Angelica Van Buren

Angelica Van Buren, daughter-in-law and First Lady of President Martin Van Buren

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.

Early Years
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.


Jane Pierce

photograph of the First Lady and her son Benjamin

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.


Dolley Madison and the War of 1812

illustration First Lady Dolley Madison in 1812

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.


Abigail Fillmore

First Lady Abigail Fillmore, an advocate for higher education for women

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

U.S. First Lady and wife of President Zachary Taylor
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.


Sarah Polk

First Lady Sarah Polk and President James Polk

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.


Julia Tyler

wife of tenth United States President John Tyler

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.


Letitia Tyler

10th First Lady of the United States

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.


Hannah Van Buren

8th First Lady and wife of President Martin Van Buren

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.


Rachel Jackson

seventh First Lady of the United States

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.


Louisa Adams

First Lady and wife of sixth U.S. President John Quincy Adams

Sixth First Lady of the United States

Louisa Johnson Adams was born in London, England - the only First Lady born outside of the United States. She met John Quincy Adams in 1794 when he was sent to England on a diplomatic mission, and they married shortly after his father, John Adams, became President. Their marriage was stormy and her mother-in-law, Abigail Adams, reportedly disapproved of Louisa.

Louisa Catherine Johnson was born February 12, 1775 in London to Catherine Nuth Johnson, an Englishwoman, and Joshua Johnson, an American merchant who was serving as United States consulate general in London. The family moved to France when Louisa was three, where she completed her education.

John Quincy Adams was born July 11, 1767 in Quincy, Massachusetts to famous parents, John and Abigail Adams. His relationship with his mother was rocky; she had high expectations of him. When he fell in love with Louisa, his mother disapproved. It has been said that this disapproval motivated him to marry Johnson, despite reservations that she, like his mother, was too strong.

Louisa married John Quincy Adams on July 26, 1797, despite the disapproval of the groom's mother. After the wedding the couple went to Berlin, where Adams was serving as Minister to Prussia. At the Prussian court Louisa displayed the style and grace of a diplomat's lady. After several miscarriages, in 1801 Louisa Adams bore her first child, George Washington Adams.

Louisa's first time in America came in 1801 when John Quincy was called back from diplomatic service by President Thomas Jefferson. She finally met her in-laws, former president John Adams and the formidable Abigail Adams, at that time. John Quincy practiced law and in 1803 he was elected a U.S. Senator. Two more sons were born in Washington, DC.

In 1809 Louisa left her two older sons to be educated in Massachusetts and took two-year-old Charles Francis to Russia, where Adams served as Minister to Russia. For nearly six years, from 1809–1815, Louisa and John Quincy lived in the Russian capital of St. Petersburg. She later blamed her long absence for the early deaths of her two older sons.

Despite the glamour of the tsar's court, Louisa struggled with cold winters, strange customs, limited funds and poor health; an infant daughter born in 1811 died the next year. Louisa took up writing to keep her mind from her grief. In all, Louisa Adams was pregnant fourteen times, miscarried nine times and one child was stillborn.

In 1814, John Quincy was summoned to The Hague to participate in peace talks to end the War of 1812. While alone in Russia, Louisa managed the family's affairs. In 1815, Louisa and little Charles had to make a a risky 40-day journey across war-torn Europe to join her husband in Paris.

Louisa's courage and language skills helped the two of them find safe passage through unfamiliar and often dangerous lands. Happily, the next two years gave her an interlude of family life in England with their three sons.


Anna Harrison

U.S. First Lady, wife of President William Henry Harrison and grandmother of President Benjamin Harrison

Ninth First Lady of the United States

Anna Harrison, wife of the President William Henry Harrison, was First Lady of the United States during her husband's one-month term in 1841, though she never entered the White House. She also holds the distinction of being the only First Lady to be wife of one president and grandmother of another: twenty-third president, Benjamin Harrison.

