, and learn about the football player, and congressman and vice president and president. this is about 45 minutes. >> we are at the gerald r. ford presidential museum in grand rapids, michigan. we are in the new exhibit which opened a few weeks ago, and it is a brand-new exhibit on gerald ford, his life and times, that took about six months to complete. the museum spaces are broken down into his what we call the foundation years, and his youth and then move into the congressional years, and congress, and presidential and post presidential years.
so in the gallery, we featured that gerald ford grew up in grand rapids, michigan, but he was born in omaha, nebraska. his mother had married a businessman in omaha by the name of leslie lynch king, and so she was dorothy king. they had a child in july of 1913. they named leslie lynch king, jr., and he is the person that we know as gerald ford. in this case, we have his christening gown and a book that his mother kept. in 1913, his mother began to keep a book on the baby's experience, and we can't present the real thing, but a duplicate
of it in flip form, and some of the things in here that you can see is the first picture of dorothy with the baby. he was born in a house in omaha, nebraska in his grandfather's house, charles king's house, and some of the interesting things about it is that she records the baby's first outing, and the entry of his first taxi cab ride, and she records two weeks after his birth, and that is when dorothy king was fleeing leslie lynch king. and leslie lynch king proved to be a abusive husband and that continued from the wedding day through the honeymoon and through the time of the pregnancy. as soon as she recovered the strength of the birth of the child, she secreted him to a taxi cab to council bluffs,
iowa, and she records the next entry, the baby's first train ride. she puts him on a train, and takes him to chicago where her parents lived just outside of chicago in harvard, illinois. so, she has fled her husband, and her husband files suit for abandonment for divorce on grounds of abandonment, and she counter sues on grounds for abuse, and the judge decides in her favor. this is 649 union. a house that still exists in grand rapids, and that is the home of his youth. dorothy brought junior to grand rapids, because her parents were developing real estate in the area along with another partner of her father's, and here she met a paint salesman by the name of gerald ford. by february of 1917, they had
gotten married. they had themselves and a young child whom they continued to call junior. in time he became gerald ford jr., and there was never an adoption, but there was a family. gerald sr. was a loving father. they would go on to have other children -- tom, dick, jim. the kids became very active in school, and in social organizations. each one of them became a boy scout, and gerald became, junior became an eagle scout by the time he was 14 years old. junior is described as the ideal boy scout, but it wasn't always the case. ford brought with him into his youth some of the characteristics that his birth
father, leslie king exhibited. and one of those was his temper. junior had an excitable temper. there was a story that is told of him as a young child in his front yard where the neighbors wanted to climb the tree, and he said, no, that is his tree and he would not let them climb it, and he stepped on their fingers when they attempt to grab for the limbs, and his mother was determined that he would not allow that to be carried into the adulthood and he would not get away with the things that his father got away with. she did a number of things to curb that. she made him memorize poems. she made him memorize rudyard kipling's poem, and bible verses
and one that he would lean on into adulthood. he was ridiculed by his mother when he exhibited these tempers. and she would show him faces that he was making, and she would shame him and show him the ridiculousness of his behavior. and he recalled all of these things in his adulthood and recalled how that helped him to control a temper that never left him, but it did not control him either. junior lived in a what i guess we would call a lower middle-class family. dorothy married gerald ford, senior, a paint salesman and he was ambitious, and he bought part of the paint company and turned it into the ford paint and varnish company, and it is a
company he started two weeks before the stock market crashed in october of 1929. he was able to hold on to the company through the depression, and in fact, it stayed with the family until 1960s, but it was one that he struggled to hold onto. but that the type of family he grew up into, and he was made to work. he also had a burger place across from the south high. and bill skoogis owned the place, and he hired star athletes to work there, and enticed other kids to come spend their money. and one of the star athletes was junior ford. so people would come to see the friday night stars when they were eating their lunch.
but, it was at bill's place that one of the formative events in junior's life took place. he was 16 years old, and it was in the spring of 1930, and he was working at bill's place one day when he noticed that a new car pulled up and stopped in front of the store. that was unusual for this part of grand rapids, because nobody owned a new car. and this is a brand-new lincoln automobile, and this big fellow stepped out of it, and stepped into the entryway of the store and paused there for a long time and stared at junior. finally, ford asked him if he could help him, and he looked, and the man looked at him, and he said, you are leslie lynch king jr., and he said, no, i am
gerald ford jr., and he said, i'm your father and i want to take you to lunch. that shocked junior and he went back to see bill, and he says this guy is my father and he wants to take me to lunch, and bill says you better go with him. so they went to a place called the cherry inn and they had lunch. and his father and his wife went to lunch, and he told him about his life in wyoming in riverton between cheyenne and shoshoni, and he wanted junior to come live with him. young ford had no interest to live with him, because he had lived in a happy home, and why would he be at all eager to make a change. and so he demurred and said no,
i am happy here. he was later asked how difficult it was for him to hold his temper at that moment. he said, well there are times when you have to bite your tongue and be polite, and this is one of those moments, because otherwise he was angry. because he, he didn't understand what was going on, and this fellow claimed to be his father, and if he was his father, why wasn't he involved in his life, and this fellow was a stranger to him. and he knew also that he was going to have to go home and tell his parents about it. about the experience. he was not looking forward to it. so that night after dinner, he took his parents into the living room and told them about the experience, and he said that there were tears shed in the living room as his mother told him the story about his birth
