First Ladies Library Blog

Welcome to the National First Ladies Library blog. This replaces the “asked/answered” page and all information from it has been transferred to the blog. Here will be an ongoing public forum on the work of the NFLL and its collections, discussion on new and emerging scholarship and popular publications, news stories, and any other information or discoveries related to directly to the subject of First Ladies. The public is invited to engage here with questions on the subject.

Research, reading and writing on the subject of American First Ladies opens windows into so many fascinating aspects of not just national and international history and culture but contemporary issues as well.

Enjoy our blog and feel free to post your comments.

Jane Irwin Harrison, presidential daughter-in-law and First Lady for the briefest Administration. (Grouselands)

Jane Irwin Harrison, presidential daughter-in-law and First Lady for the briefest Administration. (Grouselands)

Of the two dozen women relatives in presidential families other than wives who served in one capacity or another of the First Lady role, none had as little influence or played a less significant role than did Jane Harrison, the ninth President’s daughter-in-law and her aunt Jane Findlay, and Anna Tuthill Taylor, his daughter and youngest child.

A later depiction of William Henry Hrrison's Inaugural Ball figured both Anna Taylor, at far left,and Jane Harrison, at right, in the background as part of his entourage.

A later depiction of William Henry Harrison’s Inaugural Ball figured both Anna Taylor, at far left,and Jane Harrison, at right, in the background as part of his entourage.

This was in no way a reflection on their intellectual, political or social capabilities but the fact that the Administration under which they served was the shortest in history: the ninth President, William Henry Harrison, only served for thirty days, dying on April 4, 1841, exactly one month after being inaugurated.

What makes the oddity of this shortest presidency all the more peculiar is determining not just which of the Harrison family women members were part of his presidential entourage but who among them, if any, was designated by the President or considered by the public to be his official hostess.

An aerial view of Berkeley Plantation in Virginia where William Henry Harrison was born and where his daughter and White House hostess Anna Taylor later lived. (Berkeley)

An aerial view of Berkeley Plantation in Virginia where William Henry Harrison was born and where his daughter and White House hostess Anna Taylor later lived. (Berkeley)

As president-elect, William Henry Harrison is documented as having visited his married daughter Anna Tuthill Taylor in the area of Williamsburg, Virginia during the period immediately preceding his inauguration.

Harrison’s daughter had married his sister’s grandson and was then living in the same plantation house, Berkeley, where he had been born; after their parents had left, the house had been inhabited by President Harrison’s sister and inherited through her family.

Anna Taylor accompanied him back to Washington for his March 4, 1841 inauguration and was in residence at the White House for part, if not all of his thirty days in residence there.

Members of the Harrison family who came to Washington, son John, grandson Benjamin, daughter Anna Taylor, the President and Jane Harrison. Indiana Historical Society)

Members of the Harrison family who came to Washington, son John, grandson Benjamin, daughter Anna Taylor, the President and Jane Harrison. (Indiana Historical Society)

Her name as “Mrs. Taylor” also appears in the roster of family members listed as being in attendance at his public funeral services in the East Room of the White House.

How it is that history came to designate Jane Harrison and not Anna Taylor as presidential hostess is unknown.

To date, no facial depiction of Anna Taylor has been discovered; the only known representation of her is in silhouette form, along with her father and her sister-in-law Jane Harrison.

The new President is not documented as having given any thought to the protocol ranking or social status of the women of his presidential family.

Jane Harrison in what is believed to be the only photograph made of her.

Jane Harrison in what is believed to be the only photograph made of her.

This may suggest that, passively, he expected both women would work together to oversee social events until the intended arrival in Washington of his wife Anna, an infirm but orderly person who would assume management of the presidential household.

Until then, it may be that Jane Harrison and Anna Taylor together served as hostesses simultaneously, as did Jackson’s niece and daughter-law Emily Donelson and Sarah Jackson, who overlapped for a time.

An earlier Smithsonian mannequin depicting Jane Harrison in the Inaugural gown she wore to her father-in-law's 1841 Whig Ball. (Smithsonian)

An earlier Smithsonian mannequin depicting Jane Harrison in the Inaugural gown she wore to her father-in-law’s 1841 Whig Ball. (Smithsonian)

One might speculate that Jane Harrison was asked to come with the President-elect to Washington as some sort of compensation for the traumatic fourteen-year marriage she endured with his late son and namesake.

William Henry Harrison, Jr. had been a promising young attorney but he gambled and speculated so wildly that he rapidly amassed a crushing load of debt which proved humiliating to his father, who spent his own money and sold property to help bail him out.

He also struggled with an addiction to alcohol and though he often went for long periods without drinking, he ultimately died of his disease. Jane Irwin had been visiting her paternal aunt Nancy in Ohio when she met and married Will Harrison in 1824.

Born in 1804, in the Mercersburg, Pennsylvania limestone mansion, inherited by her father Archibald Irwin from his father, who owned and ran a lucrative flour mill, she was widowed in 1838, left with two small sons. Her mother-in-law and father-in-law took them into their household.

Elizabeth Irwin Harrison, mother of Benjamin Harrison, sister of Jane Harrison - or, daughter-in-law to one President, mother to another.

Elizabeth Irwin Harrison, mother of Benjamin Harrison, sister of Jane Harrison – or, daughter-in-law to one President, mother to another.

Jane Harrison holds a rather peculiar and rare status for presidential trivia: she was both a maternal and paternal aunt to another President, Benjamin Harrison. Of course, her husband was the future President’s uncle (and thus she was his aunt-by-marriage) but she was also his maternal aunt.

Jane’s sister Elizabeth Irwin also married one of President William Henry Harrison’s sons, in this case John Harrison – and was the mother of the future President. Furthermore, Jane Harrison’s first cousin Mary Anne Sutherland married Carter Harrison, a third son of the ninth President.

Thirty-seven years old at the time she moved into the White House, Jane Harrison brought along not only her sons James and William, but her paternal aunt, after whom she had been named.

Jane Findlay. (Smithsonian)

Jane Findlay. (Smithsonian)

Jane Irwin Findlay had no children of her own but had helped to raise her namesake.

The widowed Mrs. Findlay was seventy years old when she joined the Harrison entourage by stagecoach and flatboat from Ohio but she already had social experience as a political figure in Washington, her wealthy husband having served as a Congressman during the Quincy Adams and Jackson Administrations.

A locket containing the only known photo of Jane Findlay, now in the Smithsonian collection.

A locket containing the only known photo of Jane Findlay. (Smithsonian)

He’d also been a founder, developer and the mayor of Cincinnati, a role which introduced him into the circle of the Harrisons.

Misinterpretations of the scant descriptions of the Harrison White House sometimes ascribe the hostess role solely to Jane Findlay, but while a seat of honor was granted to her at formal dinners hosted by the President it was likely due to her rank as a former congressional spouse or respect for her age rather than her importance in the presidential household.

Two different deathbed scenes of President Harrison both incorrectly identified a Niece as being present.

Two different deathbed scenes of President Harrison both incorrectly identified a “Niece” as being present.

 

Lingering questions about the brief Harrison Administration would remain largely unanswered. One speculative matter is whether enslaved people might have been used for the family’s domestic servants or not: Anna Taylor lived in a slave-holding state while Jane Harrison was a resident of an abolitionist one.

Neither woman left any written or oral history of their brief thirty days as joint White House hostesses.

Despite being relatively young at age 41 years old, both Jane Harrison and Anna Taylor died in 1845, just four years after the President. Mrs. Findlay outlived her, surviving the President by a decade and dying at 81 years old.

The only Harrison deathbed illustration correctly depicting two women, one rightly identified as his daughter Mrs. Taylor.

