First Ladies: Martha Johnson Patterson

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Martha Johnson Patterson was the oldest daughter and child of President Andrew Johnson and his wife, Eliza McCardle Johnson. She served as hostess on many

Martha Johnson Patterson

occasions for her mother who was weak with tuberculosis.

Martha Johnson was born on October 25, 1828 in Greeneville, Tennessee.

“Andrew Johnson once declared Martha to be “my favorite child,” and from her earliest years, his oldest child was as strongly influenced by him as her mother. “

She was known as quiet to her schoolmates in the local school district.

When her father first went to Washington, D.C. to serve in congress, she joined him. While there she attended Miss English Seminary.

“Rather than return home to Tennessee during the breaks between semesters or taken out of school when her father was on congressional break, she lived as a long-term guest during those times in the White House, as the guest of the President Polk and Mrs. Polk, Tennessee natives and political allies of her father. “

In 1851, she returned to Tennessee where she met law clerk David Patterson. They married on December 13, 1855 when she was 27 years of age. They would have two children, Mary Belle Patterson in 1857 and Andrew Johnson Patterson in 1859.

In April 1865 her father became president. Martha arrived with her mother, sister, and other family members in early August 1865.

“Under the direction of her mother, First Lady Eliza Johnson, Martha Patterson assumed great responsibility for the Johnson Administration White House, playing several different roles. Foremost was that of the primary hostess who welcomed the general public and invited guests, aided by her sister Mary Stover.”

Martha Johnson Patterson

In April 1866, she began an intensive restoration project on the public rooms of the White House. She was very careful in her spending and not above repairing and recovering furniture.

She also began the efforts of collecting portraits of former Presidents and their wives for a White House gallery. It is said, “President Johnson was especially proud of the small gallery created by his daughter and enjoying telling stories about his predecessors as he and guests strolled by each one.”

In 1866, her husband was elected to the U.S. Senate. The Patterson family continued to live in the White House with the rest of the Johnson family.

“During the impeachment trials, she was also a figure of calm and strength within the Johnson clan.” describers her, “Like her mother and sister, Martha Patterson arranged her visual appearance to convey a democratic simplicity with dignified elegance, wearing none of the ostentatious frills popular in that era, but rather simply cut clothing which evoked a classical Greek toga style, though made of expensive velvets, with little to no jewelry, and often a cape or shawl. She invariably dressed her hair in a long and simple ponytail, marked only with a fresh flower. Many of the leading political wives and daughters considered Martha Patterson to be “unfashionable,” but that may have been more of a sentiment in reaction to her “distant and reserved” treatment of them, rather than her appearance alone.”

She returned home to Tennessee with her family upon her father leaving the White House.

She became more of a caregiver for her mother on their return to Tennessee. Her parents died in less than six months of one another in 1875-1876.

Her husband died on November 3, 1891. She became reclusive in her later years.

She died on July 10, 1901 in her home in Greeneville, Tennessee.

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