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First Lady Biography: Lucy Hayes





28 August 1831
Chillicothe, Ohio

Dr. James Webb, born 17 March 1795, Lexington, Kentucky, physician, died 1 July 1833, Lexington, Kentucky

Despite his family’s ownership of slaves, physician James Webb was an abolitionist. After inheriting a dozen and a half slaves he returned to his family home to free them but found most of his family suffering from cholera. He attempted to bring them to recovery but not only did both his parents and brother die but he did as well.


Mother: Maria Cook Webb, born 9 March 1801, Chillicothe, married 18 April 1826 at Willow Branch Farm, near Scioto River, Chillicothe, Ohio; died 14 September 1866


English, French, Irish; all of Lucy Hayes’s ancestors came to the United States from England. Nine generations before her, one paternal ancestor John Vassall was born in Normandy, France in 1544 and immigrated to England. Ten generations before her, also through paternal ancestry, one Mary Briden was born in Dublin Ireland on 23 December 1566.


Third of three, two brothers: Joseph Thompson Webb (1827 – 27 April 1880), James Dewees (1828 – 12 June 1873)

Physical Appearance:

5 feet, 4 inches, black hair, brown eyes




Miss Baskerville School, Chillicothe Female School, Chillicothe, Ohio, approximately 1837-1844 No extant records provide documentation on what course of study Lucy Webb was taught at these two known schools she first attended; anecdotal evidence suggests she was outspoken as a young girl when a stern teacher reprimanded her little cousin.

Ohio Wesleyan Prepatory Department, Delaware, Ohio, 1844-1847,among the studies of Lucy Webb at this school were French, composition, grammar and penmanship, and she also received merit points for conduct.

Cincinnati Wesleyan Female College, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1847-1850,she boarded away from home and joined a student body of 400, and was described as "diligent." Her studies likely included rhetoric, geometry, geology, astronomy, trigonometry, mental and moral science, German, French, drawing, painting, music.

Weekly, she was required to write a topical essay and, or taking a side in a debate. The subjects she addressed included:Which Requires the Greater Sacrifices of Its Votaries, Religion or Vice?, Has the World Degenerated Since the Fall?, Is Knowledge Necessarily Active? Is Emulation a Greater Promotive of Literary Excellence than Personal Necessity? The Importance of Refined Taste, Is Traveling on the Sabbath Consistent With Christian Principles? Is the Advancement of Civil Society More Indebted to Intellectual Culture than Physical Suffering? Has Society a Right to Prohibit the Manufacture and Sale of Ardent Spirits?andIs America Advancing in Mental and Moral Improvement.

Her views reflected a highly religious, moralistic attitude influenced by the Methodist mission of the school, as well as that of her pro-temperance grandfather. She also expressed the view of equal intellectual capacity between the genders. "Instead of being considered the slave of man, she is considered his equal in all things, and his superior in some." She was elected to the Lyceum, an academic honor. Her graduation speech topic wasThe Influence of Christianity on National Prosperity.

Earning a liberal arts degree, Lucy Hayes was the first First Lady to graduate school with a higher education degree, there being some uncertainty about the classification of the school as a bona fide college in rank with similar educational institutions for women at the time, such as Mount Holyoke College.

Occupation Before Marriage:

The family of her widowed mother had great influence on Lucy Webb Hayes in her early years. As was her late father, her mother was a rabid abolitionist. Under the influence of her maternal grandfather Isaac Webb, a representative in the Ohio legislature, she signed a pledge to forsake drinking any alcoholic beverages. She became a lifelong and fervent advocate of temperance, but resisted joining the organized movement. Similarly, despite believing strongly in her family’s radical abolitionism, Lucy Webb was ambivalent about public activism on behalf of a social-political movement. Nevertheless, inspired by the temperance activist John B. Gough for his "turning the heads of the most hidebound sinners," she wrote family members of her disapproval of the serving of wine at parties, "to me no sight more sorrowful." As a Methodist trained in the principals of John Wesley that Christian duty required her to help others, she aided one impoverished family with household necessities and medicine.


21 years old on 30 December 1852, in the Webb family home, Cincinnati, Ohio to Rutherford Birchard Hayes, born 4 October 1822, lawyer, died 17 January 1893, Fremont, Ohio; Prior to being formally courted by Hayes, there are indications that Lucy Webb dated a Mr. Orr, and then a John Wright. The mother of Hayes, a friend of Lucy’s mother, had long encouraged a match between the two, being especially drawn to Lucy Webb’s moral and religious character. Hayes had a previous relationship with a Helen Kelley. Hayes fell in love with Lucy Webb, but had reservations about her intellectual worldliness, and believed that if she read a wider diversity of literature, practiced writing, and had more frequent and closer contact with cultivated and intellectual individuals that she would enlarge herself to her fullest mental capacities. Lucy Webb readily admitted that she disliked writing. She teasingly suggested he write her two letters for her every one. Throughout her life, she would write letters sparingly, but often included self-deprecatory humor. They were engaged for a year prior to marriage.