The only Harrison deathbed illustration correctly depicting two women, one rightly identified as his daughter Mrs. Taylor.

Illustrations depicting the death scene of the first incumbent President’s show a weeping woman relative at the side of Harrison’s bed are of no help in determining which of the two young women might have held more sway.

In two Harrison deathbed scene illustrations a single female relative figure is identified as neither the dying President’s “Daughter-in-law,” nor “Daughter,” but rather, incorrectly, as “Niece.”

In the only known Harrison deathbed illustration where two women relatives are depicted, one of the women is identified correctly as the President’s daughter, so at least it is half-right.

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First Ladies Never Married to Presidents: Angelica Van Buren

Angelica Van Buren while White House hostess for her father-in-law, whose bust is seen in the background. (White House)

Angelica Van Buren while White House hostess for her father-in-law, whose bust is seen in the background. (White House)

She had it all, wealth, intelligence, education, inheritance, beauty, social status and every possible privilege that a South Carolina plantation background could afford her, and yet Angelica Van Buren with her signature corkscrew curls and swanlike neck, likely harmed more the presidential re-election campaign of her father-in-law than she did help it.

A Smithsonian mannequin on which a gown of Angelica Van Buren was once displayed.

A Smithsonian mannequin on which a gown of Angelica Van Buren was once displayed.

Born the day before Valentine’s Day in 1816, it’s easy to perceive her as a character out of a romantic novel, but she would fulfill the literary requirements of a tragedy as well: her father plunged to his death with her nephew when their train crossed a bridge that collapsed. Her sister endured spousal abuse.

Deborah Grelaud. (askart.com)

Deborah Grelaud. (askart.com)

During her five years as a boarding student at Philadelphia’s Madame Grelaud’s Seminary for Young Ladies (1831-1836), the future First Lady adopted the nickname of “Angelique,” a choice which provides a significant clue to her growing obsession with all things refined and French, a quality inculcated by the school founder Deborah Grelaud, a French native of Haiti who fled there during its 1793 revolution.

Students were rigorously trained entirely in French and educated on European art, literature and culture.

The exorbitant tuition ensured it would be an institution only for the daughters of the elite class, including of presidential families, like Martha Washington’s great-granddaughters, James Monroe’s daughter Maria and the future wife of future Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Angelica Singelton as a student.

Angelica Singelton as a student.

Letters from this period reveal Angelica with a balance of style and substance, as devoted to the art of writing as she was to the design of fashionable clothing in luxurious materials.

The elderly Dolley Madison. (Heritage Auctions)

The elderly Dolley Madison. (Heritage Auctions)

After graduation, Miss Singleton came to Washington with her sister Marion in December of 1837, with familial ties. Her mother’s brother had served as President Jefferson’s private secretary and lived with him in the Executive Mansion, and her first cousins included former First Lady Dolley Madison, a U.S. Senator and a U.S. Congressman.

In March of 1838, Mrs. Madison brought the Singleton sisters to a private White House dinner hosted by widower President Martin Van Buren, with his four unmarried adult sons also in attendance.

Abraham Van Buren. (LC)

Abraham Van Buren. (LC)

The draw between the southern belle and the president’s eldest son Abraham, a swashbuckling West Point graduate and brevet major of the Seminole Indian War, who wore a sash and sword, was likely intense for it was only a matter of eight months before they were married at the family plantation of the 22 year old in South Carolina.

Right after the wedding, the newlyweds went home to the White House where the bride was escorted by the President at formal private dinners and he asserted her assumption of the highest rank of women from other political families in attendance.

The press and the general public got to meet the new Mrs. Van Buren at the 1839 New Year’s Day.

President Van Buren. (randomologyofmoi.tumblr.com)

President Van Buren. (randomologyofmoi.tumblr.com)

That day, she received guests alone in the oval reception room (not yet designated the Blue Room). Her physical beauty and conversational skills made her instantly popular.

Despite the fact that no evidence suggests she influenced the President on domestic agricultural or abolition policy, the new First Lady symbolized the southern states rights demographic of the Democratic Party which was growing hostile to the potential threat of abolition while the President continued to placate abolitionists of his powerful New York base. Van Buren found his daughter-in-law served the political advantage of abating his increasingly tenuous hold on factions of his party.

Angelica Van Buren's aunt Sally Stevenson, US Minister to England's wife. (Social Life in the Early Republic, 1902)

Angelica Van Buren’s aunt Sally Stevenson, US Minister to England’s wife. (Social Life in the Early Republic, 1902)

It was the following autumn, when she and the president’s son made their delayed European honeymoon that her more politically inexpedient behavior emerged. Inspired by her heavy reading on European court life, Angelica Van Buren naively delighted in being received as the Queen of the United States in the royal houses of England and France.

There being no criticism in American newspapers of Angelica Van Buren’s gallivant with the royals at the time, she was inspired to create a similar court life the next year at the White House. Still, her aunt Sally, married to U.S. Minister to Great Britain Andrew Stevenson, was disturbed by how enamored her niece had become with royal life.

During her time in England, her uncle Stevenson drew her into an international scandal after being denounced by Irish patriot Daniel O’Connor as not merely an owner of enslaved people but a “slave breeder.” Although O’Connor ignored Stevenson’s challenge to duel, it reflected poorly on the U.S., fueled by the President’s refusal to recall him because he was the First Lady’s uncle.

The controversy prompted the abolitionist U.S. Whig Party to attach a negative association to Angelica Van Buren as they geared up for their 1840 challenge to defeat Van Buren for a second term in the 1840 presidential election.

An illustrated British journal deppicted President Van Buren, his son Prince John and dauighter-in-law Angelica at a family gathering.

An illustrated British journal deppicted President Van Buren, his son “Prince John” and daughter-in-law Angelica at a family gathering.

When the general public next interacted with Angelica Van Buren again, at the 1840 New Year’s Day Reception, she received them in the formal and stiffly-held poses of the “tableaux,” a technique used in the European palaces by royal family members who held large bouquets of flowers in their lap and refused to any longer shake their hands in the expected democratic custom.

The French Minister withheld his customary criticism of the commonness of American behavior to instead praise Angelica’s “distinguished manners” and claim she would be popular “in any country.”

A depiction of Angelica Van Buren on the White House South Lawn. (ebay)

A depiction of Angelica Van Buren on the White House South Lawn. (ebay)

Mrs. Van Buren missed being hit by any direct criticism, soon enough vanishing from public sight for the expected “confinement” of her first pregnancy. Her first child was born in the White House on March 27, 1840 but died five days later.

Pregnant a second time that fall, during the President’s re-election campaign, she nevertheless proved to be a contributing factor to his loss.

As the nation endured a deep economic depression, newspaper coverage of Mrs. Van Buren’s receiving style at the New Year’s Day reception, as well as the anecdotal claim that she intended to re-landscape the White House grounds to resemble the royal gardens of Europe were used in a political attack on her father-in-law by a Pennsylvania Whig Congressman Charles Ogle.

He referred obliquely to her as part of the presidential “household” in his famous “Gold Spoon” speech. The attack was delivered in Congress and the depiction of the President as living a royal lifestyle was a primary factor in his defeat for re-election.

Melrose House, Angelica Singleton Van Buren's family plantation home in Sumter County, South Carolina.

Melrose House, Angelica Singleton Van Buren’s family plantation home in Sumter County, South Carolina.

