A Frances Cleveland button, her image set against a Kansas sunflower. (Columbus Dispatch/Eric Albrecht)
(This is a second in an original ten-part series being run exclusively on the National First Ladies’ Library website blog on the history of presidential candidates’ spouses being used as campaign symbols. If any of this information is used, you must credit the NFLL Blog. If the images are used please credit the NFLL and the original publisher as listed)
Considering how highly visible she would become as First Lady, there were surprisingly no badges, ribbons, buttons or other appropriated images of Lucy Hayes during her husband’s 1876 presidential campaign.
A cabinet card sold to the public of Liucy Hayes. While some sources list it as being made in 1880, thus during the campaign, it is known that she posed for the photographer who went only by the name of Mora, in 1877, when she was Firstr Lady. (pinterest)
It may have been simply due to the fact that, at least during the election season awareness of Mrs. Hayes and the rare fact that she achieved a college education and took an active role outside the home in statewide charitable institutions was confined largely to Ohio.
At one point during her White House years, there was a composite family portrait made and sold to the public, showing the President, his wife and their children, in the same larger engraving format intended for wall framing as had been done with the Lincolns and the Grants during the Civil War.
With her husband’s 1880 campaign being conducted from the front porch of the family’s farmhouse in Mentor, Ohio, Lucretia Garfield seemed to have unwittingly earned a somewhat larger public profile.
Edith Mayo, a former Smithsonian curator of political history recalled that Mrs. Garfield had been depicted on a smaller-size campaign poster promoting her husband’s candidacy.
There were also printed cards made in matching pairs of James Garfield and his wife sold to the public during the campaign, a mark of technological advance from the days where carte-de-visite cards were the only available format.
The matching 1880 campaign cabinet cards of the Garfields. (bidsquare.com)
Larger in size and more durable, they were known as cabinet cards. The twin Garfield cards continued to be printed and sold after his election and inauguration.
Shortly after Garfield won the nomination, chromolithographer Louis Kurz, an Austrian immigrant who served in the Civil War, established with his financing partner Alexander Allison the Chicago firm of Kurz and Allison.
Although he sought to capitalize on nostalgia among aging veterans by creating famous battle scenes, he also acted quickly to produce the first of his famous series of scenes showing famous figures and their families.
Using released images of candidate Garfield, his wife and his elderly mother, Kurz crafed a composite image posing them as if they were all together, around the proverbial hearth of home.
The first of four Garfield lithographs by Kurz and Allison. (Library of Congress)
The print was sold as a campaign item among Republican loyalists.
At some point before Election Day, he made a second one, larger and more elaborate which showed the trio along with the five children of the candidate.
Kurz would go on to do two more Garfield family lithographs for framing and hanging on the walls of American homes.
The second Garfield lithograph made as a campaign item, its first printing being dates as October 17, 1881. (Library of Congress)
It is not entirely certain what prompted this or when exactly these were produced.
Both have a copyright registration of 1882, suggesting that public sentiment following the assassination of President Garfield created a market for these.
Kurz would make similar posthumous family prints of Civil War figures, former President Grant and former Confederate President Jefferson Davis, when they died, capitalizing on the mourning among their admirers.
Kurz resumed his lucrative industry during the 1888, 1892 and 1896 campaigns.
The second Harrison family print, first printed on December 24, 1888 (Library of Congress)
Using the same pattern he had in depicting Lucretia Garfield and her family, during the 1888 campaign he made family prints of the Republican presidential candidate and his wife, Benjamin and Caroline Harrison.
After the election but before the inauguration, he released a second version, this time including their adult children who it was publicly disclosed would be living in the White House with their parents, and their own small children their adult children.
The McKinley family print, the candidate sitting between his wife Ida and mother Nancy. (Library of Congress)
In 1884, Kurz skipped out on his industrious effort since the Democratic presidential candidate, Grover Cleveland, was then a bachelor.
Not having any children, however, was not a factor apparently preventing his efforts.
In 1896, he made a print of Republican presidential candidate William McKinley, his elderly mother Nancy McKinley and his wife Ida McKinley.
The Bryans. (Library of Congress)
He had a considerably more crowded version to produce when it came to that year’s Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, his wife Mary Bryan and their three children.
Baby Ruth seated on Frances Cleveland’s lap in this 1892 campaign print by Currier & Ives. (Library of Congress)
It is unclear if the Bryan family print was updated to coincide with his 1900 candidacy in his second race against by-then incumbent President William McKinley.
In 1888, President Cleveland had been defeated in his re-election quest by Benjamin Harrison.
Four years later, when he again faced off against by-then incumbent President Harrison, the former President not only had a wife, but a child. In the second year of his first term, Cleveland had famously married in the White House, making the young Frances Folsom his bride.