She was born Anna Tuthill Symmes on July 25, 1775 at the family estate Solitude near Morristown, New Jersey to John Cleves Symmes and Anna Tuthill Symmes, who died the following year. Anna's father was a Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court and later became a prominent landowner in southwestern Ohio.

Because the Revolutionary War was beginning and the British were a threat to their New Jersey home, Judge Symmes disguised himself as a British soldier to carry Anna on horseback through the British lines to her maternal grandparents Henry and Phoebe Tuthill in Southhold, Long Island, where Anna grew up. She received an unusually broad education for a woman of the times, attending Clinton Academy at Easthampton, Long Island, and the Isabella Graham boarding school in New York City.

John Symmes bought 311,682 acres from the Congress in 1788. President George Washington signed the patent on October 30, 1794 conveying to Symmes 248,250 acres plus a surveying township of 23,040 acres for an academy. This land was known as the Symmes Purchase, and was the cause of considerable controversy. The purchase price was $225,000, which he paid in notes issued by the Congress to raise money during the war. Symmes had lent most of his own money to the Revolution.

In late 1794 Symmes remarried and decided to make a new home on land he had purchased after the Revolution in the Northwest Territory, which is now the state of Ohio. Anna and her new stepmother accompanied him, and they settled on his extensive land holdings at North Bend, Ohio, on the Ohio River west of Cincinnati.

While the Symmes home was being built at North Bend, Anna and her stepmother lived with Anna's married sister in Lexington, Kentucky. In the spring of 1795, Anna met William Henry Harrison, then a young soldier stationed at nearby Fort Washington.

Though the young man came from a prestigious Virginia family, Judge Symmes disapproved because he wanted to spare his daughter the hardships of army life at frontier outposts. However, the courtship continued without his knowledge.

Home and Family
On November 25, 1795, a clandestine marriage united Anna Symmes and Lt. William Henry Harrison at the home of Dr. Stephen Wood at North Bend, while her father was away on business. The couple honeymooned at Fort Washington, where Harrison was still on duty.


Elizabeth Monroe

First Lady of the United States: wife of President James Monroe

First Lady: Wife of Fifth U.S. President James Monroe

Elizabeth Kortright was born June 30, 1768, and was raised in New York City. Her mother died when Elizabeth was nine, and Hester Kortright, her paternal grandmother, raised the young girl. Hester had a reputation of being a strong and independent woman, who owned and managed her own vast real estate holdings in old Harlem. Elizabeth was considered one of the most beautiful women of her generation.

James Monroe was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, on April 28, 1758, on his parents' small plantation. He lost both parents by age 16 and inherited his father's estate. He enrolled in William and Mary College in 1774 but when the American Revolution began he left after two years. He enlisted as a lieutenant in the 3rd Virginia Regiment, and was seriously wounded at Trenton, and his heroism earned him the rank of major.


Dolley Madison

American Patriot and First Lady of the United States

First Lady and Wife of Founding Father James Madison

Image: Dolley Payne Todd Madison
First Lady of the United States 1809-1817
By Rembrandt Peale c. 1817

Dolley Payne was born on May 20, 1768, in the Quaker settlement of New Garden in Guilford County, North Carolina. Her parents, John and Mary Coles Payne, had moved there from Virginia in 1765. Her mother, a Quaker, had married John Payne, a non-Quaker, in 1761. Three years later, John was admitted to the Quaker Monthly Meeting in Hanover County, Virginia, and Dolley Payne was raised in the Quaker faith.


Dorothy Hancock

American Patriot and wife of Declaration signer John Adams

Wife of Declaration Signer John Hancock

Dorothy Quincy Hancock Portrait
John Singleton Copley, Artist, 1772
Copley posed Dorothy with a hand to her face in a thoughtful pose. Her silk pink robe and matching stomacher are decorated by a large bow, and the sleeves end in triple ruffles. Her sheer apron is embroidered with large floral sprays. Her hair was probably combed over a roll, and atop this hairdo she wore a dress cap of lace, gauze and ribbon.