There was also a growing feel among some in the country at the time, however, that those like Angelica Singleton Van Buren, who’d been educated at institutions like Grelaud Seminary or lived in among Philadelphia’s elite class, were part of a new concept of “American upper class,” and antithetical to the ideal of democracy. Southern families settling there were blending with the city’s wealthy merchant class base who tended to be traditional, conservative Anglophiles. This coalescing defied regionalism and was a reaction to the growing movement empowering the working-class. Part of this emerging “upper-class” identity was the “French-centered” education, a status symbol restricted to all but the wealthy. Those seeking to establish access to education for all classes of women charged that the emphasis on European culture of institutions such as the Grelaud Seminary demeaned the new nation’s majority of more common citizens.

Bedroom of Angelica and Abraham Van Buren.

Bedroom of Angelica and Abraham Van Buren.

After leaving the White House with her husband, brothers-in-law and father-in-law, Angelica Van Buren assumed management of the former President’s home in the Hudson River Valley, which he used as headquarters for his intended return to elective national political office. Angelica and Abraham Van Buren and their three sons moved to their own home in New York City in 1848, along with her niece Mary who she raised as a daughter.

During a lengthy trip to Europe, she became exposed to various reform movements to help the laboring classes, inspiring her to undertake charity work upon her return.

Angelica Van Buren in later years. (LC)

Angelica Van Buren in later years. (LC)

Her new conscientiousness about the powerless of society was bolstered by the shocking realization of how her beloved sister, physically abused and financially exploited by her husband, had no legal recourse based solely on her gender.

Angelica Van Buren survived most of her family, including all of her siblings, and nearly every niece and nephew and her husband.

None of her three adult sons had any children and thus she leaves no descendants. She died in 1878, choosing to be buried not in South Carolina but beside her husband in the New York borough of the Bronx.

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First Ladies Never Married to Presidents: Sarah Jackson

Sarah Yorke Jackson, daughter-in-law of President Andrew Jackson and, briefly, his White House hostess. (The Hermitage)

Sarah Yorke Jackson, daughter-in-law of President Andrew Jackson and, briefly, his White House hostess. (The Hermitage)

Andrew Jackson actually had two First Ladies and never married either of them.

One was his wife’s niece, Emily Donelson, who did as planned and assumed the role of hostess in the presidential mansion at Washington.

Sarah Yorke Jackson in younger years, during her tenure as White House hostess. (The White House)

Sarah Yorke Jackson in younger years, during her tenure as White House hostess. (The White House)

The other was his daughter-in-law, Sarah Jackson, who it was planned would assume the role of hostess in the president’s plantation in Nashville, but a sudden fire there had her also coming to live in the presidential mansion.

For the first time in history, there were two women serving simultaneously with equal status as White House hostesses, neither of whom were presidential spouses.

Sarah Jackson’s story is one that has never been widely disseminated, but it is unusual.

Orphaned at 15 years old, raised by two maiden aunts in Philadelphia, Sarah Yorke and her two sisters Jane and Marian were heiresses to great mercantile fortune, established by their father, like his own father, was a sea captain who travelled the globe and were familiar with the cultures of Africa and Asia.

Her grandfather’s grandfather had been a Quaker in England, a follower of William Penn who immigrated to the American colony of Pennsylvania when he learned of the religious freedom it offered those of his sect.

Andrew Jackson, Jr. (The Hermitage)

Andrew Jackson, Jr. (The Hermitage)

She was born in July of 1805 but practically nothing his known of her childhood.

Sarah’s narrative becomes more definitive after her wedding to the President’s adopted son and namesake, two years after his presidency began. Jackson was unable to attend the ceremony in Philadelphia but greeted her with literally open arms on the North Portico of the White House, commencing a series of dinners and receptions to honor her, at which she wore her wedding gown.

She and Andrew, Jr. spent the winter of 1832 in the White House.

In the late spring of 1832, a pregnant Sarah and her husband headed down to the President’s Nashville plantation.

That November, she gave birth to her first child, a daughter named after her late mother-in-law.

She was fully recovered and in a joyous mood when she returned to the White House for her father-in-law’s second Inauguration on March 4, 1833.

She stayed through summer and accompanied the President on his summer vacation in Virginia, after which she proceeded home to Tennessee.

Sarah Jackson gave birth to her second child in the spring of 1834 at the Hermitage plantation, after which a fire broke out and destroyed part of the plantation house. This prompted the return of Andrew, Jr., Sarah and their two-year daughter and seven-month old son.

An old postcard depicting the Hermitage.

An old postcard depicting the Hermitage.

Interestingly, she made the northern trip by stagecoach along with Emily Donelson so that there would be no rumors of one or the other being the “official” or primary hostess of the White House.

Nevertheless, the President did declare that Sarah was “mistress of the Hermitage,” a home he considered more important to him personally than the White House.

Even if they were intended to be treated with the same status in relation to the President, Emily Donelson did dominate the White House simply by the nature of her tenure there since the beginning and her wide circle of Washington social contacts.

There was never any known rivalry between the two of them and they even co-hosted a children’s Christmas party at the end of 1835.

Sarah Jackson's pearl-encrusted guitar which she likely used to entertain friends and family in the White House. (The Hermitage)

Sarah Jackson’s pearl-encrusted guitar which she likely used to entertain friends and family in the White House. (The Hermitage)

Sarah Jackson again returned to the Hermitage in the spring of 1836.

That summer Emily Donelson also returned to her adjoining plantation but was terminally ill.

It’s unclear if Sarah Jackson visited with her fellow First Lady in the fall of 1836 before she returned to Washington and Emily died at home, but it is highly likely.

With the end of the Administration nearing, Sarah Jackson was now back at the White House as the sole hostess there for President Jackson and she oversaw the packing of his personal possessions for shipment home to the Hermitage.

Sarah Jackson ran the household at the Hermitage for the former President until his death in 1845, giving birth to three more sons there. Pressed by the debts he left, she and her husband relocated to Mississippi just before the Civil War.

The bedroom of Sarah York Jackson, one of two First Ladies during her father-in-law's presidency.

The Hermitage bedroom of Sarah York Jackson, one of two First Ladies during her father-in-law’s presidency.

After the war, the state of Tennessee bought the Hermitage to preserve as an historic site but permitted this relatively obscure First Lady to continue living there until her death in 1887.

Although Sarah Jackson did not play an important role in the White House, she did ensure the physical and emotional comfort of her legendary father-in-law during his increasingly infirm and disabled retirement, playing a vital role that was entirely private and personal rather than political and public.

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Emily Donelson, niece of the late Mrs. Andrew Jackson. (The Hermitage)

Emily Donelson, niece of the late Mrs. Andrew Jackson. (The Hermitage)

Simply by making an entirely social decision and sticking to it, Andrew Jackson’s First Lady Emily Donelson, niece of his late wife, managed to impact the political climate of his presidency and come into open conflict with him.

In fact, were it not for Emily Donelson’s status in the presidential household and the rigid obstinacy of her decision, the famous “Peggy Eaton Affair” would have never occurred.

Rachel Jackson, one of her portraits in the collection of the Hermitage.

Rachel Jackson, one of her portraits in the collection of the Hermitage.

Although the President’s wife Rachel Jackson had died less than three months before her husband’s presidency began, she had made definitive plans about how she would carry out her role in the White House.

Anticipating the arrangements later made by Letitia Tyler, Peggy Taylor and Eliza Johnson, all presidential spouses from the southern states, Mrs. Jackson intended to have her young, well-educated and socially sophisticated relative – in her case, niece Emily Donelson – appear in public and assume the visibility of hostess at social events where guests were strangers to her.

Many people know the details of the tragic romance between Andrew Jackson and his wife Rachel, who had believed that she was legitimately divorced from her first husband Lewis Robards at the time she married Jackson, her second husband.

Not until she and Jackson had established a household together did they discover she was technically a bigamist, her divorce papers never having been processed.