Eight children, seven sons, one daughter; Birchard Austin Hayes (1853 – 1926), Webb Cook Hayes (1856 – 1934), Rutherford Platt Hayes (1858 – 1927), Joseph Thompson Hayes (1861 – 1863), George Crook Hayes (1864 – 1866), Fanny Hayes Smith (1867 – 1950), Scott Russell Hayes (1871 – 1923), Manning Force Hayes (1873 – 1874)

Occupation After Marriage:

Although Lucy Hayes attended a women’s suffrage lecture by Lucy Stone and spoke in favor of wage scale reform for women workers under the influence of her husband’s sister Fanny, her interested faded once her sister-in-law died and she became engrossed in the traditional responsibilities of housekeeping and motherhood. On the issue of abolition, Lucy Hayes remained firm, once even placing an abandoned African-American child in the safe "Negro Orphan’s Asylum." She furthermore taught her free black servant Eliza Jane how to read and write and approved of a racially-integrated Methodist Church service she attended in Montreal, Canada. It also led to her early support of the newly-formed, pro-abolition Republican Party. She had hoped the 1856 Republican presidential candidate John C. Fremont would have won the election, and that his colorful wife Jessie Benton. "Lucy takes it to heart a good deal that Jessie is not to be mistress of the White House," Hayes wrote at the time. She and her husband were part of a Cincinnati welcoming committee when president-elect Abraham Lincoln came through their city on the way to his Inauguration.

Although neither Hayes had believed war was necessary to end slavery, once the conflict began Lucy Hayes encouraged her husband to join the Union Army. She even lamented that women hadn’t been a regiment at Fort Sumter, for they would not have surrendered. "It is a hard thing to be a woman," she wrote at the time, "and witness so much and yet not do any thing." Part of her frustration stemmed from a lack of inside information on political decisions; she had no concept, for example, of President Lincoln’s problems with Border States and his dismissal of her political hero Fremont, which she resented. She nevertheless supported Lincoln in his 1864 re-election bid.

Of the five children she had given birth to and raised during the Civil War period, Lucy Hayes lost two sons, and also took responsibility for her mother and her mother-in-law, both of whom died in the fall of 1866. She also took in two wounded Union soldiers. She did not spend the Civil War entirely at home but at the front. In September 1862, for example, when her husband’s arm was hit by a musket ball and he bid her to his side, she ventured first, mistakenly, to Washington, D.C. and then to Middletown, Maryland, where she finally helped nurse him back to help. She continued to visit his encampments, helping in the tent hospitals, sewing and cooking for, and befriending many of those who served under her husband, who resigned with the status of General. She was given the sobriquet "Mother of the Regiment."

With Hayes’s election to Congress, Lucy Hayes split her time between Washington, D.C. President Andrew Johnson gave her a "feeling of honesty and sincerity," and General Grant was "noble" and "unassuming." In time she came to vigorously oppose Johnson’s conciliatory policy towards the defeated South and declared herself among the "Radical" Republicans who supported legislation directly aiding in providing some civil rights to freed slaves specifically and African-Americans in general. Accompanying her husband and a congressional delegation through the South, Lucy Hayes spoke with southern women about her support of "Negro suffrage," while they politely explained their opposition. In Washington, Lucy Hayes also sat in the visitor’s gallery at the Capitol and took in congressional debates on the full range of political issues under considerable. She came to be her husband’s political confidante on matters he faced in his position.


Pregnant with her only daughter when Hayes ran for governor in 1867, she played a crucial political role once he won the election and commenced his term. With an agenda of reform of welfare institutions, Lucy Hayes worked to create an Ohio orphanage for the children of Civil War veterans through private contributions when the state legislature opposed creating one with public funds. Quietly, however, she successfully bore down on individual legislators to purchase, fund and convert the private institution into one run by the state. Such institutions became her primary public concern: she made visits to the state reform school in Lancaster, Ohio, taught blind, mute and deaf patients, and helped to create memorial wreaths for the graves of Ohio Civil War veterans on "Decoration Day," as Memorial Day was previously known.