father, and her leaving him, and coming to grand rapids. ford's parents were in their own way ambitious. ambitious to make something of themselves, to be something in grand rapids, and junior ford also was very ambitious and one of the things that he wanted to be was a leader in his school and on the playing field. in school, what he wanted to be was president of the student council, president of the senior class, and so, at the beginning of the senior year, students competed for the different offices as they do today, and ford ran on the progressive ticket, and he said that he did that because somebody got in front of him, and claimed the republican ticket, and so the one left to him was in this bull moose era of teddy roosevelt and
bull moose era, that he ran on the progressive era, and so what happened on election day, every member of the team was elected to their offices, but he lost, and he lost miserably to a fellow by the name of leo van tassel. van tassel was elected president, and he was elected that by an overwhelming margin. as everybody knows, these offices are popularity contest, and so it raises the question of why the most popular student at south high would lose and lose so terribly to somebody who was not that popular? well, it is because later revealed that his coach, a fellow by the name of coach geddings, his football coach called the other athletes into a room, and he said, i want you to torpedo that election, because ford is the captain of the team, of the football team, and he needs to be on the practice
field, and he does not need to be wasting his time in student council meetings. the athletes took that to heart, and made sure that ford lost. he was an athlete, and ford made his name as an athlete. he was on the swim team at the ymca and on the track team at south high, and made the basketball team at south high, but he was best known as the star center for the state championship south high football team, and he was captain of the team. but he was not just an athlete. he was also a scholar. in the classroom, he was solid. in fact, south high gave an award to both the outstanding male scholar and female scholar, and dorothy gray was the female scholar, and gerald ford was named the male scholar for both
the gpa and the civic activity. he wanted to go to the university of michigan, and they were recruiting him as an athlete. he found it difficult however, because his parents didn't have enough money, and he didn't have enough money to pay the tuition in the first year, but it was a community affair to get gerald ford to the university of michigan. it was his principal paul krause who steps in, and he says, we are going to help you financially to get there. he starts a book sale, a library book sale that establishes a scholarship to provide money for needy student, and the first recipient is gerald ford. they give him $100 that pays the first year's tuition at the university of michigan, $50 per semester. he is 18 years old when he gets
to the university of michigan. and as most 18 years old, he wants to have fun as well as applying himself to the studies. he earns solid grades and excels on the football field once he has been given the opportunity on the football team. and then he pledges to delta kappa epsilon, and they have a certain reputation at the university of michigan and it is the fun house, the party house, and you wonder why this otherwise serious student would want to pledge to deke. it is probably as much of a case that deke wants him as he wants deke. deke is constantly being threatened with expulsion, and the gpa is traditionally the lowest among the greek fraternity, and the greek houses
on the university of michigan. and there was hope among some of the deke brothers that if they could get ford there, he could help the gpa. and that he could help to right the ship. in fact, they give him the responsibility by his senior year of turning the budget around. one of the other things that in this depression era was that the deke house was financially strapped, and they were in the red. so they turned the treasury responsibilities over to ford, and by the time he graduates he may not have helped the gpa that much, and he does keep them on the campus, and he puts them on the black, and on a paying basis. so by the time he leaves the university of michigan, he wants to enter the law school, and he would like to enter the university of michigan's law school, but the problem is that they don't have a job for him, and ford needs a job in order to go to school, because he has the
pay his tuition someway, and he is coming out of the university of michigan somewhere near $1,000 in debt. the football coach at the university of michigan, coach koepke introduces him to ducky over at yale. and he has a job for him line coaching for the varsity team and coaching boxing at yale. and that is going to earn ford a pay check, but not into yale law school. so he approaches law school, and they assess him, and say that he would be a fine student but not if he has a job. because, you can't go to yale law school, and take on the load of the study that is demanded by them and hold a job. so the reasoning goes. so, ford talks to his coaches about that who tell him that,
well, you can't really go to law school, and fulfill your coaching responsibilities, and so he has dynamics working against his ambition to become a lawyer, and so he goes to take some provisional classes elsewhere to demonstrate that he can do to work, and using that, he gets himself admitted into yale law school, and he doesn't tell them that he has this other job, and he doesn't tell the other coaches that he is going to go to law school and by this, it means that he can do both, he ends up graduating in the top 25% of the yale law school while fulfilling the coaching responsibilities. yale law school represents more than just him attaining the means for him to fulfill a profession. it means him opening up. he spent six years at yale.
in that time, he meets a woman by the name of phyllis brown. bettie ford is going to be love of his life, but she is not the first love. phyllis brown is a professional model, and younger than he about 21 years old, but she is one of the top models in new york city. the coaches have a term for her, p.b. brown, perfect body brown. and ford is competing for her attention. he says that in order to compete for her attention, he has to take on her interests. and it involves sports. she plays tennis and golfs and skis, and all of these things are relatively new to gerald
ford, but he takes them up, and he becomes more than proficient by each one of them, and by that, he is able to catch her eye, and they date such that by 1938, it is presumed that they are going to be married. he brings her back to michigan for a couple of summers, and he visits is her parents up in maine, and they attend broadway plays in new york, and he follows her to modeling shoots, and he ends up in magazines with her. and this is one of the shoots where she is on the slopes in vermont and he is there with her. and gerald ford opens up a broadening of the vision. he sees west coast, and she
introduces him to a large part of it. and she is able to guide him through the experiences in new york city. she is urbane and witty, and he is midwestern, and if not applauding at least stallid in his attitude. so she does a lot to broaden his horizons, but when it comes down to the decision of grand rapids to start the life of returning or staying in new york where she has her modeling career, that is where a parting of the ways comes in. so, she remains in new york city, and he returns to grand rapids to begin his career as an attorney.