First Ladies: Priscilla Cooper Tyler

First Ladies: Priscilla Cooper Tyler

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Priscilla Cooper Tyler was the daughter-in-law of President John Tyler. During the majority of his Presidency, she served as White House hostess.

Elizabeth Priscilla Cooper was born on June 14, 1816 in New York City. She was the daughter of Thomas Apthorpe and Mary Fairlee Cooper.

Priscilla Cooper Tyler

While playing the role of Desdemona on stage in a production of Shakespeare’s Othello, Priscilla met Robert Tyler. He was the oldest son of U.S. Senator John Tyler. At this time in history acting was considered a scandalous profession. It is said during the performance, “ a member of the audience later recalled falling in love with her as the performance went on. At the final curtain, he bolted up to lead a standing ovation, and then  rushed backstage to meet her.” That audience member was Robert Tyler.

Despite their social difference and the Cooper’s financial woes, the couple wed on September 12, 1839 in Bristol, Pennsylvania.

The couple moved to Williamsburg, where they were warmly welcomed by John and Letitia Tyler.

Priscilla became very fond of her father-in-law and he is said to have “allowed her to open an account in every store in Williamsburg”.

By the time John Tyler became President, Letitia Tyler was an invalid following a stroke. She would remain upstairs in the private rooms of the White House.

Robert and Priscilla Tyler had seven children. Their oldest child, Mary, died at the age of five, but the remaining three daughters and three sons all reached adulthood.

President Tyler asked Priscilla to help him as White House hostess. ” Priscilla was described as extroverted, attractive, intelligent, and witty. She was also the first woman acting as First Lady to travel with the President as an official member of the Presidential party, accompanying John Tyler to Boston for the dedication of the Bunker Hill Monument in June 1843.”

It is said of Priscilla, “Few women of that era had her ease and confidence about having part of her life known to strangers, and  it was this First Lady’s unique training before entering the White House which seemed to uniquely qualify her.”

Letitia Tyler died in the White House on September 10, 1842.

In 1844, John Tyler remarried and Robert Tyler moved to Philadelphia. Priscilla went to Pennsylvania with her husband, passing the White House hostess duties over to the President’s new wife, Julia Gardiner Tyler.

Robert and Priscilla Tyler lived in Philadelphia for 16 years.

They moved to Richmond, Virginia during the Civil War and joined the Confederacy.

After the war, they moved to Montgomery, Alabama where Robert was editor of the Mail and Advertiser newspaper. Robert Tyler died in 1877 and Priscilla remained in Montgomery.

By all accounts Robert and Priscilla had a “happy partnership”.

She spent the remaining twelve years of her life in Montgomery. She died on December 29, 1889 and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Montgomery, Alabama.