Her interests also reach to international politics such as the Franco-Prussian War; because it had supported the Union during the war, she supported Prussia. "Sometimes I think I am tired of politics," she wrote at the time. "and then again it is pleasant." She seemed to change her earlier views on women’s suffrage, and even disagree with two of her aunts who strongly supported it; she agreed with her husband’s stated view that "maternity is inconsistent with the like discharge of (the political duties of) citizenship." She also resisted joining any formal temperance movement or join in any such public activities for fear of its affect on her husband’s political career, especially among the sizeable German-American population of Ohio, which vigorously opposed it. By 1875, the family had relocated to the Fremont, Ohio estate of Hayes’s uncle, "Spiegel Grove."

Campaign and Inauguration:

Lucy Hayes did not initially support the popular movement to make Governor Hayes the Republican presidential candidate in 1876. At his "notification" ceremony that he had won the nomination, she became the subject of newspaper coverage, including publications from outside the state. At the local ceremony following his nomination, she was also honored with three cheers, as was the governor. "By the way if there any lady in the United States that would make an accomplished and brilliant President’s wife it is Mrs. Hayes," one story ran. At least one correspondent expressed the view that her personal popularity would aid her husband because the wives of male voters liked her domestic nature and would influence their husbands to vote for Hayes. Lucy Hayes was in attendance at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia on Ohio day, further increasing her national profile.

Lucy Hayes was especially depressed the day after the election when Hayes seemed to have lost, based on electoral votes, including those of his home state. Challenged and thus throwing the results into dispute, a political compromise was quietly struck and an Electoral Commission in Washington would soon resolve the election in favor of Hayes.

Lucy Hayes joined her husband in proceeding to Washington under a cloud of danger; those opposed to the commission deciding on Hayes had even shot a gun into the outgoing Ohio governor’s home, and bullets hit the family dining room.

In Washington, she joined her husband at a White House reception hosted by outgoing President Grant, where Hayes was secretly sworn in two days before the official Inauguration Day, as a tactic intended to avoid the official ceremony from being interrupted as was threatened by supporters of the losing candidate.

In black dress, black bonnet and with her black hair parted simply in the middle of her forehead, Lucy Hayes stood two days later in public on the Inaugural stand, when her husband repeated the presidential oath of office. Her appearance generated a great amount of press, perhaps more newspaper coverage about a new president’s wife than at any other previous inauguration day. Technology had now advanced to the point where an accurate eyewitness pen sketch of events and public figures could be reproduced in the “illustrated” weekly magazines likeHarper’sandFrank Leslie’sand so the entire nation had a sense of what the new First Lady looked like from sketches made on Inauguration Day in 1877.

Contrary to popular myth, Lucy Hayes is not the first presidential spouse to be publicly called “First Lady.” Although reporter Mary Clemmer Ames referred to her as the "first lady of the land," that expression was used in the press to refer to Mary Lincoln for her status as the wife of a president in numerous publications, as was her immediate predecessor Harriet Lane, the niece and hostess of bachelor president James Buchanan.

Since the election had been disputed, there was no Inaugural Ball held in 1877. However, following the swearing-in ceremony at the U.S. Capitol Building, the outgoing First Lady Julia Dent Grant lingered to host a large luncheon reception for the new President and Mrs. Hayes.

First Lady:

45 years old

(4 March 1877 – 4 March 1881)

By the time her husband became President in 1877, Lucy Hayes had come to identify herself largely through the traditional roles of wife and mother. She considered her primary responsibility to be the education and care of her two youngest children, Scott and Fanny, six and ten years old, respectively, during their first year of living in the White House. However, as a woman of wealth able to afford domestic staff workers to maintain her home and help look after her children, she was not as pressed for her personal time as might be others who felt similarly.

With her strong sense of civic duty being a primary tenet of her Methodist faith, however, Lucy Hayes also believed that she had a larger responsibility to the world outside of her home and family. As First Lady, she seemed to expand this commitment nationally with relative ease. An important factor in her assuming a new level of public roles for a First Lady was also her pronounced personality, most often characterized as including a spontaneous warmth, charitable impulse, self-deprecating humor, and natural empathy.

With her popularity in the press and the fact that she was the first First Lady to have graduated with a higher education degree, there were high expectations for and pressures placed upon Lucy Hayes during her tenure, most especially from women activists advocating substantial temperance reform and passage of women’s suffrage.

