Friday, July 27, 2012

Things I Find Fascinating: 12 Little-Known Facts About First Ladies Of The United States

1)  Ten of the First Ladies were never married to a U.S. President.  The title "First Lady of the United States" is conveyed upon the White House hostess. Typically, that person is the wife of the President. However, in some instances, the President's wife has died prior to his election or during his tenure as President, has been unmarried, or has had a sickly wife who was unable to perform the functions and duties of First Lady. The 10 women who have  served as a nontraditional First Lady include: Thomas Jefferson's daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph; Andrew Jackson's niece, Emily Donelson; Andrew Jackson's daughter-in-law, Sarah Yorke Jackson; Martin Van Buren's daughter-in-law, Angelica Singleton Van Buren; John Tyler's daughter-in-law, Priscilla Cooper Tyler; James Buchanan's niece, Harriet Lane; Chester A. Arthur's sister, Mary Arthur McElroy; Grover Cleveland's sister, Rose Cleveland; Benjamin Harrison's daughter, Mary Harrison McKee; and Woodrow Wilson's daughter, Margaret Woodrow Wilson.

Angelica Singleton Van Buren

2)  Martha Custis Washington is the only woman whose portrait has appeared on the face of a U.S. currency note.  She appeared on the face of the $1 Silver Certificate of 1886 and 1891, as well as on the back of the $1 Silver Certificate of 1896. Incidentally, Mrs. Washington was also the first American woman to be honored on a U.S. stamp, the 8¢ stamp in 1902.

Martha Washington's $1 Silver Certificate

3)  Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, was a distant cousin of King George III, who was king of England during the American Revolution.  I'll bet things were really awkward at Christmastime for a few years there!

Abigail Adams

4)  Anna Harrison, wife of William Henry Harrison, bore the most children of any First Lady of the United States who was married to a President.  Anna and her husband had 10 children: Betsy, John Cleves, Lucy, William Henry Jr., John Scott, Benjamin, Mary, Carter, Anna, and James. Martha Jefferson Randolph (Thomas Jefferson's daughter who also served as First Lady) bore 12 children. Another interesting fact about Anna Harrison: When her husband was sworn in as President, she was too ill to travel to Washington, D.C. for the inauguration. A month later, as Anna was packing her things for her move to the White House, she received word that her husband had died. She is the only First Lady in history (since it was completed) to have never stepped foot in the White House.

Anna Harrison

5)  Rose Cleveland was the first First Lady known to be a lesbian.  Four years after she had stopped serving as her brother Grover's First Lady (he got married while in office), Rose began a lesbian relationship with a wealthy widow, Evangeline Simpson. Later, Simpson married an Episcopal bishop, ending her affair with Cleveland. However, after Evangeline's husband died, she and Rose rekindled their relationship and eventually moved to Italy to live together there. Rumors abound about possible lesbian relationships that Eleanor Roosevelt may or may not have had, but these rumors are as yet unfounded. Incidentally, though we have never had an openly gay President thus far, persistent rumors about James Buchanan still fester some century and a half after his Presidency. Buchanan was the only U.S. President who never married.

Rose Cleveland

6)  Letitia Tyler, wife of John Tyler, was the first President's wife to die in the White House.  She had suffered a paralytic stroke three years earlier which left her an invalid. At the time of her death, Letitia was 51 years old, making her the youngest First Lady to die.

Letitia Tyler

7)  Abigail Fillmore died less than a month after her husband, Millard, left office.  At the outdoor inaugural ceremonies of Franklin Pierce, Aibgail caught cold and the next day came down with a fever. She developed pneumonia and died just 26 days after leaving the White House.

Abigail Fillmore

8)  Jane Pierce never had any interest in becoming the First Lady, because she never wanted her husband Franklin to pursue the job in the first place.  When their beloved son Benny was killed in a train accident just two months before Pierce was sworn in as President, Jane believed it was because God was displeased at her husband's political ambitions. Thoroughly melancholy to the core, Jane Pierce wore all black throughout her husband's Presidency.

Jane Pierce

9)  Long before Jackie Kennedy, Harriet Lane became a trendsetter while serving as First Lady during her uncle (James Buchanan)'s Presidency.  Women copied her hair and clothing styles, parents named their daughters after her, and a popular song ("Listen To The Mockingbird") was dedicated to her.

Harriet Lane

10)  Michelle Obama is tied with Eleanor Roosevelt as the tallest First Lady at 5 feet, 11 inches.

Michelle Obama
Eleanor Roosevelt

11)  Former First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln was committed to an asylum by her son, Robert.  It's understandable, really. Mary had suffered the losses of three of her four sons before they'd reached age 18; she'd witnessed her husband shot and killed before her very eyes; she'd sustained a head injury in a carriage accident during her time as First Lady; she was frequently depressed, occasionally suicidal, and probably bipolar as well. Mrs. Lincoln engineered her escape from the asylum three months later by publicly embarrassing her son into having her released.

Mary Todd Lincoln

12)  There were very few things that First Lady Lou Hoover could not – or did not – do during her lifetime.  She was the first woman to ever graduate from Stanford University with a degree in Geology. She was a fine horsewoman. She was a skilled taxidermist. She was fluent in Chinese (and is the only First Lady to date to have spoken an Asian language), and was well-versed in Latin. She was the first First Lady to make regular radio broadcasts. She was president of the Girl Scouts of the USA from 1922 to 1925 and 1935 to 1937. During World War I, she helped her husband Herbert in providing relief for Belgian refugees. She also oversaw the design and construction of the Presidential retreat at Rapidan Camp in Virginia. She could not, however, find a way to prevent the Great Depression. Neither could her husband.

Lou Henry Hoover

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