First Ladies: Julia Gardiner Tyler

First Ladies: Julia Gardiner Tyler

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Julia Gardiner became the second wife of John Tyler. John Tyler was the first sitting President to marry while in office.

Julia Gardiner Tyler

Julia Gardiner was born on May 4, 1820 on Gardiner’s Island in New York. She was the daughter of David and Juliana MacLachlan Gardiner.

In 1839, when she was 19 she is said to have “shocked polite society by posing on the arm of a gentleman, no her relative”. She was advertising for a middle-class department story and billed as the “rose of Long Island”.

She was sent to London in late October 1840 and then traveled through much of Europe in the hopes of improving her social disgraces. She returned to the U.S. in September 1841.

On January 20, 1842 Julia, age 21, was introduced to President John Tyler.

After the death of John Tyler’s wife, Letitia, later that year he made it clear he was interested in a relationship with Julia.

John Tyler was 30 years her senior and Julia is said to have had “little attraction” at first for the President.

Julia is described as a “high-spirited and independent-minded northern beauty”.

John Tyler first proposed at the White House Masquerade Ball on February 22, 1843. She refused that proposal and later proposals he attempted.

The two continued to correspond and enjoy one another’s company and a romance grew.

An engraved portrait of American First Lady Julia Gardiner Tyler

Julia was devastated by the death of her adored father who was killed in an explosion “of a huge naval gun called the peacemaker” while touring upon the naval cutter Princeton. Many social figures including President Tyler, former First Lady Dolley Madison and members of the cabinet were aboard the cutter when the accident occurred on February 28, 1844. Also killed in the accident were the Navy Secretary, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of the Navy. All four men laid in state at the white House. She would later state the President’s quiet strength sustained her during this time.

Julia eventually agreed to marry the President. Due to the circumstances surrounding her father’s death, a quiet marriage ceremony was performed on June 26, 1844 in New York City.

Julia was 24 years old when she married President Tyler. His oldest daughter, Mary, was five years older than his new wife.

The wedding was such a secret, that Tyler informed only one son. While his sons accepted their father’s new wife, his daughters were “shocked and hurt”. One daughter, Letitia, never made peace with her stepmother.

“The news was then broken to the American people, who greeted it with keen interest, much publicity, and some criticism about the couple’s 30-year difference in age.”

Julia Tyler is said to have “thoroughly enjoyed” the duties of First Lady.

Julia Gardiner Tyler

Julia Tyler is the first known First Lady to seek newspaper coverage and reporting on her social events.

Julia Tyler is also credited with directing the Marine Band to play a specific march, now known as “Hail to the Chief”, when the President entered for a public event. Documentation of this is often hard to find and sometimes credited to her successor, Sarah Polk.

President Tyler left office in March 1845. The couple then retired to Sherwood Forest in Virginia.

The following year, Julia gave birth to their first of seven children. Julia Gardiner Tyler is the only woman married to an incumbent President whose children were all born after her tenure as First Lady. {Note: Although the second wife of Benjamin Harrison bore him a daughter in his post-presidential years, she had not been married to him during his presidency.}

John Tyler died in January 1862 and Julia moved back to Staten Island.

In 1872, she converted from Presbyterianism to Roman Catholicism.

She later returned to Virginia and lived on a federal pension for presidential widows.

On July 10, 1889 she suffered a stroked and died at the age of 69. She was buried beside the president in Hollywood Cemetery, in Richmond, Virginia.