Frances Cleveland’s image was used to sell products like kidney and liver pills. (NFLL)
They left the White House without children, but in the interim four years their first child Ruth was born.
Thus, with the 1892 Cleveland campaign, he finally made his way onto a print, this time by the famous New York engraving company Currier & Ives. It showed “Baby Ruth” being held by Frances Cleveland.
Frances Cleveland on an 1888 campaign ribbon. (amres.com)
Not since the 1856 Republican presidential candidate’s spouse Jessie Fremont had there been a woman potentially on her way to the White House who captured the public imagination more than Frances Cleveland.
By the time President Cleveland was making his first re-election campaign, in 1888, his wife had become the most famous and beloved woman in the country.
Frances Cleveland on the 1888 Democratic Convention program. (Library of Congress)
Women copied her hairstyle, her posture and gestures. Manufacturers of women’s powders and pills promising lovely skin, sewing machines, wallpaper and other household furnishings all appropriated her image on their advertising icon.
It was soon enough noted by political opponents of the Cleveland that she was a visible asset to her husband’s reputation, despite the fact that her persona was in no way linked to his policies.
Even though women did not have the political power of the vote, they were considered a general influence on their husbands. As the 1888 campaign ensued, there were a small number of women’s groups who organized as “Frances Cleveland Influence Clubs.”
Frances Cleveland appeared on an 1892 campaign double-ribbon. (JimSteinhart copyright 2011)
While President Cleveland was outraged at his wife’s image being exploited, he must have either approved or turned a blind eye to the fact that the First Lady’s image was used with his on the cover of the National Democratic Convention’s official program.
A coin with both Clevelands with a hole at the top enabling it to be worn as a campaign emblem. (pinterest)
It wasn’t long before the wife of the 1888 Democratic presidential candidate’s appeared between and above both Cleveland and his vice-presidential running mate on a campaign poster, and some silk ribbon badges with him.
Any number of pins and buttons depicting Frances Cleveland were made by local welcoming committees during her regional tours with the President. Some of these seemed to have been recycled for use during the 1888 campaign.
Caroline Harrison was included in an 1888 campaign poster depicting multi-generations of her husband’s family, including their two adult children and his grandfather, President William Henry Harrison. (carlanthonyonline.com)
Perhaps to counteract the frequently seen campaign image of the popular Mrs. Cleveland, supporters of her husband’s opponent Benjamin Harrison used the image of his wife, Caroline Harrison on some paraphernalia, though to a far less extend.
Mrs. Harrison on an 1888 campaign ribbon. (amrescom)
The following election, the second face-off between Cleveland and Harrison saw far less use of Frances Cleveland, and seemingly none of Caroline Harrison.
In 1896, Mary Bryan, the Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, received a considerably larger degree of press coverage.
Mrs. Bryan’s sudden thrust into the national news focused on the unusual fact that she had earned her law degree, and was a full political partner to her husband.
Despite having three young children, she traveled extensively with him as he stumped the nation on his whistle stop tours, delivering speeches.
The 1896 campaign poster using Mary Bryan, with her husband and children. (original source unknown)
While all of the publicity she received may have factored into her being used on a campaign poster, it may also have been simply a matter of following the pattern used with Frances Cleveland and Caroline Harrison.
A more peculiar campaign item that was made during the 1896 campaign was the joint appearance of the Democratic candidate’s wife not with her husband – but with the Republican candidate’s wife, Ida McKinley.
A paper plate made to appear like china carried the images of both Ida McKinley and Mary Bryan, along with images of their homes. It may have been used as a fan. (Historic New England)
Although frequently described as a paper plate made to resemble a china one, the item seems more likely to have served the more practical use of being a hand fan, always welcome in an era before air-conditioning.
The reasons Ida McKinley was featured on any number of items used to promote her husband’s 1896 election were far different than any previous candidates’ spouses.
An 1896 campaign souvenir card showed not only William and Ida McKinley but their long-dead daughter Katie. (NFLL)
Although McKinley ensured that his wife’s condition of seizure disorder was never disclosed with any detail and that the word “epilepsy” was never used in connection with her, he had built a legendary reputation for his herculean devotion to her well-being.
McKinley’s commitment to Ida’s care was publicized not only as a personal virtue, but extrapolated to signal that he was capable of supreme sacrifice and dedication in all that he did, and such qualities would ensure that his Administration would be disciplined and capable.
Mrs. McKinley, eager to do everything and anything possible to promote her husband, was a willing subject used on a number of campaign items.
The McKinley chromo-lithograph. (NFLL)
There were postcards showing her with McKinley, including one that inserted the image of their long-dead daughter Katie.
