Tuesday, May 3, 2016

White House Weddings: Grover Cleveland

Several weddings have been held at the White House through the decades, but only one was for a sitting president. On June 2, 1886, 49-year old President Grover Cleveland married 21-year old Frances Folsom.
from Harper's Weekly, public domain
Inaugurated for the first time in 1885 (Cleveland was elected twice non-consecutively, as the 22nd and 24th presidents), bachelor Cleveland was the former law partner of Frances’ father, Oscar, and when Frances was born, the 27-year old Cleveland purchased her baby carriage. 

When Frances (or "Frankie") was eleven, Oscar died in a carriage accident. Cleveland took charge of Oscar’s estate and Frances’ education. Behind the scenes, he'd already taken responsibility for an illegitimate child either he or Oscar could have fathered. (This became public knowledge during Cleveland's presidential campaign, when the opposition taunted him with the phrase, "Ma! Ma! Where's my Pa?", although Cleveland financially supported the boy.)

Several acquaintances of Cleveland and Folsom expected him to eventually marry Oscar’s widow.

No one saw his marriage to Frances coming.
Grover Cleveland. Public Domain
Cleveland hadn’t been in office long when Frances, a student at Wells College in New York, paid a social call to the White House along with her mother. 
Frances Folsom Cleveland.jpg
Frances Cleveland, 1886. Public Domain
Cleveland fell hard for the young lady. He sent her letters and filled her dorm room with flowers. He proposed via letter in the summer of 1885, and she accepted. They kept the engagement a secret from their friends and the press for almost a year; five days before the wedding, in June of 1886, they sent out invitations.

The wedding was held in the Blue Room on the first floor of the White House. Twenty-eight guests attended, which included relatives and members of the Cabinet. Two pastors officiated, one of whom was Cleveland’s brother William, and at the request of the couple, Frances changed her marriage vows. Instead of promising to “honor, love and obey,” she vowed to “honor, love and keep” her husband. The US Marine Band provided music, conducted by John Philip Sousa himself.

Cleveland wore a tuxedo and white tie; Frances wore an ivory satin gown that was apparently so stiff it could stand up by itself. (Later, she altered it to an evening gown so she could wear it again.)
Harper's Weekly, Public Domain

While the wedding may have been small, no expense was spared on decorations. Red begonias, representing fire, filled the hearth. Over the mantel, the letters "C" and "F" were spelled out in an arrangement of pansies. Palms flanked the walls, and the chandelier was decorated with smilax and roses.

It seems every room on the state floor received a floral treatment. The Green and Red Rooms boasted bouquets in vases. Likewise, The East Room was filled with palms set in porcelain jardinieres. The Cross Hall columns were wound with garlands of smilax, greenery, and Union shields made of red, white and blue flowers. Since it was summer, the fireplaces were closed up and the hearths filled with bouquets.

It isn’t clear which room in the White House was the site of the reception--probably the State Dining Room--but the floral displays didn't disappoint there, either. The Monroe plateau covered the table, and a floral ship sailed upon it. 

Guests feasted on a 20-lb salmon and a 25-lb cake. Guests were sent home with boxes of groom cake, a chunk of which is still on display at the Grover Cleveland Birthplace Museum in New Jersey. No extraordinary attempts have been made to preserve it, but the alcohol-soaked fruitcake is nevertheless still around.
A piece of Grover Cleveland's wedding cake.
Roadside America photographed the cake. Blog article here.
Clearly a small, private affair, the marriage was a matter of great interest. Reporters had been barred from attending the ceremony, but they followed the couple on their honeymoon to Deer Park, Maryland, going so far as to spy on the couple in their room using binoculars.
Engraved White House Wedding Announcement. President Grover Cleveland to Francis Folsom. Executive Mansion. 1886.:
Engraved announcement of the wedding, sent out afterwards.
The marriage proved happy, and the couple had five children, including the first child born in the White House, second daughter, Esther. (Their first child, Ruth, was born between Cleveland’s presidential terms. A longstanding legend is that Baby Ruth candy bars was named for her, but this is disputed.)

A few other interesting facts about this White House couple?
·         Frances remains the youngest First Lady in US History.
·         The 27-year age difference between the Clevelands is not the greatest age difference between a president and his spouse. That title goes to John Tyler, whose second wife Julia was 30 years his junior.
·         Frances was the first presidential widow to remarry.
First Lady Frances Cleveland by Anders Zorn. Public Domain
When Cleveland died in 1908, Frances raised their young children and remained in Princeton, NJ. Although she married again five years later (to an archaeology professor from her alma mater, Wells University), she chose to be buried beside her first husband.


Your Turn: The Baby Ruth candy bar may have been named after the Clevelands' daughter, Ruth. What's your favorite candy bar?



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.


  1. Great post, Susanne! Can you imagine the grief the press would give that couple today? Thanks for sharing.

    1. Excellent point, Linore! It would cause quite the media circus. I think it's interesting that they kept the engagement a secret until just before the wedding, and even then they managed to keep things quiet.

      But today...the dress would be analyzed, as would her hair and makeup...it would take up an issue of People Magazine!

  2. Thank you for your great post. My favorite candy bar is a Milky Way.

    1. Hi Melanie! Glad you enjoyed the post.

      Milky Ways are yummy!

  3. Thank you for your great post. My favorite candy bar is a Milky Way.

  4. What a wonderful glimpse into history! My favorite candy bar happens to be the Baby Ruth...lol

  5. It's so romantic. sigh. That fruitcake shows why it was such a great item to send to the soldiers and sailors of both world wars. Nutritious, tasty, a long-keeper, and good enough for a weapon if needed.

    Thanks, Susie.

    1. LOL about the weapon, Anita! Ha!

      It is romantic. Love is wonderful! <3