Nelle Clyde Wilson Reagan (July 24, 1883 – July 25, 1962) was the mother of United States President Ronald Reagan (1911–2004) and his older brother Neil "Moon" Reagan (1908–1996).
Nelle was of Scots-English ancestry, the youngest of seven children born to Mary Ann (née Elsey) and Thomas Wilson. She met John "Jack" Reagan in a farm town along the Illinois prairie. The two were married in Fulton, Illinois in November 1904. They had two children: Neil "Moon" Reagan and Ronald Wilson Reagan. After the birth of her second son, Nelle was told not to have any more children. The Reagan family moved from Tampico to many small Illinois towns, and Chicago, depending on Jack's employment.
Nelle was severely affected by the influenza outbreak of 1918–19. Though coming very close to perishing, Nelle was able to survive the ailment. In 1922, she took a sewing job in Dixon, the Reagans' present home.
Workings with the church
The Reagan family, circa 1916–1917; Nelle is at the far right.
Ronald Reagan wrote that his mother "always expected to find the best in people and often did." She attended the Disciples of Christ church regularly and was active, and very influential, within it; she frequently led Sunday school services and gave the Bible readings to the congregation during the services. A strong believer in the power of prayer, she led prayer meetings at church and was in charge of mid-week prayers when the pastor was out of town. Her strong commitment to the church is what induced her son Ronald to become a Protestant Christian rather than a Catholic like his father. He also stated that she strongly influenced his own beliefs: "I know that she planted that faith very deeply in me."
Due to her influence within the church community, one member of the congregation said that "Many of us believed Nelle Reagan had the gift to heal," and fellow churchgoer Mildred Neer recalled Reagan's strong passion for prayer:
“ When our little daughter was about four years old, she developed what seemed to be tonsillitis... My husband said to me, 'Why don't you go to church? It will do you good.' [The pastor] spoke on how we as Christians should accept death... When the service was dismissed, everybody had left except for Mrs. Reagan who was on the platform gathering up the music that the choir members had left. I thought, 'If only I could talk to Mrs. Reagan,' and went up to her. She said, 'Let's get down on our knees and pray about it.' She made a wonderful prayer, [and] Mrs. Reagan spent the whole afternoon in prayer with us... She left about six o'clock. Moments later, the abscess [on our daughter's neck] burst. God had heard Nelle Reagan's prayer and answered it. ”
Aside from her work with the church, Nelle acted in many plays. One 1926 review of the play The Ship of Faith said, "Mrs. Reagan is one of Dixon's favorite readers and has appeared before many audiences, always greatly pleasing them."
In 1938, after both Neil and Ronald Reagan had moved to California, Ronald bought his parents a new home in Hollywood; it was the first home they had ever owned.Nelle's life also changed after her husband Jack's death on May 18, 1941, leaving her widowed. She maintained her connections to the church in Dixon and began working at a tuberculosis sanitarium in Southern California. In her later years, however, Nelle had problems with her physical health and senility (later diagnosed as Alzheimer's disease).Speaking of her illness, she said "I just kept my mind on God." Nelle died from complications of the disease on July 25, 1962, aged 79.