When Woodrow Wilson and his wife Ellen entered the White House in 1913, two of their three daughters were secretly engaged--secret from the press, that is. The Wilson family was known to appreciate their privacy, and they waited several months to announce their daughters' engagements.
Jessie Woodrow Wilson, the middle daughter, was the first to wed, to Francis B. Sayre on November 25, 1913.
Jessie was already an accomplished young woman. She'd graduated from Groucher College in Maryland and spent three years working in a settlement home, where upper- and middle-class volunteers lived alongside low-income families, providing education and daycare as part of a social reformation movement.
Jessie's intended, 28-year old Frances Sayres, was a district attorney (his father helped build the Lehigh Valley Railroad and organized the Bethlehem Iron Works).
Indeed, the wedding was anticipated to be quiet and intimate, in keeping with the Wilson family's personalities. In advance of the event, the New York Times determined few, if any, celebrities would be in attendance and judged that the cake would be small and "not elaborate."
However, photographs do not necessarily reveal an informal affair--at least not to modern eyes, where "informal" can mean barefoot on a beach. The number of guests was considered small, as well, topping out at 400. Following the 1906 White House wedding of Alice Roosevelt, however, the first Wilson wedding was judged by a different measure.
The Blue Room was decorated with chrysanthemums and touches of mauve, the bride's favorite color. Scarlet-coated members of the Marine Band offered musical accompaniment to the 4:30 pm ceremony. Bridesmaids wore satin gowns in varying hues of pink over silver petticoats, as well as crowns.
Sister Margaret served as maid of honor. Seven of Jessie's sorority sisters were invited to the Blue Room ceremony, which was replete with the scarlet-coated Marine Band and a white carpeted-aisle. One of Jessie's sorority sisters reported later that "it was the nicest, most informal and happiest wedding we had ever attended."*
The dress was of ivory satin, trimmed in antique lace. A Maryland newspaper reports the dress was made in New York, and then described the bride's lingerie for her honeymoon as "dainty."
It's unclear whether the party dined on more than cake, but the cake was reported in the news as a masterpiece. A contemporary account describes it as topped by orchids.
Apparently, the cake cost $500 and weighed 135 pounds. Pieces were distributed in white boxes so guests could bring nibbles home and place them under their pillows to dream of their future spouses.
After their honeymoon in Europe, the Sayres moved to Massachusetts where Francis served as the assistant to the president of Williams College. When it came time for their first child to be born in 1915, however, Jessie delivered her son at the White House.
Two more children followed. Francis Jr. became a pastor and marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., from Selma to Montgomery.
A social activist, Jessie worked on behalf of the YWCA, The League of Women Voters, and the Democratic Party, among other causes. Later, they spent time in Siam (Thailand) where Francis was a legal adviser to the Royal Court.
Sadly, Jessie died in 1933 from complications after surgery. She was 45. Francis remarried Elizabeth Graves and passed away in 1972.
BIO: Susanne Dietze began writing love stories in high school, casting her friends in the starring roles. Today, she writes in the hope that her historical romances will encourage and entertain others. A pastor’s wife and mom of two, she loves fancy-schmancy tea parties, travel, and curling up on the couch with a costume drama and a plate of nachos. Susanne is the author of nine new and upcoming historical romances; her latest, For a Song, is in the EPCA and PW Bestselling The Cowboy's Bride Collection from Barbour. You can visit her on her website, www.susannedietze.com.