Lucy Hayes was particularly pursued by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union for her national profile but the group’s efforts to enlist her as a leader failed. She steadfastly refused to lend her name or any implicit support to the controversial cause, for fear of political damage to her husband. The incident that sparked the national association of the issue with her was the decision to ban all alcoholic beverages from all entertainments, including state dinners. It was a decision reached after the first state dinner, for the Grand Dukes Alexis and Constantine, sons of Tsar Alexander II of Russia, in April 1877. It was actually the President who made the decision, recognizing how vital the support of the Prohibition Party was to the Republican Party.

A teetotaler since her youth, the First Lady strongly her husband’s decision – but she would nevertheless be ridiculed for the policy: caricatured on a wine bottle with a prudish expression, smiling in a water bottle. The nickname "Lemonade Lucy" cannot be specifically dated to the Hayes Administration, although there were anecdotes about her serving lemonade that was reddish in color and which she feared was wine until the President was posed as calming her that it was only a mashed berry in the lemonade. "Water flowed like wine," joked Congressman James Garfield, who was elected the succeeding President." She was nevertheless credited with giving temperance supporters enough courage to now publicly express their views and held up as a moral example for Ohio schoolchildren who read about her in their textbooks.

She was also petitioned to speak out publicly in encouraging women to seek higher education as she had done with her own life. "You are the representative of the women of our Country, & to you I confide their advocacy with the President to insert a sentence in his regular message on the subject of their education," one friend unsuccessfully urged her.

The Dean of the Philadelphia Women’s Medical College told her she was "the genuine, educated Christian American Woman" and could positively influence "higher education of women as developed in professional study." Invited to attend the school’s commencement, Lucy Hayes did stop briefly at the institution. She refused to respond to pleas that she say a word of support to the President on behalf of an effort to have the work of American businesswomen highlighted in a display at the International Exhibition in Paris. However, President Hayes later agreed to this, so it may be that in private Lucy Hayes did influence this decision. Lucy Hayes may also have influenced the President to support the right of women attorneys to appear before the Supreme Court. She also helped to place two individual women in federal position, one at the Agriculture Department, another at the Patent Office.

On the suffrage issue, she ultimately agreed with her husband that women were not yet properly educated enough to be able to vote intelligently – yet did not address the question of whether all men who had the right to do so were superior in their understanding of public issues.

Mrs. Hayes undertook no formal program to aid any one constituency. Her activities did suggest a particular interest in the “Americanizing” of racial minorities, including Native Americans, a record number of delegations of which came to meet with President Hayes from their reservation lands.

She took an especial interest in the efforts of the Native American tribe of Paiutes to have the federal government transfer them from forced detention in Washington territory to a preferred place in Oregon, yet despite the President’s attempts to do so, much of his power was limited by the U.S. Army and western congressmen. After a visit to the African-American Hampton College, the First Lady funded a scholarship for a Native American girl on the condition that she be permitted to receive her higher education there.

By visiting various institutions, she attempted to transfer some sense of support for their missions, although there is no evidence she gave money or had anything but the most superficial association, such as the National Deaf Mute College in Washington, D.C. and the Louisville, Kentucky Asylum for the Blind.

On 26 April 1878, during a trip to Philadelphia, the First Lady maintained an independent public schedule of appearances from the President, the first documented instance of a president’s wife did so. She toured the Girls’ Normal School, the Northern Home for Friendless Children, Girard College for Boys, the Women’s Medical College, the Educational Home for Orphans, the Philadelphia School of Design for Women, and the Academy of Fine Arts.

The unusually high visibility of this new type of publicly-engaged First Lady made headlines in national newspapers, and even led to the first known commercial exploitation of a presidential spouse; one enterprising manufacturing of clothing irons who believed that many American women would follow the example set by Mrs. Hayes posed her in an advertisement with the President, falsely claiming they had stopped in at his store to purchase one of his irons.

As popular a figure as she would become, Lucy Hayes was greatly appreciated in the community of severely poor in Washington, who lived in slum areas. On any occasion, when she was told of a case of a family or individual in dire need, Lucy Hayes would ask for the situation to be carefully investigated, and then directly aid with cash from her own account, or from money she insisted be collected from wealthy Cabinet members. In January of 1880 alone, the Hayes’s dispensed nearly one-thousand dollars, an enormous amount of money at the time. On a regular basis, she also sent flowers from the greenhouses to the local Children’s Hospital.

Her charitableness, however, was also expressed personally to those she engaged with in the White House. Circulating among former soldiers whose inefficiency might otherwise have had them removed from the White House staff she saw to it that they were able to hold onto their federal jobs. At the National Soldier’s Home, where disabled soldiers were treated on the grounds of the presidential summer home in Maryland, she often visited those who were housebound. She helped the daughter of her African-American cook to attend Oberlin College. When it came to her own family, however, she followed a scrupulously honest approach, unable, for example, to help get her qualified brother a position as supervising surgeon general in the Marine Hospital Service.

