A record number of former First Ladies decided that they preferred living in the city where they had once held sway as the nation’s most famous woman. Whether they continued to live there or returned after the presidency with their husbands, or as widows, a total of twelve former First Ladies would chose to make Washington, D.C. their home.
One outgoing presidential couple were unique in their life right after the White House, with the former President going directly to their home in New York while the former First Lady moved into their new Washington home.
In 2001, Hillary Clinton began her term as U.S. Senator from New York and lived in a house she and her husband had recently purchased for the purpose of serving as her home base during the week. Even while traveling the world as Secretary of State from 2009 until 2013 it was her residence in the capital city. It remains so.
During the Victorian Age, there was a time when it seemed there was always at least one former First Lady assuming the “Queen Mother” type role, living in Washington and always an honored guest at the White House.
Widowed in 1862 during the Civil War when former president John Tyler died as a member of the Confederate Congress, Julia Tyler arrived back in Washington ten years later, resuming residency in the city where she had first met her husband and become his bride.
In January of 1872, she rented a narrow clapboard townhouse on what was then called Fayette Street, later simply renamed to the numerical 35th Street, in the Georgetown section.
Having converted to Catholicism, she was adamant about enrolling her youngest daughter, Julie, in the Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School for Girls.
Mrs. Tyler’s home was located within walking distance of the school, thus permitting her daughter to live with her.
Two months after returning to the capital, her visit there with successor Julia Grant received considerable publicity for her donation of her portrait to its collection and for display there.
Self-titling herself as “Mrs. Ex-President Tyler,” she would go on to help receive guests in a place of honor at receptions hosted by some of her successors including Lucy Hayes, Molly Arthur McElroy and Rose Cleveland, and maintained a correspondence with Lucretia Garfield.
There was a similar pattern to the Washington life of another former First Lady, although she had never been married to the President she served as hostess for; he was James Buchanan, her uncle.
Seeking to move beyond his death and those of two children and husband, Harriet Lane Johnston sold the late president’s estate and her Baltimore home.
Harriet Lane then created a new life for herself by purchasing a Washington home in 1892, which became her primary residence for the rest of her life.
She was an honored guest at White House dinners and receptions hosted by the Clevelands, Harrisons, McKinleys and Roosevelts.
When her daughter separated from her British husband and then permanently returned to the United States, Julia Grant went to live with her in Washington.
After a brief lease residency at 2018 R Street, NW, the former First Lady and her daughter bought a marble-front mansion at 2111 Massachusetts Avenue that had belonged to Senator George F. Edmunds, of Vermont.
With her independent wealth, Mrs. Grant was able to indulge her love of entertaining, hosting an open reception every Tuesday afternoon during the winter social season months.
She died in her Washington home in 1902.