A.J. Donelson. (The Hermitage)

A.J. Donelson. (The Hermitage)

This error, be it a matter of innocence or negligence, was nevertheless judged with harsh morality and Rachel was labeled a “wanton woman” and her bigamy used by Andrew Jackson’s political opponents as a poor reflection on his own character.

So emotionally pained was Mrs. Jackson that she seems to have intended to limit her public interactions which might expose her to the keener ridicule by which Washington society has always been known, and which she declared to be vain and irreligious. Her heart condition also made long receiving lines difficult for her to breath.

The new President formally designated Emily Donelson as his White House hostess, something no previous chief executive had done. At only twenty-one years old, Emily Donelson was one of the youngest women to serve as First Lady.

A sampler stitched by Emily Donelson. (Tulip Grove Plantation)

A sampler stitched by Emily Donelson. (Tulip Grove Plantation)

The daughter of Rachel Jackson’s brother John and born in a town which was named with her own family name, Emily Donelson had the opportunity to pursue a sophisticated education, graduating from the Nashville Female Academy.

Unlike that of her aunt, she became an expert in grammar and had an elegant handwriting.

When she was seventeen years old, Emily married her first cousin “A.J.” (named for Andrew Jackson), the son of Rachel Jackson’s brother William. Since A.J. was raised as a son by Andrew and Rachel Jackson (but never formally adopted) Emily was truly like a daughter to the President-elect and his wife.

A West Point graduate and lawyer, A.J. Donelson would come to work in the White House as the President’s Private Secretary.

Teenager Emily Donelson attended the January 8, 1825 ball given for Andrew and Rachel Jackson by John Quincy and Louisa Adams, depicted 47 years after the event. (Harper's)

Teenager Emily Donelson attended the January 8, 1825 ball given for Andrew and Rachel Jackson by John Quincy and Louisa Adams, depicted 47 years after the event. (Harper’s)

Despite her youth, however, Emily Donelson was already familiar with the White House, having been entertained there by the President and Mrs. Monroe in the winter of 1924-1825, and had also been a guest of Secretary of State John Quincy Adams and his wife Louisa in their home.

Managing her loyalty to Andrew Jackson while befriending his hated political rival John Quincy Adams would prove to be a remarkable feat for the then-eighteen year old woman. It was a trait that served her well in the White House.

The mob scene outside the White House on Jackson's 1829 Inauguration Day.

The mob scene outside the White House on Jackson’s 1829 Inauguration Day.

In fact, this young First Lady, who dazzled crowds by appearing in an amber-colored gown at her uncle’s inauguration would befriend both past and future White House residents.

She came to know Martha Jefferson Randolph, Martin Van Buren and James Polk, the latter two serving as godfathers to two of her four children born in the White House.

Emily Donelson named her first child, born in the White House, after her late aunt, the widowed President's wife. (Tennessee State Museum)

Emily Donelson named her first child, born in the White House, after her late aunt, the widowed President’s wife. (Tennessee State Museum)

Initially, due to a period of mourning for her late aunt, there was no great entertaining in the Jackson White House but from the moment the social events began there was trouble with Peggy Eaton, wife of the President’s Secretary of War and a close friend to Jackson.

Mrs. Eaton had first met a young Emily Donelson during the 1824-1825 social season in Washington, when the former joined the Jacksons and stayed as guests in the boardinghouse run by Peggy’s father. At the time, Peggy was married to a captain who was then away at sea and his absence apparently gave her license to behave flirtatiously with many other men.

Peggy Eaton. (geni.com)

Peggy Eaton. (geni.com)

Despite this both Andrew and Rachel Jackson approved of Peggy and were happy when she, later widowed, married John Eaton.

Emily Donelson, however, refused to consider the Cabinet wife deserving of social respect. She joined the other socially prominent women who were married to Cabinet members and refused to accept invitations from Mrs. Eaton or to acknowledge her at parties or even treat her with any politeness.

A political cartoon suggesting President Jackson's approval of Peggy Eaton, scandalously dancing and showing her ankles, at a Cabinet meeting. (New York Historical Society)

A political cartoon suggesting President Jackson’s approval of Peggy Eaton, scandalously dancing and showing her ankles, at a Cabinet meeting. (New York Historical Society)

Emily received an angry letter of rebuke from the War Secretary.

He correctly pointed out that the social ostracizing his wife was experiencing was how Rachel Jackson had been treated, due to her previously being a bigamist.

Emily responded by defending her aunt and never mentioning Peggy.

Then Secretary of State Martin Van Buren tried, telling Emily she was being influenced by the older Cabinet wives.

In response, when Van Buren held a dinner for the Cabinet and their spouses, Emily and the other women refused to attend. Only Peggy came.

Peggy Eaton in later years. (LC)

Peggy Eaton in later years. (LC)

It was no insignificant social matter by 1830, when President Jackson learned that the wives of diplomatic representatives of foreign countries were now considering a boycott of the American Cabinet wife. President Jackson was furious with his niece.

When she returned with her husband to Tennessee that summer, the President did not want encourage her to return to the White House unless she relented. She refused to.

The main hall at Tulip Grove, home of A.J. and Emily Donelson. (The Hermitage)

The main hall at Tulip Grove, home of A.J. and Emily Donelson. (The Hermitage)

Furthermore, she also refused to stay at his Nashville estate, retreating to her Tulip Grove plantation instead.

Jackson wrote that “there being no lady of the House, there was something wanting,” but Emily refused to apologize or acquiesce to his wishes.

He took the actions of Emily Donelson and also the wives of his Cabinet members as an act of political insubordination.

President Jackson meeting with his Cabinet.

President Jackson meeting with his Cabinet.

The “Peggy Eaton Affair” ultimately was a factor in his firing his entire Cabinet and replacing them with more loyal members.

Not until a year later, when John and Peggy Eaton moved to Spain where he served as U.S. Ambassador there did the matter resolve.

In the fall of 1831, Emily Donelson returned to the White House as First Lady but weakened by tuberculosis she returned home and died there four months before the end of the Jackson Administration in 1837.

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by Patricia Krider

The bronze medal for biography awarded by the Independent Publishers Book Award for the biography of First Lady Ida McKinley.

The Independent Publishers Book Award bronze medal for biography was awarded to the biography of First Lady Ida McKinley.

Ida McKinley: The Turn-of-the-Century First Lady Through War, Assassination, and Secret Disability, by Carl Sferrazza Anthony (The Kent State University Press/Published in cooperation with The National First Ladies Ladies’ Library), was recently awarded a bronze medal in the Biography category of the 2014 IPPY Awards, during the annual American Booksellers Association convention.

I was honored to attend the award ceremony on May 28th in New York City and to accept this prestigious award on behalf of Carl, the National First Ladies’ Library and Kent State University Press.

NFLL Executive Director Pat Krider at the Independent Publisher Book Awards, June 2014.

NFLL Executive Director Pat Krider at the Independent Publisher Book Awards, June 2014.

The Independent Publisher Book Awards, also known as the IPPY Awards, is an annual book awards contest conducted to honor the year’s best independently published titles. The awards are open to independent authors and publishers worldwide who produce intended for an English-speaking market. The Independent Publisher Book Awards are intended to bring increased recognition to the thousands of exemplary independent, university and self-published each year. Since the inaugural contest in 1996, over 5,000 books have received IPPY Awards. The Independent Publisher Book Award is considered one of the highest honors for books published by independent publishers.

Mary Regula, founder and president of the NFLL at a  Congressional Club event.

Mary Regula, founder and president of the NFLL at a Congressional Club event.

