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Nancy Reagan's Legacy As California First Lady

AP / File

First Lady-to-be Nancy Reagan arrives in formal tire for the Inaugural Gala, Monday, Jan. 19, 1981, Landover, Md.

AP / File

Mary Plummer | KPCC


In the wake of Nancy Reagan’s death, we look back at when the Reagans moved to Sacramento where she left her stamp as California’s first lady.

The year was 1966.

Ronald Reagan won election as California governor, a conservative in the midst of the free speech movement. He and his wife Nancy moved from Southern California to the state capitol.

It was a rough adjustment for Nancy Reagan.

She was a wife, mother and former actress, and used to being in front of the cameras. But the glare of the lights as the state’s first lady was another story.

The Reagans spent three months living in the governor’s old mansion before safety concerns led them to lease a suburban home, a move that drew criticism. But Reagan was a popular governor and his wife had a large role in that.

Here's Sacramento State Government Professor Wesley Hussey:

"One of the things that Nancy Reagan was really good at was, she wasn’t that big on influencing her husband’s policy but she was very good at helping him shape his message."

Nancy Reagan had her own accomplishments. She learned about a foster grandparents program that paired the elderly with needy children. She championed its cause and the program grew nationally.

And she made it her mission to visit with returning Vietnam War vets, some of whom were not welcomed warmly as the country’s anti-war sentiment grew.

Perhaps most lasting, Hussey says the Reagans raised California’s political clout on a stage dominated by the East Coast and Washington D.C.