Little-known facts about our First Ladies...
Martha Washington, 1731-1802
George Washington’s 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 U.S. postage stamp.
Abigail Adams, 1744-1818
John Adams’ wife urged her husband to “remember the ladies” when he was writing the nation’s Declaration of Independence in 1776. She also was the first woman to be both a president’s 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 Jefferson’s 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 Madison’s wife is the only first lady given an honorary seat on the floor of Congress, and was the first American to respond to telegraph message—sent by inventor Samuel Morse.
Elizabeth Monroe, 1768-1830
James Monroe's wife ended the custom of a president's wife making the first social call on the wives of other officials in Washington - and the insulted women boycotted her White House receptions.
Louisa Adams, 1775-1852
John Quincy Adams’ wife was the first, first lady born in a foreign country—England. She played the harp, wrote satirical plays and raised silkworms.
Rachel Jackson, 1767-1828
Andrew Jackson’s wife was a bigamist, having 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 Buren’s wife—his second cousin—died 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 Harrison’s wife is the only spouse of a president and grandmother of another. She never lived 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 time—30 days.
Letitia Tyler, 1790-1842
John Tyler’s first wife was a stroke victim and the first president’s 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 (1820-1889), who became the first photographed first lady.
Sarah Polk, 1803-1891
James Polk’s wife worked as the president's secretary without taking a salary, and forbid dancing and card playing the White House.
Margaret “Peggy” Taylor, 1788-1852
Zachary Taylor’s 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 Fillmore’s wife was the first presidential spouse to work and earn a salary before marriage—as a schoolteacher. She died three weeks after leaving the White House, and her husband later married Caroline Fillmore, a widower who was wealthier than he was.
Jane Pierce, 1806-1863
Franklin Pierce’s wife discouraged her husband’s 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 Buchanan’s 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 Lincoln’s 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 Johnson’s wife taught her husband how to spell and pronounce words properly, but Tuberculosis prevented her from performing her duties as first lady. Instead, their daughter Martha Patterson, served as White House hostess. Martha also milked cows at the White House every morning.
Julia Grant, 1826-1902
Ulysses S. Grant’s 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. Garfield’s wife began efforts to conduct historical research on the White House rooms and served as her husband’s primary caretaker for two months after an assassin shot him.
Ellen Arthur, 1837-1880
Chester A. Arthur’s wife was a contralto singer who developed pneumonia after a concert and died 20 months before her husband took office. Arthur’s sister Mary Arthur McElroy served as White House hostess and later joined the anti-suffrage movement.
Frances Cleveland, 1864-1947
Grover Cleveland’s wife was the youngest first lady—age 21—and the only bride of a president to marry—and give birth—in the White House. Before their marriage, Cleveland’s sister Rose Elizabeth Cleveland served as White House hostess for the bachelor president.
Caroline Harrison, 1832-1892
Benjamin Harrison’s 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 social secretary and niece Mary Dimmock Harrison.
Ida McKinley, 1847-1907
William McKinley’s 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.
Alice Roosevelt, 1861-1884
Theodore Roosevelt’s first wife died in 1884, 17 years before he was elected president. A year later, he remarried and Edith Roosevelt joined her husband in the White House upon the assassination of President McKinley.
Helen “Nellie” Taft, 1861-1943
William Howard Taft’s wife was the first first lady to own and drive a car, to ride in her husband’s inaugural parade, to support women's suffrage, to publish her memoirs, to smoke cigarettes, and successfully lobby for safety standards in federal workplaces.
Ellen Wilson, 1860-1914
Woodrow Wilson’s 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. Harding’s wife was first first lady to vote, fly in an airplane, operate a movie camera, own a radio, and invite movie stars to White House. She also was accused of poisoning her husband, who died during his third year in office.
Grace Coolidge, 1879-1957
Calvin Coolidge’s wife worked as a teacher of deaf students, and became the first first lady to speak in sound newsreels.
Lou Hoover, 1874-1944
Herbert Hoover’s 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. Roosevelt’s 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. Truman’s wife worked as her husband's salaried Senate aide and never gave an interview as first lady.
Mamie Eisenhower, 1896-1979
Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 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. Kennedy’s 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. Johnson’s wife conducted her own campaign for her husband's election and lobbied for environmental protection.
Pat Nixon, 1912-1993
Richard Nixon’s wife created White House tours for the blind and deaf, and was the first first lady to wear pants in public.
Betty Ford, 1918-2011
Gerald Ford’s 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 Carter’s wife was the first to have a VCR in the White House, and to keep her own office in the East Wing.
Nancy Reagan, 1921-2016
Ronald Reagan’s wife worked as a professional actress, appearing in movies and in a music video— to give an anti-drug abuse message.
Barbara Bush, 1925-
George H.W. Bush’s 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 dog's perspective.
Hillary Clinton, 1947-
Bill Clinton’s wife hosted the first White House webcast, and is the only first lady elected to public office—the U.S. Senate, and to seek the presidency.
Laura Bush, 1946-
George W. Bush’s 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.
Michelle Obama, 1964- Barack Obama's wife is the first African American First lady. Her causes included Let's Move, Which targeted childhood obesity, and aid for military families.
copyright © The National First Ladies' Library, 330-452-0876