Ida McKinley, the first full-length biography of the wife of William McKinley who served as U.S. President from 1897 to 1901, was an original idea by the NFLL Founder and President Mary Regula.

In 2006, the organization commissioned NFLL Historian Carl Sferrazza Anthony to execute the project, and underwrote the costs of the research, writing and editing of the book. It was published in November of 2013.

The Saxton-McKinley House (NFLL)

The Saxton-McKinley House (NFLL)

The Saxton-McKinley House, a property of the National First Ladies Historic Site, is now fully restored and was the home of Ida McKinley and her family, perhaps the only residence inherited through four generations of women. It also served as the longest place of residence to William McKinley.

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A posthumous portrait of Martha Jefferson Randolph

A posthumous portrait of Martha Jefferson Randolph

One consistent factor among those adult and married “First Daughters” who assumed all or several of the different roles carried out by a “First Lady,” when their mother was either unable or unwilling to do so or had died before the presidency, is how exceedingly close to the President they are in terms of both private, emotional support in private and public, political defense.

Jefferson.

Jefferson.

In the case of Martha Jefferson Randolph, she played a central role not only in her father’s presidency but throughout his entire life from the moment her mother died in 1782, when she was 33 years old.  Among “First Daughters,” she may well have been the most important one.

Martha Jefferson Randolph, a portrait owned by the Monticello Foundation.

Martha Jefferson Randolph, a portrait owned by the Monticello Foundation.

History has both overestimated and underestimated the importance of the daughter whom third President Thomas Jefferson always called “Patsy.”

Of the eight social seasons which ran from approximately October to May that her father spent in the White House, Patsy Randolph lived with him there for a period of only two social seasons.

It was through the letters they exchanged and the conversations they had during their time together at home in Virginia, however, which permitted Patsy Randolph to provide the President with emotional support and personal encouragement during his trials as President.

At the time of his inauguration on March 4, 1801 Jefferson had been a widower for two decades, his beloved wife, the former Martha Wayles, having died after the birth of their sixth child. Two of their children lived to adulthood but only one of these would outlive her father, the eldest of them all, Patsy, who was born on September 27, 1772.

A late 19th century drawing depicted young Martha Randolph serving as her father's hostess at a dinner for George Washington.

A late 19th century drawing depicted young Martha Randolph serving as her father’s hostess at a dinner for George Washington.

The other daughter who lived to see him become President was Maria Eppes, who he always called Polly. She died at age 26, seven months before he was re-elected to a second term in 1804.

During Jefferson’s presidency, his adult daughters continued to live their lives as mothers and managers of Virginia plantations located near his estate Monticello, where they had both been born and raised.

Their husbands Thomas Mann Randolph and John Eppes did live in the White House with their father-in-law during the periods they represented Virginia, serving as members of Congress.

Jefferson never perceived the absence of a woman fulfilling an official capacity in his household as a deficit.

He had long been accustomed to serving as the lone host of private dinner parties during his diplomatic service in France, as Secretary of State under George Washington in New York and Philadelphia and as Vice President to John Adams in Philadelphia.

Martha Wayles Jefferson.

Martha Wayles Jefferson.

As President, he assumed full control of his public and private entertaining, tailoring the rules and protocol, the menus and wines, the guest lists and the ceremonial formalities to his specific ideals of democracy. When there were women guests in attendance at his dinners, President Jefferson did determine that a woman representing the Administration with some official rank should be present.

Dolley Madison, painted by George Catlin.

Dolley Madison, painted by George Catlin.

Since his Vice President Aaron Burr was also a widower, it was Dolley Madison, the wife of his close friend and highest-ranking Cabinet member Secretary of State James Madison, on whom he depended. Intermittently, she fulfilled two official roles in the Jefferson Administration: she was given the highest rank bestowed on an unelected figure and woman simply by the status of being the official escort of the President at formal dinners and she appeared to welcome women at the large, open-house events like New Year’s Day and Independence Day, where the public citizens were invited to meet the President.

Dolley Madison also served as a guide to life in the new and still developing capital city for Patsy Randolph when she made her first visit there, a year after her father’s 1801 Inauguration, which she did not attend. During her 1902 stay, she was accompanied by her sister Polly Eppes.

She also was absent from his second Inauguration, in March of 1805 but followed her pattern of coming to live with him in the White House a year later, during the 1806 social season.

Jefferson, Martha, his grandchildren and a woman slave depicted at Monticello by artist G B McIntosh on the Monticello website.

Jefferson, Martha, his grandchildren and a woman slave depicted at Monticello by artist G B McIntosh on the Monticello website.

During that second visit, she gave birth on January 17, 1806 to her eight child, James Madison Randolph; thus he became the first child born in the White House.

Four of her children were born during the time her father served as President, from 1801 to 1809: Virginia, Mary, James and and Benjamin.

As a testament to the intensity of the bond between them, it was her father and not her husband who Martha Jefferson Randolph asked to name each of her one dozen children.

In fact, the one attribute which seemed to mark her otherwise uneventful time in the White House was the presence of her many children.

Superficially, the absence of women in the Jefferson White House might make as good an argument as any that a presidency can be entirely successful without the presence of a First Lady.

Anne Randolph, Patsy Randolph's eldest child, born in 1791. (Monticello)

Anne Randolph, Patsy Randolph’s eldest child, born in 1791. (Monticello)

Such an argument, however, would fail to consider the more important role which Patsy Randolph played for the President in private, through personal correspondence.

Patsy Randolph spent almost his entire time in the White House at either Monticello or the Virginia plantation, “Edgehill” of her husband. Largely through their correspondence, but also during his lengthy visits home, Patsy Randolph became her father’s comfort and close adviser, perhaps the single most important personal factor that stabilized him during his presidency.

A colorized engraving of Martha Randolph.

A colorized engraving of Martha Randolph.

When the newspaper story that Jefferson and his half-sister-in-law and Monticello slave Sally Hemings had children out of wedlock was first widely reprinted in the first weeks of 1802, Patsy Randolph may have served a political purpose: she immediately joined her troubled father in Washington, along with her children Ellen and Jeff, and her sister Polly, as a sign of family unity. The usually non-church going Jefferson also suddenly began publicly appearing at the Sunday religious services then held in the hall of Congress, always politically shielded by the presence of his two daughters and two grandchildren.

A minature of Martha Jefferson Randolph before her marriage, painted in France. (US State Department

A minature of Martha Jefferson Randolph before her marriage, painted in France. (US State Department

During her father’s long stays home at his Monticello plantation, Patsy Randolph received his guests, both public and private, as his official hostess and helped to manage the family tableaux which she and her children provided for the President as a form of political appeal.

The intensity of the bond between Jefferson and his daughter had begun in the days following his wife’s death when young Patsy was the only family member with whom he would initially speak and spend time with alone.

Becoming constant companions, her emotional support to him continued when she went to live with him in France for his first diplomatic mission.

Patsy's husband, Thomas Mann Randolph.

Patsy’s husband, Thomas Mann Randolph.

Although she was placed in the Abbye Royale de Panthemont Catholic convent school and taught by French nuns, he continued to focus on her development with exacting instructions by letter. When she considered converting to Catholicism, however, he moved her to his residence where she presided as a young hostess.

Upon returning to the United States, she wed Thomas Mann Randolph on February 23, 1790 and began a tumultuous marriage with a husband often given to irrational rages, heavy drinking and mental illness.

Martha Randolph depicted in a full-length portrait which appeared in work by collector Stephan Lorant.

Martha Randolph depicted in a full-length portrait which appeared in work by collector Stephan Lorant.

Part of the problem may have been Patsy’s greater loyalty to her father. Her life at Monticello and admiration for her father, however, also had its complications.