Dorothy Quincy, born in Boston on May 10, 1747, was the youngest of ten children of Judge Edmund Quincy and Elizabeth Wendell Quincy. Dorothy spent most of her early years in Braintree, Massachusetts, in a lively household, where John and Samuel Adams, Dr. Joseph Warren, James Otis, and John Hancock frequently visited her father, an ardent patriot. Dorothy was raised at the Quincy Homestead in what is now Quincy, Massachusetts.

Dorothy's mother was Elizabeth Wendell, daughter of Abraham and Katharine DeKay Wendell of New York, an educated and accomplished woman of high character, with a taste for social life and a liking for the society of young people. Therefore, the Quincy household, with its bevy of handsome girls, had many visitors. After she entered her teens, Dorothy Quincy must have heard alot about patriotism.

John Hancock was born on January 23, 1737, at Braintree, Massachusetts, in a part of town which eventually became the separate city of Quincy. He was the son of a Congregational pastor, and as a young child, Hancock lived a comfortable life.

In 1744, upon the death of his father, the 7-year-old boy came to live with his grandfather, the Reverend John Hancock, at Lexington, Massachusetts, where he spent the next six years. In 1750, he was taken in by his childless uncle Thomas Hancock and his wife Lydia, who lived in Hancock Manor, a looming two-story granite mansion on Beacon Hill. There he became the focus of his Aunt Lydia's attentions, "the object of her fondest affection on this side of heaven."

Thomas Hancock owned a firm known as the House of Hancock, which imported manufactured goods from Britain and exported rum, whale oil and fish. His highly successful business made him one of Boston's richest and best-known residents. The couple became the dominant influence on John's life.

John was sent to Boston Latin School, then for a business education at Harvard College, where he graduated at the age of seventeen. He then went on to apprentice in Uncle Thomas' commercial empire, and greatly pleased the old gentleman by his intelligence and attention to his duties. John learned much about his uncle's shipping business during these years, and was trained for eventual partnership in the firm. Hancock worked hard, but he also enjoyed playing the role of a wealthy aristocrat, and developed a fondness for expensive clothes.

In 1760, John went to England for a year while building relationships with customers and suppliers. Here he had a chance to supplement his education with travel and acquaintance with men of affairs. He listened to the debates of Parliament, witnessed the funeral of George II and the coronation of George III, and picked up a good general knowledge of the English people and their way of thinking.


Martha Jefferson

wife of third U.S. president Thomas Jefferson

Wife of President Thomas Jefferson

Martha Wayles was born at The Forest in Charles City County – near Williamsburg, Virginia – on October 30, 1748. Her parents were John Wayles and his first wife Martha (Patsy) Eppes, wealthy plantation owners. Martha's mother was the daughter of Francis Eppes of Bermuda Hundred, a huge Virginia plantation. Patsy died when her daughter Martha was only three weeks old.

No record of her early years exist but in light of her father's wealth and prominence, Martha Wayles was likely educated at home by traveling tutors in literature, poetry, French, and Bible study; she likely received considerable training in music. Certainly a young woman of her region, era, and wealth would also be trained in sewing and medicinal preparations.

Martha probably played a social role at the Wayles plantation; her later skills at Monticello would also suggest she received basic training on running a plantation, making household staples; she also assisted her father with management of crop business accounting.

Martha Wayles married Bathurst Skelton in 1766; they lived at his Charles City County plantation and had one son, John Wayles Skelton. Bathurst Skelton died in September 1768 at Williamsburg after an accident, leaving Martha a rich widow, and she moved back into her father's house.

Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743, in Albemarle County, Virginia, the third child of Peter Jefferson, a surveyor, and Jane Randolph, daughter of a distinguished Virginia family. Their estate, Shadwell, was on the banks of the Rivanna River in the sparsely populated Piedmont Region, between the gentrified Tidewater coastline and the Blue Ridge Mountains of the frontier. Throughout his life, Jefferson would occupy a political and psychological space that balanced the responsibilities of establishment privilege with the lures of open, unexplored territory.