Lucy Hayes believed that her husband’s controversial policy to remove federal troops in the South would put into place a policy affecting African-Americans there that gave them "a better and fairer prospect of happiness and prosperity now than ever." She privately expressed the view that the President had very little choice, having no support from the U.S. Army to continue to keep them there. "She is shrewd and able and up on current matters," remarked one political figure who spoke confidentially with her. Lucy Hayes hid well her considerable anger at fellow Republicans who attacked Hayes’s civil service reforms and the actions of the Potter Committee, which attempted to discredit Hayes’s legitimacy as president due to the disputed election of 1876.

Coming into public life on the wave of a new popular interest in American history prompted by the 1876 Centennial Exposition, Lucy Hayes displayed a consciousness about the use of symbolism to create a unifying national culture which had not been evident among her predecessors except perhaps for Dolley Madison.

In commissioning artist Theodore Davis to design the White House china, Lucy Hayes instructed that the theme should represent natural American flora, fauna and wildlife. She hired an Ohio artist to paint portraits of all the Presidents who were not yet represented in the White House collection and later had him paint a full-length portrait of Martha Washington to hang opposite that of George Washington. While touring the South, she made a point of visiting her predecessor Sarah Polk at her home in Nashville, Tennessee and invited predecessor Julia Tyler to receive with her at a White House reception, despite the latter’s defiant Civil War-time status as a Confederate. Often leading groups of her personal visitors to sites around the capital, the First Lady prompted the President to renew the discontinued work on the as-yet uncompleted Washington Monument. In New York, she was a central figure at the dedication of the new Museum of Natural History, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

There were also some notable social events in the White House during her tenure. On the Monday after Easter Sunday, in 1877, she let word out that the children who had customarily played egg-rolling games on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building but were now banned from doing so there would be welcomed to do so on the white House South Lawn. Rutherford and Lucy Hayes celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary on December 30, 1877 by renewing their vows and hosting a reception for friends and family. Mrs. Hayes also sponsored a range of musical events. On numerous public occasions, the First Lady also invited African-American musical groups to perform in the White House, including students of the Colored Industrial School, and famed singer Madame Selika, introduced by Frederick Douglass. Able to play both the piano and guitar, and gifted with a contralto singing voice, she hosted hymn-singing on Sunday evenings in the private quarters for gathered friends and family.

The First Lady accompanied the President not only on a New England and Southern tour in the summer of 1877. In 1878, she toured the northern Midwest and Plains states of Minnesota, North Dakota, and Michigan. Most unprecedented was her 1880 cross-country tour, visiting cities, towns and rural parts of the West and Pacific States, all the way to San Francisco. While out west, she joined the President in descending silver mine, toured orange groves and the new University of Southern California in Los Angeles, attended a Santa Fe fiesta, witnessed whales playing in the Pacific Ocean, and walked through Yosemite Park. As the party passed through New Mexico and Arizona territories, army guards protected them from potential Apache Native American Indian attacks.

Her final days as First Lady were somewhat embittering. After having successfully avoided being exploited for the purposes of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, she was initially wary though flattered by their national fundraising effort to commission a life-size portrait of her for the White House.

Her ambivalence towards the organization, however, was confirmed when she learned that only a small portion of the money they collected for the portrait was actually to be used for that purpose, the rest going for a temperance public relations campaign.

After the White House:

When Hayes retired from the presidency, Lucy Hayes intended to lead a peaceful and private life at their Spiegel Grove estate. She did, however, attend the centennial celebrations of the presidency in May of 1889 in New York at the request of then-incumbent First Lady Caroline Harrison. Mrs. Hayes also assumed presidency of the Methodist Missionary Society. In that capacity, the former First Lady began delivering a series of startling speeches at their annual convention, disparaging non-Anglo races as inferior in the commitment to Christianity, higher education and population control. It represents an aspect of her life at odds with the character reflected in her private letters and remarks.

Lucy Hayes was also marked by an unusually strong respect for animals, especially birds. Whether they were pigeons, chickens or robins, she knew many bird calls and practiced them on the expansive grounds of her home. The last picture taken of her was feeding a flock of birds on the Spiegel Grove lawn.


57 years, 25 June 25, 1889
Fremont, Ohio
Buried, Burial: Fremont City Cemetery
Re-interred, Spiegel Grove, 1915