Sunday, April 3, 2016

White House Weddings: Maria Monroe

Maria Hester <i>Monroe</i> Gouverneur
Maria Monroe
The first White House wedding of a president’s child was that of Maria Monroe, daughter of fifth president James Monroe and his wife Elizabeth, to White House staffer (and son of Elizabeth’s sister) Samuel Gouverneur on March 9, 1820.

Maria (pronounced “Moriah”) was seventeen, accomplished, and madly in love with the dashing Samuel. But her wedding caused a bit of talk, and not the good kind.

Maria moved into the White House when she was fourteen years old. Her mother, Elizabeth, viewed the role of First Lady far differently than her predecessor, Dolley Madison. While Mrs. Madison was a popular hostess and public figure, Elizabeth Monroe was reserved and concerned with propriety. Influenced by her time in Europe, she adopted a protocol she felt was more befitting the office of President: limiting access to him and his family.

This protocol was most profoundly executed by refusing to make or receive calls or socialize with political or diplomatic spouses, believing such familiarity would imply official recognition of the president. While this style of etiquette might have been familiar in Europe, it was not well-received in America. (It's also interesting to note that even before the Monroes entered the White House, they lived in Washington D.C. for seven years and rarely entertained.)

Elizabeth Monroe
Elizabeth Monroe, First Lady
The new protocol was not well received. Politicians and diplomats felt snubbed, if not outraged. When the Monroes determined not to host the traditional Independence Day open house, however, the public was insulted, too.

This was the atmosphere in which Maria Monroe planned her wedding.

Or rather, in which she tried to plan her wedding. Elizabeth Monroe was ill, perhaps suffering from epilepsy, so she recruited her 33-yr old daughter Eliza Hay to be her representative in many duties. 
Eliza Kortright <i>Monroe</i> Hay
Eliza Monroe Hay
When Eliza learned that a Russian diplomat inquired about paying his respects at Maria and Samuel's wedding, Eliza put her foot down, citing protocol. Samuel and Maria resented the intrusion, especially when it came to the guest list, but Elizabeth and James Monroe approved Eliza’s changes, and nothing could be done.

In the end, forty two guests—all family and close friends approved by Eliza—gathered in the White House, possibly the Blue Room, which was then called the Elliptical Room. The Rev. William Hawley of St. John’s Episcopal Church officiated. Gifts were discouraged, but they arrived anyway, including a bas relief of the teenage bride and a pianoforte from her parents.

On display at the James Monroe Museum
Directly following, the group adjourned to the State Dining Room for a meal. Since the White House had been burned by the British six years before (during the War of 1812) and rebuilt, the State Dining room, like other rooms, was refurnished in 1817. President Monroe himself ordered green silk wallpaper, two Italian Carrara marble mantelpieces, and a 14-foot long gilded bronze plateau centerpiece from France that could be shortened depending on the size of the table. 

Also added at this time were vermeil flatware and silver dishes (place setting for 72, plus tureens, chafing dishes, and more). The expense was great, which was another complaint lodged by opponents of the Monroes.

The local paper included a 34-word write-up of the wedding. Since no diplomats, reporters, or political cronies were invited, there was apparently very little to say on the matter.

While it is true that early 19th-century weddings were not lavish, and today we would view a family wedding as a private affair, the circumstances surrounding Maria’s wedding were ill-received by Washington society. It should be noted, too, that this was not the wedding Maria or Samuel wanted. They urged President Monroe for a formal reception to smooth ruffled feathers and extend a nod to their friends. He eventually relented, but Elizabeth and Eliza refused to invite the diplomatic corps.

In response, Samuel and Maria scheduled a round of balls--although some of the guests still felt the celebrations were thin. Louisa Adams, whose husband John Quincy Adams was then Secretary of State, came home from one of the receptions disappointed that she received no cake, and therefore her young niece had none to put under her pillow to dream about her future husband.

Nevertheless, Maria and Samuel enjoyed a happy marriage until her death in 1850. They had three children, and Samuel’s role in politics continued, and he became a member of the New York State Assembly. They opened their home to James Monroe after Elizabeth’s death in 1830, and the former president died there. 

As for Eliza? She had a reputation as a “domineering perfectionist who alienated much of Washington’s social and diplomatic worlds with her pretensions” (All the President’s Children, Doug Wead). Whether or not this is fair, one fact cannot be disputed: the first White House wedding of a Presidential child was evidently charged with emotion…just like many a modern day wedding.


Your turn: Did you watch Prince William and Kate Middleton get married on TV?



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 six new and upcoming novellas; her latest, One Word From You, is in White Fire’s Austen in Austin Volume I. You can visit her on her website,

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  1. Thanks for the post. I'd read about this wedding in a Monroe biography. Yes, I did watch the royal wedding. 😊

    1. Hi Rebecca! I'll have to read a biography of Monroe--he was an interesting guy at a very interesting time!

      Alas, I had to DVR the royal wedding, since it was on in the middle of the night at my house. But I DID watch it!

      Thanks for coming by!

  2. Interesting post, Susanne, thanks for sharing! Love the " regency style" on the ladies. :)

  3. This was interesting and very sad, especially since we've always understood that the people in the White House are only there temporarily and their main function is to serve the People. How can you do that if you won't associate with them?

    Yes! I watched Will and Kate's wedding on one channel and taped it on another. Stayed up all night! And then watched the tape repeatedly over the next couple weeks - especially the romantic parts.

    My favorite part was during the service when Will and Kate were sitting up on the dais and facing the speaker. The camera was trained on Kate who was paying attention, but then her face changed, she went very still, and seemed to be far away. I don't know what she thought of for a few minutes but I always imagined it had something to do with the responsibility that went along with marrying Will. Whatever it was, she became aware of her surroundings again after a minute or so. I really loved that intimate moment with her. It was so real.