07/08/2011 at 09:00 PM EDT
Betty Ford, the former First Lady who co-founded the famous recovery center in her name, died Friday night. She was 93.
The widow of President Gerald Ford, who died in 2006
, Betty Ford died with family at her bedside, CNN reports
. Cause of death was not reported.
"She was a powerful advocate for women’s health and women’s rights," said President Obama in a statement. "After leaving the White House, Mrs. Ford helped reduce the social stigma surrounding addiction and inspired thousands to seek much-needed treatment."
As First Lady, Ford focused her attention on handicapped children, women's issues and the arts, having studied modern dance at Bennington College in Vermont. She also strongly supported the Equal Rights Amendment.
After undergoing radical surgery for breast cancer in 1974, she advocated for increased public awareness of the disease. "Maybe if I as First Lady could talk about it candidly and without embarrassment, many other people would be able to as well," she said.
Similarly, in the second of her two memoirs, Betty: A Glad Awakening,
Ford revealed in candid detail her own recovery from chemical dependency in the 1970s. She helped establish the Betty Ford Center at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif., where she and her husband spent their retirement years.
The center opened in 1982 and is still one of the leading facilities of its kind. After Gerald left the White House, Ford remained an activist for children, the arts, and breast cancer, arthritis and AIDS research.
"No one confronted life’s struggles with more fortitude or honesty, and as a result, we all learned from the challenges she faced," said former President George H.W. Bush. "The Betty Ford Center, which already has helped change the lives of thousands of people, will be her lasting legacy of care and concern."
According to her Gerald Ford Library official biography, the former Elizabeth Ann "Betty" Bloomer was born in Chicago and raised in Grand Rapids, Mich., where in 1947 she met Gerald Ford, then a young Navy lieutenant returning to start a law practice after his tour of duty. The two were wed in 1948, two weeks before he was elected to his first term in Congress.
"She has been an inspiration to so many through her efforts to educate women about breast cancer and her wonderful work at the Betty Ford Center," said former First Lady Nancy Reagan in a statement. "She was Jerry Ford’s strength through some very difficult days in our country’s history, and I admired her courage in facing and sharing her personal struggles with all of us."
Former California First Lady Maria Shriver, a friend of Ford's daughter Susan, said, "America fought her struggles with her and learned alongside her. She was brave, outspoken and kind."