Fascinating Facts about America’s First Ladies

American Icons, History, People, Traditions
on May 4, 2008

The nations first ladies are an intriguing, influential and remarkable group of American women, based on information provided by Carl Sferrazza Anthony, the official historian of the National First Ladies Library in Canton, Ohio.

The term first lady applies not only to the wife of a U.S. president, but also to daughters and relatives who served as White House hostesses when the spouse was unable to or had died before the president served his term.

Here are some fascinating facts about the nations first ladies:

Martha Washington, 1731-1802
George Washingtons wife was the first to be given the title lady by the press, as in Lady Washington, and the first wife of a president to appear on a U.S. postage stamp.

Abigail Adams, 1744-1818
John Adams wife urged her husband to remember the ladies when he was writing the nations Declaration of Independence in 1776. She also was the first woman to be both a presidents wife and the mother of a president, and the first to live in the White House.

Martha Jefferson, 1748-1782
No known portrait exists of Thomas Jeffersons wife, who died 18 years before her husband was elected president. Their daughter Martha Jefferson Randolph served as White House hostess, and was the first to give birth in the presidential mansion in Washington, D.C.

Dolley Madison, 1768-1849
James Madisons wife is the only first lady given an honorary seat on the floor of Congress, and was the first American to respond to a telegraph messagesent by inventor Samuel Morse.

Elizabeth Monroe, 1768-1830
James Monroes wife was the first first lady to speak a foreign language fluentlyFrench. Little is known about Mrs. Monroe because her husband destroyed all of her correspondence after her death to protect her privacy.

Louisa Adams, 1775-1852
John Quincy Adams wife was the only first lady born in a foreign countryEngland. She played the harp, wrote satirical plays and raised silkworms.

Rachel Jackson,1767-1828
Andrew Jacksons wife was a bigamist, having unwittingly married Jackson before she was divorced from her first husband. She died after Jackson was elected president but before his inauguration. Her niece Emily Donelson served as White House hostess during most of the Jackson administration.

Hannah Van Buren, 1783-1819
Martin Van Burens wifehis distant cousindied 18 years before her husband was elected president. Their daughter-in-law Angelica Van Buren served as White House hostess during the last two years of the Van Buren administration.

Anna Harrison, 1775-1864
William Henry Harrisons wife is the only spouse of a president and grandmother of another. An illness delayed her departure to the nations capital, and she never got to live in the White House because her husband died a month after his inauguration. Their daughter-in-law Jane Harrison served as White House hostess for the shortest time30 days.

Letitia Tyler, 1790-1842
John Tylers first wife was a stroke victim and the first presidents wife to die in the White House. Their daughter Letty Tyler Semple and daughter-in-law Priscilla Cooper Tyler served as White House hostesses until Tyler eloped with his second wife, Julia, who became the first photographed incumbent first lady.

Sarah Polk, 1803-1891
James Polks wife worked as the presidents secretary without taking a salary, and forbade dancing and card playing in the White House.

Margaret Peggy Taylor, 1788-1852
Zachary Taylors wife learned to shoot a gun when she lived with her husband on the Western frontier. When she lived in the White House, she refused to serve as hostess, giving that role to their daughter Betty Taylor Bliss.

Abigail Fillmore, 1798-1853
Millard Fillmores wife was the first presidential spouse to work and earn a salary before marriageas a schoolteacher. She died three weeks after leaving the White House, and her husband later married Caroline McIntosh, a widow who was wealthier than he was.

Jane Pierce, 1806-1863
Franklin Pierces wife discouraged her husbands interest in politics. Two months before his inauguration, Mrs. Pierce was overtaken with grief and depression when she witnessed the gruesome death of their only living son in a train accident. She never completely recovered from the trauma.

Harriet Lane, 1830-1903
James Buchanans niece was the White House hostess for the only president to remain a bachelor. An avid art collector, Lane, upon her death, bequeathed her collection to the Smithsonian Institution, which today includes the National Gallery of Art.

Mary Lincoln, 1818-1882
Abraham Lincolns wife was the first to hold séances in the White House, to be attacked in the press for lavish purchases during wartime and to fight for the abolition of slavery.

Eliza Johnson, 1810-1876
Andrew Johnsons wife taught her husband how to spell and pronounce words properly, but tuberculosis prevented her from being hostess, a role assumed by their daughter Martha Patterson, who milked cows at the White House every morning.

Julia Grant, 1826-1902
Ulysses S. Grants wife was cross-eyed, and owned slaves during the Civil War while her husband served as general of the Union Army.

