First Lady for Father-in-Law Martin Van Buren
Dolley Madison introduced Angelica Singleton to President Martin Van Buren’s son and then guided her through the intricacies of Washington entertaining and politics when she became the official White House hostess during Van Buren’s term.
Image: Angelica Van Buren’s portrait was painted by Henry Inman, while White House hostess for her father-in-law, whose bust is seen in the background. Today it hangs in the White House above the fireplace mantle in what has become known as the Red Room.
She was born Sarah Angelica Singleton on February 13, 1818 at Wedgefield, South Carolina, the daughter of prosperous cotton planters Richard and Rebecca Travis Coles Singleton. Angelica was raised at the family plantation Home Place in Sumter County, South Carolina. The Singletons believed strongly in the need to provide their daughters with an excellent education, beyond the traditional domestic arts.
15th First Lady of the United States
Jane Pierce (1806–1863), wife of 14th President Franklin Pierce, was First Lady of the United States from 1853 to 1857. She hated public life and society, but married a man whose passion was politics. She was refined, well-educated and religious, but her life is generally remembered as a series of tragedies.
Image: Jane Pierce and her beloved son Benny
Jane Appleton was born on March 12, 1806 in Hampton, New Hampshire, the daughter of Elizabeth Means Appleton and Reverend Jesse Appleton, a Congregationalist minister. Jane was a petite, frail, shy and melancholy figure. After the death of her father, who had served as president of Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, Jane moved into the mansion of her wealthy maternal grandparents in Amherst, New Hampshire at age 13.
First Lady Shows Her Mettle
In the years leading up to America’s second war with Britain, President James Madison’s attempts to expand the country’s armed forces had been unsuccessful. In 1811, Congress had voted to abolish Alexander Hamilton‘s Bank of the United States, making it nearly impossible for the government to raise money. Therefore, the United States began the War of 1812 with no Army to speak of and only a handful of frigates and a fleet of gunboats for a Navy.
Image: Engraving of Dolley Madison in 1812
The spring of 1812 was a time of great anxiety for James and Dolley Madison. Although neither of them welcomed war, they both realized it was inevitable. At first, the war did not go well for the U.S. as American soldiers proved no match for their British counterparts. This became all the more evident in August 1814 when a British army landed in Maryland – too close to the American seat of government for comfort.
14th First Lady of the United States
Abigail Fillmore was the wife of Millard Fillmore and the first of the First Ladies to hold a job after marriage. She believed that women should have equal access to higher education and had the capacity to succeed at all intellectual pursuits. Though suffering from several physical ailments, she appeared at many public and official events with the President.
Childhood and Early Years
Abigail Powers was born on March 13, 1798 in Stillwater, Saratoga County, New York, while it was still on the fringe of civilization. She was one of seven children: five brothers and one sister. Her father, a locally prominent Baptist preacher named Lemuel Powers, died May 18, 1800, but he left a rich educational legacy to Abigail and her siblings in his large personal library of books.
Margaret Taylor was the wife of Zachary Taylor and the 13th official First Lady of the United States from March 4, 1849 through July 9, 1850. Although she supervised the running of the White House, she left the hostessing duties to her daughter Betty. The sudden and unexpected death of her husband abruptly ended her time as first lady.
Childhood and Early Years
Margaret ‘Peggy’ Smith was born in Calvert County, Maryland on September 21, 1788, the daughter of Walter Smith and Ann Mackall Smith. Her father was a prosperous Maryland tobacco planter and veteran officer of the Revolutionary War, and Peggy was raised in a large brick plantation house.
12th First Lady of the United States
Sarah Childress Polk (1803–1891) was the wife of the 11th President of the United States James Polk, and the 12th woman to serve as First Lady. Childless at a time when motherhood was considered a woman’s greatest role, she devoted her life to her husband’s career. In the White House she appeared to be the epitome of the proper lady, while exerting a powerful influence behind the scenes.
Image: First Lady Sarah Polk and President James Polk
Childhood and Early Years Sarah Childress was born on September 14, 1803 to prominent planter and merchant Joel Childress and Elizabeth Whitsitt Childress. The third of six children, Sarah Childress grew up on a plantation two miles outside of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, southeast of Nashville. Although raised in the rugged Western Frontier, Sarah grew up amidst wealth and refinement.
11th First Lady of the United States
Julia Tyler (1820–1889), the beautiful daughter of a prominent New York family, quickly became the darling of Washington society. Congressmen wooed her, but it was the widowed President John Tyler, thirty years her senior, who won her hand in marriage. Beginning at age 23 Julia Tyler served as First Lady of the United States from June 26, 1844, to March 4, 1845, captivating Americans with her beauty, gaiety, and love of public adulation.
Childhood and Early Years
Julia Gardiner was born on July 29, 1820 on Gardiner’s Island – a 3000-acre island off the eastern tip of Long Island, New York. She was the daughter of Juliana McLachlan Gardiner and David Gardiner, a prominent landowner and New York State Senator from 1824 to 1828. The family soon returned to their East Hampton home on Long Island when the Gardiner’s Island farm proved unprofitable.
10th First Lady of the United States
Letitia Tyler (1790–1842), first wife of President John Tyler, was First Lady from April 4, 1841 until her death on September 10, 1842. After giving birth to eight children in fifteen years, Letitia Tyler suffered a stroke, which left her unable to walk. Yet her poor physical health did not prevent her from overseeing her family’s successful Virginia plantation and raising their children. In fact, it was Letitia’s success in these roles throughout their married life that allowed John Tyler to pursue his political ambitions full time.
Childhood and Early Years
Letitia Christian was born on November 12, 1790 on a Tidewater Virginia plantation named Cedar Grove in New Kent County, about twenty miles from Richmond. She was the daughter of Colonel Robert Christian, a prosperous planter, and Mary Brown Christian. Letitia was described as shy, quiet, pious, and by all accounts utterly selfless and devoted to her family.
Eighth First Lady of the United States
Hannah Hoes Van Buren was the wife of U.S. President Martin Van Buren. She was the first president’s wife to be born a U.S. citizen and not as a subject of the British crown. Because she died eighteen years before Van Buren became President (1837-1841), she is one of the most obscure of our First Ladies. Van Buren never remarried and was one of the few Presidents to be unmarried while in office. His new daughter-in-law Angelica Singleton Van Buren presided as the lady of the White House from 1839 until the end of his term.
Hannah Hoes was born on March 8, 1783 in Kinderhook, New York to Johannes Dircksen Hoes and Maria Quakenbush Hoes who were of Dutch ancestry, and was raised on her family’s farm. Hannah was taught in a local Kinderhook school by master Vrouw Lange. Dutch was her first language and she never lost her distinct Dutch accent.
Seventh First Lady of the United States
Rachel Donelson Jackson was the wife of Andrew Jackson, 7th President of the United States. As a child, Rachel was brought to the homes of Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee, all of whom were colleagues of her father in the House of Burgesses. Although she died before President Jackson took office, Rachel Jackson is considered an American First Lady.
Rachel Donelson was a child of the frontier. Born near present-day Chatham, Virginia in June 1767, she journeyed to the Tennessee wilderness with her parents when only 12. Her father Colonel John Donelson was a Revolutionary War soldier, member of the Virginia Assembly and co-founder of the new settlement of Fort Nashborough, later to be named Nashville, Tennessee.