Read New York’s Nancy Reagan Cover Story From 1980

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The obituaries for Nancy Reagan, who died Sunday at 94, all emphasize her absolute devotion to her husband (and his to her). They are certainly correct — the Reagans, no matter what you think of them and their politics, did have one of the great public marriages of our time — and in July 1980, just before Ronald Reagan was elected president, Julie Baumgold got at their dynamic precisely.

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It’s an old secret that if a woman will speak low and smile, defer and not compete, if she can believe that her husband’s triumphs are hers, achieve through his achievements, then she will have power over him. She does not provoke; she flatters and always suppresses the little touch of the bitch inside. She is quiet when he wants quiet, a sounding board when he wants that. She runs the homes meticulously, entertains so as to advance and amuse him, is well read, mightily organized, exquisitely dressed, as though she treasures herself, and totally devoted to him first. Her career is wifedom. Most women of the generation whose members are now in their thirties and forties can’t manage this, but Nancy Reagan, 57, is of this breed. Perhaps the last perfect great-man’s wife.

And, perhaps prefiguring the astrology scandal of her husband’s second term, she admits that she’s highly superstitious:

She’s worried. She’s afraid. Asked to describe herself in a word, she says, “I’m not good at that,” and then, relenting, “A worrier, a born worrier.”
Nancy Reagan is a woman who loses weight by worrying. She is also very superstitious. No hat on the bed? “Absolutely. And no shoes above the head. If you forget something, don’t go back in the house. If you put something on wrong side out, you leave it.”

It’s a perceptive portrait, and you can read the whole thing here.