As mistress of Monticello, she also directed the domestic staff of enslaved people which included Sally Hemings, who was the half-sister of Patsy’s mother.

While she never remarked openly on the claim that she had several half-siblings who were the children of Jefferson and Hemings, Patsy Randolph viewed slavery as evil for its horrific effect of breaking up families, but when her own family finances began to falter she felt she had no choice but to sell humans held as slaves.

Martha Randolph in later life. (Monticello)

Martha Randolph in later life. (Monticello)

Following the death of her father in 1826, Patsy Randolph had to sell Monticello to pay off his heavy debts.

Her husband died two years later and she went to initially live with her married daughter Ellen in Boston.

She later lived with another daughter in Washington, D.C. and was a frequent and honored guest of President Andrew Jackson at the White House. As a tribute to her father, the state legislatures of both South Carolina and Louisiana eventually awarded her gifts totaling $2,000, which she needed  to live on.

Two years before her 1836 death, Martha Randolph added a special codicil to her will, ensuring that Sally Hemings be given her freedom from slavery, but she would remain a slave, dying a year before Jefferson’s daughter.

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Eliza Monroe Hay. (Monroe Presidential Library and Museum)

Eliza Monroe Hay. (Monroe Presidential Library and Museum)

Dominant by nature, Eliza Monroe Hay’s social edicts shaped the very nature of her father’s Administration.

James and Elizabeth Monroe, parents of Eliza Hay. (both The White House)

James and Elizabeth Monroe, parents of Eliza Hay. (both The White House)

This wife and mother, thirty-year old at the time her father James Monroe began his eight-year, two-term presidency in 1817, managed to help worsen an acrimonious situation between the Administration and the representatives of foreign countries into a serious diplomatic crisis.

Like other Presidents before the Civil War such as the two Adamses, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, James Polk, Zachary Taylor, James Monroe invited extended family members to live with him in the White House and named one, his wife’s nephew, to collect the federal salary for the post of land officer while performing the duty of private presidential secretary.

The nephew, Samuel Gouverneur would go on to marry his first cousin Maria and then become the presidential son-in-law.

Eliza Monroe Hay. (James Monroe Presidential Museum and Library)

Eliza Monroe Hay. (James Monroe Presidential Museum and Library)

The First Family also included the President’s eldest daughter Eliza Hay, married to the prominent Virginia attorney George Hay who had also served as prosecutor in the trial of former Vice President Aaron Burr, and their only child, a daughter Hortensia.

During the first six years of her father’s presidency, Eliza Hay’s husband served in the Virginia House of Delegates in Richmond, until moving to Washington in 1822 and going into private law practice.

While Hortensia Hay would come to help her grandfather in organizing his papers before the family vacated the White House before the end of his presidency, her mother was playing a far more public role on behalf of the First Lady, specifically, and the First Family, generally.

Eliza Hay's Irish harp. (Mone Presidential Library)

Eliza Hay’s Irish harp. (Monroe Presidential Library)

The precise nature of the debilitating ailment afflicting Elizabeth Monroe during her husband’s presidency is indeterminable but there are references to her suffering from both severe arthritis and a condition which led to her “falling.” The latter matched certain symptoms of epilepsy. At public events she was described as youthful but always with an entourage of other women relatives, like her daughters, sisters and nieces.

The bed used by Eliza Monroe Hay in the White House, now at the Decatur House in Washington. (andrewhopkinsart.blogspot.com)

The bed used by Eliza Monroe Hay in the White House, now at the Decatur House in Washington. (andrewhopkinsart.blogspot.com)

Among these Eliza Hay was the most prominent, an outspoken woman with none of the grace of her mother nor submissiveness with which women of her class and era were often expected to behave. There are scant claims that she substituted for her mother on occasion but most accounts pinpoint her as receiving guests along with her mother yet assuming a role more dominant than the First Lady at social figure.

Although it was an era when the details of a President’s family life were largely considered to be private, his daughter assumed the most overt role among them, acting as a sort of modern equivalence of a spokesperson. She never held press conferences or made formal announcements, but she did make distinct verbal declarations during her interactions with members of Congress, the diplomatic corps and other officials in Washington.

The young Eliza Hay, at the time she first lived in Europe. (Monroe Presidential Library and Museum)

The young Eliza Hay, at the time she first lived in Europe. (Monroe Presidential Library and Museum)

Whereas the President and First Lady had only first gone to Europe as adults to fulfill two assignments of his diplomatic career, most importantly as Minister to France, their eldest child, Eliza, was only eight years old in 1794, when they first lived on the Continent. In 1803, they returned, bringing with them their infant daughter Maria who was sixteen years younger than her sister.

Eliza Hay’s entire outlook was heavily influenced by her French education and friends. She was enrolled at the elite Parisian private school of Madame Campan, the former lady-in-waiting to Queen Marie Antoinette. She also befriended many women of European royal families and would later count Queen of Holland Hortense de Beauharnois and Queen of Naples Caroline Bonaparte.

Hortensia di Beauharnais, friend of Eliza Hay, who named her daughter after the future Queen of Holland. (wikipedia)

Hortensia di Beauharnais, friend of Eliza Hay, who named her daughter after the future Queen of Holland. (wikipedia)

To what degree Eliza Hay coordinated the protocol established during the Monroe Administration with her father is unclear. Certainly the presidential social life which Mrs. Hay dominated suggested the same sense of American autonomy in its own hemisphere and an effort to protect the contiguous United States from being colonized by foreign countries.

Mrs. Hay and Mrs. Monroe refused to make the first social call on foreign diplomats, a snub which symbolized the prerogative of the United States government to determine its own rules in its own land.

Eliza Hay was also the Monroe presidential family member who decided that the guests at her sister Maria’s March 9, 1820 White House wedding would be limited to some four dozen relatives and close friends and that invitations would not be made to the diplomatic corps, nor would their gifts be acknowledged. Further, she agreed to attend a charity ball as a guest on the peculiar condition that her presence as the First Daughter not be acknowledged.

Maria Monroe, White House bride and sister of Eliza Hay. (Monroe Presidential Library)

Maria Monroe, White House bride and sister of Eliza Hay. (Monroe Presidential Library)

She could often be dismissive towards those who made polite inquiries about her husband and his well-being.

The foreign representatives were so taken aback by Mrs. Hay’s rudeness that they formally protested the President’s protocol shift from the less exclusive Jefferson and Madison Administrations. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams made it the subject of discussion at two Cabinet meetings but the Monroes insisted on adherence to their new regulations.

Secretary of State Adams.

Secretary of State Adams.

Margaret Bayard Smith, wife of the of the newspaper National Intelligencer editor, who often provided brief items about Presidents and their families for the paper, nevertheless also chronicled how Eliza Hay ignored threats to her own health by serving as a volunteer nurse to local residents who were suffering during a malaria outbreak.

After the presidency, Eliza Hay remained a central figure in the Monroe family, sometimes at odds with her brother-in-law on how to best seek government restitution for the large sums of personal spending which her parents had outlaid during their years of foreign public service.

Monroe laying out his famous doctrine to his Cabinet.

Monroe laying out his famous doctrine to his Cabinet.

Eliza Hay’s mother and husband both died in 1830, her father a year later.

Although she still had a married daughter living in the United States, this widowed White House hostess returned to France, where she seemed to have most naturally felt at home, converting to Catholicism and living in a convent.

She is buried not with her family members in Virginia, but in Paris.

