Julia Dent Grant

Wife of General and President Ulysses S. Grant Julia Boggs Dent was born January 26, 1826 at White Haven plantation near St. Louis, Missouri, the fifth of seven children. Her parents were Frederick and Ellen Dent, who owned about thirty black slaves; they refused to free them only when the law required it. From about 1831 through 1836, Julia attended the Misses Mauros’ co-ed, one-room boarding school in St. Louis. Growing up at White Haven, she fished, rode horses, and played in the woods. Image: First Lady Julia Dent Grant, 1870 Julia Dent met Ulysses S. Grant, whom she called ‘Ulys,’ who was a classmate of her brother Frederick at West Point; she was soon head-over-heels for Grant and agreed…

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Lucy and Rutherford B. Hayes

A Civil War Love Story Born August 28, 1831 in Chillicothe, Ohio, Lucy Ware Webb was the daughter of physician James Webb and Maria Cook Webb. When Lucy was two years old, her father died of cholera while on a trip to Lexington, Kentucky to free slaves he had inherited from his aunt. Lucy developed strong abolitionist convictions from her father and grandfather, both of whom were slaveholders at one time. Image: Lucy and Rutherford B. Hayes Wedding photograph, December 30, 1852 In 1844 Maria Webb moved her family to Delaware, Ohio, where Lucy’s brothers enrolled at Ohio Wesleyan University. Lucy first met Rutherford Birchard Hayes on the Ohio Wesleyan campus in 1847. Later that year, Lucy enrolled at Wesleyan…

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Ellen Arthur

Wife of 21st President Chester A. Arthur Ellen Lewis Herndon Arthur was the wife of the 21st President of the United States, Chester A. Arthur, but she would not join him at the White House. Ellen died on January 12, 1880, before her husband was elected vice president November 2, 1880; and before James A. Garfield‘s assassination would have made her first lady, but she has been honorably credited with the role. Early Years Ellen Herndon, nicknamed Nell, was born August 30, 1837 at Culpeper Court House, Virginia, the only child of Frances Elizabeth Hansborough and naval commander William Lewis Herndon. When her father was assigned to help establish the Naval Observatory in September 1842, the family moved to Washington,…

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Ida McKinley

First Lady of the United States Ida Saxton McKinley, wife of William McKinley, 25th President of the United States, was First Lady from 1897 to 1901. She and her husband developed a unique way of coping with her epileptic seizures during her public appearances, and the love they shared during the early years of happiness endured through more than twenty years of illness. Image: Ida McKinley Photograph from the 1896 Presidential Campaign Early Years Ida Saxton was born June 8, 1847 in Canton, Ohio, the second of three children born to Katherine DeWalt and James Saxton, a prominent Canton banker. The Saxtons were a prominent family in Canton: Ida’s grandfather founded the Ohio Repository, the first newspaper in Canton, and…

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Angelica 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…

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Jane Pierce

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…

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Dolley Madison and the War of 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 Backstory 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…

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Abigail Fillmore

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…

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Caroline Harrison

First First Lady to Support Women’s Rights Caroline Harrison, the wife of President Benjamin Harrison, was First Lady from 1889 until her death. She is remembered for her efforts to refurbish the aging White House. Her public support of women’s rights and higher education for women focused greater attention on those issue and promoted greater acceptance of a First Lady’s political ideals. Early Years Caroline Scott was born on October 1, 1832 in Oxford, Ohio, the second daughter of Mary Potts Neal and John Witherspoon Scott, a minister and professor of science and math at Miami University in Oxford. Along with two sisters and two brothers, Carrie, as she was called by friends and family, was raised in a modest,…

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Margaret 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.