A large, color chromo-lithograph that depicted them in dual cameo profiles was printed in large quantities and copies of it are still readily available in antique stores and at auctions.
An Ida McKinley stickpin. (NFLL)
One particular item, although not made in large numbers, was especially appealing. It was a badge, consisting of a ribbon and a large, glass-globed photographs of the Republican candidate’s spouse.
The Ida McKinley campaign badge (NFLL)
The National First Ladies’ Library and the Smithsonian are known to each have an example of it. Mrs. McKinley, who had a collection of campaign buttons with her husband’s image, was also known to own one.
The 1896 campaign use of Ida McKinley as an 1896 campaign symbol appears to have been something of a turning point.
She seems not to have been used again when her husband ran for re-election in 1900.
However, there does exist a button identifying her and her husband as “The President and Mrs. McKinley,” that might have been issued that year – or to commemorate one of their regional junkets where massive crowds came out to greet them.
Following his 1901 assassination and the assumption of the presidency by his second Vice President Theodore Roosevelt assumed office.
A 1904 silk calendar printed with an image of Edith Roosevelt. (Smithsonian)
This button have been issued for use in the McKinley 1900 campaign. (pinterest)
When Roosevelt ran for his own full term in 1904, however, despite his wife and children being enormously popular celebrities in the press, none of them appeared on any of his colorful campaign items.
There is only one item that made use of Edith Roosevelt’s image in 1904, a silk calendar; that it was produced and sold in her husband’s re-election campaign year, it was distributed not to promote his candidacy but for an apparent commercial enterprise, much as Frances Cleveland had been exploited.
By the first decade of the 20th century, with enlarged photographs more easily printed and sold, the era of the presidential candidate’s wife and family appearing on prints marketed during the quadrennial election cycle was over.
The odd print using photographs of Nellie Taft and her family set in a drawing room – that was drawn. (Library of Congress)
One such final image was struck in 1908, showing Republican presidential candidate William Howard Taft, his wife Nellie Taft and their three children Robert, Helene and Charlie.
Using real photographs rather than drawings engraved from pictures, the scenario looked awkward and fake.
During the boisterous 1912 presidential election when former President Theodore Roosevelt failed to take the Republican presidential nomination away from incumbent President Taft and decided to run as a third-party candidate on the Progressive ticket, neither of their wives appeared on any campaign paraphernalia. Not was Ellen Wilson, wife of the victorious Democratic presidential candidate, used on any badges or buttons.
There was, briefly and in very limited quantities it seems, some use of the spouses on a turn-of-the-century version of the old carte-de-visite, as images of postcards that were sold during the latter part of their husbands’ presidential campaigns.
A postcard of the Taft family. (cincinnativiews.com)
Carrying no slogan or reference to the sender’s support of any particular presidential candidate, postcards showing formal photographs of Nellie Taft and Ellen Wilson seem to have been marketed strictly as novelty items intended to make sales, not elect presidents.
Color close-up facial portraits of Edith Roosevelt and Nellie Taft would also be used on small plates, intended for display rather than carrying food.
Edith Roosevelt plate. (ebay)
The uniformity of the plates’ design and size indicate that these were produced by the same manufacturer as part of a series first begun sometime between 1893 and 1897, with earlier versions depicting Frances Cleveland and Ida McKinley (one of Mrs. Lincoln was also created, posthumously).
In the case of all of the first three First Ladies of the 20th century, their images would also be appropriated for use on tin trays that were made after the 1904, 1908 and 1912 elections as souvenirs anticipating the March 4, 1905, 1909 and 1913 Inauguration Days when brisk sales from vendor carts along Pennsylvania Avenue were always guaranteed.
The Wilson tray. (firstladies.org)
The wives, however, were but one of several images used, the President and their children and usually an image of their new home also part of the design.
These postcards, plates and trays were likely made for a largely women’s market.
Susan B. Anthony was perhaps the woman most regularly featured on political-related emblems. (ebay)
While national newspapers and weekly magazines had, by the turn of the century, ensured that the names and faces of First Ladies were turned into national celebrities, their appeal was still rooted in their symbolism as role models of domesticity, ruling the roost of the nation’s first and foremost house.
In truth, of course, there was also a concurrent and growing movement, soon to culminate in success, seeking to not replace the traditional place of the woman in the home, but to expand it, into the realm of civic life, which had always strictly been the domain of the man.
The thirty or so years preceding 1920, when all American women were finally guaranteed the right to vote by constitutional amendment was a period when presidential election years were more likely to find that the images of women on buttons, badges and ribbons were not the wives of presidential candidates, but the women seeking to grant all women the right to vote.