Lucy Hayes, 1831-1889
Rutherford B. Hayes wife was the first to ban all alcoholic beverages from the White House. She also hosted the first Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn.

Lucretia Garfield, 1832-1918
James A. Garfields wife began efforts to conduct historical research on the White House rooms and served as her husbands primary caretaker for two months after an assassin shot him.

Ellen Arthur, 1837-1880
Chester A. Arthurs wife was a contralto singer who developed pneumonia after a concert and died 20 months before her husband took office. Arthurs sister Mary Arthur McElroy served as White House hostess and later joined the anti-suffrage movement.

Frances Cleveland, 1864-1947
Grover Clevelands wife was the youngest first ladyage 21and the only bride of a president to marryand give birthin the White House. Before their marriage, Clevelands sister Rose Elizabeth Cleveland served as White House hostess of the bachelor president.

Caroline Harrison, 1832-1892
Benjamin Harrisons wife was the first to use electricity and have a Christmas tree in the White House. She was the second first lady to die in the White House. After her death, her husband married her widowed niece and former secretary Mary Lord Dimmick.

Ida McKinley, 1847-1907
William McKinleys wife was the only first lady to work as a bank teller and manager, and successfully urged her husband to retain the Philippines after the Spanish-American War.

Edith Roosevelt, 1861-1948
Theodore Roosevelt and his second wife were childhood sweethearts who married after the death of his first wife, Alice. Edith joined her husband in the White House upon the assassination of President McKinley.

Helen Nellie Taft, 1861-1943
William Howard Tafts wife was the first first lady to own and drive a car, to ride in her husbands inaugural parade, to support womens suffrage, to publish her memoirs, to smoke cigarettes, and to successfully lobby for safety standards in federal workplaces.

Ellen Wilson, 1860-1914
Woodrow Wilsons first wife was the only professional artist to become first lady. After her death in the White House, her husband married Edith Wilson, a direct descendant of American Indian princess Pocahontas.

Florence Harding, 1860-1924
Warren G. Hardings wife was first first lady to vote, fly in an airplane, operate a movie camera, own a radio, and invite movie stars to the White House. She also was accused of poisoning her husband, who died during his third year in office.

Grace Coolidge, 1879-1957
Calvin Coolidges wife worked as a teacher of deaf students, and became the first first lady to speak in sound newsreels.

Lou Hoover, 1874-1944
Herbert Hoovers wife was the first woman to graduate from Stanford University with a geology degree. She also spoke Chinese fluently.

Eleanor Roosevelt, 1884-1962
Franklin D. Roosevelts wife was the first first lady to hold regular press conferences, write a daily newspaper column and a monthly magazine column, and host a weekly radio show.

Bess Truman, 1885-1982
Harry S. Trumans wife worked as her husbands salaried Senate aide and never gave an interview as first lady.

Mamie Eisenhower, 1896-1979
Dwight D. Eisenhowers wife appeared in television commercials when her husband ran for president, and enjoyed watching TV soap operas in the White House.

Jacqueline Kennedy, 1929-1994
John F. Kennedys wife was the first first lady to hire a press secretary and a White House curator. She also won an Emmy Award for her television tour of the White House.

Claudia Lady Bird Johnson, 1912-2007
Nicknamed Lady Bird as a child, Lyndon B. Johnsons wife conducted her own campaign for her husbands election and lobbied for environmental protection.

Pat Nixon, 1912-1993
Richard Nixons wife created White House tours for the blind and deaf, and was the first first lady to wear pants in public.

Betty Ford, 1918-
Gerald Fords wife once worked as a professional dancer with the Martha Graham Company. She also founded an alcohol and drug treatment center in California that bears her name.

Rosalynn Carter, 1927-
Jimmy Carters wife was the first to have a VCR in the White House, and to keep her own office in the East Wing.

Nancy Reagan, 1921-
Ronald Reagans wife worked as a professional actress, appearing in movies and in a music videoan anti-drug-abuse message.

Barbara Bush, 1925-
George H.W. Bushs wife is the second first lady to be both the wife and mother of a president, and the only one to write a memoir from her dogs perspective.

Hillary Clinton, 1947-
Bill Clintons wife hosted the first White House webcast, and is the only first lady elected to public officethe U.S. Senateand to seek the presidency.

Laura Bush, 1946-
George W. Bushs wife is the only first lady to give birth to twins, to work as a librarian and to substitute for a president in his weekly radio address. H