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First Ladies who never married Presidents. Left to right, top row: Martha Randolph, Anna Roosevelt, Jane Harrison, Harriet Lane, Priscilla Tyler, Chelsea Clinton; second row: Helene Taft, Jane Findlay, Martha Patterson, Mary Stover, Angelica Van Buren, Letitia Semple; third row: Abby Fillmore, Rose Cleveland, Sarah Jackson; bottom row: Margaret Wilson, Helen Bones, Susan Ford, Emily Donelson, Abigail Means, Molly McElroy, Mary McKee, Eliza Hay.

First Ladies who never married Presidents. Left to right, top row: Martha Randolph, Anna Roosevelt, Jane Harrison, Harriet Lane, Priscilla Tyler, Chelsea Clinton; second row: Helene Taft, Jane Findlay, Martha Patterson, Mary Stover, Angelica Van Buren, Letitia Semple; third row: Mary Fillmore, Rose Cleveland, Sarah Jackson; bottom row: Margaret Wilson, Helen Bones, Susan Ford, Emily Donelson, Abigail Means, Molly McElroy, Mary McKee, Eliza Hay.

This is an introductory essay to a forthcoming series on the National First Ladies Library Blog about some of the most obscure yet often most important “other women” of the White House, with individual articles coming in the weeks and months ahead.

With a series of presidential spouses in the White House who have, for over a half a century now, been healthy and vital as well as interested in assuming public responsibilities, it is hard to conceive of the role of First Lady being assumed by anyone other than the person who happens to be married to the President.

President Harrison, daughter Mary McKee and grandson Baby McKee. (Benjamin Harrison Home website)

President Harrison, daughter Mary McKee and grandson Baby McKee. (Benjamin Harrison Home website)

Yet there have been some two dozen First Ladies who had a variety of family relationships with Presidents other than that of spouse, being daughters, daughters-in-law, niece, sisters, cousin, and aunts.

Even when these “other women” are acknowledged as “surrogate First Ladies” or “White House hostesses,” the titles by which they are often designated, little to no consideration is given to the value their presence provided a President in private or what the nature of their uncertain status revealed about the nation’s evolving perceptions of the presidency.

It’s been a century since there was an incumbent President who was either widowed or had a wife unable or unwilling to assume any public duties or fulfill the traditional expectations placed on them as the spouse of the nation’s chief executive.

Yet even in the intervening years, the nation has seen some brief moments when schedule or health prevented a presidential wife from being able to make public appearances with her husband and a daughter has substituted on her behalf to both fulfill traditional expectations for the public and press and to serve as a companion of familial support for the President.

Helene Taft aided her mother as hostess during the First Lady’s last social season, when her poor health required assistance.

Chelsea Clinton was her father’s companion during a state visit to Australia, while her mother was campaigning for the U.S. Senate.

Anna Roosevelt was her father’s companion during his World War II conference at Yalta.

Susan Ford served presided as hostess over a state dinner when her mother was recovering from breast cancer surgery.

Susan Ford with her father and the family dog Liberty on the White House South Lawn. (GRFL)

Susan Ford with her father and the family dog Liberty on the White House South Lawn. (GRFL)

Like that modern trio, most of the other “surrogate” First Ladies were presidential daughters.

Three daughters assumed the First Lady role upon their mothers dying in the White House: Letty Tyler Semple, Mary Harrison McKee and Margaret Wilson. Margaret Wilson shared the duties with the President’s cousin Helen Bones, who had worked for the first Mrs. Wilson as personal secretary.

Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren and Chester Arthur were the four Presidents who assumed office as widowers. Jefferson’s daughter Martha Randolph, Jackson’s niece and daughter-in-law Emily Donelson and Sarah Jackson, Van Buren’s daughter Angelica Van Buren, and Arthur’s sister Molly McElroy served for varying lengths for them.

James Buchanan and Grover Cleveland were both bachelors when they assumed the presidency.

Cleveland’s sister Rose Elizabeth served as his First Lady until he married fifteen months into his administration.

Harriet Lane. (Picture History)

Harriet Lane. (Picture History)

Buchanan’s niece Harriet Lane acted as his hostess and was a highly visible public figure, assuming all of the roles a presidential wife of that era would have. By her prominence yet lacking the marital status of presidential wife, the press bestowed on her the term “First Lady,” making her the first woman who was publicly referenced by that unofficial title. Among all the “other women” of the White House, Harriet Lane served for the longest period of time, the full four years of the Buchanan presidency.

Andrew and Eliza Johnson with their daughters Martha and Mary.  Tennessee State Museum Collection

Andrew and Eliza Johnson with their daughters Martha and Mary as children. (Tennessee State Museum Collection)

Five daughters and one daughter-in-law assumed the leading public role of hostess at Administration social events while their mothers or mother-in-law, with either chronic health problems or disinterest, assumed control of presidential private life and entertaining: Eliza Hay (James Monroe’s daughter), Priscilla Tyler (John Tyler’s daughter-in-law), Betty Bliss (Zachary Taylor’s daughter), Mary Fillmore (Millard Fillmore’s daughter) and Martha Patterson and Mary Stover (Andrew Johnson’s daughters).

Presidential wife Anna Harrison had every intention of coming in the warmer spring weather from her Ohio farm to join her husband in the White House after his 1841 inauguration but in her absence daughter-in-law Jane Harrison and Jane’s aunt, the former congressional wife Jane Findlay, acted as hostesses for the brief one-month administration.

Anna Roosevelt talks with the British Ambassador during the 1945 Yalta Conference, to which she accompanied her father as aide. (FDRL)

Anna Roosevelt talks with the British Ambassador during the 1945 Yalta Conference, to which she accompanied her father as aide. (FDRL)

Struggling with depression and keeping herself from public view during a mourning period for her son, Jane Pierce relied on her aunt-by-marriage Abby Kent Means to assume household management and the fulfillment of the public duties of hostess.

Who these figures were as real human beings, how they came to assume the public role of First Lady, what their presence meant to a President and how the rest of their post-White House lives played out will be explored in this forthcoming NFLL Blog series.

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Congressional Club banner at 100th anniversary of the First Ladies' Luncheon

Congressional Club banner at 100th anniversary of the First Ladies’ Luncheon.

One of the time honored traditions each Spring in Washington DC is the spectacle known as the First Ladies’ Luncheon.

2012 Luncheon

2012 Luncheon.

A  ticket to lunch with the current First Lady and 1300-1400 associates of members of Congress and/or Cabinet members in the intimate ballroom at the Washington Hilton; these invites are coveted and not easily obtained.

It is a fashion show of luncheon attire that could rival gowns at the Academies and it’s as much fun to just hang out in the Hilton lobby and observe the latest trends of the season as to be a participant. One  year hats were in style and the “plummery” was so abundant  one could hardly see across the room to view the First Lady at the podium.

Centerpiece FLL 2013

Centerpiece FLL, 2013.

Started by the Congressional Club in 1912, the event was originally a breakfast and later morphed into a luncheon, now held at the Washington Hilton in the Grand Ballroom. It was originally at the Shoreham Hotel, but in the late 80’s outgrew that space.

Each member of the Club is permitted to bring three guests. Currently there are 693 members (More information on the Congressional Club and its history will appear in my next blog post). Guests come from around the country and the world to attend the event, some staying on to enjoy the sights in Washington, others just blasting in for a quick overnight. Sometimes local restaurants have specials in honor of the event and even cardboard cutouts of the President and First Lady for patrons to pose beside.

author & friends with "waxy" Michelle

Author & friends with “waxy” Michelle, 2010.

One year Madame Tussauds’ Wax Museum provided wax statues of the current and former First Ladies. Guests at the luncheon could wait in the queue and have a picture taken with the lifelike replica of the First Lady. It was a memento to take home and impress friends with your proximity to the First Lady!

Mary Regula, past pres. of Congressional Club 2012

Mary Regula, past president of the Congressional Club.

