Nearly a century ago, a young girl who would grow up to become one of the nation’s most beloved first ladies, Nancy Reagan, spent her early years in the Queens neighborhood of Flushing.
This little-known fact became common knowledge following the death of Nancy Reagan, wife of the late President Ronald Reagan, who succumbed to congestive heart failure in California on Sunday at the age of 94.
Born Anne Frances Robbins in July 1921, Nancy Reagan originally resided in a three-story home on what was then known as Amity Street. The house, now covered in green siding, still stands at its present address of 149-40 Roosevelt Ave.
According to reports, the young Robbins’ parents divorced during her childhood, and she relocated with her mother to Chicago. There, her mother married neurosurgeon Dr. Loyal Davis, and Anne Frances Robbins changed her name to Nancy Davis.
Though she left New York as a child, local elected officials and Republican leaders remembered Nancy Reagan as a Queens native in statements issued following her death.
“Born in Queens, Nancy Reagan was committed to improving the lives of others, and her legacy will no doubt be felt for decades to come,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo.
“New Yorkers are deeply saddened by the passing of first lady Nancy Reagan, a warm and intelligent woman who loved this country and President Reagan with compassion and grace. She is missed throughout the five boroughs today, particularly in Flushing, Queens, where she was born,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
“From her first days in Flushing to her time as first lady, Nancy Reagan’s life and legacy influenced and inspired millions of people in America and beyond,” said Queens County Republican Party Chairperson Robert Turner. “Her indelible grace, poise, strength and service to our nation and our party is deeply admired and will long be remembered, especially by her first friends and neighbors in the great borough of Queens.”
Nancy Davis returned to New York City as an aspiring actress pursuing a Broadway career. She met Ronald Reagan, who was also an actor at that time, in 1949, and they were married three years later. Eventually, the couple relocated to California, where Ronald Reagan began his political career.
Ronald Reagan evolved politically during the 1950s from a Hollywood Democrat to a Republican icon. He served two terms as California governor between 1967 and 1975, then made a failed presidential bid in 1976 before winning the White House in 1980.
Nancy Reagan was at her husband’s side throughout his career. Upon becoming first lady in 1981, she was proactive in a number of political causes, leading the “Just Say No” anti-drug movement and advocating for stricter gun laws following the assassination attempt on her husband in 1981.
While in the White House, the Reagans made frequent visits to New York City, including marking the Statue of Liberty’s centennial and a high-profile summit with then-Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev.
Nancy Reagan further endeared herself to Americans after her husband’s presidency, as the former president left public life in 1994 as a result of the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s disease. President Reagan died 10 years later.
In tribute to the former first lady, flags are flying at half-mast through Friday, when she is interred alongside her husband in Simi Valley, California.