Andrew Jackson’s wife Rachel died of a heart attack in December 1828, just a few months before his inauguration. The role of first lady fell to Emily Donelson, Mrs. Jackson’s 21-year-old niece. Donelson presided over numerous presidential parties and helped assist in a luxurious renovation of the White House. She served in this capacity until the so-called “Petticoat Affair and ostracizing of the Secretary of War’s spouse Margaret “Peggy” Eaton, but that’s a story for another day.
Angelica Singleton Van Buren:
Angelica took over the duties of first lady in 1838, just a few weeks after her marriage to the son of widower President Martin Van Buren. Though barely 21, the South Carolina socialite proved a natural in the role, winning praise for her elegant teas, dinner parties and balls. Unfortunately. she is remembered for her faux pas when she tried to recreate some of Europe’s court customs at the White House, including receiving guests while seated on a platform. That did not go over well with Van Buren or his critics.
Priscilla Cooper Tyler
A former stage actress and the wife of one of John Tyler’s sons, Priscilla stepped into the role of presidential hostess when first lady Letitia Tyler was sidelined by a stroke and continued in the role after Letitia's death. Among other accomplishments, she initiated a tradition of hosting Marine Band concerts on the White House lawn.
The niece of James Buchanan—America’s only lifelong bachelor president—Lane took up residence in the White House in 1857 and was greatly admired. Women copied her inauguration gown and she inspired everything from baby names to popular songs. by redecorating the White House and hosting popular dinner parties. Like many modern first ladies, she also adopted an outreach project by working to improve the conditions on Indian reservations.
Martha Johnson Patterson
Andrew Johnson’s wife Eliza was so publicity shy and sickly that she designated most of her duties to her eldest daughter, Martha Johnson Patterson. Along with managing the president’s social receptions, Martha installed milk cows on the White House lawn and helped lead a tasteful redecoration of the mansion’s interior. She was also responsible for compiling several paintings of past presidents into a portrait gallery.
Mary Arthur McElroy
Mary Arthur McElroy became “First Lady” in 1881, after her brother, widower Chester A. Arthur, became president due to the assassination of James A. Garfield. She claimed to be “absolutely unfamiliar with the customs and formalities” of the White House, but the middle-aged mother of four became known for her New Year’s parties and open-house dinner receptions
President Grover Cleveland’s sister Rose or “Libbie,” as she was known, set aside her own pursuits and moved to Washington to become White House hostess. People liked her for the most part due to her charm and wit, but political schmoozing was not her strong point. She once confessed to fighting boredom at presidential receptions by conjugating Greek verbs in her head. When Grover Cleveland later married 21-year-old Frances Folsom in 1886, Rose relegated the role to her new sister-in-law.
Woodrow Wilson’s daughter Margaret, assumed the role of White House hostess after her mother’s death in 1914. The 28-year-old only held the post for a few months, but she didn’t take well to the social demands. When her father became engaged to his second wife Edith in 1915, Margaret embarked on a career as a singer.
And there you have it. The First Lady is not always the president’s wife. Nonetheless, it is an important role that must be filled. Had you ever heard of these nine ladies that made an impact on America history?
Fleeing her employer who would use her to further his unlawful acts, hiding herself on a Kansas cattle ranch seems like the perfect escape to Carly.
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