Pomp and circumstance opens the show with the Marine Band and the introduction of the Junior hostesses, daughters and granddaughters of Congressional Club members. This is followed by the introduction of distinguished guests. The First Lady is then introduced and follows the preceding guests walking down the cat walk in the center of the ballroom. She is escorted, as are the distinguished guests, by a Marine.

This procedure has varied over the years and at one time all the past presidents of the Congressional Club came down the runway also, but in the last couple years this has not been the case.

Mrs. Obama  FLL 2012

Mrs. Obama speaking at the FLL 2012.

Centerpiece First Ladies' Luncheon 2014

Centerpiece at the First Ladies Luncheon 2014.

Every year the luncheon has a different theme and everything from the tablecloths to the favors (always some type of bag filled to the brim with goodies) to the centerpieces revolves around this theme. Generally the theme is inspired by the state from whence the chairman of the luncheon committee hails. Goodies in the bag usually come from the state and the food on the menu is representative as well.

This year the chair was from Illinois and the theme was America the Beautiful. The unusual appetizer was St Patty’s Day Chicago River Soup with Corned Beef & Cabbage Dumpling.

Corned beef cabbage soup 2014

Corned beef cabbage soup, 2014.

This year’s goodie bag included a “dove of peace” pin of hand-made pewter plated with 18k gold and designed by Lois Breaux, wife of former Senator John Breaux. Also included was a nifty purse hanger (not so useful for the males in attendance) and the usual variety of small snacks; popcorn from a specialty factory in IL and a cookie with the Congressional Club seal on it.

Goodie bag! 2012 First Ladies' Luncheon

Goodie bag! 2012 First Ladies’ Luncheon.

Every year it’s a treat to see what’s in the bag and normally restrained women gleefully open them before the ceremony starts or surreptitiously look them through during lunch. A personal favorite was the year the chairwoman was from Florida and it was a beach bag filled with a huge beach towel with the CC seal and a pair of leather thong sandals as well.

Cherry Blossum dessert 2014

Cherry Blossom dessert, 2014.

Usually there is a one of a kind piece of jewelry made especially for the event and perfume is a favorite as well. Again always keeping with the theme or representative of the State affiliation of the Chair.

After being satiated with the gourmet lunch the fun begins with the entertainment. Always spectacular this is a highlight of the event. This year it was Ken Ford, an electric violinist. Not only was his violin electric, his performance was as well. He danced, played and gyrated down the runway giving a breath taking, hand clapping, foot stomping show.

Ken Ford performs at First Ladies' Luncheon 2014

Ken Ford performs at First Ladies’ Luncheon, 2014.

In a previous year Gloria Estafan literally had the entire audience up dancing to her high energy tunes. Other entertainment has included a former American Idol winner, Ruben Studdard.

LeeAnn Womack entertains in 2012

LeeAnn Womack entertains in 2011.

A good time and a special memory; the First Ladies Luncheon is a unique experience. Each year more and more male faces appear in the crowd of what used to be exclusively women, a  sign of changing times. Spouses of members of Congress, Justices of the Supreme court and Diplomats are no longer all women!!

One last note: One of my guests learned the hard way not to leave the goodie bag anywhere a four legged friend might want to search to see what was missed at the First Ladies Luncheon.

oops!

oops!

yum, was that the Congressional Club cookie?  loved it!

yum, was that the Congressional Club cookie I just ate? loved it!

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Impressionism Painting of Ellen Wilson

One of Few Female American Impressionists:
First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson

by Nassem Al-Mehairi

Ellen Wilson (Library of Congress)

Ellen Wilson (Library of Congress)

Ellen Axson Wilson was the wife of the 28th President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson. In a period marked by flashy attire and the beginnings of globalization, First Lady Wilson was a woman who found solace in painting the world around her.

Ellen Axson Wilson was born on May 15th, 1860 in Savannah, Georgia. Her love of art was cemented when, at the age of 18, she won a bronze medal at the Paris International Exposition for her art piece School Scene. She married Woodrow Wilson in 1885, and in 1890 the family went to Princeton University, where Woodrow became a professor. As she began to have to take on further social responsibilities, she took refuge in art. She found herself putting self-second, but saw no reason why she should have give up her love of art.

One of Ellen Wilson's landscape paintings.

One of Ellen Wilson’s landscape paintings.

In 1905, Ellen entered a deep depression after the death of her sister-in-law, youngest brother, and a child. She joined an art colony in Connecticut and developed her art even further. It was here Ellen chose to paint motifs such as mountain laurels and the river. She returned here nearly every year after this.

In November 1911, Ellen sent one of her pieces to the MacBeth Gallery in New York under a fake alias. When she revealed her real identity, the gallery owner encouraged her to enter more works and eventually began to act as her agent and advocate.

Ellen was influential in getting her husband the Democratic Nomination for President in 1912. She made sure that he met William Jennings Bryan and made an impression on party leaders.

Shortly before the inauguration of President Wilson, a one-woman show of 50 of Ellen’s art pieces opened in Philadelphia. The funds that came from that exhibition went to the Berry School in Georgia to help underprivileged children. Other than her family, Ellen’s other greatest passion was to help reform social issues.

Another image of one of Ellen Wilson's paintings.

Another image of one of Ellen Wilson’s paintings.

In the summer of 1913, Ellen Wilson went to an art colony in Cornish, New Hampshire. The letters sent between Woodrow and Ellen show how much he relied and leaned on her.

When First Lady Wilson returned to the White House in the fall of 1913, she planned to use the studio that had been installed for her there. Soon, however, she began to realize that her social duties had to take precedence. She influenced the cause of the slums of Washington D.C., and she visited areas of them. She lent her prestige to bring this to the attention of Congress and other officials.

As First Lady, she also utilized her love of art and created the Rose Garden, with the assistance of the gardener she had during her time at Princeton. This was a way Ellen could display her artistic ability while fulfilling her social roles.

Ellen Wilson had suffered from a kidney issue since she was young, but never was able to be diagnosed with any disease. As her health began to deteriorate, her daughter Jessie moved her wedding up for Ellen to be able to see it. This went through, and was one of the happiest moments of her life, but depleted her bit of remaining strength. On August 6th, 1914, Ellen Wilson passed away, leaving behind a legacy through her work as a social activist and as an artist.

            Ellen Wilson was one of the few women who painted in the Impressionist style. Her work incorporates the themes, brushstrokes, and color palette that defined this artistic period. A woman who remarkably balanced her art with her duties as mother, wife, First Lady, reformer, and activist, Ellen Wilson leaves behind a legacy we feel still today in society and nation.

 Currently, there is an amazing exhibit on display at the National First Ladies Library entitled, “The Art of First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson, American Impressionist,” which includes her art, her letters to President Wilson, and a movie about her life. The display will run until May 16, 2014.

Author Note: I personally was able to see the exhibit displaying Ellen Wilson’s art and it was fascinating. It had fascinating information on a First Lady who had such an amazing life. I would recommend it for anyone.

Author photo.

Author photo.

Nassem Al-Mehairi was born in 1999. Possessing unique viewpoints due to his heritage and the times, he is well-suited to understand the solutions to modern issues, such as domestic poverty, international relations, and women’s rights. He aspires to higher education, law, and politics, as well as to continue writing.

Mr. Al-Mehairi is an author and currently runs the personal online column Seize The Moment. He is in progress of writing a novel about his maternal line ancestor Baron Resolved Waldron, who resided in New Amsterdam (now New York) in 1610-1690. 

He resides in Ashland, Ohio.

Note: Seize the Moment above links to www.nassemalmehairi.wordpress.com

 

 

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