In 1760, Jefferson entered the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg at the age of 16; he studied there for two years. At William and Mary, he enrolled in the philosophy school and studied mathematics, metaphysics, and philosophy. A keen and diligent student, according to the family tradition, and he frequently studied fifteen hours a day. In addition to his academic pursuits, young Thomas excelled as a horseman and violinist.

After graduating with highest honors in 1762, he read law with George Wythe, Virginia's most eminent legal scholar of that era, and was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1767. Jefferson handled many cases as a lawyer in colonial Virginia, more than a hundred each year between 1768 and 1773 in General Court alone, while acting as counsel in hundreds of cases. His client list included members of Virginia's most elite families, including members of his mother's family, the Randolphs.

The Jefferson Marriage
Sometime in 1770, probably in Williamsburg, Martha Wayles Skelton – the widow of Jefferson's classmate at William and Mary, Bathurst Skelton – met a rather shy attorney and scholar named Thomas Jefferson, who was then serving in the House of Burgesses. When Jefferson began courting her in December 1770, she was living again at The Forest with her young son, John, who died suddenly of a fever on June 10, 1771, when she was already engaged to Jefferson.

Family tradition says that Martha was accomplished and beautiful – slender figure, hazel eyes, and auburn hair – and wooed by many. Jefferson found Martha especially attractive because of her education and her penchant for music. Throughout their courtship in 1770 and 1771, the young couple frequently harmonized together, she singing while he played accompaniment on piano.

Martha married Thomas Jefferson on New Year's Day, 1772, at the bride's plantation home, The Forest, near Williamsburg. The Jeffersons honeymooned there for two weeks before setting out in a two-horse carriage for a cottage on the property that would become Monticello, though the mansion house was not yet built. They made the 100-mile trip in one of the worst snowstorms ever to hit Virginia. Some miles from their destination, their carriage bogged down in two feet of snow, and they had to complete the journey on horseback.


Abigail Adams

First Lady and Wife of Founding Father John Adams

Abigail Adams (1744-1818) was the wife of President John Adams, the mother of President John Quincy Adams, and the second First Lady of the United States. As the Second Continental Congress drafted and debated the Declaration of Independence, Abigail began to urge John in her letters that the creation of a new form of government was an opportunity to make the legal status of women equal to that of men. The text of those letters became some of the earliest known writings advocating women's rights.

wife of President's wife
Young Abigail Adams

Abigail Smith was born on November 11, 1744, at Weymouth, Massachusetts to the Reverend William and Elizabeth Smith. On her mother's side, she was descended from the Quincys, a well-known political family in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and a cousin of Dorothy Hancock. The Smith home was busy and active – visitors came often and relatives lived nearby.

Abigail was a sickly child; throughout her youth, she suffered from one minor illness after another. Her parents feared that some disease or infection would cut her life short. She was fortunate to have a father who loved learning and gave her full access to his extensive library, and became one of the best-read women of her time. Abigail read widely in poetry, drama, history, theology and political theory. In this atmosphere she developed the values and moral fiber that would serve her as an adult


Martha Washington

portrait of a young Martha, wife of President George Washington

Wife of President George Washington

Image: Martha Washington
Michael Deas, Artist

Although the title was not coined until after her death, Martha Washington was the first of the First Ladies of the United States. During her lifetime, she was known as Lady Washington. When George Washington took his oath of office in New York City on April 30, 1789, and assumed the new duties of President of the United States, his wife brought to their position a tact and discretion developed over 58 years of life in Tidewater Virginia society. Martha was a rather small, pleasant-looking woman, practical with good common sense.

The oldest daughter of John and Frances Dandridge, Martha was born June 2, 1731, at her parents' Chestnut Grove Plantation near Williamsburg, Virginia. As was typical of the time, she was educated at home by her mother and a tutor, and likely learned music, sewing, household management, and how to keep a family contented. Her later skills at plantation management, crop sales, homeopathic medicine, animal husbandry suggests a wider education than previously thought.